Life in Japan

How safe is your apartment from cockroaches in Japan?

I know that this is not a topic everybody wants to talk or read about, but if you consider living in Japan – or if you already live here – then you will have to deal with those disgusting little critters. Cockroaches in Japan can become a huge nuisance and you should learn how to get rid of them if they have invaded your Japanese domicile.

Just yesterday I encountered the first roach of this year in the middle of the night, but I was well prepared, so the “fight” didn’t take long. I was the happy and proud winner! :D


Cockroaches in Japan:

Before moving to Japan I already heard a few horror stories about roaches invading apartments. I was worried.
However, in my first year I never “met” any cockroach.
I felt safe enough and didn’t expect that it could ever become a problem for me!

But one day in autumn I came home late from work and I heard a scratching sound. It was a roach quickly hiding behind a paper box. At first, I wasn’t even sure if it was a cockroach or not. Until then I had never seen a roach in my life!!

Without confirming what exactly it is, I tried to chase it with a fly swatter, but it was way too fast for me! I couldn’t hit it.
Eventually it hid in a box and I just took the box with the roach in it and put it out on my balcony. The next day the box was empty.

After that I spent the whole weekend cleaning my apartment, trying to find more roaches, eggs or their nest.

As you can see, I had no idea how to deal with cockroaches!
In my home country Germany (and my German readers will confirm that) you’ll only find roaches in super dirty places.

I just thought that my apartment maybe wasn’t clean enough.
How wrong I was! There were so many things I had to learn!
And I think I should share them with you, so that you’re better prepared than me.


How to deal with cockroaches in Japan:

Japanese houses and apartments have generally a pretty bad insulation. That’s why Japanese houses are extremely hot in summer and freaking cold in winter! It also means that insects will be regular (unwanted) visitors to your domicile. Most of them aren’t dangerous, but disgusting!

Just keep in mind that you can’t prevent cockroaches from coming, but there are a few measures you can take to keep these “encounters” as rare and as short as possible:


Sticky Traps:

Very common are sticky traps. There’s no poison involved, so you can use it even when you have babies, little kids or pets around. They are very simple to set up and not too expensive.

One of the most popular brands is “Gokiburi HOI-HOI“, but other sticky traps will do the same job.

Cockroaches in Japan

As everything in Japan even gokiburi (ゴキブリ, Japanese for cockroach) are presented in a cute way!

The traps work in a simple way. A roach will smell the food bait and crawl inside the “house” with the sticky floor and then it’s game over. Personally I have never caught a roach with it, but I’ve seen them in traps at my workplace.

One good thing about these traps is that you’ll capture other critters with it as well. I’ve had mosquitoes, spiders and even a mouse in there once!


Poisonous “dango”:

Another item I use are so-called “gokiburi dango“. There are several different types (not all of them are called “dango”), but they all work pretty much in the same way.

Cockroaches in Japan

Photo Credit: Amazon Japan

Again it works as a food bait. Roaches will eat the poison and eventually die. As disgusting as it is, but other roaches will eat the excrements of their fellows and that’s how the poison will effectively spread. It also affects the eggs, so eventually you can get rid of a whole nest if necessary.


The best weapon:

All the previous measures are meant to get rid of roaches that you won’t meet.
Unless you have a real infestation, you won’t see them during daytime. We once had so many roaches at my workplace that they were walking around even during daytime and into the classrooms, far away from the kitchen. Very creepy!

If you encounter a cockroach the measures above won’t help you. You need to get rid of it and that as quickly as possible as those little bastards are fast!

  • Do NOT use normal insect spray as it won’t affect them – unless you use the whole thing.
  • Do NOT try to hit them with a swatter (like I did) as they’re too fast and they might spread eggs when being hit.

The best weapon you can use is this:

Cockroaches in Japan

It’s a spray called “Gokijetto” and it is made to kill cockroaches. It’s not meant to be used on other insects.

It’s very strong and will kill the roaches very fast. Just be careful not to use too much of it and to air your room afterwards or it might affect you as well.
When I used the spray for the first time, I overdid it and had a headache for many hours afterwards.

Especially for us girls it’s great as it has such a long “pipe”. We don’t have to get too close to the creepy crawlers!


Other measures:

There are a lot of different things you can do in order to fight gokiburi.

Apart from the products I introduced here, you can find a lot more. Every drug store and most supermarkets will have sprays, poisoned food baits and sticky traps. If you can’t find them, ask for “gokiburi kujozai ” (ゴキブリ駆除剤).

While it’s true that roaches will invade your home even if it’s clean, it’s always a good idea to keep everything neat, especially your kitchen! Cockroaches like water, so make sure that the area around your sink is dry and that there are no food leftovers anywhere!

You should make sure to seal your domicile as much as possible. Roaches might come in through the sink plug hole, the air-conditioner, even the front door – thanks to the bad insulation.

Some people say that gokiburi don’t like the smell of lavender, others say they despite the smell of hinoki (ヒノキ, Japanese cypress).
I personally use a lavender room spray, but mainly because I really like it! I can’t tell if it helps to keep cockroaches away or not.


Know when to expect them:

There are good news! In winter there are no cockroaches. Usually from November to March you won’t see them at all. In colder regions like Hokkaido the “cockroach-free” time is even longer! Although I fear in Okinawa you might have them all year round.

There’s even a “cockroach forecast” (, so you can check out if it’s “gokiburi season” in Japan or not.

Cockroaches in Japan

There’s also a community, so you can whine about your most recent encounter and share it with millions of other “victims”.


How about you?

Do you mind cockroaches at all?
Have you ever encountered one? How did you deal with it?
Are roaches a problem where you live?


  • In our old apartment I honestly thought we didn’t have any roaches. Then we got a cat and occasionally found insect legs in the kitchen. One night the cat was going nuts and we discovered her attacking a roach that had hidden between her litter box and the wall. Even if you think you’re safe, you may not be !

  • While living in Japan I had an upstairs apartement and cockroaches were never a problem. They fly though so keeping the windows open or the balcony door unsupervised is not advised as they might come in that way.

    I stayed at a guest house in Tokyo once that was below the ground floor (still had windows and a walk outside, but it was below the street level) and there were plenty of cockroaches there, just walking in whenever someone left the sliding doors open while smoking.

    Worst experience though was when I rented a small room for a week in Tokyo, also ground floor, and you could hear the cock roaches under the tatami floor. We stuffed he sliding doors to the kitchen and bath with socks to keep them out of the room we slept in (well except for those below the tatami). Wasn’t a nice feeling, I can tell you.

    Okinawa… they’re there I guess, but I’ve never had problems with them. Ants are much more invasive in Okinawa. You can’t let any food lie around!

    • It doesn’t matter where you live. Previously I lived in the 3rd floor, now I live in the 2nd floor. They can climb up walls and they can squeeze through the tiniest gaps, so even if you keep everything closed, they’ll find a way inside.
      Like Eric said, just because you didn’t see any doesn’t mean that there were none! :(

      It seems that the typical Japanese cockroach can’t fly, but the “American cockroach” (mostly found on Okinawa) can.

      That sounds like quite the horrible experience!
      I’m sorry you had such a bad time there.

  • The US are full of roaches. People joke that getting rid of them was a common subject of conversation in New York, where they are rife. However, I haven’t had any in my house in Maryland. There were many in a house we lived in in South Carolina, and the solution was to fumigate the house, which worked, and put a potent bug killer around the perimeter every 3 months. I loathe roaches! they are truly disgusting.

    • The biggest accumulation of roaches I ever saw was in a motel room in New Orleans. The whole carpet was full with what looked like cigarette burns but they were actually roaches that other occupants had killed. I didn’t see the worst though. My father went into the bathroom and they were running around in the sink. In masses. Needless to say we checked out right away.

      The interesting thing though: The roaches in the U.S. are TINY compared to Japanese roaches. And I’m quite sure they can’t fly either.

    • Do you think it has to do with the climate of a place?
      Japan has a lot of insects in general and it certainly has to do with the long and hot summer and the humidity. I suppose that’s paradise for most insects, but I wonder how it works for roaches.
      I’m just glad they’re a rare sight in Germany! ^__^”

  • Sylvia, you are wrong! The cockroaches in the south east: South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, etc., are large [2″] and they do fly. They are truly awful. That’s what we had to contend with in Beaufort, SC. They are almost indistinguishable from the oriental cockroach.

    • Oh my! I’m glad I didn’t meet them in New Orleans, because the sheer number was already off putting, if they’d been 2″ they would have put the fear of roaches in my young mind :shock:

  • First thing that comes to my mind when you mention about cockroaches, is those abominable critters with wings that can fly on a whim and cause eternal trauma to you. Yes, I’m well aware about roaches, especially the Asian type. I assume roaches in Germany aren’t capable of flying, are they?

    Here in Indonesia or Malaysia, this little monster has always been a nightmare to me. In my previous apartment, it’s quite common to find them appear from nowhere and slip under the door gap and snuck into my futon *shudder*. The ways to kill them are like what you have mentioned, though I remember I used my slipper to mercilessly kill one bastard who refuse to die even after got sprayed so many times. :shock:

    So yeah, I know a lot about them.. :stressed:

    • Haha, I think we all would prefer not knowing about them! :hum:

      Although I’ve seen many roaches here in Japan, I’ve never seen any flying cockroaches.
      I researched a little and the type of cockroach you’ll usually find in Japan can’t fly. They can jump down from higher spots which might look like they’re flying.
      In Okinawa there’s a different type called the “American cockroach” and those bastards can fly it seems.

      • Yes, the flying ones are the worst! You can’t never tell when they are going to fly randomly, oh my god.. Based on the above comments, seems like in America there are two kinds: the normal non-flying and the flying bastard. It gives me the creeps thinking about it..

        It’s curious to know that the most resilient creature on earth is also the one that we hate strongly enough to wipe them clean from this world..

  • This is so funny!. I’m afraid of gokiburi. I can’t kill them because I really get scared at the sight of them. “The fight didn’t take long”?! You were so brave!! Fortunately, there is a gokiburi slayer in my house.
    Naotan, my cat, slayed at least two last year judging from the dismembered remains.

    • Haha, lucky! ^__^
      I wish I had a cat as well, but pets aren’t allowed (only creepy critters are, it seems).

      I’m not afraid of gokiburi, I just find them disgusting.
      However, I understand your fear. I feel the same about “suzumebachi” (the killer hornet). :(

  • Oh, man, do you guys have it lucky in Germany. I know at my high school in America, seeing a cockroach was totally normal! I don’t know if this is true, but a teacher told me once that if you see a cockroach walking around during the day, it means that it is looking for a new home because there are too many roaches living where it came from! That means there must have been hundreds at the school! (°_°)

    • They have been walking around during daytime happily in my school here in Japan as well last year.
      I suppose what your teacher said is true. They usually have no reason to move around during the day, so something must be wrong if they do. :(

  • i hate cockroaches… and that doesnt even come close… so i prefer the poison that kills their entire “family” and every other roach they meet… if it really works, no idea… but it lets me sleep better, knowing that at this very moment some of them die a painful death…
    actually this year i had like three (not on the sane day of course)… last year i had about 2 and the year before that (though ive been living somewhere else) i didnt even saw one…
    impossible to keep them out… i would have to seal everything and also usually they come flying through the window… unfortunately flamethrowers arent allowed in japan, so i usually hit them with hairspray, that robs them of the ability to fly… then i catch it and throw it out…

  • Interesting Post!! ;P

    I´m also from Germany and very afraid of cockroaches. At the moment I´m travelling through Australia, so from time to time you “meet” some and I got a little more used to them. But of course I´d rather not have them in my apartment… D:

    I´ll be in Tokyo next year for an internship that starts in January. I was very glad to read that you almost never see them during the winter, yaaay :ehehe:

  • They way Japanese houses are constructed, there’s no way to keep them out. All those raised floors have vents to the outside to prevent mold etc… but that also lets critters in. I second the spray, and keeping traps around too.

    My horror story:
    When I moved to Kumejima I got my first car here. It was always parked next to a field and hadn’t been used much before I got it because my predecessor went traveling. I took it for a car wash and hundreds of roaches went crawling all over it after it came out.

    In the same car a giant one flew right at my rear-view mirror while I was driving (almost crashed). I had to get the poison for the car too!

    • That’s quite a horrible story indeed!
      But if I had to choose, I’d rather have them in the car than in my apartment! (T___T) …
      However, if they come out while I’m driving, then it’s another story!

  • I live in Japan and I had a cockroach fly at me this evening and it scared me to death. I was shocked because i had no idea it could fly, and when I thought it was sort of helpless, I wasn’t afraid of it at all, and i was even about to get my iphone to take a video of it walking–then it suddenly started flying — TOWARDS ME — and I ran away and threw a blanket around myself. Now it has walked into the cupboard, which is better because at least it can’t fly in there!! As long as I don’t see it, I don’t really care. But the flying—yeesh. i about had a heart attack!

    • Do you live in Okinawa?
      I always thought that only the roaches in Okinawa could fly.
      I can imagine that you were quite shocked. I’ve never seen any flying roaches that “visited” my apartment. And I hope I never will.
      Good luck with getting rid of that jerk! :(

  • Ugh its always been my dream to live in Tokyo Japan and teach English but this is making me freak the hell out :/

  • ahahah another great post ! I HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTTTTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE gokiburi, and that’s why I put KONBATO devices everywhere in my flat (closet, near washing machine, behind the kitchen, in kitchen closets, behind the fridge etc…) but the BEST weapon is surely the fumigation !!!!!!!

  • Japanese apartments do not have bad insulation! Maybe it was your apartment. Sorry but I have lived in japan for over 8 years now, and I have never had an issue with insulation.

    • Hello Vincent,

      I don’t think this has anything to do with how long one has lived in Japan.
      It certainly depends on where you’re from and what you’re used to.
      All I know is all the apartments I’ve lived in thus far had really bad insulation compared to back home.
      And all the foreigners I’ve been talking to said the same.

      Glad to hear that at least you never had issues with bad insulation. :D

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