When Beatlemania swept across the planet in the early and mid-60’s, beetlemania was already alive and well in Japan, and had been for generations. Japanese children spent their summers searching the woods and forests for the coveted rhinoceros beetle. But as forest habitats became sparse and more families migrated to cities, beetle collecting fell by the wayside. That is, until companies began offering them in true Japanese style: through vending machines.
Yes, rhinoceros beetle vending machines. The hobby of raising, training and even fighting kabutomushi (かぶと虫 literally meaning “helmet insect”) was reborn in the late 90’s when a Japanese company began stocking unused vegetable vending machines with live rhinoceros beetle pairs. While the trend seemed short-lived (I haven’t found any information from the last two decades regarding these vending machines) the nation’s fascination with beetle-rearing and fighting was reinvigorated.
From this nationwide fascination, Mushiking was born. If you had, or were, an elementary school-aged child during the height of the Pokémon era (I, myself, had my cards confiscated on multiple occasions), you’ll have some idea of the popularity of Mushiking. While it was only released in Japan and other Asian countries, the arcade-style-trading-card-combo quickly dominated the market. Imagine Street Fighter – with beetles.
The rhinoceros beetle has long been held as a cultural symbol in Japan, well before the emergence of beetle vending machines or Mushiking. Before this Bug Wrangler found her passion for bug wrangling, Japan was a bucket list destination; but now that I’ve learned about an entire nation whose obsession with beetles rivals my own, it feels like required travel.