I am often baffled in Japan by the extreme reactions provoked by the visitation of insects. A cockroach appearing somewhere can render grown men into quivering ninnies: a hornet mass hysteria (mind you, these can kill ; every year a number of people do die from the stings).

Even a tiny winged fly entering the classroom is a gateway to mayhem, though – much to my irritation. I am simply not bothered by them; a spider, providing it hides away somewhere, I can live with. Cicadas whirring towards me like clockwork kamikazes do make me scream, I will confess, but I like hearing them whizzing in the trees.

We are all different in our levels of entomological acceptance ; I have rescued giant stag beetles, mean no harm to them generally even if the swatting of mosquitoes happens almost unconsciously – when they draw blood I draw the line- but my personal phobia is most definitely the praying mantis.

Much as I understand some people’s fascination with them, these green, swivel-headed, limb articulated leaf gleaming monstrosities viscerally repulse me at the deepest level ; once in our old house there was one on the washing line grinning down at me like an alien from a 50’s b-movie and I was screeching in octaves I didn’t even know I had inside me; firing gallons of water from the garden hose pipe did nothing to deter the creature : ( in my mind ) it slowly advanced towards me ; I had to run, ashamed, shrieking and undignified in immediate earshot of the neighbors.

On Wednesday, I had just finished writing the previous post on The Black Narcissus when THIS appeared out of nowhere a few feet away in our upstairs hallway.

I lie. We had seen it a few days before crawling slowly on the window downstairs and I had shouted for Duncan to come a witness the horror – not ever expecting that it would enter within.

When I saw it my heart stopped.

I went all clammy and I couldn’t move. Though slow balletic, graceful, curious (etc etc), its presence – and it did feel very present, imbuing the air around it with its obvious personality – was unacceptable to me; yet I could also find no viable reason to kill it. It was just doing its thing.


And I had to get past it in order to go downstairs and get in thr shower before work. But this was impossible. Because if it flew at me – and they do fly / I might literally die of a heart attack.

I was frozen.

Naturally, when I eventually came somewhat to my senses I called up d, who very serendipitously happened to just be on his lunch break.

At first, he probably thought it was some random heavy breather, as I couldn’t exactly speak.

Bar me throwing heavy objects at it to dislodge, we then discussed it and the only option seemed to be to somehow trap it.

But, obviously, doing that involves approaching, which wasn’t something that I felt I could do.

However, this creep wasn’t going anywhere.

In fact it seemed quite happy where it was, in its natural praying position (UGH !!!!! So repellent !!!’ ‘’’’ :::: would any of you have felt similarly ?)

In the end, after hanging up and what felt like an endless passage of time, I finally plucked up the courage to seek out a plant pot with breathing holes on the balcony, and heroically managed to entrap it within in one fell swoop that also involved frenetically piling books on top so there was no escape until d could come home hours later and hurl the lot from the window (he sent me a message, later, saying it had been ‘feisty’ and ‘rattling around’ inside, making me blanch at my work desk with a profound quease).

It only occurred to me later in the evening, on my way home, that the females of the Mantodea species are ‘semi-cannibalistic’, devouring their sex partners after the act is done (as you do), and that we had just had our bizarro carnavsl Papaya: Love Goddess Of The Cannibals on Saturday,; it was almost as if we had conjured it up.

Strange as that might sound, this has actually happened before ( literally; with snakes, raccoons and once with an owl, which you NEVER see in this area but which soared up before me one night after d had performed with some owl-themed material : I was startled beyond measure as its vast white and grey wings swooped up into the night …)

Sometimes you don’t know what you are getting yourself into.


Filed under Flowers


  1. georgemarrows

    That does look like a big fucker. E used to get similarly terrified by wasps, heart racing, clammy skin, all of it. Once she had to deal with one by herself; it apparently took her the rest of the day to calm down. All fixed with 3-4 sessions of hypnotherapy.

    I love praying mantis, if only for the following story. My Kenyan colleagues once mercilessly teased a new guy. He’d thought they were called “pLaying mantis”, because, well, they played with you, bobbing their heads from side to follow your finger. It helps that Gikuyu, his mother tongue, has the same r/l confusion as Japanese. The teasing might have had a bit of a town sophisticate / country rube thing going on too, but that’s a nuance that’s hard to read without a lot more cultural background.

    I think that’s part of why I like living abroad: all those upbringing, background and class markers are pretty unreadable, particularly somewhere as different as Kenya, so you have to relate to people more how they are.

    By the way, there’s a wonderful myth about chameleons in Kenya: that you need to be careful they don’t crawl up your nose while you’re sleeping. That was a fun discussion – it’s a fairly strongly held belief.

    • Chameleons !

      We very nearly went to Madagascar – as in bought extraordinarily expensive tickets but then cancelled because of a plague of locusts – and I was intrigued to see them.

      Are they really that small ?

  2. georgemarrows

    Not really, that’s the funny thing. We did see a tiny one once and I guess partly you don’t see the small ones precisely because they are small. But the ones you come across are maybe mouse size up to considerably bigger. They’re not very common – we saw them on maybe 5-6 occasions in 5 years. One of those was from my office window, in a house in Nairobi suburbs.

  3. I had no fear of large insects as a child and particularly liked praying mantises – I would even pick one up and put it in a jar to take home. Nothing bad ever happened from that. Later I learned how vicious they can be and as an adult saw videos of them ripping other large bugs’ heads off, and I will never touch one again!!! Remember, though, humans are much bigger than mantises – we have the advantage.

    • We absolutely do. Bravo to you for picking them up as a child – I know I was able to do that with grasshoppers, so maybe I could have done too.

      But there is something very EXTRA about a mantis

  4. Renee Stout

    See it as a good sign. I probably would have been a little rattled by it as well, but ultimately I would have felt that I was being blessed by its presence, pondered it for a few moments, then I would capture it in a jar and place it back outside.

  5. OnWingsofSaffron

    Wonderful! I actually like them and have a feeling that if we could communicate verbally, we‘d have a somewhat cynical, slightly bitchy but quite animated chat.

  6. Joan Rosasco

    For me, it is those giant, slimy water bugs that produce terror and nausea. But once, as a child, I saw a large, ugly insect and sprayed it with Raid. Then my mother told me it was a cricket — they bring good luck. I was a murderer! Our ideas about the « good » creatures and the « bad » are so irrational.

    • That’s what I always tell my students. Try to THINK about this: there is nothing intrinsically lovely about a dog, or foul about a frog. They are often genuinely flabbergasted, as though the animal world were literally divided into the good and the bad, the cute and the vile, but it really is in the eye of the beholder : I like lizards, for example, but plenty of people find them utterly horrifying.

  7. I cannot tell you how much I love the idea of your parties and performances conjuring these creatures up from the depths of wherever they were previously hiding!

    • I probably come across as insane, and am fully aware that it is much more likely that all of this has only ever been coincidental, but it honestly does feel sometimes as though we are conjuring creatures because of the timing and place – the snake in the front garden was unbelievable, and the owl especially; some kind of totemic, otherworldly aspect / psychophenomenon.

    • Ps I have probably told you this before, but I have seen D talking with birds

  8. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Dear Ginza
    I felt this while reading. All the way down ..
    I only have to exchange this species for a spider and you have the same scenario.
    My trick is to place a HEAVY pot on it: (spiders are always IT) and then I pull a stiff piece of cardboard underneath, reverse the pot and Shake it down!
    As someone like D is not in my life, I have to summon up courage all by myself and ditch the beast.
    I don’t fancy heroes or heroism as being the root of a lot of evil ..
    But I feel BRAVE!
    And the only sensory association I get is something we call Oerhuiver in Dutch:
    primal fear??
    I cannot associate a scent or smell in the world with those creatures. Do you?
    Always keep a heavy jar and stiff cardboard ready just in case!!

  9. I have always loved the look of a Praying Mantis, but I can’t recall having seen one in real life. I would probably be just as terrified, as you were, if one alighted near me while at home. Now Nate is terrified of wasps, absolutely terrified. While I am not a fan, they do not terrify me like they do him, so when one is buzzing in the house it is up to me to be the wasp killer.
    I love the thought that the performance somehow was tied to the appearance of the Mantis. That is intriguing.

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