It should come as no surprise that, much like the rest of the world, I have been:
Not been going outside unless necessary
Playing a great deal of Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing has proven to be quite a delight for a number of reasons (including the extremely good localization job done by Nintendo), but perhaps chief among them has been the way that it neatly fits a hobby I’ve had for a while now, for whatever reason. For years, now, I’ve been fond of photographing bugs and other small creatures when I encounter them when I’m out.
Now that there’s more pressure not to go out unless necessary, there’s been less time for that hobby, but on the other hand, it’s been nice to have Animal Crossing available — and it’s been very interesting to note just how Japanese the various bugs are that are depicted in-game.
For instance, these jewel beetles can be found from time to time in Japan. They are indeed aptly named: they sparkle and glitter like gems in the sun. One imagines that this makes them highly visible to predators, though.
The spiders that show up in Animal Crossing (not the tarantulas) are also very similar to the kind of large, black and yellow spiders you’ll find throughout Japan, especially toward the end of summer or early autumn.
It’s interesting to note just how large some of the bugs you’ll find in Japan can be, too. This moth was large enough that we couldn’t help but wonder how it could fly. That being said, though, it did seem to be having some difficulty with that at the time.
Dragonflies are a symbol of mid to late summer in Japan, presumably because they are just EVERYWHERE. They also seem uniquely unafraid of humans, such as photographers, making them a great subject for getting up close to take a picture.
Speaking of big cool bugs that don’t really pose much of a threat to humans, I’ve always been fond of mantises. While they can be found overseas — I remember seeing them from time to time when growing up in the US — they seem to be much more common in Japan. One thing that’s especially endearing about them, to me, is that they don’t have a larval form. As a result, a young mantis just looks like a super tiny version of an adult mantis. For an idea of scale, that first photo is of a mantis nymph on the end of a ball-point pen.
And of course, there are other small creatures that are still fairly photogenic. Whenever it rains, it feels like suddenly a hundred snails appear near my home. I suppose that makes sense — they prefer wet environments, after all.
I also have an inexplicable fondness for small crabs. The river near my apartment seems to be home to a fair number of these little crabs — for an idea of the size, the crab is standing on a manhole cover, and its body is roughly the size of a circle made by touching the tip of your finger to the tip of your thumb. I’m not sure why it is that I find tiny crabs so adorable. Perhaps it’s the way they walk so slowly and smoothly compared to, say, cockroaches (which are decidedly not cute bugs).
In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of small animals from outside, as a way to help pass the time while you’re quarantined. Please stay safe, everybody!
Certainly, Kanazawa is a beautiful city all year round, but there’s something about winter that feels truly iconic. Maybe it’s just the decorations that go up in December or so. (Please ignore the fact that it’s currently February — it’s been busy!)
At the train station, they put up a Christmas tree in the lobby with Kanazawa-themed decorations, depicting Tsuzumimon Gate (located out front of the station), Kotoji Toro (the iconic two-legged stone lantern from Kenrokuen Garden), yukizuri rope supports used to help trees handle the heavy snowfalls the region generally gets in winter, and — because it is a train station, after all — a Shinkansen train.
This display in Korinbo combines the Christmas tree motif with a slightly abstract depiction of a yukizuri support, for a uniquely Kanazawa approach.
More distinctly Japanese, though, are the decorations you’ll see at entrances of both homes and businesses to greet the new year. Here’s a set from a shopping mall:
These decorations are called kadomatsu, and in fact, they’re a ubiquitous enough symbol of the new year in Japan that they’re among the original set of emoji (🎍). These sorts of decorations can be found pretty much everywhere at the end of December and the beginning of January.
A closer look at one placed out in front of a hotel. Delightfully, these decorations can be found even in what might seem like fairly unorthodox locations:
In this case, construction workers decided to spruce up the entrance to their construction site.
Naturally, for the new year, the popular custom is to visit a temple or shrine, so I made my way to Oyama Shrine, which was beautifully lit up for the evening.
I’ve always been a fan of its iconic gate. Its blend of architectural styles — you don’t often see stained glass at Japanese religious buildings! — almost feels nowadays like a symbol of the internationalization of Kanazawa, or perhaps even Japan as a whole. If nothing else, it sure is pretty.
We walked around a bit more in the area, and came across this unique-looking structure:
It took us a moment to figure out that this was a shrine building with an exterior built on to help it weather the winter. As you approach the front of the building, though, it becomes obvious. Even so, it was kind of an odd experience to look inside a building only to see what is, effectively, the outside of a building.
We also saw this phone booth. Nothing especially wintery about it, or anything. It was just kind of fun seeing traditional local architectural styles applied to a phone booth.
If you visit Japan, it’s a common piece of advice to try to avoid the new year, because the whole country kind of closes for the first three or four days of January, but if you’re interested in a perhaps quieter, more contemplative experience (especially if you’re visiting someone), the new year in Japan can be beautiful in its own way.