Invasion of the Kamemushi

On October 29th, my exciting Friday night plans included playing Park Golf with PTA in the junior high school gymnasium. Parents and teachers were divided into six teams and we putted around the gym, where random objects (chairs, nets, cones, mats, badminton equipment, etc.) were utilized to make semi-challenging courses. As a golf variant, park golf is similar to miniature golf; however the equipment is a little different. In park golf the putter is quite thick, almost like a driver in normal golf, and the ball is covered with rubber spikes that, I found, slow the ball’s rolling quite a bit. I think that park golf is normally played outside (hence the name) and it’s played with a laidback vibe similar to croquet, so perhaps playing it inside a gym was a bit unusual.

While I was quite terrible at park golf, it was fun to play with the parents. After golfing there was tea and junk food, and everyone chatting and enjoying themselves. The one blemish on an otherwise delightful evening was the presence of a nefarious insect invader, silently lurking about the building…

Japan is a cornucopia of insects and arachnids, truly a bug lover’s dream. My comparison of Shakotan to Nintendo’s life simulation game “Animal Crossing” appears to hold true, as the abundance of fascinating arthropods in real life parallels the collectable critters in the game. The bugs have been a slight nuisance, as one would expect, whether it be mosquitoes invading a barbeque or ants showing up in my apartment. But one species that has begun to encroach on our schools and homes seems to inspire panic greater than that of a potentially stinging wasp: the kamemushi (カメ虫 ).

Kamemushi is a stink bug, or to be more politically correct, shield bug. Its brown body is shield-shaped, similar to a turtle’s shell, which might be where the name kame (カメ) originally came from—kame means “turtle” (亀), while mushi means “bug” (虫). This insect has a special anti-predator technique it uses whenever it feels threatened; it sprays a foul-smelling liquid, kind of like a skunk. I have yet to actually see one emit its stink, but I’m told that it’s very unpleasant. And now that I think of it, I’m fairly certain that I have caught a whiff of kamemushi funk around the halls of the junior high and simply attributed it to something else.

Fall is season for kamemushi, as they tend to spring up around harvest time. From what I’ve read, they are a bit of agricultural pest, feeding on crops like soy beans. When it starts to get cold, kamemushi are attracted to the warmth of homes and other buildings, and they tend to crawl inside wherever they can find an opening. This explains why they often appear around doorways and window fixtures. Apparently they are supposed to hibernate in winter, but if they are warm enough in a building then they might remain active. Kamemushi have little wings under their shells, but they’re only capable of limited flight.

Once the dreaded stink bugs began appearing in the JHS teacher’s room, the other teachers gave me the lowdown. Since kamemushi don’t look especially scary, this information was very useful, lest I agitate the little stinkers. The pests would usually crawl along the floor, acting as moving malodorous landmines. Every now and then they would turn up in a more interesting place, like on someone’s shirtsleeve. One particularly memorable moment was when the Vice Principal discovered a kamemushi lurking under some papers on his desk. He let out a small but terrified scream, instantly attracting the attention of every teacher in the quiet room. With a nervous laugh, he apologized for the outburst, explaining that he just startled by the harbinger of funk.

So when confronted with the foul specter of the kamemushi, what do you do? Unlike other insects that you might simply crush for looking at you funny, kamemushi’s rancid fetor makes their bodies into stink bombs. Squashing a stinkbug simply makes the unpleasant potential into a reality. It turns out that most effective weapon is the handyman’s tool of choice: duct tape. As the other teachers demonstrated (quite often), a small square of duct tape can be used to first stick the kamemushi and then encase it in an airtight coffin. It still takes a bit of bomb-defusing calm and precision, but it’s definitely the easiest way to deal with kamemushi.

On Sunday, October 30th, I attended another mini-concert at the Yamashime House, this time for an opera singer. It was great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, sitting back and listening to the vocal styling that Italy is famous for. The female vocalist came out in an extravagant red dress and sang traditional songs, not only in Italian but also in Japanese. My favorite part of her show was the performance of musical show tunes, like “Tonight” from West Side Story, “Memory” from Cats, and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. After singing in English, the vocalist admitted to the audience that it made her a bit nervous to do so, seeing a foreigner in the crowd. Apparently, even in Japan, I am clearly a descendant of the British Isles, and I do not look even remotely Italian.

Walking with Makoto-san after the concert, we strolled through a swarm of tiny, white, gnat-like bugs. Since the autumn weather was getting cooler every day, I was surprised to encounter such miniscule insects. Makoto-san explained to me these were called yukimushi (雪虫), literally “snow bug”. Yukimushi swarm together in big, hovering clouds. Thanks to their white abdomens they almost resemble snowflakes, although I think they look more like catkins from a cottonwood tree. Like the kamemushi, fall is apparently also the season for yukimushi.

On November 3rd, the weather was pleasantly cool, but not yet freezing cold, so I decided to go for a run in the late afternoon. After doing the Furubira Road Race, I assumed I’d have to stop running for the winter, but the weather was so inviting that I decided to get out there and enjoy it. As I discovered mid-run, the yukimushi were out in full force.

I had only been out for a few minutes before I ran through my first swarm of snow bugs.  As I hit the cloud of tiny insects, I nearly inhaled several through my nose and mouth, and some of them got caught in my eyelashes. Coughing and spitting, I tried to expel the pests, while spastically waving my arms in front of my face to hopefully shoo them away. The second cloud I hit was even worse, but since I was expecting it, I did a better job of shielding my face, running awkwardly with my hands in front of me. When I eventually looked down, I was shocked to see that my chest and arms were essentially covered in tiny insects. While yukimushi look white in flight, it was their black parts of their bodies that stood out against the white background of my shirt. Luckily, the majority of them were fairly easy to dust off.

When I got back to my apartment, I immediately took a hot shower and threw my clothes in the wash. Yukimushi had stuck my sweaty forehead, hair, and ears. Once the little bastards were washed off I decided to return to my original plan, and not jog again until spring.

1 Comment

Filed under Shakotan

One response to “Invasion of the Kamemushi

  1. Antonio T. Iannarone, Ph.D.

    You clearly give new meaning to the term exterminator. Hello Luke. I see things continue to go well and you appear to be more than enjoying your experiences there. Are you aware that Antonio will be in Japan over Christmas? He and Aloveiz leave on the 24th until the 4th of Jan. I did not think to ask but are you anywhere near where he will be, if you know. I have forgotten. I think Tokyo.
    Dr. I

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