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Saturday, May 26, 2007


Before you whack or splat — consult the Insect Hotline

Some insects are highly revered in Japanese culture. While in the West, we may whack first and ask questions later, in Japan, you should really shouldn't go around indiscriminately killing insects. It may even be bad luck.

Celebrity bees such as this one number among the beloved hachi in Japan. AMY CHAVEZ PHOTO

I think the Japanese reverence for insects comes from their aesthetic qualities. You have to admit, insects are kinda cute. Those Martian-like antennae, those fairy wings, and those big beautiful eyes without the help of eye surgery.

So, in an attempt to create a better understanding between gaijin and Japanese insects, I have opened a hotline. When you have pressing questions about insects that require immediate action, just call the Insect Hotline.

Ring, Ring!

Oh, here is my first call on the Insect Hotline now.

"Insect Hotline. How may I help you?"

"There's a bee in my house. Will it offend the Japanese if I kill it?"

Most Japanese would never kill a bee, and instead will try to shoo it back outside through a window or door. In general, the Japanese are not especially fond of bees, or hachi. Celebrity bees, however, are an exception. You'll sometimes see very cute bees modeling in English-language-learning materials such as alphabet books, or appearing in children's books.

These are not mere renditions of bees, but are the bees who have risen to fame in their communities. Some of them go on to model for TV commercials and in print advertising. Perhaps this is why it is not a good idea to go a round killing bees. Indeed, bee very careful.

Ring, ring!

"My Japanese friends have asked me, on a Friday night, to drive 50 km into the countryside to watch flying insects! Is this for real?"

Oh yes. The one insect that can draw crowds in Japan is the firefly, or hotaru. Such is their capacity to draw spectators, that you'd think they would have built a stadium for them by now.

Going to see the fireflies reminds me of going to the drive-in movies, and very possibly they will soon come out with a firefly DVD so we don't have to travel so far to see them ourselves.

Fireflies have always struck me as rather indecisive creatures, but the Japanese think nothing of spending hours watching fireflies that hang out near streams in the countryside, and cruise up and down these strips.

I have to admit, however, that it can be a profound experience to watch these insects in mass. It makes you wonder if they aren't just out there cruising, and that maybe they are doing something important. Such as air traffic control. They could be the yellow flashing caution lights for insect intersections. Then again, maybe they're counting, doing Japan's census.

If you have the opportunity to watch them with your Japanese friends, do go. Besides, the fireflies do not seem to be intimidated by the large crawling insects with headlights.

Ring, Ring!

"There's a spider the size of a pizza in my genkan! What should I do?"

These very large, black spiders are called ashidake, perhaps meaning "only legs." They are harmless but extremely hairy creatures.

As a matter of fact, they are the only spiders I have ever seen with haircuts: mullets. It's really hard to get rid of ashidake because they are so big. They have a huge splat factor, and poison spray only merely stuns them for a few seconds. One option is to lasso them.

Besides, I don't think you really want to kill an ashidake. In Japan, it is bad luck to kill a spider in the morning. But even if you kill the spider in the afternoon, or at tea time, there is always a possibility of revenge.

Do you really want an extended family of spiders with mullet haircuts coming after you? I recommend instead, showing them to the door and asking them politely to leave. But if they do leave, be careful they don't take all your belongings with them.

Remember, do not whack, splat or exterminate, before calling the Insect Hotline.

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