MISSION – Insect Catching

There is a legendary video game titled ‘Boku no Natsuyasumi’ / ぼくのなつやすみ, which literally means ‘My Summer Vacation’ published by Sony Computer Entertainment for Play Station in 2000. The protagonist of the game is ‘Boku’, a personal pronoun for boys in Japanese, a 9 year old boy, sent to his aunt and uncle in countryside while his mother is in her final month of pregnancy. You play the game as Boku and experience summer days there. The key of the game should be the epoch. You will experience the days back in 1975, Japan, forty years ago, when there were no computer games yet. One of the activities during Boku’s stay in the countryside is catching and collecting insects. You will be catching many insects as possible in the game! This game seems quite simple, not violent at all, but it proved to be a great success.

Boku_no_Natsuyasumi_Cover

“Boku no Natsuyasumi Cover” by GameFAQs. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Boku no Natsuyasumi

There is another big-hit game called ‘Mushi-king’ / むしきんぐ, which literally means ‘king of insects’, known as “The King of Beetles” in English name, which is a combination of an arcade game and collectible card game developed by Sega in 2003. The game involves battles between cards describing various beetle species. The cards can be scanned in by a Mushi-king arcade machine, which will both carry out battles and dispense new cards. About 20,000 official tournaments were held, and over 160 million Mushi-king cards were sold. This game was released also for Game Boy Advance, which sold over 569,000 copies in Japan. There was even a TV Anime…

Analyzing why these two games attracted many kids and also grown-ups, we would know that the Japanese love insects and love catching them though the style have changed, in the world of computer games, more convenient and safer than going out and catching real insects.

So, what could be a wall which prevents people from going out to catch the real insects? Here are some possible reasons;

  1. You cannot always expect a decent catch,
  2. It takes time and money to go to the site,
  3. You will become sweaty and dirty,
  4. You will come across not only the expected insects but also some unfavorable, gross, or venomous insects,
  5. You will have some risks of getting injured.

So what???
Why not try being one of the leading characters of the popular virtual games ‘live’ and enjoy yourself in the summer nature of Japan?
 
 

Playing the Role in Real Mushi-tori

There will be nothing special needed for insects catching. If you don’t want to spend much, you can buy all your equipment in 100-Yen shops. The things needed for ‘Mushi-tori / 虫取り’, the insect catching, are;

  • Insect-catching net with a long handle
  • Insect cage
  • Hat
  • Portable mosquito coil or insect repellent (especially in the evening or going into the tussock)
Photo by Navis Argenti

Photo by Navis Argenti

To catch insects with a net seems easy, or easier, at least, than catching fish with it because our prey-insects are more visible. However, it is more difficult than you will imagine if you want to catch agile insects, such as dragonflies.

Hold the handle of a net with two hands and move it quickly. One of the knacks of catching a dragonfly would be flipping the net’s opening to close quickly when a dragonfly gets into the net. Otherwise it will fly away easily even though once it is inside the net!

Photo by Navis Argenti

Searching for a Tsukutsuku-boshi
Photo by Navis Argenti

Our goal in catching insects is not to make an insect cabinet. So, ‘catch and release’ was our strategy while we were enjoying the Mushi-tori. To reduce the damage given to insects as much as possible, we tried not to touch them so much. Especially their wings are very delicate and can be easily damaged. Not being able to fly means death for them. So be sure not to spoil their wings if you would also follow our strategy while enjoying your Mushi-tori.

Photo by Navis Argenti

You have to be very careful not to damage an insect you’ve caught
Photo by Navis Argenti


 
 

Stage 1 : Parks, Mountains or even in the Cities

Some cicadas are quite easy to catch, appropriate insects for Mushi-tori beginners. Dark brown cicadas as ‘Aburazemi / アブラゼミ’ or ‘Minmin-zemi / ミンミンゼミ’ are especially easy. Smaller cicadas in brighter colour, the Tsukutsuku-boshi / ツクツクボウシ’, are more difficult than those in dark colours. They are more cautious and fly away so fast once they know you come closer to them. Cicadas which make sounds in late afternoon or in the evening, ‘Higurashi / ヒグラシ’, normally stay high on a tree and are very difficult to catch unless you have longer pole insect net. They are beautiful, both with their chirping and their looks.

aburazemi

Abura-zemi or Minmin-zemi are easy to catch as they are not so quick (Level 1).
Photo by autan

Tsukutsuku-boshi

Tsukutsuku-boshi, quicker than Aburazemi (Level 2)
Photo by t-mizo

Higurashi

Higurashi, you can hear them but rarely see them
Photo by Alpsdake

Tsukutsuku-boshi  Photo by Navis Argenti

Tsukutsuku-boshi
Photo by Navis Argenti

Cicadas live in underground as nymphs for most of their lives, at depths ranging from about 30 cm (0.98 ft) down to 2.5 m (8.2 ft). In the final nymphal instar, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge. They then molt (shed their skins) on a nearby plant for the last time and emerge as adults. The exuvia, or abandoned exoskeleton, are remained on trees or on leaves, which could be found pretty easily if you take a careful look around.

Nukegara  Photo by Navis Argenti

Nukegara shell of a cicada
Photo by Navis Argenti

This is how a cicada undresses! movie by

Click the photo to see how a cicada undresses!
“Cicada molting animated-2” by T. Nathan Mundhenk – Edited version of File:Cicada molting animated.gif. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –


 
 

Stage 2 : Tussock, the Grassy Areas

If you take a careful look on and among the leaves, you may find various kinds of insects, including beautiful ‘Kamikiri-mushi / カミキリムシ’, the longicorn beetles. Mantises are also interesting to watch, smaller ones are cute, with their sickle-like weapon arms. The mantis is called ‘Kama-kiri / 蟷螂(カマキリ)’ in Japanese, literally meaning ‘sickle cutter’. On the other hand, in English, it is called ‘Praying mantis’ because of their praying-like posture with folded fore-limbs according to the ‘British Cyclopædia of Natural History’. Another jarring fact regarding the mantis is that the mantis and the cockroach are relatives which have the same ancestor! We are sure that the fact is not known so well in Japan for we see the classical decoration put up on top of one of the popular floats in Gion MatsuriW, Gion Festival which takes place in Kyoto in July, is the mantis. The mantis on the float was said to be decorated as a memorial for an aristocrat who died in the battle who fought courageously like how the mantis fights towards its prey. Mantis has a good image to the Japanese but its remote relative, of course, doesn’t.

Kamikiri-mushi

Kamikiri-mushi / longicorn beetles (Level 3)
Photo by Navis Argenti

Mantis

Kama-kiri / Mantis (Level 1)
Does he want to execute human beings with his sickle or is he praying for the peace on the earth? That is the question.
Photo by autan

tourouyama

‘Toro Yama’, the praying mantis float parading in Gion Festival in Kyoto. (Level 1 – Level 3, according to where you place yourself while watching the parade)
Photo from ‘Akemaru-no itsumo hajime‘.

Very cute insects that we usually find on leaves are represented by ladybirds. Ladybird is called ‘Tento-mushi / 天道虫’. in Japanese, which has a meaning that the insect is lead to the sun because they have a  nature to fly up toward the sun. There are various varieties of ladybirds, some of which are called as beneficial insects and some as harmful. Beneficial ones eat and exterminate insect pests adhering to plants, while harmful ones eat leaves. From the point of view of the vegetarian insects, the classification criteria will definitely be something different.

Tento-mushi / ladybird Photo by Navis Argenti

Tento-mushi / ladybird
Photo by Navis Argenti

Yellow ladybird Photo by jumbo185usa

Yellow ladybird
Photo by jumbo185usa

Black ladybird photo by

Black ladybird
photo by Bong Grit

In between the grass, there are various grasshoppers which also could be recognized with their chirping.  Various spieces of ‘Batta / バッタ (grasshopper)’ could be seen or heard in the tussock without English names.  ‘Kirigirisu / キリギリス’, ‘Sasakiri / ササキリ’, ‘Tsuyumushi / ツユムシ’, ‘Kudamaki-modoki / クダマキモドキ’ and many other grasshoppers could be found which would be not hard to catch if you put your net in the grass and swing the net few times.  Still, you better be ready for what comes in your net.  You may find something that you don’t want to catch as stink bugs…  Varieties of grasshoppers that could be found in Japan;

shoryobatta

‘Shoryo-batta / ショウリョウバッタ’, one of the grasshoppers you could find easily among the grass.

higashi_kirigirisu

‘Higashi-kirigirisu / ヒガシキリギリス’, one of the Kirigirisu spieces. Big enough to relish the real pleasure of ‘Mushi-tori’!

mamushi_caution

Don’t tread in deep if you ever see similar sign as this! Vipers exist!
Photo from ‘Digital Artworks TeeART Blog.‘.

Also be careful not to tread into deep, untouched tussock, especially with caution notice of vipers!  Not all the tussocks in Japan are the habitat of vipers but there are some, also not far from big cities like Tokyo, so be attentive to the signs.  Vipers are written as ‘Mamushi / マムシ, まむし’ or ‘Doku-hebi / 毒蛇, ドクヘビ’.  Apart from the vipers, you should be aware of the leeches (written as ‘ヤマビル or ヒル’, pronouced as ‘Yamabiru or Hiru’)  in some tussocks.  It would be better for you to cover your legs even it is hot, wearing long trousers or jeans.  In stead of wearing sandals, wear socks that cover your ankles so that you could avoid any insects biting you.

Besides insects that habit among the grass, you could find butterflies flying towards flowers if there are any blooming.  It may be easier for you to find them from late spring to early summer, at the peak of many flowers bloom but could still be found until autumn.  Again like other insects, there are many species, over 200 species, of butterflies which could be seen all over Japan.  Some species look different from male to female butterflies.  It would be fun to find as many butterflies as you could during your stay.  With some species, you would even be able to see them in the middle of big cities!  Taking photo of them can be much easier than other insects….

tsumagurohyomon

‘Tsumaguri-hyomon-cho / ツマグロヒョウモンチョウ'(?), one of the butterflies you would feel lucky if you could find it.
Photo from ‘Mori-no tosan, kachofugetsu.

karasu_ageha

One of the biggest butterflies you could see in Japan, ‘Karasu-ageha / カラスアゲハ'(?). These black types are really outstanding butterflies!
Photo from ‘Mori-no tosan, kachofugetsu.

usubashiro

Looks like cabbage butterfly but it isn’t. They are ‘Usubashiro-cho / ウスバシロショウ’, more close to the black butterfly you see above!
Photo from ‘Mori-no tosan, kachofugetsu.

kamon_waku

The family crest of Heike, still used in Japan by some families.

In this connection, there is a  famous crest designed from a butterfly which was a family crest of Taira clanW, one of the four important clans that dominated Japanese politics during the Heian periodW (794–1185).  Unlike in some countries, butterflies were thought to be a mysterious insect that changed its from larva, chrysalis and to imago, never the same but continue its’ evolving.

Finally, you will have more chances of seeing different sorts of butterflies if you are alert in every places you visit outside.  On plain, near or in the mountains, by the water or sea – some types overlap but some don’t.  If you want to know more about the butterfly types you could see in Japan, below is a site where most of the butterfly species’ pictures are (pity it’s all in Japanese).

 
 

Stage 3 : Waterside

If you want to catch dragonflies, the place where you should head for is near still water, a marsh, a river, or a lake. Dragonflies or ‘Odonatas’, called more professionally, lay eggs on the surface or in the water, or on aquatic plants where they spend their juvenile days. As they fly a long distance, we can still see them where there is no water around. However, it is always better to go around the water to get more chances of wonderful encounters with them.
In Japan, there are more than 70 varieties of dragonflies and 22 of hawkers or darners, more professionally, ‘Aeshnidae’, i.e. larger ones. Most of them are living in the southern-east tropical islands of Japan, still, we can see many of them also around Tokyo.
**Information from http://tombozukan.net/zukantombo.htm and http://tombozukan.net/zukanyanma.htm

The recommended place for catching dragonflies is ‘Tonbo-no numa / トンボの沼’, simply meaning ‘Dragonflies’ marsh’ in English, in Isumi, Chiba.

Photo by Navis Argenti

Photo by Navis Argenti

tonbo_numa_01

Photo by Navis Argenti

Photo by Navis Argenti

Photo by Navis Argenti

The marsh used to be a weir for rice fields but it was reorganized into a park full of nature by the Organization for Environment and Culture in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture. It is a marsh full of reeds with semi-organized open space at the foot of a mountain among rice fields, where many dragonflies, cicadas, butterflies, and noisy bullfrogs welcome you.

The quick movement of a net is the most important key to catch a dragonfly, especially when catching Aeshnidaes, such as ‘Oni-yanma / オニヤンマ’ and ‘Gin-yanma / ギンヤンマ’. They fly so fast, sometimes as though making fun of us who cannot move as quickly as they can while going after them to catch!  It’s obvious that they don’t fly away when we miss to catch them but fly around you which is really frustrating!

By Navis Argenti

‘Shiokara-Tonbo / シオカラトンボ (White-Tailed Skimmer )’. (Level 1)
Photo by Navis Argenti

Photo by Navis Argenti

Koshiaki-Tonbo or called as Denki-Tonbo, literally Electric light dragonfly, because of the outstanding white part of the body (Level 2)
Photo by Navis Argenti

Chou-tonbo Photo by Navis Argenti

Chou-tonbo, A very beautiful and elegant dragonfly which looks like a butterfly (Level 3)
Photo by Navis Argenti

Ginyamma  photo by

Ginyamma / Lesser Emperor (Level 4)
photo by Tam Tam

newly emerged Oni-yamma, the largest species of dragonfly native to Japan. It grows 95 - 100 mm in length.(Level 5)

newly emerged Oni-yamma, the largest species of dragonfly native to Japan. It grows 95 – 100 mm in length.(Level 5)
photo by Norio Nomura


 

How to succeed in catching these speedy dragonflies are to observe how they fly.  They seem to fly in the way alike but actually differs.  It would be better for you to first go after ‘Shiokara-tonbo / シオカラトンボ’ (we have labeled this dragonfly ‘Level 1’) and get to know how they try to escape from you or make fun of you.  It would be an ideal if you could catch ‘Oni-yanma / オニヤンマ’, the biggest dragonfly in Japan  while you are spending your summer vacation in Japan but ….  If you ever do, please send us the photo!! We’d love to post it here!!
 
 

Stage 4 : Mountains

The first thing you may have to do is to find a sawtooth oak tree since various kinds of beetles such as Rhinoceros beetles, Stag beetles, Scarabs, and certain types of butterflies gather to eat sap of a sawtooth oakW tree or similar species oak trees.

If you go closer to the tree and find many ants gathering or walking in line upwards the tree, the possibility of finding beetles becomes higher. As we wrote in the previous article, if you want to get larger and rarer ones as Rhinoceros beetles or Stag beetles, early morning is the prime time.

Kabuto-mushi Photo by

Kabuto-mushi / rhinoceros beetle (Level 3)
Photo by kanonn

Kuwagata

Kuwagata / stag beetle (Level 5)
Photo by takato marui

Kanabun  Photo by

Kanabun / scarabs (Level 1)/
Photo by Zorac&Visar

Ko-murasaki

Ko-murasaki
Photo by Zorac&Visar

Ruri-tateha Photo by

Ruri-tateha
Photo by Zorac&Visar

Hikage-chou Photo by

Hikage-chou
Photo by Toshihiro Gamo

The beetles, if you could find any, won’t be that difficult to catch with your net if the beetle is reachable for your net.  If the beetle is way up high, there is one possibility of catching it by kicking the tree trunk.  But DON’T kick too hard and break the tree down.  The beetle may fly with surprise when you could try and catch.  Some, if you are lucky enough, would just drop off the tree.
Since the beetles are in protective colourings, you should look very carefully at the surface of the trunks.

While searching for the great beetles, you may, of course, come up to scary insects…

Joro-gumo Photo by

Joro-gumo
Photo by Toshihiro Gamo

Joro-gumo

Joro-gumo
Photo by urasimaru

In actual fact, these scary looking spiders do no harm to us. However, the more beautiful they are, the more they frighten us.
In Japanese language, there is an interesting adjective, ‘Dokudoku-shii / 毒毒しい’ .  ‘Doku / 毒’ is a noun for poison.  Nouns / adjetives + しい / ‘shii’ means ‘like ~’.  Thus, ‘dokudoku-shii’ means ‘poison like’.  We would certainly express these colours of spiders ‘dokudoku-shii’.  Still, there is one more thing we have to add  a fact on this adjective, dokudoku-shii. It also has a meaning of  ‘beautiful’.  Beautiful but with some sort of awe towards it.  This expression may show an interesting aspect of the Japanese sense.  If something goes beyond the limit, it recalls awe and becomes negative.

In fact, the image of this spider is commonly used in horror movies. The name given to this spider is also interesting. It is called ‘Joro-gumo / 女郎蜘蛛’. Gumo is liaisoned word for ‘kumo / 蜘蛛’ which means a spider. On the other hand, ‘Joro / 女郎’ means a prostitute. So, if a prostitute is too beautiful, a man can get so much absorbed in her, which he could be ending up a clan broke, spending all his money on her.  But the spider, Joro-gumo, is non-poisonous, does no harm to you.

A hornet is an insect that you should pay attention to when going out for your insect catching. They are very dangerous!

a hornet at lunch Photo by

a hornet at lunch
Photo by William Warby

a hornet

a hornet
Photo by Martina Rathgens

a very big hornet nest Photo by

a very big hornet nest
Photo by Bob Travis

Hornets are, without any doubt, the most dangerous insects in Japan. It is said that 30-70 people are killed every year. Their venom is lethal and toxic, and only a very few stings will result in almost certain death. They have stings normally used to kill prey and defend their hives. Human beings cannot be their prey as we are far bigger than them sizing only 4cm long(1.6 in).  Still, they attack us since they think we would do harm to their hives. So, what is important for us to avoid their attack is not to act like their enemies.
In Japan, there is a proverb; “don’t straighten your crown under the plum tree”, which means, “don’t invite an undue suspicion on yourself.”  If you raise your hand under a plum tree, people might think you are trying to steal plums even though you just wanted to touch your crown. The same rule can be applied on how we should act in front of hornets.

Here are some tips to avoid the hornets’ attack.
First of all, if you are unfortunate enough to come across a hornet, you keep quiet.  Do not shout or cry, or it will irritate a hornet.  Do not try to fight it off or do not repel its attack. You will never win, or you don’t have to win against a hornet. Just move away from it quietly. When it follows you, or when it makes sounds, sink down quickly in a low position. A hornet cannot look down or fly straight down. If you make it angry by waving your hand against it, it can call its buddies and a swarm of hornets will join to attack you, which is fatal.  If you find a nest where many hornets are living, move away quickly without taking a photo!

5 golden rules against hornets;

    1. Dress in white when you go up in mountains.
    2. Do not wear perfumes.
    3. Stay away from a nest.
    4. Do not make any offensive action or any action which looks offensive against a hornet, including flapping it away and shouting.
    5. Keep your position as low as possible.

If you happen to be stung by a hornet, call 119 for a medical help as soon as possible.

In Japan, there are 16 varieties of hornets which are all fierce and dangerous.  It maybe better for us if we could get rid of them for our safety but however, they have been on the earth longer than us. The first hornet found was in LaurasiaW, the northernmost of two supercontinents that formed part of the Pangaea supercontinent from approximately 300 to 200 million years ago. On the other hand, our ancestors started the bipedal walking only 6 to 5 million years ago. Therefore, we, human beings may be a new invading species that disturbs their peace.

So, feel like you want to have a try with the insect catching in Japan?
Below is one of the ‘hunting ground’, especially for dragonflies, fairly near from Tokyo!
 
 

Dragonfly Marsh
(TONBO NO NUMA)

    Access:

  • On train :

    10 minute walk from ‘Kazusa-Azuma / 上総東’ station of Isumi Railway.

  • On bus :

    Take a bus heading for ‘Otaki / 大多喜’ from JR Ohara / 大原 station, 5 minute walk from ‘Hana-no ki / 花ノ木’bus stop.

  • Map :


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