Rats, bugs, crooks and trucks share media spotlight amid pandemic


With city dwellers around the world in lockdown, increasing reports have surfaced about wild animals infiltrating urban areas.

Tokyo is no exception, although “wild” isn’t quite appropriate in this case. As a sanitation worker in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward relates to Shukan Gendai (May 16), “From about two weeks ago, I’ve seen rats swarming in the residential area around nearby Hatsudai Station. With more people confined to their homes, the volume of waste has increased and, since it takes us longer to collect it, rats have been ravaging the plastic bags for food. It makes for even more work.”

In normal times, the urban rat population is said to be most active between October and February, but the rodents appear to have been emboldened by fewer humans being out and about.

“The most common variety is the dobu nezumi (brown rat or Rattus norvegicus),” says Tsutomu Tanikawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Pest Control Association, a public benefit corporation that consults on problems related to pests. “They inhabit the gaps between buildings where few humans enter and they feel more secure. They thrive on waste, but since less is being discarded in entertainment areas, it’s likely they’ve migrated into residential neighborhoods.”

Tanikawa added that Tokyo is home to an estimated 200,000 rats, and that, with the approach of the rainy season from June, puddled water may increase the chances of them spreading leptospirosis (Weil’s disease) through their droppings. The disease is usually mild in humans, but can cause kidney damage in severe cases.

If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em, says Spa (May 19). It devoted six color pages to the consumption of insects. This custom is not entirely new to Japan — inago (locusts) have been a source of protein for over a millennium — but now we’re looking at bugs as ingredients in haute cuisine. Everything from Italian-style biscotti cookies made with mealworms to weaver ants served al ajillo. And then there’s raw spring rolls stuffed with five varieties of insects before we even get to cricket burgers.

Spa’s piece de resistance is arguably its recipe for cockroach gratin. It’s not prepared utilizing any old cockroach, but with the world’s largest — a Madagascar hissing cockroach. It’s typically garnished with Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice and parsley, and washed down with chilled scorpion vodka.

The article points out that raising insects for food is easier on the environment as well. A steer needs to consume 10 kilograms of feed to gain 1 kilogram of body weight. For crickets, the same degree of gain can be achieved with only one-fifth of the amount. And insects are not only high in protein, but are claimed to have potential as a superfood with benefits in terms of weight reduction and anti-aging properties.

A new crime wave in Osaka? Shukan Jitsuwa (May 28) reports on a rash of break-in thefts at night spots in Soemon-cho, adjacent to Osaka’s lively Minami entertainment district.

“While one bar was closed, someone lifted the shutter and got inside. Several bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, Macallan scotch and other premium brands were stolen,” a local source reports. “Another place, a ‘girls’ bar,’ was also hit.

“Because of the voluntary restrictions, thieves have diverted their attention from cash to items like high-priced alcoholic beverages that can be easily fenced. Even some pawn shops are said to be buying them.”

The operator of a guide service that introduces local night spots thinks most of the clubs being targeted are rip-off joints that operate on the fringes of legality.

“That’s why they don’t report the break-ins to police,” he explains.

Among the usual suspects are professional thieves or han-gure (loosely organized gang members) who are hard-up for money. Whoever the thieves are, they know the turf and appear adept at slipping through blind spots not covered by security cameras.

Before the crackdown on organized crime, things would have been different, says a longtime denizen of the district.

“In the old days,” people would say, “if this sort of thing had happened, the yakuza would be patrolling the area.”

The yakuza, after all, were once regarded by some as Japan’s first line of law enforcement.

Aside from first responders and medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, other unsung workers surely deserve recognition. One sector, writes Aiki Hashimoto in Weekly Playboy (May 25), must surely be the delivery truck drivers who have provided a lifeline to the shut-in populace.

“Compared with the same month of a year ago, my work volume has definitely increased, and I’ve had to put in longer hours,” a driver who moves foodstuffs tells the magazine.

“During the toilet paper shortage my workload doubled,” another says.

During the pandemic, however, even public toilets have become elusive, since many convenience stores have locked out users to avert possible spread of the virus. Likewise for shower rooms at highway service areas.

“I’m on the road from Monday through Saturday, sleeping in the truck,” a driver based in eastern Japan says. “If the showers are closed, I have no way to get clean.”

To keep his body odor at manageable levels, the driver confesses that he sprays himself with toilet air freshener.

Yet, despite their efforts, drivers have to deal with chronic ingrates, clients and customers who snap at them with remarks such as, “You’re late.” Or even, “Driving a truck is the only job I would never take.”

They and their families have also reportedly been subjected to discriminatory treatment. In early April, a school principal in Niihama, Ehime Prefecture, refused to admit three children of a long-distance driver on the grounds that his work takes him to major cities where there’s a greater chance he’ll make contact with infected people.

What should consumers do, then, to show appreciation for drivers’ toil, tears and sweat?

“If people just take a moment and acknowledge the hard work and effort we’re devoting to our jobs, that’ll be praise enough,” one driver says modestly.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.



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