Tonbo/ Dragonfly


Dragonfly 10a

Originally uploaded by SOFennell

My son and I had a brief encounter with a dragonfly (蜻蛉・とんぼ・tonbo)recently. It seemed as though it wanted to play and pose while we took as many pictures as it would allow. Later, on reflection I wondered, did we actually interact with this insect? Of course, that led to all kinds of “what ifs” and then, today I learned that their beginnings in the larval stage can last up to five years (in water). What if all the streams, rivers and lakes dried up (like so many did in NC last summer), what then? It wouldn’t take too long for these elegant little creatures that we take for granted, to disappear…would it? The system is so delicate.

In researching the tonbo, from the Japanese perspective (as usual), I found there are more than a few words for the dragonfly. Here are some:
やんま・yanma (Aeshnidae), おにやま・oniyanma (largest variety in Japan), あかとんぼ・akatonbo (the red dragonfly) among others. “Wiki” says there are almost 200 traditional Japanese names for the dragonfly.

Merrily Baird (Symbols of Japan) says they are emblematic of martial success as the names of the insect are “homophones for words meaning ’victory.’”

A historical tidbit:  The shuttlecock in the Japanese New Year’s game, Hagoita, is modeled after a mosquito eating dragonfly. The game is thought to have grown out of a magical rite for protecting children from mosquitoes and other sickness (this is new to me!).

One can also fold an origami tonbo. Tanoshinde ne! Have fun!

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4 Responses to “Tonbo/ Dragonfly”

  1. Olympiada Says:

    I found this by doing a google search for “indigo dragonfly” and I’m glad I did! It seems we, and the Japanese, share a common interest. I have also noticed how popular the dragonfly is in Japanese culture. Thank you for posting this.

    • Susan Says:

      Yes, it’s a wonderful image isn’t it! Thank you so much for your comments! I don’t think I’ll ever tire of exploring Japanese culture.

  2. www.yahoo.com Says:

    Saved as a favorite, I love your web site!

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