I held my breath, feeling very nostalgic, last weekend when I saw a father and his young son in a park near where I live. They both had nets in their hands and a couple of plain white butterflies in their insect cage. It could have been a scene from my own childhood, when children would spend day after summer day catching insects in the fields. They would keep them, feed them and make a picture diary of their lives, or produce specimen cases later - both typical summer assignments in those days.
Japanese children still love insects - but they don't tend to come from wildlife-rich fields any more. They are few and far between in towns and cities, and urban parks are well maintained using insecticides, while much of the earth has been paved over. Today's seasonal scene sees young children and their mothers flocking to special 'bug corners' set up in department stores and supermarkets. They are amazed by the magnificent specimens - particularly huge stag beetles - and swallow-tail butterflies, often priced around 2,000 yen ($141). Even ant colonies are available. And, of course, you can also buy their food - and books to tell you how to feed them.
Bugs for sale is nothing new. For department stores in particular, they are a classic way to lure in the shoppers. But I was still shocked recently, when I saw two young boys showing off their insects on a Tokyo suburb's street. 'Wow, that's a beautiful Lucanus,' one boy said, adding: 'Where did you buy it?' Shouldn't he first have asked his friend if he'd caught it? But, to my surprise, the other boy answered, matter-of-factly: 'Online.'
That helped me uncover the hot world of cyber-bug transactions through specialist internet sites. There are so many species available, both 'live and dry'. Apparently, the most popular are big beetles, which come in a wide range: Hercules, Java, Caucasus, Neptune, you name it. Not surprisingly, China is increasing its presence in the market with its famous Dorcus Hopei beetles, collected from Fujian province and Yunnan province . These large stag beetles range in price from 4,000 yen up to 20,000 yen.
One insect auction site offers a range of huge beetles from Bolivia. Bidding began at 77 yen on one three-month-old, 64mm male early this week; in two days, 22 bidders had raised the price to 51,100 yen. Another ambitious punter offered a 90mm female, starting at 150,000 yen. Maybe not all these bidders are young children; some grown-ups claim they are insect lovers, even keeping them as pets.
But I do feel slightly uncomfortable with the idea of these living insects being used for commercial transactions, while children take it all for granted.
It's hardly a bug's life.