Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sweet Seasons / September 2006 - Mushi No Ne -

Mushi No Ne (Chirping of Insects)

As I wrote before, wagashi is often made to reflect seasonal themes, and named to tell us what it is depicting. This one is no exception.
Can you guess what they named this wagashi?

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The answer is mushi no ne 虫の音 (chirping of insects). The two brown lines represent autumn grass, perhaps leaves of sedge or susuki (Japanese silver grass), and the black sesame seed is a cricket. The chirping of cricket is a typical autumn theme here, perhaps as in other countries, too, and many Japanese associate the sound with the serenity and a slight sadness of a long autumn night. We especially love the chirping of suzumushi (Homoeogryllus japonicus, Japanese bell cricket or bell insect), which sounds like this. (Click on the 56K next to the audio icon under the photo of the insect.)

This type of wagashi is called manjuu, which is basically steamed cake usually with sweet bean paste filling. If grated yam is added when making the skin, it is called joyo manjuu, and the skin turns out whiter, softer and moister. I assume that is what this is.
Sorry, I forgot to take a shot to show you inside of this manjuu. Instead, I added some trivia about the chirping of insects, so please read on if you are interested.

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If you stayed overnight in a small village here in Japan in autumn and got fascinated by the beautiful chorus of the bell insects surrounding you, you might be tempted to let your friend in a bigger city hear it. So you hold the receiver of the house phone or your cell phone out of the window to let it catch the chirping sound. But your friend will not hear it. It is a widely-knonwn(?) fact here that the frequency of bell crickets’ chirping is too high for a phone to capture. According to some Japanese websites, a telephone can transmit the sound with the frequency below 3500Hz. But the frequency of the chirping of bell crickets is apx. 4500Hz, so it cannot be transmitted by phone.

Another well-known theory here is that Japanese people and Western people hear the chirping of insects differently. The theory says that when a Japanese person hears it, (s)he uses the left hemisphere of the brain, while a Westerner hears the same sound using the right hemisphere, where the sound, noise and the music are processed. I think this is based on a book called Nihonjin no No ("The Japanese Brain" 1978) by Tadanobu Tsunoda. He gave dichotic listening test to both Japanese and Westerners and made a comparison.

I haven’t read this book myself so I’m not 100% sure, but from what I've read in a couple of websites quoting this book, his findings seem to have indicated that Japanese do hear linguistic sounds using the left hemisphere of the brain and other sounds (music, noise, etc.) using the right hemisphere, just like Westerners do, with some exceptions: Chirping of insects and the sound of certain Japanese musical instruments are processed in the left hemisphere of the Japanese brain (or maybe more precisely, the brain of those who speak Japanese as the first language.) Does this mean that we Japanese are hearing those sounds as "linguistic sounds?" Are we perceiving that the insects or the musical instruments are "talking" to us???
Aren’t we strange people? ;)

* Wagashi by Shingetsu


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16 comments:

Carolie said...

Hmmm...it's not a pumpkin...maybe the crossed lines and the single sesame seed represent a goldfish? I can't tell!

Amy said...

Does it represent the rice harvest??

Anonymous said...

Tsukimi (moon viewing)?

bourgogne said...

hashi goma? (chopsticks sesame seed) ok, i totally made that up.

gleek said...

:) something that popped right into my head as soon as i saw this is absolutely not japanese.

but this reminds me of hot cross buns. do they have those at the bakeries in japan?

Anonymous said...

Alright - I don't know, but I have some ideas that aren't guesses. This is the correct time for 'hatsugari' ("first goose", as in "we see the geese in the sky, k=just now starting to migrate"). The curved brands are similar some other incarnations of hatsugari (imagine those brands on senbei, for example).

"Withering autumn grasses" would also be a seasonally-appropriate theme, though one imagines that the orientation would be a bit different.

John

Anonymous said...

it looks like chopsticks and a sesame seed to me XD...or a bird? dont ask...

but it looks quite tasty, whatever it is.

Pinkity said...

It looks like a pebble to me but then again, I am not too creative :(

Chubbypanda said...

Amy is right. It's the rice harvest. Those slashes represent sheafs of rice bound for cutting and threshing.

- CP

Lysithea said...

Do you celebrate mooncake festival or lantern festival in Japan? Perhaps it's a autumn moon theme thingy?

:)

- lys

Lannae said...

It looks like chopsticks and black sesame seed to me too. I think it is called Autumn Harvest.

obachan said...

Thank you for guessing, everyone! :D I truly enjoyed reading your creative and poetic answers, and I'm sure all the readers of this post did, too.
Now that the answer was posted, what do you think of the name of this wagashi?

carolie
Good guess, but it’s not fish ;)

amy
You are right about seeing those lines as the leaves of the rice plant. (That’s what you thought, right?)
Pretty close!

k & s
Maybe you guessed that the lines are susuki (Japanese silver grass) and the shape of this manju represents the moon? Good guess!

bourgogne
It’s a nice try. The two lines do look like chopsticks.

gleek
Actually I didn’t know what hot cross buns were until I found this site. Looks yummy! :D

John
It sure is the time for hatsukari. Thanks for the poetic guess. Actually your guess of “autumn grasses” was partly correct.

anonymous commenter
Oh, one more vote for chopsticks. ;) Also, bird is a good guess, too.

pinkity
Yeah, I can see why this looks like a pebble. Good try.

chubbypanda
Mmmmm… good guess. I’m happy to hear from someone who is familiar with the rice harvest. In my hometown, which is one of the super-rural areas in this prefecture, harvesting rice was part of the extra-curriculum activities at the junior high school there.

lysithea
Yep, we do celebrate moon festival, but instead of mooncakes, we eat dumplings. I’m planning to post about or moon viewing custom… on October 6th. Oh, it’s this coming Friday, isn’t it?

lannae
Autumn Harvest sounds really good. I like it. But… you don’t really think we harvest sesame seeds one by one using chopsticks, right? ;)

Pinkity said...

Goodness, you guys are just so creative ok... And meticulous. Sigh... I wanna stay in Japan and experience this myself. Thank you so much for doing this and sharing with us readers about the wonderful cultures you have in Japan.

You must be extremely proud of your rich and diverse culture :)

gleek said...

yeah, hot cross buns can be quite tasty :) the ones at the local bakery here look almost exactly like your wagashi, rounded with an X on top.

very beautiful name for the wagashi! it certainly evokes the autumn season. subarashiii!

obachan said...

pinkity
Well, I have to say that not everyone in Japan is so creative and meticulous, but yeah, I'm grateful that some of us are playing the role of being creative and meticulous so wonderfully ;)

gleek
Thanks. In fact I was (still am) very curious about how people, especially Westerners, would react to the combination of "insect" and sweets. That is why I chose this wagashi for this month's entry and made a quiz out of it.

luminece said...

Aw, I miss the lovely bell insects of Japan... I remember them so well from my time there.

The wagashi looks very tasty.