We have entered the micro-season of “The Pheasant First Calls”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season Minor Cold. All the micro-seasons within Minor Cold are:
- The Water Dropwort Flourishes (Jan 06 – Jan 10)
- The Springwater Holds Warmth (Jan 11 – Jan 15)
- The Pheasant First Calls (Jan 16 – Jan 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.
To celebrate this season, we will learn about pheasants and read haiku by Basho, Issa, and Buson.
The term “pheasant” refers to about 50 different species of birds within the Galliformes order. Birds in this order are described as heavy, ground-feeding birds, and include turkey, chicken, and quail.(1,2) Pheasants are usually larger than quails but smaller than wild turkeys.
Pheasants are sexually dimorphic. What this means is that there is a significant difference between certain characteristics of males and females. Both plants and animals can be sexually dimorphic.(3)
In pheasants, the males are usually larger, with brightly colored plumage and longer tail feathers. The females are smaller and usually brown in color. (1)We can easily see this difference when comparing pictures of the male and female Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). The male has copper-and-gold plumage, a white collar, and a red face. The female is brown and black.
The Green Pheasant
The Green Pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) is also known as the Japanese Green Pheasant. This species is native to Japan and became the country’s national bird in 1947.(4) The Green Pheasant is said to have the ability to sense minor earth tremors that come before larger earthquakes. Because of this ability, these birds are credited with saving many lives before the invention of the seismograph.(4)
The Pheasant’s Call
The Green Pheasant’s call is described as “a harsh double-honk, similar to (and perhaps indistinguishable from) that of the Common Pheasant.”(5) In the United States, the Ring-necked Pheasant is also known as the Common Pheasant.
Pheasants may call throughout the day. However, they are more frequently heard at dawn and at dusk during the spring. Spring calls are usually associated with the male pheasant trying to claim territory. Some other reasons for pheasant calls are alarm or distress.(6) Below is a sample of the calls of the Green Pheasant and Common Pheasant.
Although the Pheasant, or kiji, can be found in Japan throughout the year, it is considered a spring kigo.(7)
In the World Kigo Database, Dr. Gabi Greves tells us that the pheasant is “a good omen, prowess and daring, since he eats poisonous snakes.”(7) Dr. Greves also tell us that the pheasant was “a companion to Momotaro, the Peach Boy.”(7)
The tale of Momotaro, the Peach Boy, is a popular piece of Japanese folklore. In this story, a young boy goes off to defeat a band of demons that are threatening his home. On his way to the demons, he makes friends with a talking dog, a monkey, and a pheasant that offer to help him defeat the demons in exchange for food. Momotaro and his new friends are successful in their quest and return home with the demon treasure and the demon chief as a captive. (8)
Now, with all this in mind, let’s read some haiku.
for my father and mother I yearn so deeply- a pheasant’s cry. (translated by David Landis Barnhill)
hearing they eat snakes, it’s unnerving to listen to the pheasant’s cry (translated by Sam Hamill)
within the skylark’s song - the distinct rhythm of the pheasants’ cry (translated by Sam Hamill)
mingling with the thunder-- a pheasant's cry (translated by David G. Lanoue)
hilltop pheasant are you jealous of the heron's style? (translated by David G. Lanoue)
the pheasant cries as if catching sight of a mountain (translated by David G. Lanoue)
these barren hills - where is it hidden the call of a pheasant (translated by Gabi Greve)
stepping on a copper pheasant's tail - spring sunset (translated by Haldane)
This week’s haiku invitation is to write a haiku or senryu that references a bird that is currently residing in your area.
If you are farther north, you may only have a few non-migratory birds. If you are farther south, you may have some winter visitors to write about. When you are writing your piece, think about any cultural connections these birds may have and how you use that to your benefit in your haiku.
Share your haiku in the comments below, or post on your own page and link back to this post. I can’t wait to read what you write!
- “Pheasant”; Wikipedia
- “Pheasant”; Britannica
- “Sexual dimorphism”; Wikipedia
- “The National Bird of Japan-Pheasant”; JapanCityTour.com
- “Green-pheasant”; birdfinding.info
- “Ring-necked Pheasant-Life History”; AllAboutBirds.org
- “Pheasant (kiji)”; World Kigo Database
- “Momotarō” Wikipedia
Basho’s haiku were retrieved from “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” Editor: Gábor Terebess. Issa’s haiku were retrieved from David G. Lanoue’s Haiku Guy. Buson’s haiku were retrieved from the World Kigo Database.