Thursday 27 July 2017

Keeping Monster Mosquitoes at Bay: Katori-senkō and Katori Shingo

A picture of a 10 pack of mosquito coils with the green curly coils below
A mosquito coil 10 pack
Back in the day when I spoke only broken Japanese - I arrived in Japan in 1992 knowing little more than konnichiwa - I remember somebody telling me that mosquito coils (pictured left) were good for killing the pesky mosquitoes that abound in Japan at this time of year. So I duly headed to my local store and asked for katori shingo only to be greeted by the familiar panicked stare of a shop assistant who wanted to be anywhere else than dealing with this clearly deranged foreigner. Trying to explain that I wanted them to deal with mosquitoes (ka), realisation suddenly dawned on the face of the assistant - I wanted katori senkō (蚊取り線香)! Katori means "taking (=killing) mosquitoes" while senkō means incense. It turns out I had inadvertently asked for a member of the (recently disbanded) idol group SMAP (pictured above right) whose singing, though pretty terrible, was probably not sufficient to drive away those huge stripy monsters that always somehow manage to squeeze through the bug screen (amido =網戸) and get into your bedroom at night, keeping you awake during the sticky Japanese summer nights. Needless to say I never forgot the word for mosquito coil again...
Click to see on amazon

Katori senkō are a common sight this time of year, a portable mosquito repellent carried by anybody working or walking outside: they are particularly popular amongst campers, gardeners, and hikers. As the video below shows below, they can either be placed on the small metal stand and positioned in a fixed place or else put into a round case with holes in (a jumbo size one is pictured left), secured on top of a bed of glass wool, and hooked on one's belt. Either way they burn for hours, giving off smoke that is very effective at keeping mosquitoes at bay. Sales increased following Japan's first Zika virus infection last year: "bilingual" warning signs popped up all over Japan in parks and even on Kodaira's Green Road (pictured above). The fact that their main ingredient is pyrethroid (ピレスロイド) , namely allethrin, the first synthesised pyrethroid, which is highly toxic for bees, cats, and fish, doesn't seem to put any Japanese off, though perhaps it should: one piece of research noted that exposure to the smoke of mosquito coils "can pose significant acute and chronic health mosquito coil would release the same amount of PM(2.5) mass as burning 75-137 cigarettes." On second thoughts, maybe I should just play SMAP songs and hope for the best!