The only insects that I hate are those which suck my blood or are unreasonably agressive toward me. I will not hesitate to kill a mosquito or to crush a flea between my fingernails, but house centipedes test me on these self-imposed limits. Their grotesque body and movements fascinate me, but also give me a strong case of the goosebumps. The reason why I am so creeped out by these guys is that one of them crawled across my bare thigh about 2 years ago, and I can still remember that unpleasant sensation.
As I was preparing to take a shower, this thing shot out of the shadows and stopped in front of me. My first inpulse was to kill it, but I decided to guide it outside with a broom instead (with a can of insecticide close at hand in case things got ugly). This ugly bastard’s body was about 2.5 inches long, but the antannae at each end (disgusting!) stretched it out to about 6 inches total. The way these things move is truly disturbing, evoking similar feeling to those I experience watching the bug-like creatures in Aliens try to face hump a victim and shove their ovipositor down the throat! Well, the shower has been running for 20 minutes now, so I guess I should stop acting like a wussy and just get it over with. I’m taking my spray can of DDT with me though.
I found a commune of funnel web spiders in Kikuka this weekend, when exploring a huge rock outcropping in the hills. The spiders reminded me of the ones in the Hobbit, and I imagined hundreds of tiny, hungry eyes watching, evaluating me, patiently waiting.
But these spiders were cool. There were tons of mosquitoes out, and I took satisfaction in knowing that many would be doomed to stumble into the complex of webs, their futile struggles transmitted down the gossamer strands, the vibrations transformed into impulses sparking across synapses of the arachnid, triggering a tiger-like pounce, mandibles of death injecting an acid as corrosive as the blood of a Giger Alien. Haha, game over man! Burn, you miserable mosquito. Burn.
This weekend, while chilling at Joe’s I was laying on the tatami when I felt something crawling next to me. I ignored it until it happened again, and was scared shitless when I saw a three inch long centipede on my arm. I flung it off, and Joe proceeded to douse it for a full minute with insecticide spray, as it writhed and whipped and jumped around in agony. I’m just glad I didn’t get bitten by the bastard. I like looking at the suckers, but I HATE it when they touch me!
This is an akaushi (aka means red, and ushi is cow, as opposed to the *shooting from the hip* holstein in Justin’s picture) that I stumbled upon while driving the 40 into Ichinomiya. It’s interesting to see how people take care of their crops and livestock. It seems to me that the richer the rancher, the less attention each animal gets. The real small scale farmers treat each plant and animal with great importance, I suppose, because losing one cow could mean the only cow that they own.
Ubuyama is now famous for their beef and, to a lesser degree, dairy products. The akaushi is truly a delicious variety, and fat is evenly distributed through out the meat. My village serves a really expensive cut of this beef in an interesting way. They take a huge, prime slab and cut off slices as it grills, reminiscent of kabob but much thicker.
One thing that I don’t understand is why no one around here can appreciate a good thick steak, pot roast, or juicy cut of prime rib. They prefer to eat it cut up into small cuts known simply as yakiniku. Since these slices of meat are so thin (usually about 4mm thick), you can’t really eat them rare. They cook too fast for that, but yakiniku is certainly delicious. You can treat yourself to a steak in Ubuyama up around Hokubu, however a steak dinner will set you back no less than 3,000 yen. I have only gone once and it was worth it, but I that was a one time deal. The proprietor sent me home with a block of tofu, some tomatoes, and let me take home some tsukemono- they have 27 different types that are available to try!
So what happens when I look upon the face of my dinner as it is still a living, breathing creature of God? My stomach rumbles, and I think “damn, that akaushi looks really delicious”. It is interesting to note that I had the opposite reaction looking at, and more importantly smelling, the cattle of Harris ranch in Central California.
Hahaha, it will be interesting to see if anyone is disapppointed by this post due to the misleading title. I think that these blue worms are a likely source of inspiration for those, uh… creative cartoon monsters, but on to the monster annelids.
It is inevitable that on a nature hike with kids at English camp, the boys come across one of these shockingly blue iradescent nightcrawlers (mimizu in Japanese). They are then obliged to chase girls around with it, to use it as a whip on eachother (hee-yah! whoopshhhh! Oh wait, no, thats what an American kid would say…), and finally to throw it in the face of one of the counselors. No it wasn’t me. If it were my face, I would have made the little bastards eat it while teaching the others to sing “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll eat some worms”.
These things are just nasty looking and big (about 3/4 of a foot- yes! I thought I forgot all about the standard measurement system after moving to Japan…). They move in an oozing manner, stretching out, and then scrunching their bodies forward among the humus and leaf litter. I have a feeling that they have few natural predators because they taste nasty or are poisonous. A hunk of easy to catch, brightly colored protein doesn’t tend to last long in the forest.
In the past four days, I have already seen 3 snakes. One I spotted on the road, smashed (most likely when it was sunning itself) and attracting flies. I saw two yesterday in Saga-ken. The first one I saw when I was visiting Kannon no taki (Kannon waterfall) in Nanayama-mura (Seven mountain village). I jumped over a rock, and it quickly slithered away under some dead branches. Not feeling quite Irwin enough, I decided not to reach in the tangled foliage and to let it be. Instead, I checked out the awesome waterfalls. If you are passing through Saga-ken, this place is worth a visit.
Anyhow, Kuniko spotted this snake (at Kashibaru Shikken, or Saga Marshlands, North of the Nagasaki Expressway on a small road that shortcuts the 323 toward Nanayama. if you can make it here around August, you should be able to see a beautiful flower called the Sagisou that looks like a bird in flight. this is a prime wetland habitat, a rare find in Japan and the biodiversity is much more apparent and colorful than the vernal pools of Santa Barbara), that remained absolutely still, well camoflauged among the dried foliage. I was able to get really close to it, and finally learned how to use the macros function on my digicam (thanks for the prodding, Justin):
Kuniko thought it was dead, and so I was obligated to show her otherwise. I grabbed its tail, and it whipped its body two feet away from me in a split second. After I grabbed it again, it started rattling the dried leaves with the tip of its tail in the manner of a rattle snake, and then bolted into a well concealed rathole. I don’t think this snake was poisonous, but can’t say for sure since I was not bitten.
According to the Japanese snake guide, this appears to be a Japanese four-lined snake, or Shima-hebi. I don’t know why I have this compulsion to play with the snakes that I encounter. All that I can say is that it’s fun (until I get bitten/envenomated I suppose).
There are two types of bioluminescence that I know of. One form is created by the mixing of the chemicals luciferin and luciferase. Animals such as fireflies and anglerfish either have organs that produce luciferin and luciferase (both internally and externally) or support colonies of bioluminescent bacteria who produce these chemicals in their bodies, living in symbiosis in special organs called photophores.
The other kind is called phosphorescence. Phytoplankton, specifically dinoflagellates, use phosphorous to construct their shells and when they strike eachother, their shells emit light. I wonder if this phenomena is related to sodium particle emissions (turning a pickle into a crackling yellowish green lamp, with a load of lethal electrical current running through it).
Okay, let’s pretend we’re not nerds and get on with the story.
Two weekends ago I took a trip down to Ashikita and shared a cabin on the coastline with some friends. During the course of the night, we decided to go for a swim in the calm waters of the channel. The night was cold, but there was no wind and water was not much colder than that of the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach.
After contemplating the serene beauty of the moonlight rippling off of the wavelets, I led the initial solo banzai charge into the black water and belly-flopped with a Ker-Smack! An electric blue donut lived and died in a flash, circling me. Thrashing around, I was surprised to see a myriad of tiny blue lights, the same color as blue glow sticks but about the size of a grain of sand, flashing with the chaos of water within my sphere of influence. Everyone quickly joined in the melee,and the tiny dinoflagellates collectively gave off enough light to clearly see eachother underlighted by a ghostly blue. I dove beneath, and breaststroked (the best stroke of all), astounded at watching the lights illuminate my hands, arms, and even air bubbles. Someone else did this afterward, and from above it looked unreal- a fully illuminated glow-stick person doing the breaststroke. After twenty minutes the cold finally started to set in, and it was time to return to warmth brought by beer and heat of the cabins.
The next morning was as spectacular. Ashikita is a really beautiful coastal town, and there is an onsen at the top of a hill that looks over the channel. The onsen has a large panel of glass that offers a spectacular view, and there was a group of about 10 seahawks dive bombing out in front, trying to rob eachother of whatever they were eating. So, as we soaked and let the deep heat cleanse us of our weariness and hangovers, we were further invigorated by a perfect sunny/partly cloudy day and our airborne entertainment.
Being in the mountains, I really miss the sea. All of the trips that I have been on to the coast have been great, not just good. I am ready for another beach vacation right about now, as I contemplate the congealed bottle of olive oil. This weekend, I think thats where I will spend it.
Unlike the racoon dogs that live on Justin’s island, ours have a diffr’n set ‘o priorities.
We like awr Tawnookeys cuz theyyur wild boozers and bring their own sake jugs with them, nawt ’cause they add more sausage to the hootenanny.
…but I found another earthworm crawling around on the tile. Watching it inch around between the cracks as I took a shower last night made me nautious, and made me wonder; Where do they come from? How can they get into my bathroom? Are there latent annelid eggs spawning from the grout? Do my students sneak into my bathroom and plant them there? My guess is that they crawl up the drains, or that there is some small undetected crack that leads inside. About 4 months ago I found a millipede in my bath. I ignored it, and it died, and had a huge clutch of babies, which hatched. I found baby millipedes crawling all over the place for the following months, and stopped counting after 20. My advice: kill the mother and the eggs and save yourself the trouble of killing a lot of tiny monsters! Hahaha, the shiitake growing in my Sabado Tarde apartment shower no longer seems SO disgusting (It was a huge sucker!).