Yesterday I saw my first swallowtail of the season.


In Japan, the idea that everything, animate or inanimate, has a kami, or soul, is of Shinto origin. Buddhism, also practiced in Japan (indeed the two are closely knit), does not actively discourage this belief. One of the great Buddhist virtues is gratitude, whether for a service rendered or for a good family upbringing. An example of filial piety occurs in a small tale about butterflies:

A young man whose work and hobby were gardening married a girl with an identical interest in plant life. They lived only for each other and their shrubs and plants, and in middle age they had a son, who happily inherited his parents’ love of flowers.

The parents died within days of one another in old age, when their son was still a youth. The boy looked after his parents’ garden more carefully than ever, if that were possible, for he felt they contained the spirits of his dead mother and father.

During the first spring following their deaths, two butterflies took up residence in the garden. Gentle person that he was, the youth cherished each plant on which the butterflies liked to settle, and as spring turned into summer, he dreamed one night that his parents had come back to the garden and were walking round it together, looking at each plant carefully, as gardeners will. Suddenly, the dream couple turned into butterflies and the boy knew then that the souls of his parents rested in the butterflies who visited daily and in that way they still enjoyed their garden.