Sunday, 18 July 2010

Kabutomushi kids

A kabutomushi or Japanese Rhinoceros beetle

No Japanese childhood is complete without bugging bugs, inspecting insects and pestering pests. Kings of the crop and prized captives for all the mini marauders in the area are Kabutomushi, Japanese Rhinoceros Beetles. Along with Japanese stag beetles, these are objects of great desire for local boys, and for girls too, no squeamishness there. The school even provides them - or at least acts as a conduit, though who provides them I'm not sure. Playtime might see a clutch of kids surrounding a joisting tournament to determine whose beetle is the strongest, using their instinct to push away rivals Sumo style for mating grounds and food.

These beetles are strong, big, and they fly. My son was wary of touching insects last year, especially being used to puny English bugs. I used to annoy pond life* as a boy in Lancashire, and we were very proud if we found a Great Diving Beetle, which are only the size of the first joint of your thumb. Rhinoceros beetles would have blown our tiny minds, although the Great Diving Beetle admittedly has habits more satisfyingly nightmarish to the boyish mind.

My son gained his badge of courage and has now learned to handle them confidently. This was somewhat shaken this week when the beetle he was holding by the point on it's shell managed to latch onto his hand and crawl up his arm. You should know that they have sharp claws and they clamber around by sticking them into any available surface like an ice climber whacking axes into an ice cliff. In this case the surface was my son's skin, leaving a trail of red pin pricks up his arm. This softened him to our insistence that we only kept the two he brought home form school for a week, so they could go off and do their romancing and wild living in the woods. 

Most kids keep them in plastic tanks for months, and they spend half their time trying to get out. That would be my plan too. We spent an hour in the garden today  crushing and drowning the small beetles that were daring to eat our potatoes, then came over all squeamish and protective about the beetles in the tank. No inconsistency there then. Vegetarianism seems to involve rather a lot of killing as it turns out.
My son doesn't have a lot of luck with Kabutomushi - this one fell out of a tree onto his arm last year. It hurt.
We took the reprieved prisoners up to the playground at the shrine this afternoon. The big one knew exactly what to do with his freedom and escaped through the holes in our logic. He was axing up the big tree at speed in no time, higher and higher until it fell off from a dizzy height, apparently by accident and took wing instinctively, sailing off into its luvin' future through the tree tops,  humming a Barry White song. The other fell off after three inches onto it's back, heaved itself half-heartedly up the tree a few feet, then crammed itself into a crack and hid. I don't know, you do your best, but they just have their own personalities right from the start don't they? You just have to let them go in the end though, the little darlings, don't you?

*Now I am pond life


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