Japanese Nature: Bugs (虫)

Mushi! Bugs! They’re all over the place! And the Japanese variety are just as abundant and cool. I’ve always been a fan of bugs, but sometimes people in Japan have a different kind of fandom going on…

(First things first! This is an entry for the August Japan Blog Matsuri, specifically Through Eyes From Afar’s Nature and Japan entry! Thanks, Lands From Afar Embassy! You should see what other J-bloggers also have to say about nature!)

Popular Mushi

If you’ve got any familiarity about Japan or even just anime, you already know about the Japanese rhinoceros beetle (甲虫 ~ Trypoxylus dichotomus) and the exciting fights they often engage in for money. That’s right, two males are pitted against each other, and people bet on which one will push the other off of a log or table first. Apparently it’s very popular to do in Ryukyu. (For some reason, I couldn’t find any video of this. Figures.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rAJOvmUANs&feature=search[/youtube]

The closest thing I found. How can you tell when a certain one will win, anyway? (I mean, when one isn’t robotic.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GFLxNF9LSs[/youtube]

They also make good pets. I WANT ONE.

Rhinoceros beetles are short-lived, but bright stars burn briefly.

Something you might not have known: The beetle has a fan page on Facebook. Only 18 people are fans as of this posting! C’mon people, these beetles are awesome. I actually owned the shell of a similar-looking beetle when I was a kid, but I lost it in a move. It was pretty awesome, though. It was as big as my hand. (I used to keep giant bugs’ shells after they died.)

Oh God get it away

Another much more horrifying mushi is the Japanese giant hornet (大雀蜂 ~ Vespa mandarinia japonica). Like the rhinoceros beetle, it looks pretty awesome, and I’m pretty sure there are some vehicles themed off of its appearance.

I'll admit I only knew these existed because of FLCL

I say they’re horrifying only because they are awful mass-murdering bastards, and on the off-chance you get stung by one you’ll probably be hospitalized.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fTrSOFyfxs[/youtube]

OH MY GOD RUN

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBDdIZiSgQ8[/youtube]

What happens when a terrifying killer engages my favorite insect? It’s not pretty. (This saddens me, as I only just found out that praying mantises can eat snakes…and I think birds, too. Holy crap, nature.)

Apart from being the enemy of bees, they’re a fine part of the balance of nature… I guess. Hey, who am I to question how nature works?

Some Household Mushi

Here in the US, bugs + indoors usually don’t mix. Me, I can’t get enough bugs, personally, but in Japan there are a handful of good-luck bugs that actually enhance the home. Bugs such as…

Whoa.

The huntsman spider (Sparassidae), which is actually harmless to people, and comes in varying levels of cute and fuzzy.

To this day, this is the only thing I think of whenever I hear "huntsman". Yeah...anyway...
Looks like something that could kill you, right?

And this gejigeji bug, Scutigera coleoptrata, the household centipede. Every kid is informed at a young age that centipedes (or was it millipedes…?) can freaking kill you, so I guess it becomes ubiquitous that avoiding them is necessary. However, these things are also cleaner-uppers for homes and actually won’t kill you. I love giant bugs that won’t kill you! Yay!

Miscellaneous Things About Mushi

Those insanely popular and/or infamous mushi, as well as others, are constantly featured in Japanese media.

The manga series Mushishi obviously takes its influence from little things crawling around in the ground, with its ubiquitous supernatural spirits (also called…”Mushi”) that have existed since time’s dawn.

Pokémon, great game series and childhood favorite of many, was originally inspired by bug-catching. Pokémon executive director Satoshi Tajiri-Oniwa enjoyed collecting bugs as a kid, as did I! Specifically, in an old TIME interview, he said,

The place where I grew up [in Machida, a western Tokyo suburb] was still rural back then. There were rice paddies, rivers, forests. It was full of nature. Then development started taking place, and as it grew, all the insects were driven away. I was really interested in collecting insects. Every year they would cut down trees and the population of insects would decrease. The change was so dramatic. A fishing pond would become an arcade center.

If you recall how the original two games played, there were always a lot of simple bug-catching kids in the beginning, and to this day there’s still lots of wading around in grass, looking for things… even if the pocket monsters these days have grown to ridiculous proportions.

There are several tokusatsu series with bug-themed heroes, such as the Kamen Rider series.

I was into American tokusatsu when I was 10, but I missed out, oh I missed out

Anyhow, bugs are awesome, and they’re a big part of Japan. Should I ever get the chance to go there, I want to go bug-watching. (I also want to hunt bugs in Australia, except I know I’ll probably definitely die over there.)

Flickr credits: kaidohmaru, burleydude, miguelitos91, sakichin, smashedpoodle

Also informative: here

IS Parade: Mii Parade Meets Katamari!

I’m probably slow in finding this, but this amusing Japanese website meshes Katamari Damacy style with Nintendo Wii’s Mii Parade aesthetic to make a Twitter toy that amuses me perhaps too much!

It makes your Twitter feel special!

I’ve already done this like 8 times.

By the way, I’m on Twitter a lot. If you are, too, you could follow my main account (on which there are many artistic/design ramblings) or the one for this blog (which is similar, but also a feed for posts here).

$200 Worth of Desirable Things on Flutterscape

First off, this is a Tofugu contest blog entry! Normally I wouldn’t think to do something like this, but it’s interesting! (Note: I’m posting this now, but I may add images in later. No time right now!)

See, I have appreciation for both the impractical and the practical, so long as things are unique and really do what they’re supposed to — whether it’s to look good or function in some way. For example, Nintendo systems host gaming franchises that have held up over the course of 25 years, but the systems themselves are also pretty physically resilient. My DS should have broken a couple of times.

Figurines and similar toys have absolutely no uses other than looking pretty and taking up space (having been a Beanie Baby collector in my childhood, I can attest to something like this), but some are so awesome that they compel you to buy. The expense is justified in how awesome you feel while looking at them. If you live with other people who appreciate them, the awesomeness doubles!

So, I am an appreciator of Good Things and Cool Things. I don’t buy things unless they are either Good or Cool. If I think I’ll be tired of something in a year, or 5 years, or ever, I probably won’t invest in it — after all, all those little plastic things will be around basically forever, so if you’re going to buy into them, they might as well bring you a lifetime’s worth of entertainment! When I adopted this mindset, I became much less entranced/overwhelmed by stores like Spencer’s Gifts and anime con dealer rooms (respectively). I also felt much less compelled to buy random crap on a whim.

ANYWAY, Flutterscape is a website where people take pictures of cool Japanese stuff, and you can get that stuff if you’re not in Japan. Here is some stuff I want!

Ukiyo-e Stamps: $18.98 ($2.03 shipping)

I love Ukiyo-e. I also kind-of collect stamps. They’re a few steps down from my eventual goal of obtaining an original print — one of my graphic design teachers had one and showed the class, and it was so fragile I kind of freaked out inside — but it’s still pretty neat!

Edible Sakura: $15.93 ($3.16 shipping)

I tried to eat flowers when I was little (dandelions, in fact). They looked so good. They tasted so horrible. But these look so delicious, and pink, and I can’t resist the urge to try them…

JSG Reversible Parka w/Ears: $66.21 ($12.20 shipping)

I love small, non-bulky jackets with a bit of “pop”. I looked for a good one last winter that was small but still very warm (to compensate for my smallness and inability to carry heat in cold) and never found one suitable enough. For the record, I’d never wear that with its pink side out (ears are enough of a “different” feature), but I love clothing with wild patterns on the interior.

Koopa – Loud Music Nintendo CD: $34.31 ($2.03 shipping)

I never knew this existed! There are at least two more just like this, a Luigi “B-Side” music CD, and a Peach “Healing” music CD, from the exclusive Japanese Club Nintendo. I want this one because it has some of the most interesting tracks, and some (or all?) of them might be remixed. Awesome. I love video game music.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 OST: $46.32 ($5.52 shipping)

Did I mention I love video game music? It’s no secret that Mario Galaxy 2 is my favorite modern Mario game so far, and this Japan-exclusive soundtrack is something I simply must have. So I requested it!

Grand Total: $206.69

That’s a little over $200. As another option, and especially if that doesn’t fly, I’m kind of dodging between that JSG jacket OR this other thing I requested:

Chi’s Sweet Home Volumes 1-7: $47.86 ($12.42 Shipping)

I can more or less read kana, so using this series of manga would be a cute way for me to try to up my kana recognition and reading speed in a practical way…by reading comics. Besides, it’s adorable.

If I took that jacket out and replaced it with this, the grand total would be $188.56, leaving about $11 to be spent. I’d totally be okay with that though. I can’t think of anything else low-priced to eat that up, anyway!

Big Success!

As it turns out, Flutterscape is actually a little hard to navigate, and a lot of stuff is also miscategorized, but it’s like a golden opportunity to score some really neat Japanese stuff. People are happy to fulfill your requests! It’s quite good.

As for why I deserve any of this, apart from my general appreciation of Good Things (as well as Good Acts, like simply giving me $200 worth of stuff in return for a blog post :D), well… I’ll put them to good use. I use stuff, enjoy stuff. And I take to heart the thoughtfulness put into a good product (especially music, more recently). I’ll even encourage people I don’t even know to invest in the kinds of stuff I like. It’s awesome.

Besides that, I’ve really wanted Chi’s Sweet Home for some time now, and I’m kicking up my Japanese studying again. I like to try new things lately, and reading an all-Japanese comic for kids is definitely new. Just like edible sakura!

Yokai: the Kappa!

The Study of Kappa

Although I didn’t like it very much at first, the kappa has quickly become one of my favorite mythical creatures. What is it that I like about them? Is it the fact that there are many different interpretations of them historically, or that they can be downright adorable in modern depictions? Or maybe it’s just that little bowl of water on their heads. Let’s talk about it some more!

But first, note that this is an entry for this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri. Mazikeen is hosting it this time! Awesome! Thanks, Mazikeen! Take a look at the other yokai-related entries, too.

Raising kappa: is it easy?

Anyway, kappa. At first I thought they looked terrible. Duck-things with reptilian bodies! It didn’t help that I don’t really like ducks or turtles. (Except sea turtles. They’re adorable. Kappa sea turtles would be adorable, too, I guess.) And if I were to see one in reality, they would frighten me. I mean, that’s just too creepy to see walk up to you, realistically.

But the cuter they look, the more acceptable they become… (Which I believe is a general rule. Do you think anybody would have cared about Pandora if all the Na’vi resembled Gremlins? Exactly.) Kappa are known as troublemakers, and also consumers of children. Of course, they don’t really seem to have any ill will towards humanity. Why else would we love them?

The kappa that appear in Muramasa: the Demon Blade are actually annoying as hell and frightening to boot, but the helpful kappa children that appear are ADORABLE.

I am in fact writing and drawing a short comic story for print centering around a kappa right now, which should be out later this year. Perhaps I’ll post about that then. Another one of my comics, this one online, involves many yokai and other types of demons, and a kappa may make its way into its story as well.

I can show you the kappa my mom drew for me for the print story:

D'awww.

Kappa Stuff

Ooo, scaaaary

The famous King Bowser Koopa from the Mario game series may have taken inspiration from kappa. He’s not very watery, though. You’ve got to admit, their names do sound similar. (His name actually is more closely inspired by a Korean food dish. Appetizing!)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMaa1FNbTFo[/youtube]

Trailer for an animated movie called “Summer Days with Coo”, which I absolutely need to see

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxUya5wCJg0[/youtube]

A very old series of ads spanning many years (1939-1980) for Japanese Sake Kizakura, using kappa

Stay! Good boy!

Kappa no Kaikata (カッパの飼い方, How to Breed Kappas) is an anime series about…raising kappa. I haven’t seen it, but it hosts an adorably unforgettable kappa.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fu5DYKOP3w[/youtube]

A Spore-created kappa with interesting…features.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtpxdWKNiJc[/youtube]

A kappa-related independent short animation

As you can see, the kappa is fairly popular in Japan. (Understatement!) I’m beginning to understand why! People cosplay them, they crop up here and there in stories of all forms, both ancient and modern, and they serve as friends, symbols, and mascots. Long live the kappa!

A very informative historical perspective on kappa: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/kappa.shtml

Historical kappa pictures and Kappa mummies!!! from Pink Tentacle

Another nice kappa article: http://monsterama.blogspot.com/2007/10/clap-for-kappa.html

On JP

I had wanted to write some kind of uncategorizable blather here for quite some time, some of my feelings on Japan and why I’ve been updating this blog so little. Hopefully the following doesn’t sound like some kind of mish-mash dribble that makes no sense, nor sounds like something just anybody could say.

Slow Around Here…

As to why I haven’t been updating this blog very much, my time is divided among many, many things (and more recently among them, personal language studying). That’s only one reason(s), however. I created this blog for a very specific purpose once I got a deal on web hosting and finally came up with a name which I didn’t hate (and in fact like quite a bunch). And perhaps I did it too early — I plan on traveling and living in Japan as a contributor to society eventually (sooner rather than later), among other places to come later in my life. I would document the experience here. World travel is something I aim to do — and Japan is very interesting to me, for reasons I’ll cite shortly.

The possibility of doing so — traveling and living abroad, in Japan especially — is slightly distant, and certainly not immediate. So until then I would update with things about Japan. And while as a culture and language I know more about Japan than most other countries besides my own (ignoring how I could stand to pick up a few world history books and refresh myself on a lot of things), I need to flex my blogging creativity: I cannot simply post about games and comics I am interested in, or recycle every quirky little thing that becomes the next big “zany thing that happened to occur in Japan”.

Note, I love said zany things; I like quirky, culture-specific news in general. It highlights the few things that make people so varied from each other. But you don’t need me to tell you about that guy who married his DS in Guam, because you know already.

~*Wacky!*~

I got my thoughts together about this post after reading Lisa Katayama‘s article about Wacky Japan and why we need to tone down our views on it. She makes amazingly correct points. Among them:

  • Japan is fascinating to some of us (Americans) because Japan is like America, but with something “off”.

Personally, Japan intrigues me because it’s ancient (America’s come a long way in a short time, but it’s not ancient and I love ancient cultures), with a language system relatively unchanged over millennia, and what it has become now is a blend of old, OLD culture and Westernization. That’s what makes it seem “like America, but different”, and not in the way that England is “like America, but different” (England being more like a parent, and Japan being kind of like an adopted cousin or something). It is so far away, and yet so close — and a mere few centuries ago, it was a totally different place. It’s full of different faces, different mannerisms, and yet not quite so different.

Because of this, I want to make it my first place to travel abroad. There are many similar, and then many different, ancient-cultured towns, cities, and villages underfoot in my future, to experience firsthand. I don’t want to harbor or foster delusions about any of them — which is why travel to Japan is especially important to me. I can only know so much by reading and hearing. And in a world where worldwide news is instant, it’d be nice for a person like me — creative, easily inspired, determined, and concerned about people — to be able to experience more of it for herself.

Now, honestly, whenever something wacky comes up relating to Japan, I don’t even bat an eye anymore. It’s mostly because

  • My home country already does a ton of dumb and/or “wacky” stuff. I try to filter it out of my mind sometimes.
  • It’s a different culture. ALL other cultures do things that seem weird to us. It’s just normal. We do stuff that’s weird to them. (Some cultures have women that are afraid of mice. Does that make any sense to you? Did it ever?)

And you know, I honestly would not have chosen to be born anywhere but America if I had the ability to, but the way the American people (and people in general, but especially now with a generation raised on the Internet on open forums, possibly exposed to global communities but having no more cultural insight than normal) react to certain things outside their own norms is just gross sometimes. I don’t understand it; such ignorance shouldn’t be a big part of our culture, especially (if we’re going to seriously take on all this “we’re an example to the world” stuff), but it is. People shut things out that differ in the slightest. It’s all over the place, in the media, online, and it’s invasive; when you were a kid, you had no idea adults could be so dumb, but you grow up and suddenly are faced with it daily.

Then, you try your best not to be like that. Sight is a value! Insight moreso! That kind of thing needs to have a school class.

Is it that people who feel that way — who reject “different” things while keeping their own personal quirks under wraps — tend to foster that feeling in others? I can only assume. It’s pretty deep-seeded here, though. It’s almost…a cultural thing. Gah!

That’s part of why this Japan stuff especially gets blown out of proportion — that and because we can get away with it, while pussyfooting around the “quirks” of other cultures.

As Katayama noted, people in Japan aren’t nearly as serious about this supposedly “zany” stuff. That may relate to some of the country’s issues, too — I don’t know, it’s a consideration — but on the whole, a lot of it shouldn’t be approached with such somber judgment as some more unfamiliar people are fast to deliver (especially on the Internet — but God help the Internet). It’s just going to wear you out.

In summation: The Windows 7 Burger. Do you know whose fault that is? That’s out fault, people. Not Japan’s.

In other news, I have some more posts ready and lined up for soonish. Keep an eye out.

Also, I’d been planning to do an elaborate header for a long time now, but you know what? I kinda like it as it is now. There’s still graphical stuff I need to fix/refine on the site, however. I’ll be getting to that.