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A reflection on harmonious cohabitation

by Amy Chavez

It seems the insects arrive every year during Golden Week. Is it possible that even the insects are on this Japanese work schedule with set travel times? Or maybe it’s insect tenkin. Transfer or travel, during Golden Week we are all on the same migration pattern. Face it, we’re all just really large insects. Busy as a bee, right? Snug as a bug?

And you cannot deny that insects are attracted to us. Just go out and stand in your garden and see for yourself. Sometimes, there are so many insects buzzing around, I wonder if someone is, unknowingly, responding positively to their mating calls. Just as long as the insects don’t start having group pollination parties. That wingy murmur, the stroking of an antenna on your shoulder. How insectual.

And then there are the ones who move in. Most people love nature, until it comes into the house. We may buy a wooden table because we like the naturalness of it. But what about living with natural nature, like with the tree itself? No way, you say. I will not have a whole tree in my house. This is going too far! Instead, give me something stripped down, something chemically treated. I want dead nature. And such is the nature of us human beings.

So it is not surprising that we do not like insects that move into our houses. Dead insects pinned onto velvet under protective glass frames? No problem. But live insects, no thanks. You may get to the point where you say this home stay has gone on too long! And bring out your spray can of insect poison.

But I beg you to stop for a moment and have sympathy for the poor little buggers. There is no use annihilating the sordid creatures. Because there are far more of them than us. Instead, I have learned to live with them. Coexist with nature, or in legal terms, cohabitate.

So, if you’re new to Japan and you want to know what will be dining on your gaijin blood this season, or what you might find affixed to your toe, or what irascible creature may zonk you in the head should you interrupt its flight path, all in the comfort of your own home, here is a quick run down in order of appearance:

* Mosquitoes (ka) — The mosquitoes are the first to arrive on the scene. Japanese mosquitoes, after sucking on the fingers and toes of the samurai for a few hundred years, are now descendants of a pure samurai bloodline. With a declining Japanese population, their food supply is also disappearing.

Take pity, these insects have to eat too. So what if they use straws? You may as well admit you are part of the food chain, or at least the snack chain. It the questionable nature of mosquitoes, and their tendency to dine on humans, that must give them the name ka in Japanese, a word usually used as a question marker. No one has quite figured them out yet.

* Centipedes (mukade) — These leggy little creatures may try to get into our futon with us or into our piles of laundry. They move in serpentines like snakes, which is probably why people feel dizzy and nauseous when they see them scuttle across the tatami mat in their houses. Poor centipedes. I’m sure they would run in straight lines if they could, but as you can imagine having such a long back, it must be very difficult, if not impossible, to get an appointment with a chiropractor.

His long back would also bar him from insect massage parlors as well. Thus, he lives with a crooked back.

* Termites (shiroari) — White ants, or flying ants, come out during the rainy season. These creatures will live silently in the walls of your house and then suddenly burst onto the scene in swarms if you leave a light on. They will happily fly right onto you too. Becoming a landing strip for large flying ants will really test your patience but I encourage you to not go ballistic with the insect spray. This insect’s life is so short, they will be gone within a couple of weeks.

So while these insects find an irresistible attraction to us human beings, and wish to live with us, sleep with us and wine and dine with, or on, us we must refuse them gently.

Although cohabitation is inevitable, I do not recommend ever doing so with the roach, named for his ability to encroach. A year-round nuisance, he will clean you out of house and home and in the end leave you with nothing but a few empty roach hotels.