Patchwork Yokohama
22. Creepy Crawly Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          In June, Vince  visited  Shiki  No  Mori Koen near Nakayama.
          While the Four  Seasons  park was short on sakura, it had an
          abundance of shobu  or  irises. It was a ranging park, large
          by any standards in Japan, with different areas for this and
          that. There was  a  marsh-like area for catching insects and
          near here, you  could  see  the iris garden. The irises were
          awash with rainfall  and  sunlight,  but looked drab all the
          same. There was something fetid and decaying about the shobu
          for Vince - you could see and smell it. The blooms looked to
          him nothing so  much  like  melted  plastic  in blue, white,
          purple, cherry, mauve and violet.


          At the same  time  as  the  shobu,  the hotaru or fire flies
          abounded in Shiki  No Mori. Salarymen smoking on the outside
          balconies were often  compared  to hotaru. Osamu, who didn't
          smoke at all, had told Vince often enough that the fields of
          Midori Ward had  once abounded with fireflies, but now there
          were hardly any and you had to go to special parks like this
          one to see  the  hotaru.  Osamu,  a  farmer  himself, blamed
          farmers for using  new  chemicals  on  the  rice paddies and
          killing off the tiny fish, kawanina, the main source of food
          for the hotaru.


          You could still  see  them  in  the forests of Shiki No Mori
          Koen and there  was  a  week  set aside for viewing the tiny
          insects. A display  told  Vince  that  there  were two major
          types of hotaru  -  the  Genji hotaru and the Heikei hotaru,
          but it was  impossible  to  tell the difference in the dark.
          The genji female  was  18 millimetres long as opposed to the
          15  millimetre  male   while   the   Heikei  female  was  10
          millimetres long to the 8 millimetre male. Only the boys had
          the lights, a  ploy  to attract willing females. Vince found
          all  this out  in  a  special  information  booth.  He  also
          discovered that fireflies  metamorphose  in an incredible 20
          minute long cocoon phase.

          Firefly watching was  called Hotaru Gari and Vince felt that
          he was particularly  adept at it. Common sense told him that
          the best way to view fire flies was to escape to the darkest
          and least noisy  and  consequently least crowded sections of
          the swamp area. He would stand away from the rabble that was
          armed with torches  and  a  range  of oohs and aahs that was
          instant insect repellent to any self-respecting hotaru. Sure
          enough  some fireflies,  tentatively  flickering  lights  at
          first, becoming bolder,  until  someone  nearby would notice
          and another noisy  crowd  would  congregate.  At this point,
          Vince would move  to  another  area  and the fireflies would
          follow him.


          He was not  always able to do this. The first year, he tried
          hotaru gari, the  boardwalk  paths  at  Shiki  no  mori koen
          became so crowded  that  it was impossible to find a special
          viewing point for  yourself  and  for  all  the  torch light
          illuminating the bushes  it  was  very  difficult to see the
          path itself. This was also the year when it poured with rain
          and the populace,  torches  in  one  hand  and  brochures or
          complimentary fans in  the  other,  hadn't brought along the
          obligatory umbrellas that  singled  out  the  ready  for all
          occasions salaryperson from  the  run of the mill rabble. If
          the hotaru had  not  already called off the evening's mating
          activities, the stampede  along  the narrow board paths back
          to the car  park  ensured  the  fact  that few hotaru larvae
          would be conceived that night.


          Even Connie could  understand  the attraction of the hotaru.
          Their fragile lights  wending  a  jagged  path  through  the
          foliage. She had  avoided  all the information material lest
          she discover, as  she  suspected,  that  the  hotaru  bore a
          distinct resemblance to  all  other  creepy  crawlies in the
          light of day.  Vince  had tried to tease her about this, but
          she  was adamant.  Who  had  seen  a  real  glow  worm?  she
          demanded.  No  doubt,  they  just  looked  like  worms.  She
          compared hotaru with  stars in the sky, which looked nothing
          like great belching balls of ignited gas.


          While everyone in Japan seemed agreed on the fleeting beauty
          of the hotaru,  not unlike the sakura when you thought about
          it, they had  mixed  feelings  about  insects in general. It
          seemed that half of Japan loved insects while the other half
          hated them. How  often  had Vince been teaching a class when
          everything had been  thrown into chaos by a moth flying into
          the room. A  good  two  thirds  of the girls and some of the
          boys were close to hysteria.


          Vince could only  assume  that  this  monstrous reaction had
          something to do with the possibility of the moth laying eggs
          on their hair and making holes like they did in clothes. But
          no, one day,  he  witnessed a equal Richter scale reading of
          hysteria when an  ear  wig  was  discovered  on the floor in
          front of one girl's seat. Vince, not only concerned with the
          state of his  class  but  also  with  the realisation that a
          fellow creature, the  ear  wig, was suffering great traumas,
          took immediate action  and  stomped on it, hopefully putting
          the poor little fellow out of its misery.

          This caused even  more  chaos  and  an  irate  student,  the
          spokesperson for the  group, reminded him that he might just
          have stood on  a long-dead ancestor who had taken on another
          life time as an ear wig. Surprised by this sudden appearance
          of religiosity so rare during his time in Japan, Vince found
          himself wondering how  Australian  ear  wigs  had made it to
          Tokyo. From then  on,  the moth problem assumed a new light.
          Maybe, the hysteria arose from the thought that these girls'
          ancestors might well be checking up on whether they had done
          their homework.


          On the other hand, Vince went to enough parks on the weekend
          and  had seen  the  hundreds  of  men,  women  and  children
          searching through fields  for  grasshoppers and on the edges
          of marshes for  dragonflies.  The  Matsumoto  children  were
          particularly fond of  wading thigh deep through muddy creeks
          in search of  tadpoles,  tiny  molluscs  or  swamp  insects.
          Junichi could name  any insect in any of its four stages and
          took great pleasure  in  presenting Vince with a dead cocoon
          and showing him  what it had looked like as a caterpillar or
          would have looked like as an adult.

          Vince was not very keen on caterpillars himself, although he
          had collected them  for  a  short time as a boy. He had been
          put off for  life when his prize caterpillar, Spartacus, had
          eaten some leaves  with  fly  eggs  on them. The maggots had
          eaten their way  out via Spartacus's head. Years later, when
          Vince was watching the alien eat its way out of a man in the
          movie, Alien, all he could think of was Spartacus.

          Vince was well  aware  that  no  hobby  as  popular  as  bug
          catching could be  left  alone  by  the  massive  commercial
          machinery of Japan  and  so  it  didn't  surprise him in the
          least that you could buy insects in department stores during
          the summer months  of  June and July.  For just 680 yen, you
          could buy one  kabuto  mushi  larva  complete  complete with
          plastic cage and  a  mulchy,  mouldy living and feeding mat.
          The  kabuto  mushi,   a   succulent  looking  grub  of  some
          proportion grew into  a  formidable looking monster with the
          two horns. Vince  was  infinitely  grateful that it was only
          two inches long.  Indeed,  he  thought  that it was a purely
          Japanese breed until, on a visit back to homeland Australia,
          one of Connie's nephews brought in a slightly smaller but no
          less ferocious looking specimen.


          If 680 didn't  sound  like  much  for  such  an  impressive
          looking insect, you  could buy him optional extras - special
          mushi water for  200,  mushi gourmet food for 190 and even
          mushi jelly for  250.  The kabuto mushi was named after the
          kabuto helmet used  by  samurai warriors and often presented
          as part of the boys' day celebrations.


          Another celebrated insect  in  Japan was the cricket. Vince,
          whose  favourite sport  bore  the  same  name,  nevertheless
          remembered how their  back  leg scrapings had kept him awake
          for half the  night at a time when he was a young boy of six
          or seven living  in  Melbourne.  He  had  thought of them as
          pests in those days and nothing until his visit to Japan had
          given him reason  to  change  his mind, least of all cricket
          plagues in the Wimmera.


          He had quickly  discovered  that crickets were a delicacy in
          the north of Honshu. Inago was sugared cricket complete with
          legs,  head,  thorax,  abdomen  and  antennae.  Vince  could
          acquire a taste  for  just  about  anything  and now that he
          delighted in sometimes  bringing  a  packet into his classes
          and munching on  them  while half the class screamed and the
          other half drooled.

          Even more surprising  for Vince than edible crickets was the
          yearly late-summer rinshunkan  or  appreciation of the songs
          of  the  insects.   If  crickets  weren't  the  tastiest  of
          delicacies to Vince's  mind,  their song was hardly the most
          melodious to his  ears.  Still,  it was a measure of Vince's
          time in Japan  and  his experiences there, that thirty years
          after lying in  bed  and  listening to their drone that kept
          him awake half  the  night,  Vince  and  Connie were busying
          themselves  to go  out  for  an  evening  of  Rinshunkan  at
          Sankei-en gardens.

          To make matters  worse,  one  of  his  interminable in-laws,
          Connie's brother, Ted,  was  staying  with them at the time.
          Ted had laughed  and laughed out loud when he had heard that
          they were going  out  to  listen  to  insects.  He had point
          blankedly refused to  join  them  and  ripped  the  tab  off
          another of Vince's beers with a burp.

          "The only crickets I'm going to listen to are Buddy Holly's.
          I think I'll  just  spend  the evening trying to get used to
          this shit the Japs call beer."

          Vince frowned as  Connie  pulled  him towards the door, "You
          know, you don't have to drink it if you don't like it."

          In fact, I'd sooner you didn't drink it, Vince thought as he
          walked down to the train. There might be some left for me.

          As it turned  out,  it  was one of the most restful evenings
          they'd spent in  Yokohama.  Sankei-en  is  a  large Japanese
          garden with iris,  cherry  and  plum arbours. At the highest
          point, you can  look  over  the industrial Yokohama port and
          see Mount Fuji  on  a  clear  day. There was an inner garden
          with the usual range of bridges and creeks in a miniaturised
          landscape. Sankei-en was  rarely open to the public at night
          time. It was  open on this particular day for the first full
          moon after the  autumnal  equinox. Hundreds of photographers
          were trying to  get a view of the moon as it rose behind the
          three tiered pagoda  that seemed to hang in the air over the
          lower part of the garden. The Kanshin bridge on the opposite
          side of the  pond  was  brilliantly  illuminated with golden
          light.


          The insects weren't nearly as noisy as the ones that haunted
          Vince's childhood and  he found the cigarette smoke far more
          annoying.  There  was  hardly  a  patch  of  fresh  air  and
          considering the pollution,  it  surprised  Vince that anyone
          could see the  moon  at  all  or that there were any insects
          left. Still, he  reflected,  it  would have been the same at
          home as Ted inevitably lit up without thinking.

          In the inner  garden,  there  was  a  concert  first for the
          bamboo flutes playing  haunting  Japanese refrains that were
          meant to compliment  the  tune  of the crickets. Then came a
          series of koto players who played an unusual range of tunes

          Doh, a deer, a female deer. Reh, a drop of golden sun, Mi, a
          name I call myself. And so on, And so on, And so on.

          This was followed  by  "Home  on the Range" and "Bringing in
          the Sheaves". Vince  wondered  if these were popular numbers
          with the crickets  themselves. He knew well enough that they
          probably had Japanese  lyrics and most people in the country
          no doubt thought they were native songs.

          When he arrived  home,  Vince  noted  that there was no beer
          left in the  fridge  and asked his brother-in-law if he had,
          at last, acquired a taste for Japanese beer.

          The latter replied,  "I  don't think so, but after the third
          it doesn't seem to matter."