2020 Tokyo Olympics: How Cicadas Are Providing the ‘Sound of Applause’ for Athletes

by Katie Maloney

This year’s Olympics competitors may not have an audience to cheer them on, but they do have a swarm of cicadas.

And, after a year like the one we’ve all had, we’ll take some cicada applause. It looks like the 2020 Toyko Olympics athletes feel the same way. Just before the games went underway, the Olympics organizers banned fans from attending because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many fans were disappointed. And many of the athletes were upset. They said that competing in the Olympics without fans cheering them on would not be the same.

In fact, during a recent interview former Olympian Usain Bolt said that he wouldn’t have been able to compete without fans in the stands.

“I can’t compete without fans,” Bolt said. “It would be so weird and out of the ordinary. I know for people who are like me and really live for fans, it’s going to be tough for them. So, hopefully, they can remember that it’s been two years of training and dedicating their lives to this moment.”

Cicadas Are Replacing Cheering Fans During The Olympics

Fortunately, the athletes haven’t had to compete in complete silence. They’ve been accompanied by the sound of buzzing (or cheering) cicadas. Cicadas, or “semi” as they are called in Japan, are a superfamily of insects with around 2,000 known species worldwide. A whopping 35 of those species live in Japan. Although the insects are most common in areas with tropical climates, they can be found as far north as Hokkaido and are common in Tokyo, where the Olympics are being held.

Cicadas live underground as nymphs for several years before emerging. Once they come out of the ground, they only live for a few weeks to mate. Their peak season is summer during the months of June through August. And since their only goal, while living, is to mate, they are pretty noisy about finding partners. Hence why they are known for their loud buzzing. In fact, the sound is known as the “Sound of Summer” in Japan. And now it’s also a theme sound for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Cicada Hunting Is A Well-Known Activity For Kids In Japan

When they aren’t cheering on Olympic athletes, cicadas can be found flying around town. And, much like fireflies, kids love to catch them. Cicada hunting is a beloved hobby in Japan and it’s not uncommon to see little kids carrying giant nets and holding bug boxes in local parks. During their hunts, kids are often surprised by “semi bakudan” or “cicada bombs.” These are cicadas that look dead or are mistaken as just shells, but when you go to touch them, they jump up and start buzzing. It sounds like cicada hunting should be added to the list of Olympic games this year!