Thursday 25 May 2017

Bites, Stings, and Fearsome Bees

A dead over 4cm long giant Asian hornet
A (hopefully dead) suzume-bachi or giant Asian hornet
The weather has turned much warmer these past few days - Sunday hit a high of 27 degrees - and the summery weather has seen the emergence of bees. Bee in Japanese is hachi (蜂) while honey is hachi-mitsu (literally bee nectar). While the honey-bee (mitsu-bachi) is pretty harmless, a sting from the fearsome suzume-bachi (スズメ蜂), known in English as the yellow-jacket or Asian/Japanese giant hornet, can be very painful. Acutally, while their size is fearsome - 4 or 5 cm long with a 6mm stinger (see picture right) - even suzume-bachi are not particularly aggresive, certainly not compared to the British wasp, and will only attack if their nest is threatened.

The sign below warns walkers to be careful (chūi =注意) of these bees. It advises backing off slowly if one hears the hum (būn) of buzzing wings and advises against brushing them off with your hand (te de harau =手で払う). It also warns against going into the bushes (yabu)!?!

 In terms of vocabulary, animal stings and bites are pretty similar to English: the verb sasu (刺す)meaning to pierce, stab, or prick is used to describe bee and jellyfish stings, though it is also used for mosquitoes where English would use "bite." "Suck" is also used in Japanese to describe mosquito bites (as in "I was sucked by a mosquito"). Fleas, ticks, spiders, and snakes are also the same as English using "bite" (kamu or 噛む in Japanese). One rather interesting difference though is for inanimate objects, such as nettles and rose thorns. Whereas in English one would say "I was stung by a nettle" or "I was pricked by a rose", this would be strange in Japanese since logic dictates that this is not an intentional action. Instead, the Japanese would say a rose thorn or nettle hair pricked/stung them. In the same way, Japanese would say they were stung by the hair of a caterpillar rather than a caterpillar stung them (again on the very logical premise that the caterpillar didn't sting the victim on purpose!). These differences are summarised in the table below. 

Table showing the Similarities and Differences in the words used to describe bites and stings in Japanese and English