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Sashiba (Grey-faced Buzzard)


I don’t know who started it; sashiba are sometimes called the “envoy of Cold Dew,”1 given that their migration happens around October 8th, the day of Cold Dew. The migration takes about two weeks. The population flying here repeatedly increases or decreases yearly, in the range of 20,000~50,000. The highest count since the reversion was 54,000 buzzards in 19802.

Miyako Island is their first destination among the Ryukyu Islands. The flock of sashiba takes off from Cape Sata in Kagoshima Prefecture before dawn, and after having traveled a day-worth of distance, Miyako Island is the best location to rest their wings.
 Sashiba is the Japanese name, and they are simply called “taka”—hawk—in Miyako. Before the reversion of Okinawa, taka was an important source of protein for the habitants. Campaigns to protect them only came forth after the reversion (1972), and before that, taka-jūsī (hawk porridge) was indeed a seasonal feast. 
 Back then, people were absorbed in capturing taka in the mountains and forests, such as the Irabu, Kurima, or Shimoji City3. Most of them took place in the she-oak wood. Wood it says, but the number of trees was limited, and unlucky buzzards perched on anything they could find.
 As a proof, if people stood amidst the field with a yam vine around their heads, the buzzards would come down to land on it. “We instantly catch them by their legs,” the catchers themselves told me so excitedly. Then they swiftly crossed the wings conversely and threw the birds at their feet. Because they cannot fly in any way, there were no worries about them getting away. Another buzzard would stop on the yam vine around their head, and another is caught. In such a way, they caught dozens of them. Iregui—a bite at every cast—in fishing terms. 
 Caught buzzards were made into jūsī, sold, or fed. At that time, the public market in Hirara City overflowed with buzzards. A bird was sold at about 5 cents to a dollar. 

There were youngs, and olds. The buzzards were classified into tarekasumī (fledglings), akamī (young birds), and ōmī (between young and old), and the color of their eyes decided the price. As a matter of course, a kinmī, as vigorous as it looks, would fetch a high price. Children played with the pet buzzards. They competed over how far the buzzards would fly in schoolyards or open space, with a string and weight on their leg. I heard that some of them were so powerful that they would just break away.  

The heaven’s seasonal blessing— back then, that was the migration of sashiba. Like the suku4 of the ocean, they were a yurimun— the fruits of a stopover. In an age of poverty, although it might be a temporary yield, they were the bread of life to survive hunger. The gratitude and hope for taka naturally led to the writing of poems and songs. Some time ago, I had collected such “songs of taka” in regions around Miyako. 
 The 8th and 13th day from the Cold Dew is called the Upumō. That is the day the taka wheel in large flocks. One after another, the flock comes flying, obscuring the sky so black, which seems to have recalled a sentiment of awe rather than wonder. There was an old lady who said with a very serious look: taka is the bird of the gods.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Cold Dew–寒露–is one of the twenty-four seasons of the solar calendar, that comes around October 8th.
  2. In 2022, a survey by Miyako-jima Wild Bird Association confirmed 8219 arrivals of sashiba from October 8th to 21st.
  3. Today the Shimoji region in the Miyako-jima City.
  4. Young rabbitfish often eaten in Okinawa.