David Chart's Japan Diary

June 21st 2005

There's not a great deal to report this week. In the aftermath of spending a weekend away, I've been busy with various bits of work. Actually, I have a lot of work to do at the moment; a couple of books need my editorial attention, and my writing schedule is still quite heavy. In addition, the writing has reached the difficult point: I'm about a third of the way through the book.

This always seems to be the hardest bit. The initial excitement over writing the book has worn off, as the appeal of the concept vanishes under the hard work of getting it down in words. (You know, the reason I get paid for doing this.) On the other hand, there's still a lot to go (almost 50,000 words in this case), so the end is certainly not in sight. As a result, the whole thing is a slog. I have to keep slogging away, and I'm still more-or-less on schedule, but writing will be less fun for the next couple of weeks, I think. It normally picks up again after that.

I'm also doing quite well with recruiting students; well enough that I might have to put my advert on hold in the near future. I'm now very close to the number of lessons per week that I want. Of course, I might lose quite a few of these students when I move. We'll have to see.

So, since there isn't much to say about my life (Yuriko is busy too), I thought I'd say something about Japan. I've been hear well over a year and a half now, so I've had the chance to notice things that you probably wouldn't spot on a simple visit. I'm certainly not a Japan expert yet, so this should be taken with a pinch of salt. It's just my experience.

Inordinately Fond of Beetles

The Japanese really like beetles. Specifically, they like big beetles with horns, like stag beetles. In Japanese, they're called 'kabuto mushi', which means 'helmet insects'. I get the general impression that this is mainly a male thing, and most noticeable at primary school age, so the basic urge is something found in England, as well. What's different is the level of social support.

As an example, on Sunday night I went out for dinner with Yuriko. On the way, we popped in to a bookshop, where the latest 'collect the set' magazine was displayed. It was a part-work about beetles. With every issue, you got a life-size (I think) plastic model of a beetle, and fact sheets about it and other beetles. Clearly, it is realistic to expect large sales.

Similarly, there is, or at least was, a Trading Card Game (like Magic: the Gathering or, for those outside gaming, Top Trumps) based on kabuto mushi. The Japanese pavilion at the Expo has plastic kabuto mushi stuck to the structure. In Fukuoka, there are giant bronze kabuto mushi in the lobby of a hotel. People even breed them, or buy them as pets. While there are people in England who keep spiders and such, I don't think it's regarded as anything like as unusual here. The main constraint is more likely to be cost (the larger, more impressive ones are hard to raise and thus very expensive) than family or friends going "Eeuuuwwww!".

This is something I'd not come across at all before coming to Japan, despite quite a serious interest in Japan. Obviously, it isn't universal (Yuriko displays no particular interest in beetles), but it is regarded as completely normal, at least in children. It's maybe a bit like collecting model cars; entirely normal for boys, and, in moderation, reasonable for adult men. I wouldn't say it was good or bad, it's just different.

Although I suppose 'Save the Greater Horned Black-Spotted Beetle!' would work better as a conservation rallying cry here.