Wednesday 23 August 2017

Stag Beetles, Rhino Beetles, and Samurai Helmets

A variety of beetle goods including tree logs and jelly for feeding
Shop displaying various goods for taking care of beetles
The noisiest insect in Japan in the summer must be the cicada, but the most sought-after are the different varieties of beetle. In the evenings, you will often see young children accompanied by parents carrying a net, insect box (mushi-kago/kēsu), and a flashlight (these insects are nocturnal) searching trees for the prized beetles. One trick is to smear sugar-water (satō-mizu =砂糖水) onto the tree trunks to attract the prized-pets. Once captured, they are looked after carefully and a source of pride to many children; stores sell a whole gamut of insect goods (konchū yōhin =昆虫用品) from food (jelly) to logs and fly sheets (pictured right). Famous Japanese actor Aikawa Sho (哀川翔) is well-known for his love of beetles and sells a "breeding set" (shi-iku setto =飼育セット) including maggots (yōchū =幼虫) for ¥1,420 here! The maggots, incidentally, can be found for free if one is prepared to engage in a bit of digging in the soil at the base of the trees...

The stag beetle with its deadly looking pincers
Stag Beetle (kuwagata-mushi)
The Rhino Beetle with its long protruding horn
Rhino Beetle (kabuto-mushi)
In terms of beetle types, the most well known are the stag beetle (kuwagata-mushi), with pincers or "antlers" (pictured left) and the most highly prized rhinoceros beetle (kabuto-mushi) with its distinctive long and short horn (pictured right): the word kabuto means samurai helmet in Japanese. As the flyer below shows there are a number of variations based around these two main types. For children who capture and keep these as pets during the summer months, a popular pastime with friends is beetle fighting: typically two beetles are placed on a log and the loser is the one who gets shoved off. This is even enjoyed by adults, especially in Okinawa, where it has become a somewhat problematic form of gambling.
Newspaper flyer for a summer housing fair advertising a Natsu no Ikimono (Summer Animal) exhibition (original here)