Life in Japan

6 Dangerous or Annoying Insects (and Other Pests) in Japan

If you’re planning to come to Japan in summer, there’s something you should know about first.
The crazy heat and humidity coupled with bad insulation of houses is one thing, but that climate causes another problem!
It’s the perfect environment for all sorts of creepy critters and other pests to grow and spread!

grasshopper in Japan

First, let’s have a look at the insects: There are many insects that I personally don’t mind or find rather cute, especially those that are similar to the ones I’m used to from back home.
Actually there are even some really beautiful insects as well, such as butterflies or the red dragonfly.

However, the majority of them is disgusting. And not only that!
The main reason why I wrote this blog post is to warn you! Some of them are dangerous and many tourists don’t even know about it! Some can hurt you badly, others can kill you! smilie
Although chances are low that it will happen to you, I think it’s important you have at least a rough idea of what to expect.

 

1. Suzumebachi – The Killer Hornet:

Suzumebachi (スズメバチ、雀蜂、胡蜂) which consists of the words “suzume” (sparrow) and “hachi” (bee, hornet) is better known in Western countries as Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica).
THIS is my personal nightmare! Of course I’m afraid of a few insects and animals, but only bees, wasps and hornets cause me to panic!
And I’m talking about the relatively tiny European ones.
Now, this one is HUGE! And not only that, it can kill you! I’m not kidding! smilie
Obviously somebody who is allergic to the venom of bees will die from it. Suzumebachi’s venom is just so much stronger which is why it also can kill people who aren’t allergic to them, even adults, if the dose is sufficient. A significant number of people die every year in Japan because of this little monster.

My Japanese co-workers keep telling me that one sting doesn’t kill you, but the second time will, because by that time your body will show an allergic reaction. I’m not sure if that’s really true, but Japanese people keep telling me that.

Here’s a video where you can see a suzumebachi from close up. It’s really a huge monster!
(Note: It’s already dead, otherwise it would be too dangerous and stupid to do what that guy did!)

As most insects it’s active in summer, but you’re most likely to run into it in September and October. That’s also when I found one sitting on my bedsheets. But generally they can be around from May to November.

If you get stung, wash the wound with clear water, then try to get the poison out by squeezing. Don’t suck it out!
You should use a cream that contains “histamine”. After these frist-aid steps, go to a hospital or – if in the mountains – to a nearby mountain hut and get an antidote!

Those hornets can be very aggressive. Avoid wearing black clothes. If you have a dark hair color, then wear a bright-colored cap. Don’t use perfume!

One of the many bee-like insects in Japan.

This is probably a so-called “black suzumebachi” (クロスズメバチ), but I’m not sure. It’s always better to assume you’re facing something dangerous than the other way round, right?

There are many similar bee-like insects and all of them are huge! Even horseflies look similar if they’re just passing by. My strategy is to just run away instead of confirming what it is. That’s also the only strategy that kept me from being stung. Staying calm didn’t help! smilie

While it’s not very common that they invade your house (unless you live next to trees or they decided to have their nest under your roof), they’re still very present especially in rural areas of Japan. When traveling, be careful!

Warning sign of suzumebachi in Yumebutai, Awaji Island

If there are a lot of them around, you’ll find signs like this.
They suggest that you don’t make any hectic moves and slowly get some distance between you and the hornet.
“If you stay calm, they are not scary insects at all!!” – Yeah, right .. not gonna stay around to test if that’s true or not!

 

2. Mukade – Centipede

You’ll find a huge variety of centipedes in Japan, but one of them is especially dangerous:
Mukade (ムカデ、百足) is another giant creature in Japan, yet correctly spoken it’s not an insect.
In summer, especially after rainy season you might find them in your house or in your bed. smilie
You are most likely to see them if you live in the countryside close to mountains. They are very territorial, so just kicking them out, won’t help.
They would come back. I heard that many people pour boiling water on them and then cut them into half.

The following video has a lot of interesting information about the mukade:

The problem with this critter is that it’s very aggressive and it can bite you.
People often describe the pain as 10 times stronger than that of a common bee sting. Also the swelling on your skin can be quite bad.
In summer it’s very common for them to be all around the place outside, especially at night. I had a very unpleasant experience in Kyoto a few days ago which I posted on Facebook.

A centipede in Japan

There are a lot of other types of centipedes as well. This photo was taken near Gifu Castle in August 2010.

You don’t have to go to a hospital if you were bitten by a mukade, but it will hurt a lot, so it’s good to know what to do.
Go to a drug store and get something like “ムヒアルファEX“. It will help to cool the skin and release the pain a little.
Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to prevent them from invading your apartment. Japanese people tend to use this powder that is spread around the house, but it can’t guarantee that they will stay away!

 

3. Huntsman Spider:

You can take a deep breath now. This fellow is not dangerous, but it might freak you out nevertheless.
I’m not afraid of spiders, but when I saw my first huntsman spider I freaked out!
Their legspan can reach up to 30 cm!
Actually those spiders are not native to Japan, but have been accidentally imported! smilie
They do not have webs, but hunt their prey, often by jumping on it from above. They’re also very fast. That’s why they’re called “huntsman”.

Huntsman spider in Japan

The one in the photo was sitting on the wall outside of my apartment and even had an egg sac below its body.
A female spider can get aggressive when somebody tries to attack their eggs. Usually they are harmless, but bite if you provoke them.
The venom is not harmful to a healthy adult and usually there’s no need to go to a hospital after being bitten.

You’ll most likely run into them during rainy season as they look for shelter.
As scary as this spider might look, it’s actually useful because it eats cockroaches … probably the NUMBER 1 PEST in summer.

 

4. Cockroaches:

If you’re going to live in Japan, you need to know that you will have issues with these disgusting little guys! They are everywhere in summer. It doesn’t matter how clean or new your apartment is, they will come and pay you a visit!
Don’t freak out! If you see one in your apartment, get rid of it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a nest or anything.
As this is such a huge issue in Japan, you can easily buy traps and poison for cheap in most supermarkets and drug stores.
Very common are the “Hoi Hoi sticky traps” and the poisonous traps. A normal insect spray often doesn’t work well, so the “Goki Jetto spray” is the way to go.

In Germany you’ll only see roaches in very dirty places, so I was so shocked when I saw my first cockroach here in Japan. As I never had seen one before I wasn’t even sure if it was one at first.

 

5. Cicadas:

When thinking about insects in Japan, cicadas were always the first to come to my mind.
If you watch an anime that takes place in summer, you’ll surely always hear a buzzing sound in the background. When I was younger I thought that was some kind of machine, but it’s actually the cicadas!

Japanese cicada

Cicadas are quite big and some find them disgusting. I’m not a big fan of them, but I also don’t mind them.
Most of the time their buzzing is considered as a natural noise in summer and people find it relaxing to hear, but in some parts (e.g. parks) they can get so loud that it really hurts your ears! We’re talking about up to 120 dB! Technically that’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans!

Other than the noise they are usually totally harmless for humans.

 

6. Other Pests besides insects

The following animals aren’t necessarily something you will run into when in Japan. It greatly depends on where you live and most tourists won’t even know they exist here. Yet I thought it would be interesting for people who intend to move to the Japanese countryside.

 

6.1. Frogs:

If you live in the Japanese countryside right next to rice fields, then from about May to August you’ll suddenly have extremely loud, croaking neighbors. The frogs are harmless and are actually a sign that the rice fields are in good condition.

Amagaeru, cute tiny frogs in Japan

The most common one is the so-called “amagaeru” (アマガエル, Japanese tree frog). It’s very tiny and I find them actually quite cute.
During the daytime they stay in the rice paddies, but at night they become active, hop near lights to catch the insects there.
That’s why I find some of them around my front door when I come home from work at night.
They’re actually quite useful and not a pest – apart from their noisy croaking at night.

 

6.2. Geckos:

To me personally geckos are not a pest at all. They are usually outside my windows at night to catch all the insects.
I find them rather cute and wouldn’t freak out if one of them comes into my apartment.

Geckos in Japan

However, some of you might find them disgusting and you have to know that they are VERY common in summer, especially in the countryside.
I see them every night! smilie

 

6.3. Mice:

Personally I have no experience with mice. I found a dead mouse in one of my cockroach(!) traps in late November!
They’re invading houses or apartments every now and then.
It’s especially likely to happen in the countryside and in old Japanese houses.
When you go into a drug store or a supermarket, you’ll find a lot of mice traps. That alone shows that it’s quite an issue in Japan.
Did you ever have issues with mice?

 

6.4. The Poisonous Snake “Habu”:

Japan doesn’t have that many poisonous animals. One of the most dangerous (as in: causing a lot of deaths per year) is the earlier mentioned “suzumebachi”.
Another really dangerous one is a poisonous snake called “Habu” (波布, Trimeresurus flavoviridis).
As far as I know they can mainly be found in Okinawa and it’s very unlikely that you’ll run into one.
While the venom is extremely strong, fatality rate is only 3%. If you are bitten, get medical treatment immediately.
In most cases you won’t die from the poison, but permanent disability can be caused in some cases.

 

6.5. Bats:

What? Bats? Well, to be honest this is more like a personal story, but I thought it might be good to share it nevertheless. I doubt that anybody will EVER run into the same problem, though.
Yes, Japan has bats – like many other countries, including my home country.
Moving to a really rural area, I suddenly had many of them around. I didn’t mind.

Until the first somehow made it into my apartment. I got the shock of my life! It was flapping around in panic, dropping poo all over the place. smilie
I opened the windows and waved my arms until it finally found its way out.
At first I thought it was a coincidence, but a few days later I had the next bat in.
After many sleepless nights and a lot of bat poo, I finally found out that they came in through the kitchen hood.
When I opened it, lots of poo fell out. After cleaning it thoroughly I literally had a mountain of poo in there. So disgusting.

A metal grid outside (outer kitchen hood) finally solved the problem. Now, I only find some bat poo on my car sometimes. smilie
Bats sometimes live in attics of old Japanese houses, but they’ll find other places to stay like in my case.
I think it’s important to know about that, although it really doesn’t seem to be very common.
Usually they are very shy, but they CAN bite and they COULD have rabies, so be careful!

 

Conclusion:

As you can see, being in Japan in summer can be a quite disgusting experience.
There are so many huge insects, but also many tiny flies and mosquitos. You’ll have mountains of dead insects in front of your door the next morning!

Especially for Japanese boys this is paradise, though. They buy huge nets to go insect hunting.
They’re particularly interested in all the big beetles. Japan has indeed a lot of them. There are also many insect museums all around Japan.
If you ever happen to visit Nagoya Castle, there is a nice exhibition of all sorts of insects in one of the floors:

Insects' exhibition in Nagoya Castle

I hope this blog post didn’t freak you out too much, but it is a fact that all these creepy critters are around and you should know about them.
I think it’s important to know which ones are dangerous and what to do when you encounter them – or how to get rid of them.
I couldn’t cover the topic in depth, but I hope I was able to give you a good overview.
And if you are actually fascinated by insects in Japan and want to see and read more about it, I can recommend this blog to you. smilie

 

There are so many creepy things out there, so let me know if you’ve ever run into something I didn’t mention here.
Please share your horror stories with us!
Were you ever bitten by a mukade or stung by a suzumebachi?

like what you see?

subscribe to newsletter
subscribe to RSS

117 Comments

  • Hi,
    I’m going to Kobe for in October this year as part of an exchange trip. What are the chances that I’ll run into one of the giant hornets? They are terrifying!!! Out of the entire trip, those hornets are what worry me the most. Tiny wasps terrify me so I don’t know how I would handle seeing one of those haha :D

    • Hi Choco! ^_^

      Yes, unfortunately in October they’ll still be around, BUT if you stay mainly in the urban area of Kobe, I wouldn’t worry too much.
      However, Kobe has some mountains where you’ll definitely see some of the “little” monsters, also on nearby Awaji Island (- personal experience emoticon)!!~

      But please don’t worry too much about it and enjoy your time in Japan! ^____^

  • Hi,

    I will be moving to Kyoto this coming August and I have a phobia of insects so I googled and found your post! I could barely look at the pictures (that’s how scared of bugs I am) and was almost in tears by the end of it. Thank you for the information though, very good to know!

    I will be living somewhere in the city and on the 4th floor. If I keep my windows closed and ‘fumigate’ the whole apartment (before I move in) and keep the A/C going, will there be a chance that none of the above mentioned bugs come in? I never want to have to see them! T-T

    If one gets in, I will be running off to stay in a hotel. I cannot be in the same room as them! Seriously terrified of moving to Japan now! =(

    • Hi Dani!

      I’m sorry that my article scared you, but I think it’s better to know about these things before moving, don’t you think? ;)

      Unfortunately nobody will be able to guarantee you that you’ll never see any of these little monsters. I kept everything shut as well, but they still came crawling in somehow. To be fair, I lived in the countryside. If you live in a rather new apartment that has good insulation you might be safe.
      But better buy lots of different bug traps and sprays.

      I’m not exactly afraid of bugs (apart from the killer hornets), but I despise them.
      You’ll get used to it eventually and I had years where I didn’t see that many of them.

      Good luck to you! ^__^

  • *reads article* *loses any and all interest in going to japan*
    Maybe if I bathe in bug spray they’ll leave me alone.
    Doubling up my fluoxitine should help too. (fluoxitine has actually greatly helped my phobia of bugs so….)

    • Don’t worry.
      Before I moved to Japan I once travelled to Japan in SUMMER which is high season for insects – and I didn’t have any issues.
      It’s more of a problem when you actually live there (especially in the countryside) and they keep visiting your apartment. ;)

  • OMG soooooooo happy I found this website I plan to move to Japan in my mear future🤗🦄😻🌸

  • Cicadas . Yea these have gotten in to my house twice. I am terrified of bugs. The first time it was quite the ordeal to get it out of my house. The second time it came in hit the light above the sink, fell in the sink in to a bowl that was full of water and drowned, so it was easy. Scary little buggers tho

  • I just checked out your blog! I’ll be going to Japan as an exchange student in Tokyo in a few days. I’m quite nervous, especially after reading about all of these creepy crawlers! I’m from Northern Canada so we only get bugs for about 3-4 months a year. I’m relatively scared of them but I’ll try to get over my fear of them ahaha! Thank you so much for all the info, I’m sure it’ll be super useful! :P

  • I just came across your blog and really enjoyed it, since I hope to travel to Japan next year. But I had to agree with my fellow Australian who commented. I come originally from a rural area of Australia, and we also have poisonous centipedes, not to mention all the other nasties of snakes, spiders, crocodiles, sharks, centipedes, plus it’s been recently discovered that our goannas (big lizards) are venomous as well. So I don’t think Japan will give me too much trouble – no worries mate!
    I will continue to follow your blog, it’s very informative.
    Alison

    • Thank you, Alison.
      I guess it totally depends on where you’re from and what you’re used to. These creepy things will always freak me out. They would in Australia as well, I suppose. ^^;

  • Hi! I am planning a trip to japan in october, and I am VERY scared of wasps kind of insects.. I mean, phobic kind of scared! So I would like to Know wich places you recommend me to avoid in october so i can enjoy m’y trip^^

    I would like to go to Tokyo, Kyoto and around, and then visit either shikoku or hokkaido. Wich is Best in october to avoid wasps and hornets?

    thank a lot!!

    • Generally stay away from mountains and forests.
      I ran into a lot of them in Hokkaido in August. While October is still a peak time in other regions, they might not be around in Hokkaido anymore because the climate is different.

      When I was a tourist in 2007 and visited Tokyo and Kyoto in August / September, I didn’t come across any of them. ^_^;
      The longer you are in Japan, the more likely you run into them. I just want people to know about them, so if they see one, they know how to behave.

      During my recent trip (in November 2017) I ran into quite a few again while doing part of the Kumano Kodo (in the mountains and in the forests). If you dress accordingly and walk slowly the other way if you see one, you’re usually fine.
      It’s much more dangerous if you don’t know about them and get close to them. ;)

  • I am so scare of Centipede. When I go to visit some Asia countries, I usually hear about it. But I don’t think Japan also have this insect. Are there any thing I could use or where should I go to avoid it?

    • Hi Drake,
      If you go in summer, make sure to cover your legs and maybe don’t wear open shoes.
      It’s unlikely they’ll attack you and they’re more common in the countryside and near mountains.
      Most tourists usually won’t have to deal with them anyway. ;)