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Tea Leaves

Japan's summer sounds reverberate across imagination

Amid rain and virus anxiety, sonic ambience offers unexpected pleasures

Entomologists, those scientific specialists who have never met a buzzing, slithering, creeping creature they haven't loved, say that in Japan, there are more than 30 varieties of semi (cicadas), incessant chirpers whose males can measure up to 4 cm long. These legendary bugs, which have turned up regularly over the centuries in Japanese art and verse, and the variations of their loud, distinctive song, are indelible symbols of summer in Japan.

In the Tokyo region, this year's early September showers and unforgiving weeks without sunshine added to a general air of pandemic-provoked anxiety and exasperation as the summer began to wane. Still, nothing could suppress the cicadas lurking in every park or garden, or tucked away in every thicket of bamboo or tiny patch of green. For this observer, as a regionwide state of emergency was extended, again and again, and the virus crisis dragged on and on, other, more unlikely city sounds also became unwitting souvenirs of a summer marred by ominous contagion and rain.

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