If you trust old folk wisdom, then this winter is due for some serious snowfall.
The Kamemushi or Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (or just Stink Bug to its friends) is a familiar sight in Hokkaido in autumn, but this year we’ve seen the bugs swarm in unusually large numbers, causing comment from local residents.
Local superstition has it that the more stink bugs you find indoors, the colder and longer the winter is likely to be – great news for powder hounds should you choose to believe it. But besides forecasting snowfall, what are they about? Are they dangerous? And what can you do about them?
It’s a (stink) bug’s life
Native to the forests of Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan, the humble stink bug crossed the oceans in the late 90s and became a household sight across parts of the United States.
The good news is that stink bugs eat fruits and crops, with soybean a favourite. They live, nest and breed outdoors, and really have no interest in people. They don’t cause structural damage and they don’t bite.
The bad news is they hibernate in houses. Every October they will roam the land looking for a warm, dark, dry place to spend their winter. They will wriggle through any hole in any structure and snuggle up out of the way of rain and snow. Like magic they will find their way inside of fly netting, closed windows and doors, through air condititioning vents and any tiny and momentary opening. They like to gather in attics and basements, under roof eaves and in the gaps between window panes. Come spring they leave again.
Startle them or squish them and they emit a pungent odor from their underside, something best described as a coriander stink bomb. It is a strong smell that’ll numb your sense of smell.
Stinkbugs (or Kamemushi) come out in Autumn and look for a place to hibernate for the winter. Look for white stripes on their antennae. They gravitate towards small crevices and nooks in buildings.
Getting Rid of Stink Bugs
Once they get indoors you won’t see them up to much. Stink bugs hibernate through the winter. If they move at all they are slow and sluggish. If you approach them they won’t react. Sometimes they will hover around light fixtures but mostly they’ll sit still in the dark corners of your house and wait for warmer weather.
Chances are you’ll meet one somewhere during your time in Japan’s ski resorts. Rather than sharing space with (and occasionally losing your sense of smell to) stink bugs, here are some strategies for dealing with them.
A vacuum cleaner is a great option if dealing with stink bugs in any great number. Beware though, as the bugs will stink up your vacuum cleaner and the smell will come out of the vents. Be sure to empty the bag inside after you’re done.
Bug sprays and deterrents
There’s a host of chemical products available at every convenience store and supermarket. Some claim to deter stink bugs, others kill them once they’ve arrived. Look for カメムシ in the bug spray section of the supermarket or convenience store, or ask the shop assistant for “kamemushi yoke” (stink bug deterrent).
The native’s secret weapon – masking tape
You’ll find in many older accommodations throughout Niseko, there will be a roll of masking tape hanging on a nail on the wall in the living room. That’s not for emergency repairs – this is the tried and tested traditional method for getting rid of stink bugs. As the bugs are half asleep they’re not hard to catch. See a step-by-step breakdown of the best strategy to the right.
The humane option
If killing bugs is not your thing, you can gently catch them with a tissue or a piece of paper and take them outside. Don’t expect them to run away or jump the way another insect would – as they’re half asleep they are very sluggish and often don’t react at all to what’s around them.
Some Useful Phrases
If you’re going shopping for supplies or talking to your hotelier, these words may help:
- Kamemushi – Stink Bug
- Kamemushi Yoke – Stink bug repellent
- Bug Spray – same in Japanese
- Heya ni kamemushi ga ita – there was a stink bug in my room.
- Dou ni ka shite kudasai – please do something about it!
- Ippai – Many
Please note, stink bugs are such a common (and harmless) part of home life in Hokkaido that very few staff will be surprised or panicked to hear that stink bugs have been sighted. A good hotelier will help you out with the right tools, but in more traditional, budget accommodations you may just be handed a roll of tape.
Happy hunting, and if those bugs are right this winter will be a good one!