Dragonfly (tonbo)

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Dragonfly (tonboo, tomboo - Tombo)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: All Autumn, and see below
***** Category: Animal


The dragonflies are the real harbingers of autumn here in the air! They come in many forms and sizes, some almost like small helicopters. And our cats love to chase after them when they start hopping over water puddles.

Shared by Pat Geyer
Joys of Japan, February 2012

Japan was once called Akitsushima meaning
"The Island of the Dragon-fly".
So this animal is very dear to the Japanese heart!

They are also a symbol of good luck here, because they never go back.

Most dragonflies are of course seen during other seasons too, but they are at their best, so to say, in autumn, therefore this is their use as a code word for poetry (kigo) .

There are also different kinds of dragonflies, some are kigo for other seasons, see below.


Dragonfly and larva
Mori Shunkei 森春渓  (active around 1800-20 in Osaka)


Let us look at some kigo with these animals.

dragonfly, tonbo (tombo, tonboo) 蜻蛉
..... seirei せいれい
..... akitsu あきつ
..... chan ちゃん
..... shibuchan 渋ちゃん(しぶちゃん)
..... yanma 蜻蜓(やんま)
..... enba えんば, enma えんま, tonboo とんぼう

big dragonfly, devil's dragonfly, oni yanma 鬼やんま(おにやんま)
Anotogaster sieboldii
silver dragonfly, gin yanma 銀やんま(ぎんやんま)
dragonfly with a small body, koshiboso yanma 腰細やなま
black yanma, kuro yanma 黒やんま(くろやんま)
green dragonfly, ao yanma 青ヤンマ、青やんま
"chinz yanma", sarasa yanma 更紗やんま(さらさやんま)
kiyanma 胡黎(きやんま)

green dragonfly, ao tonbo, aotonbo 青蜻蛉(あおとんぼ)
butterfly dragonfly, choo tonbo 蝶蜻蛉

salt dragonfly, shio tonbo 塩蜻蛉(しおとんぼ)

"salt store dragonfly", shioya tonbo 塩屋蜻蛉(しおやとんぼ)
Orthetrum japonicum japonicum

. . . . .

"shiokara tonbo" 塩辛蜻蛉(しおからとんぼ)
Orthetrum albistylum speciosum
. shiokara . is made from seafood pickled in salt.
A very common dragonfly. The belly of the male is white or light blue. The abdomen of the female is brown, she is called
wheat straw dragonfly, mugiwara tonbo
..... straw dragonfly, mugi tonbo 麦蜻蛉(むぎとんぼ)

. . . CLICK here for Photos !

. . . . .

. shoojoo tonbo 猩々蜻蛉(しょうじょうとんぼ)
Shojo Dragonfly, "Tipster Sprite dragonfly

Crocothemis servilia mariannae

shooroo tonbo 精霊蜻蛉(しょうろうとんぼ)
lit. "lantern for the dead"
. . . . . or
"Buddha dragonfly", hotoke tonbo 仏蜻蛉(ほとけとんぼ)
Pantala flavescens

wide belly dragonfly, harahiro tonbo,
腹広蜻蛉(はらひろとんぼ)harabiro tonbo
Lyriothemis pachygastra

"tiger spotted dragonfly", torafu tonbo 虎斑蜻蛉(とらふとんぼ)
Epitheca marginata Selys

dragonfly in high mountains, takane tonbo
Somatochlora uchidai

koshiaki tonbo こしあき蜻蛉(こしあきとんぼ)
Pseudothemis zonata

old dragonfly, mukashi tonbo 昔蜻蛉(むかしとんぼ)
Epiophlebia superstes

fishing with dragonflies, tonbo tsuri

. . . . .

red dragonfly, aka tonbo 
赤蜻蛉 赤とんぼ . アカトンボ


Sympetrum darwinianum

..... maybe the most loved one in Japan due to a children's song about it.


You can listen to it here : Akatonbo Song

Other kigo names for this special red dragonfly are:

noshime のしめ
noshime tonbo のしめ蜻蛉
akienba 赤蜻蛉、赤卒
aki akane 秋茜 "red autumn"
akaenba 秋卒(あかえんば)

hatchoo tonbo 八丁蜻蛉(はっちょうとんぼ)
Nannophya pygmaea

Red Dragonfly deep in the mountains

miyama akane 深山茜

Red Dragonfly with high eyebrows

mayutate akane 眉立茜 マユタテアカネ


kigo for mid-summer

tonbo umaru 蜻蛉生る (とんぼうまる) dragonfly is born
..... yago やご, larvae of dragonfiels
yamame やまめ、taikomushi 太鼓虫(たいこむし)
tonbo no ko 蜻蛉の子(とんぼのこ)"dragonfly children"

. . . CLICK here for Photos !



Anisoptera: Flying colors

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. We're not talking about the colors of the rainbow...we're talking dragonflies! When you consider that these common insects have been around for more than 200 million years, you could say that our planet has always been a very colorful place! But the dragonfly isn't born with his smashing fashion sense. He enters the world as a tiny egg--one of hundreds laid underwater by momma dragonfly. Next, he enters the larval stage, and is then known as a nymph. During this stage, the dragonfly nymph hangs out underwater, growing larger and larger, until he "sheds" his skin--and out pops a full-grown, full-blown dragonfly.

© Animal Encyclopedia


Link with photos of this animal.


An impressive page with all about the dragonfly, as symbol, in religion, in art and so on:
Cultural Odonatology References

My safekeep copy is here:
All about the Dragonfly by Ron Lyons

Worldwide use


Dragonflies (Odonata), or odonatoptères - more known as dragonflies - are one order of insects with elongated body with two pairs of membranous wings generally transparent and whose compound eyes and generally allow them to large effectively hunt their prey. They are aquatic in the larval state and terrestrial as adults. They are predators that may be encountered occasionally in any type of environment, but are more common in the vicinity of of areas freshwater to brackish , stagnant at current low, they need to reproduce.
In French language , the term dragonfly is generally used in a broad sense to refer to the Odonata, which include two sub-orders : damselflies ( Zygoptera ) and dragonflies strict sense ( Anisoptera ).
A third sub-order, Anisozygoptères ( Anisozygoptera ) has only Himalayan species and one Japanese. In 1996, Günter Bechly combined the two suborders Anisoptera and Anisozygoptera in Epiproctophora including their analogy in the larval stage (presence of épiproctes and not of caudal lamellae as in Zygoptera).

At edge of the pond
to keep me company
a young lady.

(Other word in french for dragonfly)

- Shared by Patrick Fetu -
Haiku Culture Magazine, 2013



Libelle, Libellen

Things found on the way

The Dragon-fly
by Alfred Lord Tennyson apparently from ``The Two Voices''

Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.



Click for more information !

. Tonbodama とんぼだま【蜻蛉玉】 Dragonfly Glass Beads


inazuma ya nami moteyueru Akitsushima

lightning -
the Islands of Japan
are surrounded by waves

Tr. Gabi Greve

lightning --
girdled by waves
islands of Japan

In this hokku, the light from the lightning (inazuma), a seasonal word for autumn associated in the ancient period with the rice harvest (ina), enables the viewer to see the waves surrounding all the islands of Akitsushima (an anceint name for Japan that originally meant the islands where rice grows richly). This is not the result of direct experience. It is a spectacular aerial view - a kind of paean to the fertility and beauty of the country - that would only be possible from far above the earth.
source : Haruo Shirane

A flash of lightning--
Wound around with waves
Akitsu Islands

Tr. Nelson/Saito

tonboo ya mura natsukashiki kabe no iro

this dragonfly -
the color of the walls
of my hometown village 

The cut marker YA is at the end of line 1.
natsukashii a direct expression of his loving and longing emotions toward the village and the old walls.

. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .


tombo-tsuri kyoo wa doko made itta yara

catching dragonflies -
how far did we go
today ?
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Chiyo-jo千代女 (Chiyo-Ni)


Takarai Kikaku 宝井基角 wrote:

akatonbo hane o tottara toogarashi

red dragonfly
when the wings are taken off
just a red pepper

When Basho saw Kikaku's haiku, he said:

"No, this is not a good haiku, because you kill the dragonfly.
If you want to make a good haiku,
you must give it life and say instead:

toogarashi hane o tsuketara akatonbo

red pepper -
put wings on it to get
a red dragonfly


Basho and Kikaku

Kikaku was just clever.

But to make a good haiku, you need more than cleverness:

You need compassion towards nature. So this was a great message to Basho's
students about the importance of nature and the importance of our attitude
towards nature.
- Good Advise for Writing Haiku -

source : oyamabatyan


kaki-dake to tombo to utsuru shooji kana!

on my paper window
the shadow of a dragonfly
and the bamboo fence


Bamboo as kigo, in art and in my garden


The Haiku Photo Gallery
Museki Abe


- - - - - Kobayashi Issa - - - - -

mikazuki o nirame tsumetaru tombo kana

at the sickle moon...
a dragonfly
Tr. David Lanoue

- - - - -

zainin o saido ni ireru ka aka-tombo

red dragonflies,
are you here to lead criminals
to enlightenment?

Tr. Chris Drake

There may be other versions of this hokku, but I use the one in Issa's collected works 1.543. It's from a manuscript from 1823 and is an autumn hokku. Issa seems to be deeply moved by the many red dragonflies darting here and there, ignoring gravity in remarkable ways. They fly so freely they resemble bodhisattvas to Issa, and he uses Buddhist language (saido) to ask them if they are here in this world like bodhisattvas to guide even criminals to enlightenment and the other shore.

Surely he also means to Amida's Pure Land. Amida has promised to accept into the Pure Land even the most hardened and cruel criminals if they call out his name with an unwavering and utterly devout heart, and when Issa sees the dragonflies he also seems to feel a wave of utter devotion coming over him. He is no doubt acutely aware of his own imperfections, and he may feel no decisive difference between himself and the condemned criminals who often pass westward through his hometown on their way to work in the prison silver mines on Sado Island, out in the Japan Sea. To me this hokku may be asking the dragonflies if they would be willing to guide Issa, too.

Chris Drake

- - - - -

zubunure ni nurete maji-maji tonbo kana

rain drips steadily
from unblinking
dragonfly eyes

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from the 8th month (September) of 1817, when Issa was traveling around to see various haikai poets who lived near his hometown. Issa seems fascinated by the large, compound eyes (with 30,000 lenses) of a dragonfly staring hard at something in the rain. Bulbous eyes that resemble large goggles are wrapped around the dragonfly's head and neck, making possible 360-degree vision, and they have no eyelids, so raindrops strike the dragonfly's big eyes directly and then drip off them, allowing the dragonfly to stare intently despite the rain. Perhaps Issa wishes he could use his limited human eyes to stare equally hard and unflinchingly at everything in the world around him, even through rain and through various human restrictions that try to limit human vision.

Chris Drake

. Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .


yuku mizu ni onoga kage ou tombo kana

over the flowing water
chasing its shadow -
the dragonfly

Lady Chiyo-ni


tonboo ya tori tsuki kaneshi kusa no ue

this dragonfly -
it tries so hard to hold on
to a blade of grass

Tr. Gabi Greve

Written in Genroku 3 (1690).

. WKD - Matsuo Basho Archives 松尾芭蕉 .


red dragonfly: a gust bends the reeds

a red dragonfly hovers -- Daruma's robe

"chibi" (pen-name for Dennis M. Holmes)

Read more of Chibi's haiku on the dragonfly here:


ishigaki ni tonbo no kage no odori kana

old stone wall -
the dancing shadows of

alte Steinmauer -
die tanzenden Schatten
der Libellen

Click HERE to look at the wall.

Gabi Greve


Japanese link with many many many haiku about the dragonfly!
... ... ... とんぼの俳句

赤とんぼ空に流れる竜田川 (柳多留一)

亡き人のしるしの竹に蜻蛉かな 几薫


safekeep copy is here


akatonbo sugu furusato ya nihonjin
赤蜻蛉 すぐ故郷や 日本人

red dragonfly -
the Japanese soon think of
their native place

Gabi Greve
red dragonfly in the heart


ore mazha ~
thumbikalellam olivil

untimely rains ~
dragonflies all
in hiding

Narayanan Raghunathan


Shared by Pat Geyer
Joys of Japan, February 2012

Related words

***** damselfly, itotonbo 糸蜻蛉
tooshin tonbo 燈心蜻蛉(とうしんとんぼ)
toosumi tonbo とうすみ蜻蛉(とうすみとんぼ)
kigo for all summer

first damselfly -
prince frog rolls out
his carpet

первая стрекоза-красотка -
принц-лягушка раскатывает
свой длинный ковёр

Nancy Stewart Smith


gentle breeze
a damselfly at rest
on a blade of grass

Bill Kenney


pair of damselflies....
in an ephemeral life,
wish a great blessing

- Shared by Taisaku Nogi
Joys of Japan, March 2012


CLICK for more photos

kawa tonbo 川蜻蛉 (かわとんぼ) "river dragonfly"
kanetsuke tonbo かねつけ蜻蛉(かねつけとんぼ)
ohaguro tonbo, o-haguro tonbo 鉄漿蜻蛉(おはぐろとんぼ)
Mnais nawai, Mnais pruinosa etc.
kigo for all summer

natsu akane 夏茜 (なつあかね) "summer akane"
kigo for all summer

. . . . .

sanaetonbo, sanae tonbo 早苗蜻蛉 (さなえとんぼ)
"dragonfly in the young rice plants"
kigo for mid-summer
. . . CLICK here for Photos !


***** Ephemera, kageroo, kagerō,
hiomushi 蜉蝣

early autumn. Some saijiki list it in spring.

Other Japanese names are:

かげろふ  hiomushi 虫秀
dragonfly with a white belly, shirahara tonbo 白腹蜻蛉
spreckled dragonfly, madara tonbo 斑蜻蛉
shoosetsu tonbo 正雪蜻蛉 Shosetsu dragonfly

named after
. Yui Shōsetsu 由井正雪 Yui Shosetsu (1605 - 1651) .

Ephemera with a spot, mon kageroo 紋蜉蝣

This is a fly that lives only a few hours after it appears from its three years under water as a larvae. In German it is called: One-Day fly, Eintagsfliege. In English, it is also called May fly, although in Japan it is seen only from July to September.

Since it has such a short life, it is a symbol of the tragic life on earth. The flies come out in great crowds on Autumn evenings and dance like crazy, like snow.

The larvae of the the ant lion (arijigoku 蟻地獄) are called "usuba kageroo" usubakagerō 薄翅蜉蝣.

Kagero Nikki the Gossamer Years, 974
The Kagero Diary (Kagero nikki) Kageroo Nikki -







beim Schreiben des Gedichts:
eine Eintagsfliege läuft
über meine Hand

writing this poem:
a may fly crawls
over my hand

(Tr. Gabi Greve)



kigo for early summer

hoonenmushi 豊年虫 (ほうねんむし)
"kagero for a good harvest"

mon kageroo 紋蜉蝣(もんかげろう)
Ephemera japonica

. . . . .

kigo for late summer

kusa kageroo 草蜉蝣 (くさかげろう) lacewing fly
fam. Chrysopidae


Chinz さらさ, sarasa and kigo




Anonymous said...

Dear Gabi san, what a nice dragonfly collection you've presented here! If I dare to add to your haiku/higa collection this haiga of mine, with the famous haiku of Chisoku, in three languages:

Thank you for all the interesting information, and for one more look at the Japanese culture! :-)


Unknown said...

赤とんぼ と聞いただけで


Gabi Greve said...

clouds shift in
light ~ two dragonflies in
ambient acrobatics ~

... ... ...

raatri mazha
raavile soorya prapanchathil
nooru thumbikal ~ [ Malayalam ]

night rain
at dawn in sun worlds
a hundred dragonflies ~

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

asleep on the lotus
a dragonfly dreams floral
armies of dragons

Narayanan Raghunathan


Gabi Greve said...

taking her gorgeous blue eyes
into the swamp's darkness

Tomislav Maretic, June 2006


Gabi Greve said...

dragonfly -
patterns of life
patterns of death

Look at them here.
Gabi Greve, Happy Haiku Gallery


Gabi Greve said...

back again

chopper's growl
dragonfly doing loops
over the roses

Bill Kenney, June 2006


Gabi Greve said...


dragonfly resting -
another moment
to share with you

Look at it HERE !

you, by the way, is for my husband.

Gabi Greve, September 2006


Anonymous said...

a brown dragonfly
on the brown wire --
only its head moves

Johannes Manjrekar, India


Anonymous said...

In ancient times, or so the myth goes, dragons could be summoned up through the embers of fire. A wizard cast spells and the tiny motes from a bonfire would take flight, rising higher and higher before transforming into a dragon and doing the wizard's bidding.

embers light
the night sky ~


Anonymous said...

Written on 08 July 2007 --

sunset ...
a damselfly blocks
the frog's view

Ella Wagemakers

anonymous said...

just a quick natural history note. Dragonflies are actually quite substantially older than the dinosaurs. The oldest dragonfly fossils go back to about 325 mya whereas dinosaurs go back only to about 230 mya. So dragonflies established their holding patterns for nearly 100,000,000 years before the first dinosaurs appeared. They extended their wings during the 160,000,000 years during which the dinosaurs reigned.
And they’ve been changing their grips for the 65,000,000 years since the Cretaceous-Tertiary Event, which they obviously survived, including inching out of husks in the 160,000-year blink-of-the-eye that modern humans have existed. Our brains aren’t really adapted to conceive of the ancientness of dragonflies.

Allan Burns

Narayanan Raghunathan said...

flapping sunlight
a dragonfly ~ another
watches the sky

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...


tonbō ya / tori tsuki kaneshi / kusa no ue

Matsuo Basho

Gabi Greve - WKD said...

Ephemera (singular: ephemeron)
is any transitory written or printed matter not meant to be retained or preserved.


Gabi Greve said...

dragonfly -
what do you want to
teach me today ?
Look at my photos !

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

me no saya o zutto hazushite tombo kana

alert eyes
always open --

This hokku is from the intercalary eighth month (September) of 1824, when Issa was recuperating at the houses of various students from a mild stroke that left him temporarily unable to speak. The stroke was probably due to the severe stress Issa experienced after being divorced by his second wife shortly after they had married. While he was recovering, Issa had to communicate visually with sign language and gestures, and perhaps he empathizes with the dragonfly in this hokku, who looks hard and long and thoroughly observes everything, taking in all the details around him. Issa almost surely knows dragonflies have very large, goggle-like exoskeletal eyes that have no eyelids, but he uses a metaphorical phrase that literally means the dragonfly "takes off/removes its eyelids" for an extended period of time in order to examine everything carefully. Fascinated by the fierce, unwavering intensity of the dragonfly's gaze, Issa has been observing the dragonfly carefully for a while (zutto) himself, and he seems to be wondering whether his own bug-eyed gaze at the dragonfly has impressed the insect as much as its gaze has impressed him: the verb comes first in the hokku, so the subject isn't clear until the last line.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

tomboo no akaki wa hito ni oware keri

the dragonfly's redness--
chased away
by people

Is Issa implying that people, attracted by the redness of the dragonfly, try to go near it or perhaps attempt to catch it? Or is his meaning more fanciful: that people have chased away a dragonfly's bright color?
David Lanoue

Gabi Greve said...

jigokudani aru toki mururu akatonbo

hell valley -
sometimes red dragonflies
come in great numbers

岡田日郎 Okada Nichio

jigokudani aru toki mururu akatonbo

Tr. Gabi Greve

More about Jigokudani valleys in Japan