Micro-season: “The First Frog Calls”

We have entered the micro-season of “The First Frog Calls”, which is the first micro-season of the mini-season of First Summer. 

Each mini-season contains three micro-seasons. The micro-seasons contained within First Summer are:

  • The First Frog Calls (May 05 – May 09)
  • The Earth Worms Rise (May 10 – May 14)
  • Bamboo Shoots Appear (May 15 – May 20)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 


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First Summer 

The mini-season of First Summer marks a transition towards warmer summer days. We have reached the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.  In 2022, the spring equinox was on March 20 and the summer solstice, which is the official start of the astronomical summer, is on June 21.

The astronomical seasons, which are based on the earth’s position relative to the sun, are slightly different from the meteorological seasons. The meteorological seasons are based on annual temperature cycles.  Meteorological seasons change about every 90 days and coincide with the months of the Gregorian calendar. For those in the northern hemisphere, the months of meteorological spring are March, April, and May. Meteorological summer starts in June and runs until August.  

The First Frog Calls

Frogs can make a variety of sounds, and their sounds usually have one of two primary purposes. These calls are being used to either attract a mate or establish a territory.

Mating Calls

Mating calls are the primary calls that frogs make. Male frogs are the only frogs that make mating calls and these sounds are used to lure the female frog to their location.  Male frogs make these calls from areas that would be suitable for breeding.(1) 

Territorial Calls

Territorial calls are the sounds that male frogs make to keep other male frogs away from their claimed area.  In some species, the mating call and the territorial call are the same.  In other species these two calls are different.(1)

Early Frog Songs

Hokkaido’s Brown Frogs

Japan’s largest northern island is called Hokkaido. Hokkaido is known for its expansive untouched natural areas, volcanoes, hot springs, and ski resorts. When the cold winter temperatures finally begin to give way to the warmer spring temperatures, Hokkaido’s brown frog is one of the first frogs to come out of hibernation and start calling.(2)

The Hokkaido brown frog’s scientific name is Rana pirica, and it is a member of the Ranidae family of True Frogs.(4)  True Frogs are frogs that lay their eggs in water and produce “free-living tadpoles.”(3) True Frogs also have “smooth moist skin, strong hindlimbs, webbed toes, usually a distinct visible tympanum”.(3) The tympanum is the large oval-shaped membrane behind the eye.  This membrane is used for hearing and it works similarly to the human eardrum.  

Hokkaido brown frogs are about 2 inches in length and reddish-brown in color with a whitish chest, throat, and abdomen. Their mating call is described as a fairly high-pitched squeak repeated 6-7 times.(4)

Hokkaido brown frog: Photo Credit-yoonhyuk- BiodiversityforAll
Hokkaido brown frog: Photo Credit-yoonhyuk
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The Wood Frog

In Vermont, which is in the northeastern part of the United States, the wood frog is known for being one of the first frogs to call. These frogs have been known to start calling in the middle of March and will continue until June.(5)

The wood frog’s scientific name is Lithobates sylvaticus.  This frog is found in the forest of the northeastern United States and up to Alaska.  This frog is about 1-2¾ inches long, brown in color, and has a black mask behind its eyes and black “backpack straps” in front of each shoulder.  Their call is described as a crackle, rather than a croak or a whistle.(5)  

Wood Frog photo credit: James Harding This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Wood Frog: Photo credit James Harding

Haiku About Frogs

In any discussion about frogs and haiku, the conversation always seems to find its way back to Matsuo Basho’s frog pond haiku.

old pond--
a frog-jumping-into-water
sound
-Basho translated by David G. Lanoue

David Lanoue, who is an author and translator of haiku, says that Basho often incorporated the work of other poets into his own work as a way to honor them and demonstrate their influence on his work.(7)

The frog pond haiku, which may be one of Basho’s most well-known haiku, quickly became the subject for other haiku poets who wanted to carry on this tradition of honoring others in their poetry. Below are examples of how Yosa Buson and Kobayashi Issa both honored Basho with their own frog pond haiku.


Buson’s Response

Yosa Buson (1716-1784) painted and wrote poetry during the Edo period in Japan. The following haiku is his response to Basho’s frog pond.

Inheriting one of our Ancestor’s Verse

The old pond’s
Frog is growing elderly
Fallen leaves

Author Cheryl Crowley writes about how haiku poets would often incorporate “greetings” to other poets in their haiku. These “greetings” were “parodies that call to mind the source text and rework an old theme in a new setting”.(8) She further explains Buson’s haiku by stating:

“Buson’s verse is in turn a parody of Basho’s, adding its voice to the long ongoing dialogues between Japanese poets and their predecessors. While Buson’s verse perhaps could also be interpreted as an account of something that observed directly, the parallels to Basho’s verse are so obvious it seems unlikely that they were not deliberate, and the addtion of the headnote makes the connection indisputable.”(8)

The headnote that Crowley is referring to is the phrase, “Inheriting one of our Ancestor’s Verse”.


Issa’s response

Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828) was a poet and lay Buddhist priest during the Edo period in Japan. He also wrote a haiku that is a direct response to Basho.

Looking at the ruins of Basho’s hut

old pond--
"let me go first!"
jumping frog
-Issa translated by David G. Lanoue

Lanoue, who has translated over 11,000 of Issa’s haiku, references the work of Shinji Ogawa to explain this haiku.

“I would like to point out the humor Issa put into the haiku. The old pond is not any pond but the pond of the great haiku master Bashô. Therefore, there must be the descendants of Basho’s frog [in the pond]. The ordinary frogs, perhaps Issa’s, must pay respect to the frogs of high birth. When it comes to this type of humor, Issa towers above the rest.”(9)


In Lanoue’s book, Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To, he challenges the reader to take up this tradition of writing haiku in response to other haiku. Lanoue explains that during this process you can both honor the haiku predecessors and refine your own poetic voice. Lanoue sums up this challenge perfectly when he states, “jump into the old pond of haiku tradition, [and] add your own ripples!”(7)

What do you think? Are you up to the challenge? Share your frog pond haiku in the comments below!

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Resources:

  1. “Call of the Wild K-4 PDF”: RangerRick.org
  2. Mark Brazil; “The early frog gets the reproductive success”: JapanNatureGuide.
  3. “True Frogs”; Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed May 2, 2022
  4. Rana pirica; AmphibiaWeb; University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA.
  5. “Wood Frogs” (Lithobates sylvaticus); Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas
  6. “Matsuo Bashō”: Wikipedia
  7. David G. Lanoue: Write Like Issa: A Haiku How-To
  8. Cheryl Crowley: Haikai Poet Yosa Buson and the Bashō Revival
  9. David G. Lanoue; Haiku of Kobayashi Issa

Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.   

Coffee Cup picture: Naturalist Weekly welcomes donations for coffee and journals.
Naturalist Weekly welcomes donations for coffee and journals.
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11 thoughts on “Micro-season: “The First Frog Calls”

Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed this celebration of the spring frogs, Mark. Here in Northern California we start hearing the chorus frogs in January, sometimes February, and it such a thrill. The start of spring. Wonderful, poetic post.

    1. Hi Jet, Hearing frogs in January seems so foreign to me! We still have several feet of snow and some of our coldest temps during that time. Thanks for the comment and I am glad that you enjoyed the post!

  2. What a great essay. Frogs and toads are fascinating. Growing up on an arid farm, there weren’t many frogs or toads…until our annual monsoon season (what a misnomer) of July-August, when we’d finally get some rain. That’s when these amphibians would make their appearance, seemingly overnight. Tiny little frogs/toads would appear as if by magic, and occasionally there’d be a huge toad or two (around 8″ in length). During these brief wet periods when our ponds tended to overflow, the frog songs at night were loud and continuous (my hearing was normal until age 18 so I was able to appreciate these sounds back then). Naturally, the first thing I thought about when I read your essay was Basho’s frog, and I always appreciate Issa’s sense of humor in his haiku. I think I’ve purposely avoided writing frog haiku because of Bahso’s seminal piece about the old pond and the frog, although I have a tanka referencing this:

    (#16)

    I would gladly give
    All I have or ever will
    For the simple truths
    Of the frog in Basho’s pond
    And Williams’ red wheelbarrow

    This tanka is a nod of respect and gratitude to Basho and William Carlos Williams and their iconic masterpieces of poetry. Anyway, this was a cool essay, Mark. Exceptionally well done, good sir! 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing that tanka! That is great! I like the Basho and Williams reference. I wonder what the big frog was. Bullfrog perhaps?
      Thanks again for the comment and the continued support! I hope all is well.

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