Japanese Cicadas (Semi)

Tanna japonensis

I love Japanese cicada. Next to cats and onsen, hearing the cicada in real life as opposed to in an anime made my Japan experience extraordinary. Their summer sound is as iconic as that “ker-thunk” of a Japanese bamboo fountain. I heard at least two types of cicada—the Kumazemi (Cryptotympana facialis), and my absolute favorite, Higurashi (also known as Kanakana, Tanna japonensis). Is it possible to fangirl over cicada? Because I was definitely in kya! kya! mode when I first heard real higurashi outside the dorms. A certain horror anime (Wikipedia link) made me fall in love with them as eerie foreshadowing of horrible events (kind of like crows calling at dusk). Sure, we have cicada in California, but none of ours sound so singsong-awesome. I was so excited that I took my MP3-player to record their sound, and crept around the side of the dorm buildings to where they sang the loudest. Behind the motorcycle parking lot there was an edge of bamboo forest. I felt odd standing back there, because it was also next to dorm windows. I imagined people peering out and wondering what the heck that girl was doing sneaking about with a recording device. It was especially disconcerting when, coming back, I noticed a police car parked in front of the dorm, but apparently that was a total coincidence because I never saw any officers.

My higurashi recording night 1:
[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24476810/Higurashi%201%20COPY.mp3]

My higurashi recording night 2:
[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24476810/Higurashi%202%20COPY%20clip.mp3]

Japanese police car

Japanese police (keisatsu) car parked in front of my dorm. I don’t know why it was there.


The higurashi didn’t start calling until halfway through my trip, after rainy season had passed and the dead heat of late summer kicked in. They sang every evening for about an hour from then on. Higurashi only sing at sunset, which is part of what makes them great heralds of nightfall and scary events in anime. In my opinion, their song is the most beautiful of all the cicada. It is a melancholy, sad chorus. Because I was recording from an old MP3 player I didn’t get the best quality; you’d have to hear them in real life for the full effect. The more insects there are singing at once, the more magical their chorus.

I thought it was strange that when I talked about the higurashi to a Japanese woman who lives on campus, she said she had never really noticed the cicada’s unique call before. I guess if you live there, they become background noise that you tune out.

bamboo behind the dorms

Poor quality picture of where I recorded the higurashi

I was able to hear what I think may have been kumazemi during our homestay in Bungotakeda, as we were walking through temples. They sang in a loud collective hiss from the bushes.

Here is a great article I always refer to when looking up types of Japanese cicada: http://kimoto.cc/ykk/semi.html . It includes sound recordings of Kumazemi, minminzemi, higurashi, and tsukutsukuboshi.


Dear You -Cry- (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni) vocal by Yuduki (Yuzuki) [Youtube video below]: A very nice use of higurashi calls inside a song



  1. I am so glad you put sound files. I had no idea that sound was from an insect. I have heard it before, but always thought it was some type of musical instrument making that unique sound. I appreciate the education.

    Funny how we are unaware of the sounds that we are used to hearing. I remember a certain bird sound when I was growing up in LA County. I didn’t realize it wasn’t common to everywhere until I moved up here to northern CA and found it missing from my mornings.


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