The joy of a fly swatter

11Jun08

It’s summer here in south Japan. More or less. As far as I’m concerned, temperatures in the mid-20s are hot, rainy season or no rainy season (remember, I’m from London). Not to mention the humidity.

Summer brings short sleeves, no ties and hand fans to the office, and school uniforms become shorts and t-shirts. But it also brings less welcome events – notably, the onslaught of creepy-crawlies.

First to appear, several weeks ago, were the spiders. I actually don’t mind the spiders all that much. Yes, they’re a little larger than the ones from the UK. Yes, waking up in the middle of the night with one on you is less than pleasant. And yes, they do bite, but rarely (I’m told only if you frighten them, for example by rolling over in your sleep). And few if any are poisonous. The fact that they eat smaller, bitier insects is more than enough for me – if a spider keeps away from my bed, it can stay.

Next to arrive were the ants. Also less of a problem, since I don’t keep food around (not since the weather warmed up – everything goes in the fridge now, even biscuits). And they don’t bite. A few ants in my apartment doesn’t worry me.

Things started to get a little more disgusting with the first cockroach of the season. I don’t know why I find them much worse than spiders. Perhaps it’s their size. Or the way they scuttle. Or the fact that, for an insect, they’re so very shiny. It’s as if they deliberately try to attract attention. I know they don’t bite, I know they aren’t likely to come near me, I know that if there’s no food around then they can’t eat it and transmit disease that way. But seeing one scuttling across my bathroom floor is still really quite unpleasant.

I must admit to feeling guilty about squishing spiders, ants or even cockroaches – it just seems a bit unfair. Maybe because I’m much bigger and stronger than they are (in real terms of course – I’m pretty sure a spider’s power-to-weight ratio is rather better than mine). It seems rather undignified to crush them just because I can.

Luckily in this, as in so many things, the local 100yen shop provides the answer. Little plastic packages that sit on the floor, full of tasty yet fatal cockroach treats. I don’t feel bad about killing insects, it seems, just squeamish about death by squashing. And according to the smiling cartoon child and dog on the front of the box, probably non-toxic to me, too. And they come in two versions, big black ones for cockroaches and little green ones for ants. Bonus. My apartment now has one in every corner, and I haven’t seen a cockroach since. The ants have almost disappeared, too.

Less successful has been my war against my eternal summer foes, mosquitoes. I don’t know what it is about me, but if there is a mosquito within 10 metres of me, I will be bitten. Everyone else in the area could escape bite-free, but I would still have half a dozen bites, and nights spent in tropical areas would leave my arms and legs covered in itch. Perhaps I’m just tasty. While travelling in China some years ago I discovered the joy of Tiger Balm for stopping the bites itching, but I do grow tired of smelling permanently like camphor. I wanted to get rid of the bites altogether.

Mosquitoes are exempt from my squeamishness about squashing. I will happily wield my fly-swatter on as many of them that enter my apartment as I can, as well as slapping them with a newspaper, book, bottle of bathroom cleaner, or as a last resort, my hands. But there always seems to be one – at least one – that I miss, and that feasts happily on me as I sleep.

I’ve tried many, many sprays and lotions to keep the mozzies away. None of them worked for even a whole evening, let alone the night. Those little air fresheners keep other insects away, but not the mosquitoes. The plug-in devices seem singularly ineffective. The only even remotely successful method I’ve found involves the spirals of what are, in essence, non-scented incense. The smoke as it burns seems to keep most of the mozzies away. But it does leave my apartment smelling as if I chain-smoke in it. Still, I itch considerably less.

But even my tormentors the mosquitoes pale into insignificance against the most disturbing creature in rural Japan. This one can give you a really quite nasty bite, likes to come into houses and apartments, and looks like (I really recommend not looking if you’re at all scared of bugs) this.

It’s the mukade. These things repulse me, and they’re out already. I saw my first one near a waterfall a few weeks ago. The first story my predecessor in my job (who used to live in my apartment) told me when I arrived at the airport was of how, when he was getting out of the shower one morning, he felt something scratchy on his towel. Scratchy and moving. I don’t often scream, but if that had been me, I probably would have. Three days ago, there was one under my car, which is parked just outside my front door. Last night, a girl I know was woken up by one on her at 4am. For the next few months, my towels are getting a good shake before they come anywhere near my skin, and I’m keeping a fly swatter and bug spray near my bed at all times.

Roll on November, say I.

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One Response to “The joy of a fly swatter”

  1. i should have listened and not clicked on the mukade link. man those things are scary, especially that girl waking up with one on her!


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