Seeing off the bugs (mushiokuri)

[ . BACK to Worldkigo . TOP . ]

Seeing off the bugs (mushiokuri, mushi okuri)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Late summer
***** Category: Humanity


CLICK for more photos

mushi okuri 虫送り (むしおくり) seing off the bugs
driving away the bad insects, driving off insects
torch procession to drive away crop-eating insects
torchlight procession staged to ward off noxious insects

tamushi okuri 田虫送(たむしおくり)seeing off the bugs from the fields
inamushi okuri 稲虫送(いなむしおくり)seeing off the bugs from the rice plants
mushi oi 虫追い(むしおい)warding off the insects

mushi oi matsuri 虫追い祭り festival to ward off the insects
mushi kuyoo 虫供養(むしくよう)memorial service for the bugs
(which have been killed to protect the harvest)

Sanemori matsuri 実盛祭(さねもりまつり)
Sanemori festival


This custom dates back to the times with no chemicals for the field pests. It was all up to the deities to protect the growing plants.
Locusts, beetles, leafhoppers (unka, Sanemori mushi, see below) and others were threatening the plants. So to get rid of them was important in the time from late summer till early autumn.
One of the means of farmers was "okuri", to send something off. This "sending off" was also done when an infectious disease hit a village and the spirit of the disease had to be "send off".
Usually, the trip went to the borders of a village, downstream or down the valley.

(What did the next village downstream do, you might ask ? )

after the insects have been dispelled, it was time to have a memorial service (kuyoo) for them to appease the souls of the dead animals.

This special custom connected to Sanemori dates back to a historical person and a real battle, though.

CLICK for more photos

The hero is Saito Betto Sanemori
(斎藤別当実盛 Saitoo Bettoo Sanemori), a general of the Heike army.
He was killed, because his horse stumbled over a stubble of rice in a field, tumbled and throw him off, where the enemy could stab him lying defenseless on the ground.
He was very angry about his "shameful death" and swore to become a vengeful insect, distroying the harvest for ever.

source : unka okuri うんか送り at Yata
for unka, see below

There are many regional variations, taking part at different dates,
even up to now, farmers make a straw doll of Sanemori, carry it around the fields with drums and flutes and then to the village border. The straw doll of Sanemori is usually burned in a huge bonfire at the village border.
Many kindergardens and schools in rural areas participate in these walks around the fields and take care of the fires along the paddies.
Sometimes large straw figures of insects or even dragons are carried around in the processions and later burned.

hyakuhachi tahi 百八炬火 108 fires to ward off insects
Sometimes the date is the 14th of august, during the O-Bon ancestor festival.

. Shrine Tada Jinja 多太神社
This shrine it is famous for the helmet of Saito Sanemori 斉藤実盛, who found repose here in 1183. Matsuo Basho wrote a famous haiku about this.

. hyakuhachi kyoomyoo 百八松明 108 Pine Torches
This festival is held as a seeing off for the souls and also to pray for the protection of the rice fields from insects, a form of seeing off the beetles, mushi okuri, during the O-Bon celebrations.


kigo for all autumn

CLICK for more photos

unka うんか【浮塵子】 leafhopper, leaf hopper
"rice beetle", plant hopper
from various families, like Delphacidae, Fulgoroidea
Sanemorimushi, Sanemori mushi 実盛虫 "Sanemori beetle"
nukabae 糠蠅(ぬかばえ)"rice bran fly"
awamushi 泡虫(あわむし)"bubble beetle"

These little insects come in great numbers and look like "mist and clouds" (unka うんか【雲霞】), hence the name. They can bring great damage to the rice plants. They even take the name of our hero, Sanemori.

Reiskäfer; Stirnhöckerzirpe; Kleinzirpe

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

mushiokuri ningyoo 虫送り人形 figure "to ward off insects"
Goshokawara 五所川原市

for the festival of
. sanaburi “早苗ぶり”end of rice planting .

The body of the "mushi" figure is from straw, the head from wood.
The young men of the village parade this around the streets and then hang it on the tallest tree. It Is supposed to protect the fields and bring a good harvest.

. Folk Toys from Aomori .

figures for mushiokuri in other parts of Japan
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

. Musashino 武蔵野 Tokyo - mushi okuri figure .


CLICK for more photos

mushi kuyoo hi no ban to iu urakata mo

memorial service for the bugs -
there are also people who tend
to the bonfires

Matsunaga Keiko 松永桂子

urakata, people behind the scenes

Related words

***** mushi okuri in autumn, during the O-Bon festival

***** Fly-swatter (haetataki)


kigo for mid-summer

taichuu no majinai 退虫の呪 (たいちゅうのまじない)
spell against insects

This is an old Chinese custom, introduced to Japan in the Edo period.
On the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, people collected sheperd's purse and bound it together with some hot pepper. This was hanged upside down into a home lantern (andon) in the hope, to drive away any unwanted insects. A spell to drive away insects was also written on strong paper and hung in the toilet, under the eaves and at the beams of the kitchen, sometimes upside down.
This day was the one when the god of the mountains came back down to the fields for the rice-growing season and was celebrated in many regions.


observance kigo for early winter

Toganoo mushi kuyoo 栂尾虫供養 (とがのおむしくよ)
memorial service for the bugs at Toganoo

On the 12th and 13th of the tenth lunar month (now November)

The farmers from the region would offer prayers to Amida (nenbutsu 念仏講) for the souls of the bugs they had to kill during the rice-growing season.
The ritual was held at temple Koozanji 高山寺 Kozan-Ji, but is not done any more.

. Temple Koozanji 高山寺 Kozan-Ji .

For children, there are also some "mushi" connected with illness like the
san-shi no mushi 三尸の虫

kan no mushi 疳の虫 / 癇 insect of nervousness, short-temperedness
nakimushi 泣き虫 insect of crying too much
hara no mushi 腹の虫 insect causing diarrhea

. Mushikiri 虫切り, mushifuuji for children .





Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

hara no mushi naru zo yuki wa asu atari

listen, loud noises
in my belly -- tomorrow
it snows

This hokku is from the early winter of 1824 when Issa was staying with various students near his hometown. He was in shock and had temporarily lost the power of speech due to a stroke soon after his second wife left him and their very short marriage. The hokku is in the form of an address to someone, so it seems probable that Issa is either "talking" silently to himself using writing or is communicating with one one of his hosts with a written hokku, which expresses an important forecast. Zo and yo are both "cutting particles" (kireji), and together they strongly ask for the listener's or reader's attention. The last part of the hokku seems to be Issa's prediction based on the noises he hears and, probably, the stomachache he feels.

In Issa's time various ailments were attributed to "bugs," a bit the way viruses are called "bugs" in some varieties of English. Some were traditional Daoist bugs or belonged to the realm of folk religion, while other bugs referred to parasites. As a result, there are many common metaphorical idioms in Japanese that refer to "belly bugs" doing this or that. For example, an idiom meaning "I just can't take it/feel satisfied" is literally "my belly bugs just can't take it." One such metaphorical idiom plays on the image of actual insects making sounds or crying. In the hokku, Issa's stomach and intestines are making loud sounds, and he refers to these rumbling, gurgling, squealing noises, which were probably a bit embarrassing, by using a common, everyday euphemism, "Bugs are making noises/sounds (naru) in my belly."

It is unlikely that Issa, who was educated as a young man in the big city of Edo, where the basics of western physiology and anatomy were known through translations of Dutch books, believes that bugs, including parasites, are literally making noises in his digestive tract. In other hokku about premonitions of approaching snow, he uses the metaphorical idiom of bugs making sounds inside him humorously, and the present hokku, too, may well be humorous. By using a colorful euphemism Issa can talk about his body sounds very naturally and make an important prediction. Since his predictions in previous years seem to have been accurate, Issa probably believes there is a cause and effect relationship between the approaching snow and his bad digestion. He may also be aware of the word "snow belly" (yuki-bara), which refers to the fact that before and/or during snowstorms many people experience digestive problems due to rapidly falling temperatures.

The main focus of the hokku seems to be on the uncanny way the stomach and intestines can act as extremely sensitive instruments that can sometimes fairly accurately resonate with the near future before the conscious mind can possibly know it. In the snow country, where Issa's hometown was located, snowstorms were serious and important events that people were very interested in, and the ability to read or auscultate the future was highly regarded.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

hatsu yuki ga furu to ya hara no mushi ga naku

first snowfall--
the worms in my belly

Tr. David Lanoue

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