Monday, August 09, 2004

Life in the Land of the Rising Sun: Bugs

If you asked me to choose the one word that best signifies this summer, it would have to be “bugs”. No, I’m not talking about the smart-aleck rabbit with the New York accent, though he has been gracing our TV a lot lately. I’m referring to the small, six-legged variety.

It hasn’t really been a particularly buggy summer, at least no more than usual. The newfangled air fresheners that include bug repellent have actually have been doing a good job of keeping the mosquitoes at bay, allowing us to sleep at night. The in-laws have been too wrapped up in their own affairs to come over and open all our windows and window screens in our absence (as they always did before despite my protests…yet another of their attempts to “save” me from my own ignorance) meaning we haven’t been coming home to find our house full of flies, mosquitoes, and the odd wasp, two-inch-long hornet and/or five-inch-long centipede. Despite all the talk about “generation X”, the bubbling din of the cicadas has been no more deafening than usual.

Heck, Mao’s passion for catching grasshoppers and katydids, putting them in her treasured insect cage, and then loving them to death (literally, since she keeps neglecting to feed them), while still present, doesn’t seem to be quite as intense as it was last year. She hasn’t even caught a praying mantis, thrown it in the cage, and watched with glee as it devoured all the other occupants. Yes, she did that last year.

This year’s bug theme mainly comes about as the result of a video game. Yes, that’s right. An arcade video game. Somebody had a brilliant idea, and boy, are they ever cashing in on it! The name of the game is Mushikingu (King of the Bugs). It is a smaller-sized game machine geared toward smaller-sized kids. When you put your coin in, the first thing that happens is that it gives you a single trading card. There are two varieties. A “character card” shows a particular species of rhinoceros or stag beetle plus its various strengths and weaknesses. A “technique card” gives your bug character a special ability. When you play the game, you can either settle for the default, no-frills rhinoceros beetle character or run your cards through a bar-code scanner for all kinds of cool possibilities. The game itself is a duel played using a rock-scissors-paper format. You can either face off against a live opponent armed with similar cards or face ever-stronger challengers from the computer’s bank.

The graphics are really cool. It is truly fun to watch the two beetles tear each other apart. Needless to say, it is a smash hit. There is always a pint-sized crowd wherever one of those machines can be found.

My son, Taiki, like many other boys his age, is obsessed with the game. His grandparents here take him to play it practically every day. He has amassed a huge collection of those cards (and since each one is proof of one play, at about a dollar a pop, it serves as a sad reminder as to just how much money is being sucked into those things). He has also proven to be adept at talking his doting grandparents (and sometimes his doting parents) into buying items from the ever-increasing line of bug-related products spurred on by that insidious game. Face it: the runty terror on two feet is a charmer. Right now our little cabin of a house is crawling with all manner of plastic beetles, and Taiki’s bookshelf is bulging with bug-related books.

The little four-year-old runt is now a veritable fountain of knowledge of rhinoceros and stag beetles. Show him a plastic figure, and he’ll happily tell you the scientific name, where it is found, and what it can do.

About a week ago, one of the in-laws’ cats was seen circling, eyeing, and pawing at something it had cornered. The poor feline looked totally at a loss as to what it should do. Its prey was a slow, clumsy-looking, black thing about the size of a small mouse. It had six legs and a couple of horns on its bizarre-looking head.

A rhinoceros beetle.

Both of the kids sailed right off into space. Telling them to leave the poor bug alone was like telling a political candidate to tell the truth. It just ain’t gonna happen.

Mao quickly dumped out her (probably much relieved) katydids and grasshoppers. In the next instant, the insect cage had a much larger and much uglier occupant. Face it: rhinoceros beetles are among the most bizarre-looking creatures living on dry land.

If keeping their bugs fed had been a problem before, it wasn’t now. Quite the opposite. Mao and Taiki seemed to want to feed the thing the entire vegetable contents of our refrigerator. I managed to get them to limit themselves to a few slices of cucumber and a chunk of watermelon. The monstrous, six-legged denizen of the cage immediately stopped trying to escape and set to work on the wonderful feast spread before it. You know, it’s pretty amazing just how fast a bug whose jaws look like a couple of little toothbrushes can put away a slice of cucumber!

Well, having that big, black, ugly bug in the house definitely kept things quiet, as the kids gave it all the attention they normally give to Cartoon Network. As for the bug itself, it just kept on eating. I’m sure it must have been pretty happy, too. While most of its brothers and cousins were scraping away at rotting trees (when they weren’t butting heads with each other), it was enjoying a luxurious supply of watermelon. I don’t think it complained too much. Still, it was a wild creature, and wild creatures tend to prefer freedom.

So do some domestic creatures, such as my students, but I digress....

I went off to music training camp for five days, and when I came back I found the insect cage sitting out in the car port. There were a few hollowed-out eggplant rinds in there, but no sign of the rhinoceros beetle. Apparently it had disappeared one night when it was (fortunately) left outside. Mao insisted that she had been keeping the cage dutifully locked. Her grandfather claimed that he had found the cage open and had locked it, but he’d been sure the bug was still inside at the time. (Of course, he also said it was night at the time, meaning it would have been pretty dark, so it’s hard to say). Any sadness the kids might have felt evaporated immediately when their grandfather then went on to suggest that they go to a place he knew at the nearby school where there were always lots of not only rhinoceros beetles, but stag beetles as well.

It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure there’ll be another monstrous-looking critter in that cage again pretty soon. I only hope it’s not a stag beetle. They have strong mandibles…strong, SPIKED mandibles. (I also seem to recall having inadvertently touched a species of stag beetle hiding in the barkdust in the flowerbed when I was about Taiki’s age. Maybe it’s something Pavlovian…)


Don Snabulus said...

I want to know how come my e-mail didn't have a rhinoceros bug link. ;)

The Moody Minstrel said...

I didn't even think about adding the link until after I cut and pasted the contents of the e-mail into the "blog box" and noticed the "link" button. Cool toy, that...

ElTigris said...

Wait till they make mutant extra large hybrids in class.... that strong arm you for fruit. *chuckles*

Don Snabulus said...

My friend Brien sent this pic along

ElTigris said...

Where is the Godzilla unit? dammnit

The Moody Minstrel said...

That's a pretty cool promo for Mushikingu that your friend sent, Snabby. I wish I could get a good still of the game itself.

Don Snabulus said...

Your wish is my command.

The Moody Minstrel said...

That's what I forget for constantly forgetting how easy it is to do a web search.

(In fact, on IndyMedia I was once called a "retard" for that...)

Don Snabulus said...

That's the pot calling the eggshell black. (Sorry, I ain't got much use for Indymedia while I have plenty of use for the posters on this site [when my sweatshop is complete].)