Kids Web Japan

Catching and Raising Insects: A Popular Hobby for Kids in Japan

Young boy catching insects

How do you feel about insects? Do you find them kind of boring, or maybe a little creepy?
For Japanese people, insects are actually a familiar part of life. Since long ago, the fluttering of butterflies and chirping of crickets have signified the changing seasons and are a part of nature that people look fondly on. Even today, insects such as Japanese rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, cicadas, dragonflies and butterflies are popular pets for children who enjoy catching them in the wild and raising them at home. But what's behind this close relationship with insects? Let's take a look.

Insect Lovers Through the Ages

The history of insect lovers in Japan dates back over 1,300 years to Japan’s Nara period (710–784). Nobles at the time took pleasure in listening to the chirps of crickets, and people have enjoyed the sound ever since. By the Edo period (1603–1868) listening to crickets became a popular pastime for ordinary people as well, so much so that merchants in cities began selling insects that made particularly beautiful sounds

An ukiyo-e woodblock painting of an insect seller in the late-19th century. Utagawa Toyokuni. Source: Tokyo Museum Collection

Another insect that shows up throughout history is the firefly. While nobles had enjoyed watching fireflies for a long time, it was also in the Edo period that this spread to the general public — there were even special boats you could ride on to watch the fireflies, which became a popular summer tradition for many. Even now, firefly viewing remains a much-loved activity on family vacations and at various events.

Watching fireflies at night has long been a favorite summer event.

The Joys of Bug Collecting

Love for insects has been part of Japanese culture for a long time, and for many kids, it all starts with bug catching on summer vacations with their family. Butterflies, dragonflies and cicadas have always been popular targets. In places closer to nature, children can spot butterflies along country roads, chase dragonflies in rice fields, or catch cicadas perched on trees in the forest. Even in a big city, it's still easy to find them at your local park. That said, it takes skill and knowledge to catch the specific insects you're hunting for, so tracking them down is like an exciting game for many kids.

A butterfly perched on a flower.

Red dragonflies are a symbol of fall.

The cry of cicadas is associated with summer.

Japanese rhinoceros beetles and stag beetles started to become popular with kids in the 1960s. This was largely due to their eye-catching appearance: their large horns and jaws, and the hard outer wings protecting their bodies resemble cars or machinery, which looked cool to kids at the time.

In recent years, it's become a lot more difficult to catch these two insects in cities, so stores have started selling them in plastic cages. This stops the insects from flying away so they can be contained more easily, which has encouraged many kids to keep Japanese rhinoceros beetles and stag beetles as pets.

Japanese rhinoceros beetles are the most popular insect with kids in Japan.

The nokogiri kuwagata stag beetle also has a lot of fans.

Even now, the two insects fight for the number one spot in popularity rankings. They're not just kept at home, either — elementary school classes often keep them as class pets, with the kids in charge of feeding them and keeping their cages clean. The experience of looking after these insects helps the kids connect with nature and other living creatures, with support from their parents and teachers.

Left: Beetles are quite easy to keep as pets, so even small children can help out.
Right: In summertime, plastic insect cages, soil and insect food are commonly sold in supermarkets and home centers.

Every summer, big cities like Tokyo and Osaka hold events called "insect exhibitions." These events gather all kinds of different insects in one place so that children living in the city have a chance to see them up close and even touch them.

Tokyo Skytree hosts a popular event every summer where you can touch Japanese rhinoceros beetles and stag beetles.
(Image provided by Daikontyu-ten Executive Committee.)

Some adults who were huge insect fans when they were young, have been applying that knowledge to their work. Tajiri Satoshi, creator of the massively popular Pokémon series, has been an insect enthusiast ever since he was a young boy. He says that the idea for Pokémon came from his exciting experiences of hunting for insects in nearby parks and forests as a child.

A comic about Tajiri Satoshi, from his time as a bug-loving boy up until Pokémon took the world by storm. (Pokémon wo Tsukutta Otoko Tajiri Satoshi, published by Shogakukan. Commentary by Miyamoto Shigeru, created by Kikuta Hiroyuki with art by Tanaka Akira.)

The culture of loving insects is still present in modern Japan. The sounds of insects and the flickering of fireflies are important elements that help modern Japanese people feel closer to nature, and children born and raised in this environment form a close relationship with insects from a young age. After all, there's a lot to love — they look cool, they're fun to catch, and raising them builds curiosity and attachment to other living creatures. This in turn helps children learn about and understand the natural world around them.