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Mosquito Hunting in Japan

July 2006

By Kevin Krikke

I’m startled awake at the faint light of the night table lamp and the discomforting sound of my wife’s whimpers. Here in earthquake-prone Japan, the first thought that comes to my foggy mind is: “Did she feel tremors?”

But it turns out that for the third night in a row, she’s awakened to discover a goose-egg-size welt growing on her elbow.

“Nasty ka!” (ka being the Japanese word for mosquito) she cries. “Why do they always go for me, and for the same spot?” Unconsciously, I begin scratching in the paranoid itchiness that comes with knowing that one has spent the last three hours as oblivious prey for a merciless, blood-sucking creature. A quick inspection of my own skin reveals a an itchy red lump on my abdomen, just to the left of my bellybutton.

“That’s it!” I yell, as I jump up from our tatami-level futon. “I’m on the hunt!”

Those who have never lived in Japan can’t even begin to understand what is required to hunt a Japanese mosquito. They seem to have evolved an effectiveness at feeding on human blood equal to that of their human counterparts in making reliable automobiles. Outfitted in black, they move as smoothly and efficiently as the ancient ninja, and are just as sinister in their purpose. Combined with the suffocating humidity of the Japanese summer, these creatures have made our recent existence miserable. The fragrant cherry blossoms and deliciously mild temperatures of spring are feeling more and more like a distant dream.

“I see it,” she says. “There, on the curtain!” Once again, my wife’s eyes have proven sharper than my own, and after tracking the direction of her pointing finger, I spot it too: a small black form trying in vain to hide against the light green curtains. I move slowly, cautiously, spreading my hands in anticipation of a thunderous clap and a smudge of mosquito carnage. But I’ve done this enough times to understand that it’s far from easy.

It’s not like killing a mosquito in my home country of Canada. The size of the Canadian “skeeter” approaches that of the Canadian goose, while being just as noisy and obvious in its flight pattern. No, this is certainly not a Canadian mosquito.

Must move slowly. Slowly. “BOOM!” I open my hands and eagerly examine my palms. Nothing. The tiny winged Houdini has done it to me one more time.

“There it is, there it goes!” shouts my wife, who has picked out the minute figure floating through the air. She’s desperate, because she has a history with mosquitoes - all mosquitoes. Whether in Canada or Japan, the word seems to spread quickly through the local mosquito community that her blood is as sweet as sugar, and when she’s not protected by an airtight shelter or a slathering of DEET, the tiny blood-for-itchy-poison-swappers swarm to her.

I see it now, and start smacking repeatedly. Bobbing, ducking, and weaving like a miniature, winged Cassius Clay, the vampire pest leaves me flailing and cursing. Suddenly, it’s disappeared again, and I drop onto the floor in defeat.

Knowing full well that turning out the lights and trying to forget is not an option, I scan the walls. Nothing. No - hold on. In a corner of the room, just below where the wall meets the ceiling, I detect the faint outline of my swarthy nemesis. She (for all biting mosquitoes are female) has chosen the perfect landing spot; the corner is too tight for a good whack from my hand, and it also prevents the use of my favorite go-to weapon: my wife’s slipper, as flexible and potent as a flyswatter.

“You suck!” I yell in frustration. And then, in a moment of epiphany, I realize that my angry words hold the key - for what I need at that moment is something that does suck.

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“Honey, keep your eye on it. Make sure it doesn’t go anywhere!” I open the sliding door of our AC-chilled bedroom and run out to the living room closet, careful not to hit my head for the ten-thousandth time on the Japanese-sized doorway. (It didn’t take me long to realize that Japanese doorways, like most other things in our apartment - and this whole country - were not made for someone with my 6-foot-5-inch frame. But realizing and remembering are two different things, and I have the scars to prove it.) Outside the cold confines of our bedroom, I begin to sweat almost immediately as I grab our pink Hitachi vacuum cleaner.

Moments later, our source of itchy pain and suffering is somewhere deep in the bowels of the howling machine.

I lie back down on our futon, content in the knowledge that I’ve come upon a seemingly surefire way to defeat the Japanese mosquito: with Japanese technology. The irony is almost too much. Yet as I drift off, I’m haunted by the realization that it’s only late July. I may have won tonight’s battle, but the war has just begun.

© 2004, 2006 by Kevin Krikke. All rights reserved.

Kevin Krikke was born and raised in Edmonton, Canada. When he wrote this story, he was living in Iwakuni, Japan with his wife, Angela and his Japan-born son, Elijah.