Eating Bugs in Japan – What? Where? When? WHY?!

  • COOKING
  • CULTURE
  • FOOD
  • RESTAURANT
  • by Zoria Petkoska

    If you have ever been online (what am I even saying?! You ARE online right now!) you have seen a snapshot of bugs being eaten somewhere in Asia. And NOT accidentally, like when a gnat flies into your moth by mistake! Stalls and stalls with skewered scorpions, stir fried mealworms, even… OMG cockroaches!
    In Bangkok’s most touristy areas sellers practically follow you with trays of (hopefully) cooked insects, and neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar do not fall far behind. In China there are notorious weird food markets too. Why would Japan be different?

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    Truthfully, in most of these countries eating insects is not as mainstream as it perhaps used to be. Thai sell these creepy crawlies mainly to tourists in the middle of Bangkok, and many people have never tried a bug. But even if you have never seen someone eating bugs in Japan, it doesn’t mean no one eats bugs in Japan. Especially prefectures like Gifu and Nagano have a long history of cooking with insects and you can buy canned bugs or eat them in select restaurants around Japan to this very day.

    Let’s start with the WHY

    Why would you eat the stuff of nightmares? Well, glad you screamed/asked that.

    Humans have always looked to nature for food and trying to eat bugs was as normal as trying to eat chickens, milk a cow, dig out roots or break walnuts to see if they are edible inside. You would be surprised at what humans around the world have eaten at some point, or still eat. So, necessity is probably the biggest reason why people eat insects. They are also a good source of lean protein and are relatively easy to find and catch.

    Some would even say insects are actually tasty, and especially when seasoned well they mostly have the taste of the seasoning. It’s no different than eating shrimp, whitebait fish, snails, and so on. However, even insect eaters agree that it is a bit difficult to dissect some insects and remove spikey bits.
    Nowadays, some people eat bugs out of curiosity, as a challenge or a dare. Many are especially entertaining the idea of eating bugs as a more sustainable and eco-friendly protein source, as the meat industry is very bad for the environment, but we still need to get our protein from somewhere.

    In Japan, eating insects is reminiscent of difficult times, hunger and poverty, so naturally it is not popular food. This is why people here do not go out of their way advertise their past or occasional bug-eating.

    WHEN were bugs eaten most in Japan?

    There are record pointing back to some examples of eating insects in Japan since the Edo period (1603-1868). However, people mostly remember WW2 as a time of food scarcity and people turning to insects out of necessity. This is the origin of most of the negative feelings towards bug eating.

    However, there are people that still proudly and curiously eat bugs today. One of the most famous insect chefs in the world is Shoichi Uchiyama, a Japanese from Nagano. Ask any Japanese where in Japan they eat crickets and grasshoppers, and if they are honest, they will say Nagano. There are also bug eating festivals, events in workshops in Tokyo. One of the most famous websites that organizes events is http://insectcuisine.jp/

    WHAT insects are eaten in Japan?

    No doubt crickets and grasshoppers イナゴare the most popular insect munchies in Japan. Not so long ago they were still sold canned in konbini! They can still be ordered online and eaten in some izakayas, and the taste is said to be very good. They are often compared to shrimp, recommended for beginner eaters and suggested as a snack with beer.

    Another popular item is Hachinoko 蜂の子which literally translates to ‘bee children’, but ‘hachi’ also stands for wasps. There’s also Kaiko (silk moth pupae) and Zazamushi ざざ虫, standing for various larvae, especially stone-fly larvae. The larvae are cooked similar to inago (grasshoppers) with soy sauce and sugar.
    There are other bugs eaten in Japan, but these are the most common.

    Read more about other strange Japanese foods in this article https://jpninfo.com/14217

    WHERE in Tokyo can you try bugs?

    Hey there, you brave brave soul! Still reading? And still want to try insects?
    If you eat shrimp there’s nothing to fear I guess, as they are basically the cockroaches of the sea.

    The bug eating enthusiasts in Japan say there’s nothing wrong with catching your own bugs in nature and cooking them (check the website above). However, for the uninitiated, In Japan you can always order canned grasshoppers and wasp larvae online. They used to be sold in convenience stores, and some people have even spotted them in vending machines but finding them would be very rare nowadays.

    Probably the most fun and safe way to try some creepy crawlies in Japan is in a restaurant establishment. Here are two places in Tokyo and one in Yokohama, and if you go to Nagano or Gifu you are bound to find more.

    1. Kome to Circus

    This pub’s name is literally “Rice and Circus”, mirroring the Roman Empire Latin saying “panem et circenses (bread and circuses)”. This place is creative and experimental with their insect cuisine, departing from the tried and tested soy boiled crickets of Nagano prefecture. They even have insect smoothies and cocktails! Their new Shibuya PARCO location also has a modern interior, so no doubt many people have walked in to a shocking surprise when they saw the menu!
    In addition to bugs, they also have other rare creatures to eat like camel and kangaroo meat for example.

    Reservations https://rsv.ebica.jp/ebica2/webrsv/reserve_vacants/vacant/e014035101/20948/0214?fixshop=1

    Location
    Shibuya Parco https://goo.gl/maps/PgoQnrPc7SzJNsWU7
    Takadanobaba https://goo.gl/maps/tRmDKqDkHty854c4A

    2. Hanbei

    All izakayas have a bit of a retro and traditional vibe, but Hanbei is a true time machine. This izakaya recreates Showa period atmosphere from its interior design and hoarded trinkets, down to the music playing and uniforms of the staff. And of course, Showa being from 1926 to 1989, it was when WW2 and food scarcity happened. So naturally, the menu in Hanbei reflects that. The drinks and food are dirt cheap, and there is one corner of the menu that offers crickets, larvae, sparrows and so on.

    They have over a dozen locations around Tokyo, and more around japan, so just put Hanbei in your maps.
    Website http://hanbey.com/

    3. Chinjuya, Yokohama

    Another izakaya on the list, not exactly Tokyo but close. They serve other exotic creatures in addition to insects. Usually open only on weekends.

    Tabelog page https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g14127330-d6050056-Reviews-Chinjuya-Naka_Yokohama_Kanagawa_Prefecture_Kanto.html
    Contact +81 45-260-6805
    Location https://goo.gl/maps/h1SzVGWAZgpfVDfP6