Japan is known as the land of everything kawaii these days. Even ugly things are made cute (check out Rachel’s article on kimokawaii). However, outside of the purikura booths and cosplay cafe’s of Tokyo and other large cities exist the brutal mountains of Japan where the wild things live (don’t worry though, sometimes they live in/near the cities as well!). I’m personally fascinated by these kinds of things, especially spiders (which have some kind of vendetta against me), so I thought I’d learn about the insects that help to make Japan a moderately terrifying place.
Here’s my top ten list of pants-peeing creepy crawlies that will give you a scare if you weren’t expecting them. On that note, here’s to hoping that you don’t run into too many of them on any visit to Japan you might take.
10. Cicada セミ
“I am so kawaii.”
Even though they are commonly found in many regions of the world, cicadas are somewhat of an iconic symbol of Japanese wildlife. Their sounds are often played as background noise in Japanese movies and referred to in famous works of literature. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em, but you can’t deny that they are kind of creepy. Before cicadas become obnoxious “tree crickets,” they live underground as nymphs (yes, I do mean mythological women). Once they hit puberty and start arguing with their parents, they burrow their way out of the ground and find a nearby place to molt where they leave their nasty exoskeletons for children to collect.
Groups of cicadas can produce sounds up to 120 decibels – that’s louder than an Ozzy Osbourne concert. Cicadas are harmless, but if they mistake you for a tree they could grip you with their spiky legs and beak in an attempt to eat from you or lay their eggs on you. Overall, these are pretty cool, but they can definitely be freaky, especially with the whole molting thing.
Bonus Tip: They also die in great numbers, too. And, when they die, they fall from the trees like sakura blossoms in spring. Suffice to say, dead giant insects falling on you is a momentary panic-inducing situation.
9. Stink Bug クサギカメムシ
Kusagikamemushi… that’s a pretty big name for such a little stinker. Like fruit vampires, these bugs roam the land sucking the fluids from any vegetation they can find with their straw like appendage, called a proboscis. They usually don’t bother humans, but if you touch this little dude or intimidate him, you’ll end up covered in a nasty, cilantro-like odor. So, unless you want to walk home smelling like Mexican food (I know I do), I would avoid running into this bug.
8. Denki Mushi イラガの幼虫
Awww isn’t it a cute little caterpie? That is, until you touch it. Run into one of these guys and you’ll be feeling like you stuck a paper clip into an electric socket. Although these bugs don’t really have electric powers (like real pokemon), the chemicals they release are said to feel remarkably like an electric shock. That’s why they’ve picked up the nickname “denkimushi” (electric bug) in Japanese. In short, these things are about as cuddly as a cactus. :D
7. Cockroach ゴキブリ
Cockroaches. That’s all I really have to say, isn’t it? These things are disgusting even without knowing much about them. But if you really must know, cockroaches can carry 33 types of bacteria, six kinds of parasites, and seven pathogens (that we know of). They are said to be the only thing that can survive nuclear warfare other than Twinkies, which may not be true, but they are hard to get rid of. Cockroaches can go 45 minutes without breathing, live a month without food, and sustain themselves off the glue from a postage stamp. And the worst part is: they really will eat your children. Or, at least your child’s hair, toenails, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
6. Japanese Mountain Leech ヤマビル
Leeches. Never a good thing, except maybe for sucking satan out of demon-possessed 12 year olds. Most of the the time people run into nasty encounters with leeches in bodies of water, but these little suckers are perfectly comfortable on land. Mountain leeches have a seemingly harmless inchworm-like gait, but when they really mean business they can come after you by somersaulting at high speed. They even climb trees to drop down on unsuspecting victims and hide in your shoes (only slightly disconcerting). These leeches are equipped with a sucker on one end that helps them to get get around and size up their victims. On the other end, they have strong jaws lined with thousands of tiny teeth which they use to inject you with an anti-coagulant and numbing compound so they can unknowingly feed on your blood- oh, and chew through your clothing . Yikes.
Another type of leech that lives in Japan is the Giant carnivorous mountain leech. These leeches, also comfortable above the water, could easily be mistaken for snakes due to their large size and the way they slither across the ground at high speeds in search of prey. The good thing is, these leeches don’t suck blood like you might think. Instead, they use their huge jaws to swallow worms whole. How charming.
5. House Centipede ゲジゲジ
The gejigeji looks downright prehistoric. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I had been thrust into some horrible B-class syfy movie (THE LEGS). Luckily, however, the gejigeji is just a harmless little guy, unlike its evil cousin the Japanese Giant Centipede. All he wants is to be loved. That must be why he has so many long arms – to hug you with.
Gejigeji are actually good to keep around your house – if you can stand them that is. They eat all the other critters you don’t actually want around.
4. Giant Centipede ムカデ
I don’t usually find centipedes scary (except maybe The Human Centipede), but this one deserves to be feared. A symbol of evil in Japanese mythology, the mukade can grow up to a length of 38 centimeters (that’s 15 inches!). It doesn’t just look scary, though, the mukade is poisonous too. If it gets its little chompers around you, you’ll be in a world of pain and probably have some pretty decent swelling. It usually won’t kill you, but get a bad enough bite and you’ll be straight to the doctor. So, I don’t recommend tempting one of these bad boys if you are trying to pull a Ferris Bueller. In Japanese lore, it is said that the mukade must be burned to get rid of it. So seriously, KILL IT WITH FIRE.
Fire? Why not just barbeque them up? That’ll get rid of them. Who wants some spicy mukade? Mmm mmm, crunchy.
3. Huntsman Spider
NOPE. Nope nope nope nope. That was my first reaction to this creepy crawly, if you can even call it that. I feel more inclined to call it SOMETHING FROM MY WORST NIGHTMARES. Pictures of this guy end up all over the internet, and for good reasons. It’s terrifying. More like a dark, hairy crab, the Huntsman Spider, or ashidakagumo, doesn’t spin webs to catch its prey. Instead, it uses its lightning-fast legs to chase down its food, beats it into the ground, then rips apart the its poor victim for its next meal. Oh, and did I mention they get up to a foot wide? I’m just sayin’, my cat wouldn’t even eat this. Check it out:
The only good thing about this spider is that its not poisonous to humans. Phew! Another thing I don’t have to worry about, except for the whole peeing my pants every time I see one thing.
2. Jorou Spider ジョロウグモ
The Joro spider is a member of the golden silk orb-weaver genus. If you couldn’t tell by the crazy rainbow jacket this dude flaunts, the Joro Spider is poisonous. Getting bit by one is about the same as getting bit by a black widow – not deadly, but not a kiss from Shirley Temple. Just looking at the Joro gives me the heebie-jeebies. I mean, look at it’s butt! You’d think the “golden” part of its name comes from its golden body, but actually it refers to the spider’s golden web. It’s as dapper as it is horrifying. People have even attempted to make high-end clothing from the Joro’s golden thread. Looks like Rumpelstiltskin’s got a new employee!
These things are so creepy, they exist in Japanese folklore as evil seducers. Jorogumo (referenced to in my favorite game, Okami) are said to have the ability to transform into beautiful women and ensnare unsuspecting men who they then string up for their next meal.
So, what does this thing really eat, if it doesn’t eat your husband? How about birds? Yeah, that sounds good. That being said, I wouldn’t touch this thing with a 40 foot pole.
1. Japanese Giant Hornet
Hide your kids. Hide your wife. Hide your husband, too, cause the suzumebachi’s in town and he’s not happy. Wasps aren’t generally considered to be pleasant company, but this thing is on a whole other level. In Japanese, the “Japanese Giant Hornet” is known as oosusumebachi, which literally means “giant sparrow bee,” and we might as well call these things sparrows ‘cause they are that freakin’ big. Not only are these things huge, but they will also spray you in the eyes with a flesh-melting poison if you catch them on a bad day. Great. Oh, and did I mention that this poison is filled with pheromones that signal the rest of the hive to hunt you down and sting the living crap out of you until you can no longer move your limbs? Dear lord, I seriously wish guns were legal in Japan just so I could defend myself against these things. Oh, did I mention that they can fly up to 50 miles a day? They will track. you. down.
Suzumebachi are so brutal that they’d do Metalocalypse proud. Not only are they a threat to humans, but they treat other insects worse than Rebecca Black after her release of Friday. “Oh, our babies need food? Let’s feed them other insects’ babies.” says the suzumebachi. But that’s still not metal enough. The suzumebachi often raid beehives to collect bee larva for their young. Sounds difficult? Not for the suzumebachi. It only takes one wasp to find a beehive, signal over a few friends, and then it’s party time. Thirty suzumebachi can rip apart thousands of bees like it’s a Sunday walk in the park.
Damn nature, you scary.
You’d think wasps like these would only live in the most desolate regions of the globe, far away from karaoke bars and bubble tea. But no, the suzumebachi lives around many places in Japan, even the outskirts of Tokyo, and they claim as many as 40 lives a year. This monster ain’t nothin’ to mess with.
Well, I may have wet my pants now, so let’s call this a wrap. Let me know which one of these gives you the most nightmares. If you are a masochist and find this stuff interesting like me, I recommend following the Real Japan Monsters YouTube channel – that dude be cray. In the meantime, I’m going to go seal all my doors and windows with duct tape. They can’t get through duct tape, can they? No, seriously, can they??