Semi no Nukegara

An older piece I wrote in my journal while I was in Japan. Hoping to blog when I visit for a year :)

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1. Semi no Nukegara

The air is stagnant, pooling quietly except for the faint buzz of something from my childhood, an insect. I point to the shell clinging to the tree, back split open, remnants of something long gone now.

"Kore wa nan desu ka?" I ask. It's my favorite Japanese phrase, asking "what is this?" politely. Nana, Eri's eight year old cousin looks to her mother for support, then encouraged, replies,

"Semi no nukegara." The empty shell of a cicada.

Summer time in Japan is marked by the song of the Semi, or the cicada. Throughout the days and nights, you hear the melodic rasping of the insects calling out to one another, communicating.

I wake up at five in the morning, still unaccustomed to the time change and grab my notebook to draw on the balcony. I work the line detail of the roof, and I hear the cicadas. Normally, I listen to my iPod while I draw, but I've since abandoned it. Out here, in the early morning sunlight, it's just me and the cicadas. They serenade me in a cacophony of background noise, blending into the backdrop as I mark my page with pen, committing to each line.

At the end of the hour, my house on paper is finished. Satisfied, I slide open the door and get changed. As the house awakens, I show them my picture as Eri's mother fusses over breakfast.

"Hee, jouzu da yo ne! Keiti, yoku dekita!" 

Eri thinks it's beautiful. I bow my head humbly, denying it, saying it's very poor, and I want to improve. Never outright accept a compliment in Japanese, I've learned. Instead, banter back and forth, until you reach a mutual conclusion of head nodding and a "Well, if you insist". It's game of politeness.

Eri's grandfather starts talking about tiled roofs and how they mimic the architecture of shrines to prompt the good spirits to bless the homes. He loves telling me stories in mixed Japanese and English, only pausing to light his morning cigarette. The tobacco stains his clothes, so that he always smells like Seven Stars, but I don't mind because the stories that pour from his mouth are more important to me than the smoke. 

By the time breakfast is ready, the heat is spilling in and the cicadas are singing louder. I eat omurice with chopsticks. The day is beginning, the cicadas assure me, and I smile.

Ganbatte ikimasu. I'm going to go and do my best.

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