Catching dragonflies

by Toshiyuki Miyazaki

Rausch (Ausgabe I/2017)


Dragonfly. Illustration: N.N.

In the Kojiki, one of the oldest documents in Japan, the dragonfly already plays a special role. In the "record of ancient events" handed down from the 7th century it says: "When emperor Yūryaku was stung by a fly while hunting, a dragonfly appeared and ate the fly." The emperor then made helmets with dragonfly etched on them for his soldiers. The emblem stood for loyalty and success. Japan itself became known as "Akitsushima", the "Dragonfly Island".

But the dragonflies reputation preceded it, not only at the imperial court, but also among the rural population. Since the red dragonfly, the "Akatombo", particularly likes to lay its eggs in the rice fields, many farmers still regard it as a sign of a rich harvest. Its offspring hatch exactly when the rice plants are ripe in autumn. Although the animal has lost its cultural significance in modern times, there are still signs of its old popularity: one of the most famous Japanese children's songs is entitled "Akatombo" - the protagonist of the song flies into the sunset on the back of a dragonfly. However, the dragonfly's good reputation sometimes also causes harm.

Dragonfly catching is still a popular game in Japan today. It involves tying two pebbles to the ends of a thread and throwing it into the air. The dragonfly thinks that the pebbles are small insects, but when it tries to attack them the thread wraps around them and pulls them to the ground. The aim is usually to catch a particularly large specimen. However, this popular sport does not pose a serious threat to the dragonfly. Rather, new pesticides and Japan's rapid urbanisation are contributing to the fact that many species are slowly being driven out of their habitats.

Translated by Jess Smee

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