Release the hounds' parasites

Hanamaru Udon has the cutest udon-mascots ever. They don't have anything to do with hibernating bugs... they're just cute.
Now that I've been blogging a couple of years here, I've covered most of the major Japanese holidays a couple of times each. Besides which, anyone with an interest in Japanese culture probably knew about them already. So, having totally ignored Hinamatsuri, today I'm going to talk about something more obscure: 啓蟄, Keichitsu: "Hibernating Bugs are Revealed".

Keichitsu is one of the 24 sections of the traditional Japanese calendar (which they got from China). Each section is further subdivided into three equal "seasons" (候), giving us the traditional 七十二候, or "Seventy-Two Seasons". Each of these "season" is five days long, which almost adds up to a single (solar) year, but not quite, which has led to some confusion over the centuries.

Anyway. Keichitsu's three seasons are:

  1. 蟄虫啓戸: Hibernating Bugs Open the Door [and come out]
  2. 桃始笑:  First Smile of the Peaches [i.e. peach trees begin to blossom]
  3. 菜虫化蝶: Caterpillars Become Butterflies
Early spring business as usual, in other words.

Since Keichitsu theoretically begins on March 6th these days, we are in the first day Hibernating Bugs Open the Door. I propose we all start dating our official work documents this way.

Language note for language nerds: In China, they call this period not 啓蟄 but rather 驚蟄, "hibernating bug surprise". Why? Because the given name of the Han Dynasty's sixth emperor (only the second to actually exist, though) was 啟 -- effectively the same character as 啓 in 啓蟄 -- and, due to certain ancient Chinese name taboos, it would not have been acceptable to use the emperor's name that way. So they changed the word to 驚蟄, which was almost the same in meaning and pronunciation.

Once Emperor 啟 died, the Chinese tried to change 驚蟄 back to 啓蟄, but for some reason the de-reform never caught on, and it remains 驚蟄 to this day. Or so I hear.

All of this happened after China had transmitted its 24-by-3 calendar to Japan, by the way, which is why Japan has generally stuck with the characters 啓蟄.

Popularity factor: 8



...sorry. Possessed momentarily by Zippy the Pinhead.


Happens to th' best of us.


Keichitsu ... is this a reference to any hibernating bugs, or, more ominously, the cicadas? In the States they talk up the 17 year swarm thing, but really, I think there's an eternal summer swarm here.

Much as I hate the look of those creepy bastards, I will always associate the sound with the tranquility (and overbearing heat) of Japanese summer. Bring 'em on!


On this Chinese Calendar site, the equivalent name seems to be "Excited Insects". The characters look different, but it's hard for me to read them.


It looks like the same character to me, too. Huh! I've never seen 驚 used to mean just "excited" in Japanese, and I just checked in my dictionary and it wasn't there either. Must be an Old Chinese thing.


Oh, and I don't think the type of bug is specified. It wouldn't be cicadas, though, they're officially a Summer Thing.


Matt, could the bug in question be the "maybug" (Melolontha melolontha)? In Europe it hatches out of buried pupae in early Spring and bumbles around at chest-height at about 10 mph, bumping into people and destroying itself messily on their cars' windshields. It's an ambivalent symbol of spring in Europe, as people are glad to see it (in terms of the improved weather it heralds) but annoyed too (because they have to wash their cars a lot more when these things hatch out). Maybugs turn up in all major patisseries and candy stores in Germany and Switzerland, around this time, in chocolate, candy and cookie forms. The best ones I've seen: (a) A family of chocolate maybugs skating on the lime-gelatin surface of a chocolate torte. (b) A three-foot-high maybug talking on a licorice cellphone.


Huh, I never heard of that before. A quick web search doesn't turn up any Japanese names for "Melolontha melolontha", although in Chinese they call it: 欧洲鳃金龟(西方五月鳃角金龟) which transliterates as "European Twitchy Metal Tortoise [=Beetle?] (in Western, May Twitchy Horned [or cornered] Metal Tortoise). It doesn't seem to have spread beyond Russia yet.

There is a "Melolontha japonica" called Kofugikogane. Does that look like the same sort of thing? I can't find any Google evidence tying it directly to keichitsu, though.

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