For many people in Japan, there’s no more welcome sound than the incredibly loud whining buzz of the seasonal insects.

Japanese culture has a deep appreciation for the changing of the seasons. That’s why you’ll often hear people waxing poetic about koyo, the red leaves of autumn, yukimiburo, open-air hot springs surrounded by blankets of snow in winter, and sakura, the cherry blossoms that bloom each spring.

Oh, and of course, the mi-n mi-n of summer, referring to cries of the cicadas. Yes, the loud buzzing of the creepy-looking insects, which to the uninitiated can sound like the whine of electrical power lines, is music to the ears of many Japanese people.

▼ As proof, here’s a 90-minute video made up of pretty much nothing but cicada cries that has over four and a half million views.

So why does Japan have such a soft spot for cicada (or semi, as they’re called in Japanese) sounds? To get a better idea, I asked the members of our Japanese-language writing team.

Casey: “Hey, so I was wondering how everybody feels about the sound cicadas make.”

P.K. Sanjun: “I love it. Well, not so much the sound itself, but the way it makes me feel. It’s like, ‘Yep, summer is here!’”

Go Hatori: “Love it! Totally gets me into the season. If I don’t hear them, I start to get uneasy, like we’re going to miss out on having a proper summer.

Takahashi Harada: “Yeah, it’s part of the summer atmosphere, so I like it.”

Masanuki Sunakoma: “I love the cicada sounds! I like them so much that I wish they’d sing even more, even in the winter! I guess it’s because I like summer so much. Ah, but it kind of freaks me out when cicadas cling to my screen door, so I wish they’d stop doing that.”

Seiji Nakazawa: “Love it.”

OK, so that was pretty unanimous. But maybe it’s an acquired taste?

Casey: “So did you all feel that way when you were kids too, or did your opinion change as you got older?”

P.K.: “I’m pretty sure I’ve always liked it”

Go: “Loved the sound since I was a kid, and I haven’t changed a bit!”

Takahashi: “Me too, pretty much.”

Masanuki: “Yeah. When I was a kid, it was essentially ‘The Sound of Summer Vacation.”

The one outlier here was Seiji, who changed his mind about cicadas a while back because of, well, you.

Seiji: “I only started liking it a few years ago. Actually, until I turned 33, I hated summer, and since cicadas reminded me of the season, I thought the sound was totally annoying.

I’ve always had the image that summer is a fun season if you’ve got someone to do something with, but I didn’t have a lot of friends in my teens, 20s, and early 30s. So I didn’t have anyone to do those fun summer things with, and was just sort of waiting for summer to end every year.

But now, even if I’m by myself, I feel like I’m spending time with our site’s readers, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff to write about in the summer. So really, it’s thanks to this job, and the people who read our articles, that I like summer now, and the sound of the cicadas too.”

▼ Thanks for helping Seiji get a more positive outlook on summer, everybody!

Again, it’s not so much the sound itself that people seem to like, but the feelings it stirs in them.

Casey: So when you hear the cicadas sing, what sort of mental image, or memories, does the sound trigger?

P.K.: “Cicadas spend about seven years underground, and then they only come out for about a week, right? And in those seven years, you gotta figure that some of the ones here in Tokyo had the ground they burrowed into paved over with asphalt. So when I do hear one singing, I always think “You worked so hard to get here! It took seven years, but you made it, so sing all you want!”

Go: “The sound always brings back memories from summer vacations when I was still a little kid.”

Takahashi: “I lived in the countryside growing up, and we had a lot more cicadas than here in the city. So when I hear them, it’s almost like I’m looking at pictures of my hometown.”

Masanuki: “Reminds me of doing radio taiso calisthenics in the mornings on summer vacation, or of hanging out in the temporary beach house restaurants they build on the sand..”

Seiji: “It brings back memories of the hill in front of the house I lived in growing up, and the evening squalls in summer. We lived in the countryside, and after the rain stopped the cicadas would start up, and it was like a wall of sound. You know how in the first volume of the Evangelion manga there’s a poem that goes like ‘There are so many cicadas now that I can’t hear anything else’? That’s what it felt like.”

About this time Mr. Sato sauntered into the discussion, and as you might guess, he’s got a somewhat unique perspective.

“I wouldn’t say I especially like or dislike the sound of cicadas, but yeah, they definitely make it feel like it’s summer. When I was a kid, I lived in the countryside too, and we were really close to the mountains, so the cicadas were really loud and annoying. Here in Tokyo, though, there aren’t so many, and it’s not so bad.

We have a couple different kinds of cicadas in Japan, and a lot of people like the minminzemi (hyalessa maculaticollis) and tsukotsukoboshi (meimuna opalifera) that come out in July. But me, I get more emotional at the sound of higurashi (tanna japonensis). Those start singing later in August, and their rattle gives me a sad, lonely feeling, like ‘Summer is ending.’”

▼ A video of higurashi cries, if you’re in the mood to be Sato-sad.

As for me, my very first trip to Japan didn’t coincide with cicada season. In the five-year gap until I took my second, I spent enough time watching Japanese TV dramas and anime that I was braced for the sound, so when I arrived in Japan on trip number two, right in the middle of the summer, I put the most positive spin I could on it by taking the sound of the cicadas as Japan saying “Welcome back!” I’ve spent at least part of every summer since then in Japan, and while my ears still probably wouldn’t find the sound all that pleasant if it was removed from than context, my heart honestly gets a little excited every year when I hear the first mi-n mi-n of the season.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he loves pretty much everything about summer in Japan.