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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Life is like a mayfly that lives one day!

Updated: 6 days ago

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


The NHK Big River Drama ”Dear Radiance (Hikaru Kimi e, in Japanese)" has ignited the Heian vogue in Japan. Heian was a period from 794 to 1185 in Japan. Hiragana, created by breaking down kanji (Chinese characters), was beautiful when written in one stroke. Its beauty resembles cursive scripts such as Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic. “The Gossamer Years (direct translation: Mayfly Diary)," written in that style, is Japan's first full-fledged female diary literature written by Michitsuna Fujiwara's mother. It is called “Mayfly Diary" because “When I think about transience, mayfly diary will remind me of something fleeting.” Its Chinese characters commonly express dragonfly and mayfly; the diary may mean a mayfly. "Ephemeral" thoughts are attached to a mayfly. The mayfly's flight resembles a meteorological phenomenon called haze (this has the same sound as mayfly in Japanese, “Kagero”); as an adult, it only lives for one day. Words that express the fragility of human life are in English, such as “Life is but a breath.”; Spanish, “La vida es un suspiro."; French, “La. vie est éphémère.”; "Life is short" (Italian, “La vita è breve.”); and "Life is fickle" (German, “Das Leben ist vergänglich.”), but it is often compared to a “mayfly" in Japanese. When I was young, I thought my life was limitless, but when I experienced the passing of my parents and began to feel my body weakening due to age, I was forced to realize that my life was finite.


“生 (life)" is people's most significant concern. Perhaps for this reason, there are 16 different readings for the word "生" in Japan, the most. Sound-based reading: “Se", “Shou"; and meaning-based reading: ”Ikiru", “Ikasu", ”Ikeru", “Umareru", ”Umu", “Ou", “Haeru", “Hayasu", “Ki", “Nama", “Inochi", “Ubu", “Naru", “Nasu." It is said that if you include the names of places and people, there will be over 100. The kanji, “生", comes from the hieroglyphic symbol for the shape of a budding plant or a sapling. In other words, ancient people probably felt the breath of life when plants sprouted.


I was born in the countryside, so I took about an hour to get to elementary school with my children's feet. Although pupils went to school in groups, they were sometimes alone when leaving school. At times like these, I have my personality and am alive now, but what was I like before I was born? What will happen after I die? I am on Earth, but what is going on outside at the edge of the universe? No matter how much I think about it, I cannot find an answer. At that time, there were no covers on the shallow roadside gutters, and I often fell into them and scraped my feet more than once or twice. Philosophy, especially metaphysics, is the theories that build up such propositions. I also learned that natural science is the pursuit of matter. I took the latter path, believing that life phenomena were a collection of intracellular events and that intracellular events could be explained in chemical terms as the expression of DNA genetic information. This is the function of molecules, which comprise atoms (elements). So, how were elements generated? Heavy elements are said to have been gradually created during the universe's evolution. Suppose we translate the 13.8 billion years of the universe's history into a human life span, assuming the average lifespan of a Japanese person to be 85 years. In that case, it becomes 85 years x (85 years/13.8 billion years), resulting in a human life span of only 16.5 seconds.

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