Photo/IllutrationA cicada shell hangs on a tree branch at a Buddhist temple in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

As I understand that any item can have a price in a market economy, it was no surprise that I recently saw a set of 90 "semi no nukegara" (cicada shells) being sold for 1,100 yen ($10.45) on the popular marketplace app Mercari.

Perhaps these shells come in handy for Japanese schoolkids who have chosen cicadas as the subject of their summer holiday project known as "jiyu kenkyu."

The word "nukegara" sounds pretty ho-hum. But its more poetic synonym, "utsu semi" (literally, "empty cicada"), seems to hint at some remnants of the life of the bug that has shed its exoskeleton.

Strolling in my neighborhood, I have seen many cicada shells clinging to concrete retaining walls. Their presence suggests that the bugs are tough or pragmatic enough to not mind being away from their familiar trees when they molt and emerge as adults.

Many poets have picked up on the vitality of cicadas in utsu semi. Here's a haiku by Midorijo Abe (1886-1980): "Not one utsu semi/ Relaxes its grip."

Poet Hinao Goto sensed in a discarded shell the strength and even keen eyesight of the insect: "Utsu semi/ Proof of the bug's sure-footedness and perfect vision."

Perhaps because of this year's prolonged "tsuyu" rainy season, I heard the chirping of cicadas much later than last year. I guess they couldn't wait for the sun and the heat. Assuming that many of them have only molted recently, their singing seems to sound lustier and livelier.

This is the midsummer Obon holiday season, and it may be a good time for us humans to look back to the figurative shells we have shed through the years.

Reminiscing the past with our family and old friends, or picking up books we left behind at our childhood home, may bring back memories of the thoughts we had and the problems we struggled with back then.

A haiku by Shugyo Takaha goes to the effect, "Utsu semi/ Still undergoing suffering."

Overcoming anguish enables us to move one step forward. The word "molt" is often used figuratively. One thing that makes us different from cicadas is that we can molt as many times as we want.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.