TOKYO -- Bug museums, bug zoos, bug exhibits in department stores, street-corner vendors selling crawling, flying and creeping creatures: Much of Japan may have been paved over, but the Japanese retain a special fondness in their hearts for the insects of yesteryear.
Entomological interest here goes back centuries. Lightning-bug hunts on balmy summer nights feature in some of Japan's early poetry, and many older Japanese nostalgically recall chasing butterflies and beetles during their summer vacations.
These days, Japanese schools still often assign summer homework to collect a certain number of beetle or butterfly species. But Tokyo children often do their collecting at the nearest department store.
This summer, the Matsuzakaya Department Store in the Ginza went all-out to satisfy the nation's hunger for bug-learning. A large exhibit called "Everything About Bugs Wonderland" drew even foreigners with dozens of beautiful butterfly specimens. It then quickly proceeded to a tour of the world's most remarkable (and grossly huge) chiggers, beetles, crickets and grasshoppers.
One recent afternoon, a dozen children watched in fascination as fat, white larvae wrestled playfully on a wide-screen TV in the department store. Other students enviously eyed the merchandise for sale: gigantic beetle specimens costing hundreds of dollars, wooden models of mosquitoes, mechanical dragonflies and live beetles with giant claws wriggling and toppling over each other in a terrarium. One woman watching the giant-clawed bugs tussle was asked if Japanese people honestly find such cockroach-like animals attractive. "No, they're disgusting," she admitted. "But the children like them."
Indeed, the children must. A park in Yokohama has developed a Stag Beetle Foster Parent program, which allows children to bring a pair of the mighty-clawed insects home for the summer. In return, the children are supposed to bring back to the park the eggs that the beetles lay just before they die in late August.
According to the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine, the program is so popular that the park had to hold a lottery to pick its lucky foster parents.
But adults also find appeal in the insect world. Thousands of visitors daily, most of them grown-ups, visit the newly opened Insectopia at the Tama Zoological Park outside Tokyo, where 700 species of live butterflies frolic in a butterfly-shaped enclosure. And when the Sony Building erected a small exhibit of fireflies at one of Tokyo's busiest corners, it was mostly adults who lined up to file through the small, darkened chamber.
Tokyo is legendary for the long, crowded commutes its office workers must endure, and for the white-gloved conductors who squeeze riders onto seemingly overloaded subway trains at the busiest stations.
A recent survey of male office workers brought some scientific analysis to this legend. It found that the average worker spends two hours and eight minutes on trains every day. More than half have to transfer at least once, and about one-fifth spend more than three hours on the train.
With all that time on their hands -- the subways are usually too densely packed for a standing person to hold a book or newspaper -- many commuters have developed intricate systems for predicting which seated passenger may disembark first, thus vacating a precious seat. Some commuters said they judge by clothes or packages, while others look for company lapel pins or envelope addresses that may provide clues to a passenger's destination.
Not surprisingly, then, when asked to cite their chief complaints about subway commuting, 17 percent said "having someone squeeze into the seat I've been waiting for," and another 6 percent said "having a person look like they're going to stand up but then not get off after all," according to the survey conducted by the Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Still, Tokyo subways remain safe and, by U.S. standards, reasonably polite. New York subway riders might be most interested in the complaint of 28.2 percent of riders about "gratuitous noise," not from radios and tape players, but leaking out from "tape and radio earphones."
Video game addiction, a disease common to Japanese and American youth, has been taken a step further here.
Any self-respecting game player in Japan is familiar with Dragon Quest, a video game produced by ENIX Corp. that sold 1.2 million copies in 1986. Dragon Quest II followed in 1987 with 2.3 million sold, and when Dragon Quest III hit the market this February, Japanese students lined up overnight, played hooky and eventually bought 3.3 million copies.
But for parents worried about their children spending months in front of the television, ENIX had a solution: Dragon Quest Concerts.
From July 27 through Aug. 29, in a series of performances throughout the country, Japanese children could leave their televisions behind and hear their favorite video music live in concert.
A company spokesman said the concerts were intended to make children familiar with game music as well as classical music.