Japan is a country known, above all else, for it’s incredible eccentricity. Most people you talk to about Japan will instinctively refer to it as being quite a bizarre place, focused on the abnormal, with a tendency to do what other cultures would consider unsavoury. This is, fortunately, the view only of those uneducated in the rich culture of this fine land, be it pop or otherwise. In many cases, yes, Japan does indeed fit into the stereotype that many people intuitively designate, but there is much more to the country’s culture than that of cute, illustrated girls. Much, much more!
For every Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Astro Boy that makes it outside of the great country, only to impact the rest of the world in immeasurable ways, there are countless facets of Japanese (pop) culture that remain only in the country of birth. The worst thing about that is…these are some of their most interesting and charming cultural features, and we don’t often get the chance to experience them, living in Western countries.
The Rhinoceros Beetle, or Kabutomushi, is an insect like no other, to say the very least. In Japan, it is regarded as one of the top influences on pop culture as a whole, that has lasted for about as long as can be remembered. While in Western regions it is physically intimidating animals like Lions, Hawks, and Bears that take center stage as brand, team, and merchandise mascots, it is the Rhinoceros Beetle in Japan that stands above the rest as nothing short of absolutely awe-inspiring.
The visual image of a Rhinoceros Beetle represents fortitude and courage, the likes of which no other insect or animal can, regardless of size and ferocity. This influence is not only brand-related though, the prestige of the Rhinoceros Beetle is heavily deep-rooted in most of what fans of Japanese pop culture enjoy today, with many modern pop culture icons being based upon the Rhinoceros Beetle and it’s many sub-species offshoots. Heracross (Pokemon), Medabee (Medabots), Gravity Beetle (Megaman X3), and Kabuterimon (Digimon) are just some of the smaller examples of the Rhinoceros Beetles’ influence.
Though an Anime or Video Game character based off of the Rhinoceros Beetle does indeed show how dynamic it’s presence in Japanese culture is, nothing demonstrates this more than the strange, but intriguing world of Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle Fighting. Somewhat present in the West, Japanese children, for many years, have looked to bug-catching in the Summer months to entertain them day in and day out.
Looking for rare species, catching them, and adding them to their collection is what fuelled the Japanese children into getting out of bed of a morning and exploring their immediate environment, often venturing out into more foliage-populated areas for the sake of discovering an insect their friends have yet to. This simple past time, believe it or not, led to the eventual development of none other than the Pokemon series of video games. Satoshi Tajiri, creator of Pokemon, stated in many past interviews that this was something he would do as a child, and that the idea of catching, training, and trading wondrous creatures came to him as a result of this.
Eventually, this lively hobby gave birth to a sub-culture of children who would seek out Rhinoceros Beetles native to Japan for the sole purpose of coaching them into being the greatest beetle fighters. This is what the world today refers to simply as “Bugfighting“. Though it’s popularity is still much more present in Japan than it is anywhere else in the world, many other countries partake in what is often labelled a “competitive sporting activity“. China, Vietnam, and Thailand each have their very own specific versions of Bugfighting that, instead of just Rhinoceros Beetles, will involve other local insects like Crickets.
In 2016, the appeal of Bugfighting has mostly remained in Asian countries, with Japan still playing host to the sport’s highest rate of popularity, but it is slowly being introduced into Western youth culture much in the same way it was in Japan all those years ago. Rhinoceros Beetle Fighting is such a prominent hobby in Japan that it has transcended simple fun and games in some circles, becoming a viable gambling option for many adults looking to make a quick buck. The Ryukyu Islands, located to the Southwest of Japan, are notorious for it’s high rate of money exchange thanks to that of this particular “sport“, but despite all that, it is the children of Japan who still find the most joy in this pastime.
Rhinoceros Beetle Fighting is quite a simply hobby to adopt, this is one of the many factors in it’s continued popularity in modern times: Most convenient stores across Japan will sell average, adult Rhinoceros Beetles (both Male and Female) from between 500 to 1000 yen, which is approximately 5 to 10 US dollars. Unlike years ago, the prerequisite of having to acquire your very own Rhinoceros Beetle by searching for it is no longer compulsory, with most kids opting for the easier route by simply purchasing them at a local store. There are even certain vending machines around Japan that dispense live Rhinoceros Beetles to those wanting a low-maintenance pet and possible fighting buddy.
Apart from the insect itself, those wishing to participate in their own Bugfight only need a small, sturdy log for the two insects to be placed upon, and a glass tank for the fight to take place. Insect owners will place their Beetles on the same log and watch as the two lock horns in an attempt to throw the other off. The Beetle that remains on the log at the end of the match is declared the winner. Simple as that! Some owners will train their Beetle by provoking it to fight, then using their finger to emulate the force of an opposing Beetle, making them stronger as a result.
The simple idea that such a pastime exists delights and excites me. For years I have known about this, and for years I have seen it’s influence across pop culture, but it is only now that I have come to realise how appealing the thought of owning, training, and fighting my very own Rhinoceros Beetle is. Many people wish for the unobtainable opportunity to own their own Pokemon or Digimon, and the closest you’re ever going to get to the monster-taming experience seems as thought it’s with this; Bugfighting.
I think what I love the most about the Rhinoceros Beetle Battling hobby is that it is, for lack of a better term…harmless fun. Unlike what I’m sure many of you would imagine, these insects are not harmed when partaking in a Bugfight. Many other bugs have stingers, claws, teeth, and many other evolutionary traits that help fend off predators, but the only weapon-like feature the Rhinoceros Beetle possess is that of their horn alongside their incredible strength. These insects simply flip each other off of a log and move on, and while there have been cases of bug death while partaking in a Rhinoceros Beetle Fights, they’re few and far between, and often singular cases.
Truth is, reader; I am deathly afraid of most, if not all, insect-like creatures. I have, on occasion, even been blindsided by a butterfly, forcing me to retreat into the darkest corner of my home until my fear quelled and I built up enough courage to return to the outside world. Despite all this…I’m very much interested in owning my own Japanese Rhinoceros Beetle, simply as a pet or even for the sake of Bugfighting. It is such an interesting concept that is so beloved across Japan, and I feel as though, as a lover of the culture, my experience with it can never be complete until I have participated in an event such as this. Open yourself up to the world of Japanese Rhinoceros Beettle Battling and I guarantee you wont come out of it the same, regardless, I know you’ll come out of it with a smile. There’s just something about this that is so damn charming, but what the heck is it!?