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Saturday, July 1, 2006


Fighting against Japan's colonial powers

It's just after dark and you hear a rumble coming from above. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a North Korean missile! Well, close. You see a large black cloud in the distance and it seems to be moving your way. It IS moving your way -- and it's aimed right at you! Anyone who has lived through a rainy season in Japan can easily identify this cloud as the 101st Airborne Termite Division -- or, to give it a more modern twist, Operation Termite Swarm.

News photo
Termite Damage or an abstract masterpiece? AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

While Japanese people like to characterize the rainy season with drawings of cute little snails crawling on leaves of pastel-blue "ajisai" (hydrangea) flowers, it's quite easy for us foreigners to not even see those natural wonders as we run for our lives to escape the onslaught of flying termites. As a matter of fact, I think every picture of a snail on an ajisai should come with a warning: "Can only be seen by Japanese people."

The rainy season is a season when all of Japan's insects, from termites to centipedes, get together and attack innocent civilians. The other day, I was with a friend of mine when he received an emergency call on his cell phone from his panicked wife, who was being attacked by termites inside her house. Why she was calling her husband, I don't know. She should have called the SWAT team.

Termites are very clever, as no one really knows just how they get inside houses. But indoor termite swarms can cause entire households to evacuate. Don't underestimate these insects -- they have the technology. Termites are attracted to light, and since we foreigners in Japan are aliens and tend to glow, we must be extra careful. Should you be attacked by an indoor swarm, immediately cut off all the lights and sit quietly. If possible, move to a termite shelter.

If you live in a new house and don't have termites, be warned -- they just haven't found you yet. Once they get on to Google Earth and mark all the new buildings on their maps, the secret forces will move in and be there in no time. How do they do this? Well, have you ever seen insects flying around your computer at night? In this case, it's not the light they're attracted to, it's the computer!

Termites outside can be equally annoying. To avoid getting ambushed upon leaving your house at night, enlist Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces: frogs. Your local frog population will sit under the lights and eat the termites as they fall to the ground. A few years ago, I started out with one frog, named Ted, and now I have a whole Ted Force that comes out at night and eats termites to their heart's content. Frogs are happy to help. Don't be shy, just ask them.

You've got to wonder if all these termites aren't inside our houses for a higher purpose. As spies, for example. Don't laugh. One idea to track bird flu was to outfit birds with tiny backpacks containing microchips to track migratory paths. Termites are even smaller and can get into walls, telephone receivers and your underwear drawer. And who knows what goes on in that underwear drawer after you close it? Of course, termites aren't big enough to carry backpacks, but handbags might do. And with the Bush administration tapping phone lines, would it be too much of a surprise to find that someone had finally bugged the bug? I'm even leery of mosquitoes. They could be collecting blood samples to take back to their home countries in the name of scientific research.

When termites swarm, it is a sign that they are attempting to form new colonies. Luckily, where I live we have a Shinto strategy for dealing with these colonial powers: "Mushi Okuri," a ceremony where we formally throw all the bad insects off the island.

Listen to this column at Audio Japan Lite: dollarbooks.tripod.com/podcasts.html

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