Gadfly (abu)

[ . BACK to Worldkigo TOP . ]

Gadfly, horsefly (abu)

***** Location: Japan, worldwide
***** Season: Late Spring and Winter
***** Category: Animal


The Nihon Daisaijiki (The Large Japanese Season Word Dictionary)
gives the following explanation about the gadfly:

The gadfly has two wings, resembles a fly (hae) but is much bigger and has a lighter color. Her belly part has a nice shimmer. She is sometimes mistaken for a bee, but a bee has four wings. There are many types of gadflies the one which drinks the nectar of flowers (hana-abu 花虻, hime-abu 姫虻) is well known. Another kind drinks the blood of horses, cattle and sometimes even humans (ushi-abu 牛虻).
On spring days, we can hear the sound of the gadflies wings, which brings about a carefree, leisurely atmosphere and invites us to take a nap.

Well, to use the word “nonbiri”, leisurely, to describe the gadfly swirrling around, I must say, that surprized me. Reading the above explanation, the gadfly must have been a nice, welcome visitor of spring.

Gabi Greve

abu 虻 (あぶ) gadfly
..... hime abu 姫虻(ひめあぶ)
hana-abu 花虻(はなあぶ)
aoabu, ao-abu 青虻(あおあぶ)green gadfly
kiabu, ki-abu 黄虻(きあぶ)yellow gadfly
aome abu 青目虻(あおめあぶ)gadfly with blue eyes

shioya abu 塩屋虻(しおやあぶ)
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

kooka abu 後架虻(こうかあぶ)
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

ushi abu 牛虻(うしあぶ)gadfly on cattle
. . . CLICK here for Photos !



Some more biological information

the tabanids or horse flies, a family of insects that bite humans and other animals to get blood. It includes the genera Chrysops, Chrysozona, Diachlorus, Goniops, Haematopota, Hybomitra, Silvius, and Tabanus. Many species are vectors of disease.

Tabanus (Ta·ba·nus)
[L. “gadfly”] a genus of biting, bloodsucking flies of the family Tabanidae; they transmit trypanosomes and anthrax to various animals.

Tabanus atractus, the common black horsefly of North America.
Tabanus bovicnus, a species that attacks cattle in Asia, Africa, and South America.
Tabanus ditaeniactus, Tabanus fasciactus, Tabanus gractus, the Seroot fly of the Sudan, which is very troublesome to humans and other animals.


Gadfly Mythology

A gadfly, such as the one BRIZE sent by Hera to plague Leto.
Brize was the Gadfly Hera sent after Io to torment her. This gadfly was the size of a sparrow with a stinger as big as a dagger. Hermes, who eventually was sent by Zeus to save the poor girl (or cow) killed the gadfly. If you want to know more, check out the Myth Pages.
In case you didn't figure it out, Brize means Gadfly.


kigo for all winter

fuyu no abu 冬の虻 (ふゆのあぶ) gadfly in winter
iteabu, ite-abu 凍虻(いてあぶ) freezing gadfly

Worldwide use

I suppose, "gadlfy" (Bremse, Pferdebremse) may be a summer kigo here in Central Europe.
Its first appearance is in May-June, late spring or early summer; but mainly noticed during July to September, even from May to October.

Dietmar Tauchner

Things found on the way


ISSA and his Horsefly Haiku

hana-zakari hasu no abuka ni kuware keri

lotuses at their peak
horseflies and mosquitoes

abu-bachi mo sotchi noke noke hasu no hana

move aside
horseflies and bees!
lotuses are blooming

yase-zune ya suzumeba abu ni mikomaruru

thin legs--
while cooling myself appraised
by a horsefly

More are here
Tr. David Lanoue

uki ha uki ha hasu no abu ni zo kuwarekeru

floating leaves, floating leaves
lotus blossom horseflies

© PHOTO: Horsefly Kites by  NAGOYA KORYU


. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 .

abu hae ni naburaruru nari sute-sanae

rejected rice shoots --
how the flies and horseflies
torment them

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku was written in the 5th month (June) of 1816, when Issa was living in his hometown. It was written right around the time of the death of his infant eldest son on 5/11. The boy had been born on 4/14, and his death or impending death is probably reflected in the sadness Issa feels when he sees the how some of the young rice shoots are treated during rice planting. Nari makes the scene objective, but Issa's emotional waves of sympathy are palpable.

More rice shoots were customarily grown than could be planted, and when the young shoots were carried out and transplanted into the wet paddy, those doing the planting would discard shoots that looked weak or not very vigorous. (Usually it was women who began the planting while singing traditional planting songs, since it was believed that women had more ability to make the shoots grow than men, a belief probably coming from shamanism). In the hokku these rejected shoots have been collected and are now kept as spares, for use in case some of the planted shoots don't grow well or get uprooted and float away. Generally rejects were floated in the water in one corner of the paddy or stuck into the mud at the border of the paddy. The shoots in the hokku seem to be stuck in the mud, perhaps bent over and lying on it, since flies and horseflies are constantly lighting on them and treating them as if they were nothing at all, even though they have the potential to become tall stalks of rice. Perhaps they are doubly spares that never found a use and are now completely ignored. It seems difficult for them to stay alive much longer. The strong language of the hokku recalls the horror expressed by an old woman in one of Issa's haibun when samurai authorities ask her to sell her house so they can destroy it, along with her rice crop, just as they have destroyed the rice plants in nearby paddies.

Issa's deep sympathy for weak and mistreated creatures and things pervades his writings. He considered himself a virtually motherless child, since his mother died at three, and other children made fun of him for having no mother. His stepmother was always cold to him, and when he was away to Edo at fourteen he must have suffered often as he tried to stay alive in the big city. Issa claimed in Oraga haru (Year of My Life) that his first hokku, written at age six, was:

ware to kite asobe ya oya no nai suzume

come here
orphan sparrow
play with me!

A chick seems to have fallen out of its nest and gotten lost, and Issa obviously feels they could share a lot together. Issa knew from various experiences what it was like to suffer and be discriminated against, though he never lost his faith in Amida. His ability to see both sides of experiences was a major factor in his willingness to go beyond the objective, descriptivist approach to haikai and to dialog with the world in personalistic, emotional terms.

Chris Drake

- - - - -

abu mo toranu hachi o mo toranu tsukimi kana

can't handle both
horseflies and wasps --
moon-viewing party

Tr. Chris Drake

This autumn hokku is from the 9th month (October) of 1821, when Issa was living in his hometown. The hokku makes an allusion to a proverb, "Not catching horseflies and not catching wasps," which means to do too many things at once and therefore to fail at everything. The proverb is based on the image of an impatient spider trying to catch a horsefly and a wasp at the same time, thereby allowing both to escape. The proverb is therefore about losing the ability to do multiple things due to lack of concentration. Issa humorously takes the proverb literally, but he is not a spider, so "catch" (toru) takes on another meaning: to remove or drive away. He and the others at a moon-viewing party on either the full-moon night of 8/15 or the nearly full-moon night of 9/13 try to enjoy food and drink and possibly music as they praise the moon and perhaps write hokku about it, but they are harassed by horseflies and wasps and no doubt by other insects as well, and they try to drive them away with their fans and their hands. Some people may be trying to swat the insects as well. As soon as they turn to drive away or swat one insect, however, another attacks from a different direction. The insects come from so many directions that soon everyone at the party is bitten multiple times. In spite of the pain, the great beauty of the moon and the conversation taking place in its light seem to keep the party going.

Chris Drake

- - - - - - - - - -

koo koi to abu ga tobu nari kusa no michi

"Come this way!"
my horsefly guide
through the meadow

Tr. David Lanoue

- - - - - other translations for:
kusa no michi 草の道 / 艸の道 a road along the weeds, my clumsy way

harusame ya yomogi o nobasu kusa no michi


teile mein Blut
mit einer Bremse

sharing my blood
with a gadfly

Dietmar Tauchner


gadfly humming
the cat retracts her paw

Gabi Greve


moist earth
a simple gadfly knows what’s best
for its eggs

Stella Pierides
Joys of Japan, January 2012


Shared by Pat Geyer
Joys of Japan

Related words

***** Bee (mitsubachi)



Anonymous said...

Very funny Reading Abu Haiku with Japanese friends after Abu attack in Isu.
Maybe you could add info about what happens with foriegner gets stung by Abu in Japan? I was stung many years ago and had huge incredibly painful swollen ankle and could not walk for three days!

Gabi Greve said...

Hi my friend,
what happens when a foreigner gets stung in your country ?
same as when a Japanese is stung, same here ... go see a doctor, if it is too bad.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .