The Japanese phrase “tamamushi-iro no ketchaku” (literally to agree on a jewel beetle's color) is a convenient expression that should be avoided at all costs since it's such a cliche.

It refers to an ambiguous agreement that can be interpreted in various ways, usually a compromise hammered out to end difficult negotiations.

After doing some research, I found that this use of the word "tamamushi-iro" (iridescent) is relatively new. It debuted in the Kojien Japanese dictionary in 1983.

“Tamamushi has a long history as a beloved insect,” said Shichiro Ashizawa, 86, of Fujieda, Shizuoka Prefecture, who has been raising the insect for many years. “It was always praised until its name started being used as a negative analogy in politics and other areas."

Ashizawa has been raising tamamushi (Chrysochroa fulgidissima), or Japanese jewel beetles, for more than three decades. Since there is no established breeding method, he has carefully examined the ecology of the species on his own.

Tamamushi larvae spend as long as three to five years in a tree, but adults live only several dozens of days. They all die at the end of summer, Ashizawa discovered.

Inspired by Ashizawa’s enthusiasm about the metallic wood-boring beetle, a group of interested local residents formed a club for tamamushi lovers. The group has started manufacturing rings and brooches using the insect's iridescent wings at a studio named “Tamamushi no Sato” (village of tamamushi).

For four years, the group has been holding summer exhibitions designed to get children interested in the beautiful bug. The exhibitions have begun to draw visitors from abroad as well.

Iridescent beetle wings have been used in arts and crafts from ancient times, as testified to by the fabled “Tamamushi no zushi” (Tamamushi Shrine), a miniature shrine at Horyu-ji temple in Nara Prefecture designated as a national treasure. The Buddhist craft, created in the seventh century, was decorated with iridescent wings of the tamamushi beetle.

Originally, the word tamamushi-iro referred to the gem-like beauty of the bug's wings.

Traditions abound concerning tamamushi. One says, “Put a tamamushi in your dresser and your love will come to fruition.” Another advises, “Put a tamamushi in a chest of drawers and your clothes will increase.”

Ashizawa showed me a tamamushi he raised. It was the first time I had touched an insect in a while. The glossy metallic green and purple colors that covered its body amazed me.

It seemed the dazzlingly beautiful bug couldn't care less that its name has been used negatively to describe situations concerning politics and compromise.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1

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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.