Praying Mantises Hatch
June marked the beginning of a busy hunting season for me and my friends. As soon as I arrived home from school, I would throw my backpack in the hallway, grab a cage, and quickly run out of the apartment to join my friends that were waiting outside to catch insects together. We caught all kinds of bugs, like grasshoppers, butterflies, and beetles, but I most vividly remember catching praying mantises, probably because many grown-ups were scared of them.
To capture a praying mantis, you must move slowly from behind to stay out of its sight and quickly pinch its long green thorax where their forelegs are attached. By holding it there, you can keep your fingers safe from its powerful legs and mouth while moving it into a cage. I liked peering into the eyes of these green captives, which had tiny black dots that seemed to stare straight back at me.
My sisters, however, were not interested in bugs and my mother hated them. “My grandmother used to make me pick up leeches on the way home from school. I had to carry home these tiny leeches in a glass jar, and they wiggled. They were so disgusting!” my mother exclaimed. Apparently, my great-grandmother often used leeches to alleviate shoulder stiffness, which was a common practice in Japan. It was a traumatic experience for my mother. She said she was so relieved when the leech shop closed soon after the Second World War.
Despite my mother’s objections, my passionate pursuit of bugs continued and the balcony of our apartment slowly turned into a mini insectarium. Then one day, while trying to hang laundry on the balcony, my mother tripped over a cage. “This is intolerable!” she said frustratedly, and banned me from bringing back more insects.
After I was deprived of my hobby, I sulked for a while, and then came up with the brilliant idea that perhaps it was time to ask for a pet mammal in exchange for giving up my insect hunting. I had been wanting to have a pet for a while, and my heart was set on a raccoon. This was because at that time, in 1977, I was watching an anime called “Washing Bear Rascal,” adapted from the book, “Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era” by American author Sterling North. I was enamored with the story about a young boy in a foreign country (Wisconsin) who had a pet raccoon. Raccoons are called Araiguma in Japanese, which literally translates as “washing bear,” because raccoons washed their food in water. How amazing, I thought, that an animal was smart enough to wash their food before eating!
The anime started with a melodious theme song of an image of a boy cycling down a clover-filled meadow with a raccoon in the front basket:
When the white clovers bloom
Let’s arise and go, Rascal
Through the road, where the June breeze blows
On an expedition down the Rock River
Thank you God for giving me a friend
For letting me meet Rascal, for letting me meet Rascal
Thank you for letting me meet, my friend, Rascal
Japanese anime songs from the era had simple and beautiful lyrics, and many were about traveling to distant places and looking for adventure, just like this one. I imagined going on an expedition with my pet raccoon in my bicycle basket, although I didn’t know where Rock River was.
As you might have guessed, my plea to get a pet raccoon was immediately shot down by my mother. She allowed me to get a goldfish instead, which didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s quite funny to imagine how flabbergasted my mother was when I asked for the raccoon. Many years have passed since I’ve gone on a bug-hunting expedition, but I can still hear my mother’s voice yelling “don’t bring anything home!” as I impatiently closed the apartment door to meet my friends. And, even now, when I stroll through a field of white clovers, I catch myself humming the cheerful Rascal song in my head.