Ladybird, Ladybird

21 Jul

The hunt begins…


No, I am simply looking for something to feed our frog.  Small grasshoppers or crickets are the best food.  Small worms are also excellent, but difficult to find.  Slaters (woodlice, sow bugs, or whatever they are called in your part of the world) are acceptable, although not the ones with a tough carapace and that roll up into a ball.

Damned fussy eaters, frogs.


On the leaves of our cucumber plants I notice several insect larvae.  They look like lady beetle larvae, but are a green-yellow instead of the usual black.  I also notice a small yellow insect with a typical lady beetle outline.


It looks like a lady beetle larva (above) and an adult lady beetle (below)

Identify this!

I’m not going to try giving beneficial insects to the frog, and lady beetles secrete toxic fluids, so I ask the good wife to do a quick internet check to see if there is some kind of yellow lady beetle.  Yes, there are yellow lady beetles.  Yes, they are beneficial.

Close-up of the larva.

I decide this little insect is going to be worth checking into…


Note: The English language has a plethora of old and regional names, including “ladybird”, “ladybug”, “lady cow”, “may bug”, “golden bug” and “barnabee”.  However, these insects are beetles, and entomologists use the terms “lady beetle” or “ladybird beetle”.  I prefer to use the term “lady beetle”, using other terms only as popular common names.


 So! Bein’ a ladybug automatically makes me a girl. Is that it, fly boy? Eh?

Francis, A Bug’s Life


The Japanese generic name for lady beetle is tentomushi (天道虫), tento being a reference to the sun – it’s worth noting that in the Japanese collective consciousness the sun is red.  The name is also sometimes rendered as 紅娘 or 瓢虫.

Specific beetles then go by the name tento.  For example, the seven-spot ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) is known as nanahoshi tento (七星天道).


The beetle in question is the yellow ladybird beetle (Illeis koebelei).  Its name in Japanese is kiirotento (黄色天道), which corresponds perfectly with the English.  I’ve also seen it referred to as the yellow spotless ladybird.

It’s so clean and spotless…

A small beetle (3.5 – 5 mm in length), it is best known for feeding upon powdery mildew, making this a truly beneficial insect.  It has no spots on its abdomen, but has a pair of black spots on its thorax and large eyes, which look like spots to the naked eye.

Caught in the act! Here you can see the spots and the large dark eyes.


Lady beetles apparently have a short lifespan – just two months, although some individuals have been recorded as living for nearly a year, and beetles born in autumn somehow manage to hibernate and survive into the next spring.  I’m going to see if I can’t find some eggs.

A short life that has its ups…

… and downs.


Special bonus!

Although I have not been able to identify the species, I’ll let you enjoy the photos of the baby praying mantis that has made a home on the cucumber plants.


The praying mantis is one of the few insects that can turn their heads.

Wild about Aikido

17 Jul

Hi blog.
Taking a quick break from nature writing – millipedes being the most common critters in my life right now, and I’m sure you don’t want to read about them! – so I’ll give you something martial.

I was recently asked by the Sayama International Friendship Association to demonstrate how to present an aspect of Japanese culture in English.
Now, in all modesty, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on Japanese culture.  I’m sure that with a little research I could have adequately presented just about any topic. However, some of the points I wanted to make in my presentation was that one should have more than superficial knowledge of their topic, and that possessing a genuine interest and enthusiasm is vital. I also wanted to make the point that showing or demonstrating something is vastly easier – and more attention grabbing – than talking about it. Finally, I wanted to present something that most people in the audience would not have any background knowledge in.

Aikido fitted the bill perfectly…

One of the slides used in my presentation.

You’re probably wondering why I’m dressed like this.
Today, I want to introduce one of my favorite pieces of Japanese culture – aikido.
What is aikido? This is a simple question, but the answer can be quite long and complex. I’ll try to keep it simple.
Aikido is a modern martial art created in the mid-20th century by Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba based aikido primarily on Daito Ryu aikijujutsu, which in turn was derived from the martial traditions of the Takeda clan.
The techniques of aikido basically fall under throws and break-falls, locks, pins, chokes and weapons. The weapons generally used are the wooden sword, staff and wooden knife. These weapons are not taught as fighting methods as such, but rather as a means of further understanding aikido body movement.
The name “aikido” refers to meeting or blending with the energy or intent of one’s partner, and the nature of the techniques reflects this. A combination of entering and turning movements gives rise to the actual techniques, and the aim is to perform the technique without relying on mere physical strength. That said, aikido techniques have the potential to be painful or even dangerous. Practitioners are encouraged to adjust their technique to match their partners. For example, I have trained with people of both sexes, in all shapes and sizes, aged from 12 to over 70.
Millions of people around the world practice aikido, and I hope that from this short presentation you can understand why.
I would be happy to take any questions you may have.
Thank you.

As you can see, I avoided the use of any Japanese terminology or jargon – something I reckon the publishers of English textbooks could learn from. There is no mystification and no cultural snobbery; these two frequently make me retch.

I received a few questions, most of which I was prepared for: the nature of competition (Simple – there is no competition.); if I had ever “used” aikido “for real” (If you mean taking a fall from being hit by a car without getting injured, or avoiding fights, then yes. Actually fighting? – no.); and some questions by a practitioner of qigong about ki (Not enough time)

Taking a backward break fall. This is how I dealt with being hit by a car!

It was difficult to demonstrate much without a partner. I borrowed people from the audience to show principles such as unbalancing someone without using strength, or applying a wrist lock (on me, of course), but the only things I could show at full power were break falls and weapons – luckily I’m pretty sharp at those.

Roughly half way through the 13 count jo kata (jusan no jo)

Many thanks to the people at SIFA for their cooperation with my demonstration.

Let it rain

28 Jun

One more rainy day

Once again my mind is grey

This is what a rainy day can do

One more rainy day

One more rainy day

Deep Purple

One of the wettest June months is drawing to a close, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about the old calendar month and its relationship to the rain.

The Gregorian calendar has been used in Japan since 1873, and the names of the months changed from old descriptive names to a rather boring number system – First Month, Second Month… you get the picture.

Sometimes people use the old month names in place of the corresponding modern month, but the actual time frames for the months do not always align well. For example, I am writing this on the 28th of June, but under the old lunar calendar, it would be the second day of the sixth month. This website calculates and transposes the lunar calendar onto the modern calendar.

The old name for the 6th month was Minazuki (水無月), and the characters for this literally mean “month of no water”. Since it is still the height of the rainy season, such a name does not make sense.
Some folk etymologies try to justify it with explanations such as there being no water left in the heavens, but in fact the second character is only a phonetic value for the possessive particle which actually turns the meaning into “month of water”.

Tokorozawa has an average June rainfall of 157.2 mm. This year, 164 mm fell on June 6th alone.

The “Month of Water” has been apt this year.


Loquat – I’m Lovin’ It

27 Jun


I must apologise for my lack of serious blogging efforts of late.  The sudden rise in temperatures and humidity, rainy days, and my desperation to avoid all things World Cup have taken their toll.

I was planning to write about the loquat as soon as some got harvested at work, but it looked like the heavy rain had damaged much of the fruit and that the bulbuls, azure winged magpies and starlings were getting the rest…

… and then I arrived at work to find two bowls of loquats in the staffroom.

Fresh loquats. Not the “woolly” stalks on the fruit.


Ripe fruit on the tree.


The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)) is believed to be native to sub-tropical China – the English name “loquat” is a corruption of the Cantonese “lo guat” – and brought to Japan over 1000 years ago.  It is a hardy broad-leafed evergreen, capable of withstanding winter temperatures of -10℃.


Known as biwa (枇杷) in Japanese, it is a fairly common garden tree, popular for its large dark green foliage, white flowers that bloom in the dead of winter, and sweet fruit in early summer.  The caveat is the number of years needed for the plant to bear fruit – we actually had one grown from seed in our garden, but it still didn’t fruit after seven years, and SWMBO decided it had to go.

Japanese folklore says “three years for peaches and chestnuts, eight for persimmons, and thirteen for loquats”.


The egg-shaped or round fruit itself is succulent and fairly sweet, but must be peeled (easily done with the fingers) and the large pips removed, which makes eating fresh fruit somewhat messy.

Up close and personal with the fruit.

Let’s split! This cutaway view shows how much has to be removed for the fruit to be eaten.


Canned loquats and loquats in jelly (yum!) are also popular.  Biwashu, loquat liqueur, is apparently easy to make, as is loquat jam.  (Furthermore, I am told that the best method is to make the loquat liqueur and then use those loquats the next year for jam).


Apparently, the leaves can be dried and used as a kind of tea, which is reputed to be good for skin conditions.

A leaf compared to my hand.


The wood of the loquat is light but hard, and has a long history in the manufacture of walking sticks and wooden swords.  Readers of the English translation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi may remember:

“Next!” shouted Kojirō, brandishing a long sword made of loquat wood.  At the beginning he had told them that a blow struck with a loquat sword “will rot your flesh to the bone.”

I have not been able to find any evidence of this assertion by the fictional version of Kojiro being true.  Incidentally, it is said that loquat was the real-life Musashi’s material of choice for his own wooden weapons.

I must admit to eying off loquat trees which might possibly be subject to felling or heavy pruning, with the intention of getting some wood for my own weapons…


Anyway, I am always pleased to receive free fresh fruit and have something worth writing about.

Out on a limb. Loquats on a tree.


20 Jun

Hi, blog.

Earlier this year the Saitama Aquarium was the victim of two large-scale poisonings in its outdoor pools, resulting in a total of over 900 large fish dying.  Toilet facilities were also vandalized in a third incident.

Police have finally arrested a suspect.

Former employee arrested for poisoning Saitama aquarium fish

A former employee of an aquarium in Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, has been arrested for killing hundreds of fish and damaging property at the aquarium in April.

According to police, Masataka Yagisawa, 24, was arrested and charged with causing damage to private property and killing fish housed at the aquarium, TBS reported Tuesday. Police said that in April, Yagisawa mixed insect repellant chemicals into the water, killing 441 fish including carp. As a result, the aquarium was forced to close during the busy Golden Week period for repairs and clean-up.

In their investigation, police said they traced where the particular type of chemicals had come from, which eventually led them to Yagisawa.

Yagisawa had left his position at the aquarium in February after a dispute with his employer, police said. Yagisawa has denied all involvement in the case.

Police are also questioning Yagisawa about an earlier mass poisoning of fish at the aquarium in which over 500 fish were killed. That took place in February, just after Yagisawa left his job.

The one that didn’t get away.





When Nature Bites Back

15 Jun

Hi blog.

Just a little news story from last week.

While sharks are not exactly backyard wildlife here in landlocked Saitama, they live in Japan’s coastal regions.  Even so, they are rarely encountered by anyone other than fishermen, and attacks on humans are incredibly rare.

Surfer survives shark attack in Japan

A 43-year-old man has been seriously injured after being attacked by a shark while surfing off central Japan, officials said Tuesday, warning local beachgoers to be alert.

Tsuyoshi Takahashi, an off-duty life guard, was rushed to hospital on Sunday afternoon after the shark sank its teeth into his left arm some 30 metres (100 feet) offshore, a fire department official said.

The accident occurred while Takahashi was surfing with his colleagues in the Pacific off the Atsumi peninsula in Aichi, some 250 kilometre (155 miles) west of Tokyo, a spot well-known for its big waves.

“He was seriously injured and got 30 stitches to the wound, but there is no threat to his life,” said the official, adding: “We are calling on other surfers to be on the alert against sharks.”

Japan’s long coastline is home to a variety of sharks, but attacks on people are relatively rare. The species of shark involved on Sunday was not known.

According to the local government, the weekend incident was the first shark attack in the prefecture since 1995 when a fisherman was killed by a great white.


Kotesashi Roadside

6 Jun


May 11th, 1333

Supporters of the imperial family, led by Nitta Yoshisada, crossed the Iruma River on their advance toward Kamakura.  They were engaged by the forces of the Hojo Regents around the village of Kotesashi.

The ensuring battle was won by Nitta, who was able to maintain momentum, winning a battle in Kumegawa village the next day.

A third (and lucky) victory three days later cleared the way for the imperial forces to lay siege to Kamakura.


Fast forward 681 years…


Taking the route 463 bypass to one of the schools I work at, I notice a pair of stone markers at Seishigahashi, near Kotesashi.  After passing it a couple of times, I decide to get a photo and do a bit of research – just in case it is Wild in Japan-worthy.  (A quick look at my stats shows that the most frequent web-engine search terms and most popular posts are related to snakes and racoon dogs… I need to find more snakes!)


The stone markers are a memorial and a road marker (such markers apparently were placed at crossroads near villages to ward off sickness), dating from the Edo Period.

A memorial marker to placate the souls of the dead.


The Seishigahashi marker

The name “Seishigahashi” (誓詞橋) is said to come from the bridge where Nitta swore allegiance to the imperial family.

A little further south is a marker for the Battle of Kotesashigahara, and about 60 metres west of that is Shirohatazuka (白旗塚).  Whether Shirohatazuka is a natural feature or an ancient burial mound is uncertain.  It is said to take its name (literally “White Flag Mound”) from Nitta posting the white banner of the Minamoto/Genji clan on top of it.  (Nitta was a descendent of the Genji, and this was probably symbolic of his going into battle against descendants of the Taira/Heike clan, who fought under a red banner)

Marker stone for the Battle of Kotesashigahara.

Official council information board about the Battle of Kotesashigahara.


Today, the mound has a small shrine on top.


The obligatory shrine.

Bonus Feature:


I recall spotting a stone statue in front of a shop along the main 463 route, and make a detour to investigate.  I find an Edo Period memorial marker and a three-headed, four-armed Bato Kannon.


The Kannon and memorial stone.

Note the “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys at the base of the marker.

Count the heads and hands!

Some things are worth getting of your bike and investigating.







A Peek into Hell and Big Buddhas

28 May

Hi blog.

Just a few pictures from Nogogiriyama, where we visited during our (rushed) trip to Chiba during Golden Week.

The crowds, steepness of the stairs (for some, not me) and emergency calls of nature (again, not me!) prevented us from having a thorough look around the Nihon-ji complex, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

I believe this is the true “View into Hell”. For some reason, most activities in Japan during a holiday period tend to look like this.

The Great Buddha.  Originally carved in 1783, weathering and erosion necessitated reconstruction over three years from 1966; it is now 31 metres tall – about seven metres shorter than its original height.

The Hyakushaku Kannon.  Completed in 1966 after six years, it is dedicated to the war dead and transit safety.

Trying to frame the Kannon wasn’t easy.  As its name suggests, it is 100 shaku tall, about 30 metres.

Jigoku Nozoki – literally “Peek into Hell”.  Unfortunately, the queue was too long to even consider taking a peek.  (I reckon the real peek into hell would be looking back into the queues!)

It was certainly worth visiting, and I would like to go again someday (minus the crowds) for a proper look around.


17 May





Hi blog.
We are fully into May, with the spring growth changing from light to dark green, and the tea harvest underway.
I have mentioned “May sickness” (Gogatsubyo) previously, and I think that this year I’m suffering from it!
I tend to wake up with the sunrise, which is now sufficiently early enough to disturb my sleep before five in the morning. The “Golden Week” long weekend also took its toll with late nights and early mornings.

Last year I wanted to write about the wisteria, but the flowering period is very short and I actually missed out on getting any decent shots. This year, I was better prepared – but only just.

The sign I was watching out for.

Wisteria is actually a genus of plants, legumes to be exact – making them close relatives of the beans. They may appear like trees, but are actually woody vines and are typically found climbing walls, trellises or trees.

New flowers on a trellised wisteria.

The genus is called fuji (藤) in Japanese – not at all related to the famous mountain – but this name also applies specifically to the Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). Fortunately, the Japanese wisteria also goes by the name Noda fuji (野田藤) to help avoid confusion. The other major wisteria species endemic to Japan is the silky wisteria (Wisteria brachybotrys) or yamafuji (山藤).
Both these plants are very similar, but can be distinguished by the direction that they twist and twine – floribunda wraps in a clockwise direction while brachybotrys twines in the opposite direction.

At the end of April and beginning of May, these wisteria species produce long racemes which burst into huge trails of purple-indigo (or occasionally white) flowers. On a trip to the countryside last year the forest hills were tinted purple with masses of wisteria flowers. [cue “Purple Haze”]

Given that the 140-plus year old hasama-no-fuji at Ashikaga Flower Park covers over 1000 m2, it is not hard to imagine the effect of hundreds of flowering plants.

The Hasama-no-fuji. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Encounters with wisteria along my work route have included trellised plants, tree-like stand-alone plants, bonsai, and a large vine spreading from its supporting tree to nearby power lines.

“Why bother with a trellis when power lines are free?”

Unfortunately, photographing most of these would have meant a very visible ethnic minority sticking his mobile phone deep into other people’s yards… never a good idea.

These were outside a wall…

A closer view of those flowers.

Actually, my relationship with wisteria goes back nearly 25 years. However, it was not with a real plant, but the imitation flowers held by the “fuji musume” (wisteria maiden) doll my school gave me.

Wisteria have played a part in Japanese lifestyles for centuries. The woody stems can be woven into chairs or baskets. New shoots, flowers and seeds are occasionally eaten (the flowers may be battered and deep fried, and the seeds were once prized as a treat). Parts of the roots were used in traditional medicine, although much of the English-language writing suggests most parts of the plant are toxic)

Wisteria were a common theme in literature and art, and several forms were used in Japanese heraldry.

A “sagari-fuji” hereldric design. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

But the most common encounter with wisteria for most Japanese people is in surnames. While Suzuki and Sasaki constantly vie for the distinction of most-common surname, Sato (佐藤) constantly ranks at number three. Other common names with the wisteria ideogram include Kato, Ito, Saito, Shindo, Kudo, Fujita, Fujimoto and Fujiwara.

What surprised me was the number of eight and nine year-old children who were blissfully unaware of the wisteria.
“Open your eyes, kids! There’s a whole world out there!”

I’ll be following my own advice.








If you go down to the woods today…

29 Apr

The things you see when you don’t have a camera!

April 24th
I arrive at my school, still tingling from the previous day’s unexplained headache, when I spot movement.
Our local raccoon dogs. Two… no, wait, THREE.

Sorry about the picture quality – a mobile phone just doesn’t cut it for wildlife photography.

Raccoon dog as seen from a classroom window.

Two of the three I spotted that morning.

Last year I spotted a pair during a lesson… luckily, none of the students noticed!

Oh, and I spotted a pair of Chinese bamboo partridges on the way home.
Moral of the day? Travel around with a proper camera!





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