Japan has a rich variety of wildlife and insects, especially in its humid summers (doesn’t rich variety sound so much better than swarm of hellspawn?). When I first came to Yokohama university and saw the countless spiders spinning their webs within the tree canopies and across the campus I wasn’t so phased (horrified, yes, but not phased). They weren’t in the classrooms or where we ate lunch. They didn’t come near us while we walked or drop down on us when we left. They respected the Divide. The line between the realms of human beings and wildlife. It exists side by side in harmony, and rarely does one group invade the other (that actually probably isn’t true but I like to believe it is). But I was foolish to believe that. It was all a great facade; an illusion to lure me into a false sense of security of believing that the Divide held intact.
In the U.K there’s be a few times when this line was crossed. For example, there were several news articles on the squirrels of Greewich Parkin London, as they had apparently grown far more aggressive. There were more than a few cases where people called the police to claim that they had been attacked and knocked down by marauding squirrels (if you’re trying to figure out how a squirrel could accomplish this given its size, please bear in mind that they do wield stun grenades). In Sheffield there was one bizarre news story involving a man who called the police to explain that he’d been chased by a badger and that he had only ‘just’ got away. If the police are expected to do anything, it’s follow up on badger chases. After all it’s not as if people are committing crimes that they need to investigate. Even within my own garden, we had hedgehogs try to covertly dash from bush to bush to avoid being detected (but they’re lovely so it’s ok. With the power invested in me, I grant all hedgehogs free invitation into the human realm whenever they please). Of course Sheffield was no exception with it’s ducks but you need a survival guide for that. But in spite of these cases, there are fairly few times when wildlife has crossed the Divide into the human realm and fewer still when we were forced to drive them back into their own lands.
Japan however, is somewhat different. I’ve noticed it on every occasion I’ve ever come. In Yokosuka during my student exchange program, I woke on the first morning in Japan and faced the sunshine at an early 7am. When I opened the curtains I was instead faced with an eagle perched on my window sill (don’t judge anyone for screaming about an eagle. They’re big. Although it turns out they do get startled if you suddenly scream at them). On my visit to Nara, I saw wild deer ferociously swarm people who walked through the park, just on the off chance that they might have food on them. A few small toddlers didn’t make it out (the deer might bow but don’t let their politeness or Bambi fool you. They’re monsters and if you don’t stop them, they’ll follow you home and murder you and all your family). Even in Hokkaido, walking with Cece by the lake I very nearly stepped on a snake that had strayed onto the path (I nervously watched both the snake slither away and Cece edging fearlessly toward it). These instances were not freak occasions to be ignored. They are all symptoms of a greater peril we now face in this day and age. In japan, the Divide has been broken. Creatures of every variety march openly across our lands, unchecked and unchallenged. Throughout my year in Yokohama I did battle with their hordes but the Divide must be repaired in order to finally quell them.
On my first day in Yokohama I discovered the signs that the Divide was no more. At the foot of my bed I looked down to find a large cricket while I was in the middle of setting the sheets. I left the balcony window open and promptly left on other business, believing that the cricket would soon return to it’s own realm (it probably had a wife and children to look out for after all). But that evening I came back and it was still there in the exact same spot. Waiting for me. Too exhausted to deal with it, I fell asleep and promised to get rid of it the next day. But the whole week was fraught with errands and perils (mostly finding my way around and meeting Elodie consisted of my major errands and perils). I was busy and forgot to attend to this solitary rebellious cricket who presumed to muscle me out of my own room. At the end of the week he was still there. I thought perhaps he was dead, given that he hadn’t moved an inch in so long. He must have passed away peacefully in his sleep, spending his remaining days in the glory of penetrating the Divide into the warm comforts of the human realm. I resigned to scoop him up the following morning and given him a proper burial alongside my weekly rubbish bags. It’s good to have respect for the dead you see. But the next morning when I bent down to collect him, his corpse had vanished. I felt three very distinct things within that moment. Bewilderment, that after all this time he had finally chosen to leave. Denial, that he could possibly have escaped in a sealed room, or even chosen to with the cold weather. And fear, when I realised that if he didn’t leave and I didn’t take him, he must have instead been eaten. Devoured by a fellow creature with greater size and appetite that had expertly avoided my detection. A creature I was sharing a room with at night.
Such beasts were not uncommon. They paid no heed to the sovereignty of the human realm. I was confronted by one such demon while speaking with Uma outside her room; a spider whose size extended far beyond the span of my hand sprinting above our heads along the ceiling. It looked capable of overpowering a mouse and it was almost as fast. I backed away from it as it approached the ceiling above our heads, uncertain to retreat or advance down the corridor to escape it. Uma was incredibly brave and chivalrous when she immediately slammed the door in my face and locked me out. The spider circled around her door frame and I edged in an opposite circle away. Uma still had my textbooks so I couldn’t leave. I begged her to open her door lest I be forced to duel this six eyed monster that was casually sizing me up. I might have been able to sever a leg or two but who knows how much harm it could inflict on me!? Reluctantly she opened her door a crack and screamed at me to dive inside. With the spider hot on my heels, I made the leap and found brief sanctuary inside her room.
By this point I knew that all of us needed to unify together at the border to have any chance of repelling this threat. But rallying my comrades together was a difficult process. In the stairwell on the top floor I found a bat clinging to the ceiling. Not a single person believed me. Not one. Why wouldn’t you believe someone if they burst into the room and cried out ‘guys, there’s a bat upstairs!’. You’d at least go check it out right? But alas, nobody was interested. It wasn’t their problem yet to deal with. Not until this bat migrated to the bottom stairwell of the girl’s dormitory and then suddenly everyone was worried about it (it was downstairs. That’s far worse than dangling from the ceiling upstairs it seems). I’m not sure why nobody believed the boy who cried bat but I’m happy to announce that this bat did not attack me (or give me in to commissioner Gorden in Gotham).
The lack of unification amongst our ranks wasn’t obvious until summer struck, and the hordes of cicadas invaded. Had we been unified, perhaps we could have barricaded ourselves in for a lengthy siege. Instead, every window on every floor was wide open and some students were even kind enough to write ‘welcome’ signs just in case those cicadas were feeling hesitant. The war ended before it begun. We were beaten back, hammered by buzzing wings and sheer numbers until the only sanctuary left to us was within the confines of our rooms. But I refused to let them be our cells. We began the resistance. Venturing out into the corridors to battle our way to the library, the laundry room, the common room. Their corpses scattered the floors, taken down by short lifespans and valiant efforts of other students, but the rest were smart. The live ones would sit beside the crusty carcasses of their fallen siblings, camouflaging themselves as the dead while they waited to ambush students who passed in the dark. This was a particular issue for me as I walked barefoot everywhere. At night, I would sometimes feel that sickening crunch as my bare foot would come down on a cicada. Worse still when it was a live one, and I’d feel its buzzing wings desperately flap against my skin to escape death. But eventually we persevered and the summer finally came to a close (once again a stunning defeat at the hands of the climate. Thank you for changing climate). The more scarred veterans amongst us celebrated by decorating the dormitory with cicada bodies but the remaining were just content to have survived without gross experience.
We all understood that they were retreating back across the Divide. Soon winter would arrive and seal them on the other side. Perhaps with their defeat and captivity underground, they will have learned their lesson but it is doubtful. Beware the Japanese summer; it’s when the Divide is inevitably crossed.