Scaredy Cat

Japan has quite an insect life. That isn’t a fact that is widely known. Someone once told me Japan has more varieties of insects than Africa. I’m not sure if that is true, but I have had some memorable insect encounters.

There was the semi that I nearly sat on in the summer of 1978 when I was at a realtor’s office in Kyoto in late August. The squawk it let out made me jump up from the chair in fright. The realtor laughed and carefully took the cicada in his palm and let it out the door, which stood open in a way that I was no longer seeing as welcoming.

The huge hairy spider on the wall of my mountainside apartment in northern Kyoto was so extreme that I had no idea how to manage. You couldn’t crush it with a shoe because it would have left an unacceptable stain on the wall. (I honestly do not remember how I dealt with that one.)

In desperation, I started to ask my students how they dealt with the giant flying cockroaches in Kyoto. That was fun and I got lots of answers. I learned about gokiburi hoi hoi, or cockroach hotels. My favorite solution was the vacuum cleaner and the worst thing that I learned was that they tended to fly into one’s hair.

Some insects were cute. There were, what I called, the “hoppy spiders.” These kumo were very little and would literally hop across my tatami apartment in Tokyo.

One day in Tokyo, there was a huge kamakiri in my genkan area. Simply huge and bright green. I just could not. Not at all. I don’t care if they are praying, they are super creepy. I knocked on my neighbor’s door pleading for help. She curiously came back with me and gently lifted it up and put it outside. So brave!!

And a couple weeks later it was her turn to need help. Oh horrors! One of the stray cats had climbed through the window and was in her bath room. She was terrified of a cat. Yes. Terrified of a cat?! That was an easy one for me and she was very grateful. Those stray cats yowled like nobody’s business, but nope, not scary. Each to their own!

I have more insect stories, but that is enough for now, I am sure.

  • semi – セミ cicada. I feel like the ones in Japan are super noisy. The Japanese describe their call as “min, min.”
  • gokiburi – ゴキブリ cockroach. There are both brown and black ones. Some of them fly. They are huge.
  • gokiburi hoi hoi – ゴキブリホイホイ what we in the West call cockroach hotels. Hoi hoi is something like “come hither.”
  • kamakiri – カマキリ praying mantis
  • kumo – くも it means spider, but it also means cloud. Some say you can distinguish which is which by the intonation. But that varies by region. So you’d usually go with the context. It is conceivable that even two Japanese speaking together could need clarification. In that case it might be explained as sora no kumo or “I mean the kumo in the sky.” Gotta love this language!
  • tatami – 畳み bamboo mats that used to cover almost all floors in houses and apartments. Sadly, they are disappearing in new construction. There is nothing like the smell of fresh tatami.
  • genkan – 玄関 the entrance of a home. It’s where you put your shoes before you enter the home and traditionally it is a step up from there to enter the home, proper. I was pretty sure that my kamakiri could manage that step, which was a chill-inducing thought for me that day.

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