Jul 20, 2018

Why the Japanese Obsession with Beetles?

I have mentioned a few times on here that I grew up in Japan.  I spent 12 of my 18 formative years in different places in the Kanto plains area, and I have Japanese relatives with whom I shared many holidays and important life experiences.  As such, there are certain things that don't seem out of place to me that are quite foreign to others.  For example, getting naked in onsen is no big deal to me.  I make sure to cover my stomach when I sleep so I don't get sick.  I like to eat unagi on hot summer days to give me energy.

But sometimes my wife (who loves Japan but wasn't raised here) asks why certain things are the way they are, and I just don't have a good answer.  

Here's a recent example: Japan's obsession with beetles.

So we were walking through the local Aeon department store, and we chanced upon this bad boy:

Why the Japanese Obsession with Beetles? photo

It's a kabuto mushi, or Rhinoceros beetle, and they were selling for just under 500 yen (along with a bunch of other types of beetles).

Having grown up here, I just know that kids in Japan love playing with beetles.  They raise them, breed them, show them off in school, and even fight them like little poke-masters against other kids' beetles.

Why beetles though?  I mean, there are thousands of other bugs and tiny animals that kids could catch and raise, but beetles seem to be the go-to choice.

To that, I didn't have a good answer.  They're cool looking?  They're easy to raise?  Nobody weeps over a dead beetle?  They look like tiny Kaiju?

I really don't know.  I even pored through my knowledge of Japanese folk tales and children's songs to see if there was a connection, and the traditional animals included are things like frogs, foxes, rabbits, tanuki, sparrows, cranes...but no beetles...

Can someone out there enlighten me, please?  Is there a reason other than "Well, that's just the way it's always been" why beetles are so popular???



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).

1 Comment

  • helloalissa

    on Jul 20

    Haha, they do look like kaiju. What's wrong with simply, 'because they're cool!' We don't have these beetles where I grew up, but they apparently live in parts of the US as well. I think kids would catch them in the mountains there too if they could.