Thursday, May 31, 2007

First of the Season

The English on the box says, "Gokiburi Hoi-Hoi is a roach trap which has No. 1 quality in the world."

It's inevitable. Even when you don't see them, they are there. Every summer in Japan, roaches start skittering across the walls or floors of your living space. In our apartment, we generally only see one or two per year. I'm not sure if this is because there are so few or if they stay out of sight. Either way, viewing one often elicits an adrenaline rush and a quick run for a can of spray to douse them with.

My husband and I aren't very comfortable with killing anything, even creepy insect things, but there are two exceptions - roaches and mosquitoes. The latter seem to have a laser targeting system for my husband and wake him up at night when they bite him. In fact, the first night back from his trip to the U.S., he was awakened three times by mosquito bites from three different ones (who have since met their maker for their misdeeds). It's not exactly the best way to spend your first heavily jet-lagged night back home. Fortunately, while he was in the U.S., he ordered a mosquito net from Amazon and carried it back with him and I put it up for his second night back.

Unfortunately, you can't erect a barrier against incursions by roaches and be satisfied they won't find a way around them. They have no respect for your borders and can squeeze around nearly anything you put in their way. You have two options for attempting to keep roaches out of your home. The primary one is to make your environment less inviting. This is done by keeping things cold and clean. The latter is time-consuming but doable. The former is expensive and difficult in the Japanese summer.

I've read about other options for making roaches unhappy but I'm uncertain of their efficacy. One thing I have read is that roaches hate the smell of bay leaves so I scattered bay leaves around last summer after our second sighting. I didn't put any in the bathroom, however, and that's where one showed up today. It's also very likely that the leaves I put out last year have lost their scent through time and it's time to put out fresher ones. You can now pick up big bags of bay leaves cheaply at Costco for about 300 yen so it's not much of a financial risk to give this a try.

The second option is to destroy any roach that dares to cross your threshold. One of my husband's students clued him in on a product in Japan which can best be translated to "roach jelly". It's poison but it's not the same as a spray or one-trick poison. The way it works is the roaches sniff it out and then track it back to the wife and kids where it supposedly poisons the whole lot of them where they live. I put those out last year as well but they also have aged beyond utility (they tend to degrade through time and with moisture collection) and it's time for a fresh round.

The one thing I have not done in the past is set up roach traps (front of box pictured at the top of the post and the back above this paragraph). One of the reasons I've avoided traps is that I didn't think we had enough to make them worthwhile. I'm still not certain we have that many but I did finally conclude that if the trap catches one or two rather than us being shocked by seeing one crawling on the wall, they are worth the small investment.

The way these work is that the unsuspecting roach wanders around your house and gives everything a sniff. Suddenly, he thinks 'something sure smells good' and wanders in the direction of the enticing odor with the idea of finding himself a snack. When he gets there, he finds a cheery little yellow house with a red roof and cute pink shutters. There's even a friendly roach giving him a wave out one of the windows welcoming him inside. The roach moseys on in with a false sense of security only to find himself stuck. Once there, he starves to death.

You can see that, as someone who doesn't like to kill anything, this is a somewhat disturbing concept. I don't like how inhumane this process is. At least poison kills them relatively quickly. I'm also not incredibly comfortable with the idea that the traps attract the roaches. Though I doubt they come far and wide at the scent of beef and shrimp chemically reproduced on a piece of cardboard, I don't want to do anything to draw them inside. However, if I can't ward them off with bay leaves and the level of cleanliness that I can manage, I'd rather trap them than have them fly past my head when I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Besides, last year I opened a drawer and a roach that was clinging to the bottom of the drawer fell directly on my foot. As far as I'm concerned, that was crossing the line. No more "Mr. Nice Guy".


Roy said...

Roaches are not really that creepy when you look at them closely and compare them with other bugs. It's that way they move so quickly and unexpectedly that freaks people out.

tornados28 said...

I suggest playing some Britney Spears. I've heard that chases roaches away.

Luis said...

The apartment I lived in when you guys first set up house was virtually a sieve. The place was riddled with nooks and crannies for bugs to get in, and I was on the first floor. It did not matter how clean I kept the place, roaches would find their way in. They would skitter past my head and around the corners of the room at night, and the whole flying-past-your-head-when-you-get-up thing was a regular episode for me. I would lay down the Hoi-hoi traps and within a day or two the trap would be covered solid with roaches.

My place now, on the other hand, has been virtually roach-free. In seven years I have only seen two of the damn things--and one was just a few days ago. As I have seen them only a few more times in the halls, I am pretty sure that's where they come from. But I think that being on a higher floor helps, and mansion construction as opposed to regular apartment standards helps even more.

I expect that when we move into the new place in Ikebukuro, being a brand-new mansion, and us being on the 21st floor--not to mention Sachi's penchant for cleanliness--I doubt we'll see a roach for quite some time.

CMUwriter said...

You could just stash rotten food around other parts of your apartment building or you could get one of those roach traps they had on Saturday Night Live. I'm sure sure about how is messes with the roach, but I know at one point it rips the guys leggs off and beats it with them while it is still alive. A pretty funny parody commercial.

Shari said...

Roy: You got that right. :-) The thing that makes them worse for me besides the speed is the knowledge that they scavenge in areas which are filthy. You don't know where they've been and the idea that they may crawl across a counter or worse, touch you, is very hard to take.

tornados28: If that worked, I'd do it, despite the supreme sacrfice. ;-)

Luis: We have been lucky because, despite being on the first floor, it's never been all that bad. Older places clearly are worse and the lower you are, the more likely it is you'll encounter them. Since they live in walls and floors (or any crawl space), I think they eventually reach everyone. However, getting up 21 floors in your new building may take them several years. ;-) You'll probably have moved on before they move in.

I think the way in which garbage is handled around the area you live has a lot to do with it. If garbage is left out or stored near your place, they are more likely to be around and even if you are very clean, your neighbors may not be and it's a short trip from their place to yours for the hungry roach.

I think our situation has been no worse than it is because of the landlord and his wife and how they keep things fairly clean around both their house and our building. I also think new and stricter trash rules help since people can't store garbage outside for long and raw garbage is only around for a short time.

Androo said...

Ugh, roaches are maybe the one creature I think most people agree to disliking. Flying ones take it to a whole new level.

My grandma, an Okinawan woman who moved to Hawaii pretty early in life, is one of what I call old-school hardass Japanese women. I'd see them when I visited my host family's relatives in rural Shizuoka or when I lived in Kanazawa: they carry huge loads on their back, can handle any task life throws at them and are the sweetest people on earth when you're not trying to take their train seat.

Going from an area like Okinawa to Hawaii isn't much of a change in climate, and she was all too accustomed to seeing roaches. So much so, in fact, that she had absolutely no problem with picking them up and squishing them between her fingers to kill them. She didn't like wasting tissue or possibly dirtying a shoe.

I use traps instead.

Shari said...

Your grandmother is absolute cool, androo. Squishing roaches between her fingers? That's probably tougher than any tough guy can manage.

BTW, I think I read only males can fly. So, if they can fly, they're more shocking but at least they haven't laid eggs in your home. I've also read that you should never squash roaches with your foot on the floor or with a paper on the wall (not that I'd do either) because that'll squish eggs out of females which can then later hatch and make your life more difficult.

Thanks for your comment!

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

Roaches are definitely something I'm not going to miss since leaving Japan! I lived in an 83-year-old house for over two years and had those little roach hotels in every corner of my room. No matter how clean I kept things, they would gradually fill with all sizes of roach! Totally disgusting. Then I moved into an older apartment building (always cheaper--on my salary I couldn't afford the nicer "mansion" type units) but my room was remodeled and super clean so I didn't see any of the vile creatures until last week, but only the tiny ones which I could pick up with a tissue and flush immediately. I hope none of them made it into my boxes as I packed for my move back to the U.S.!

Laura jean said...

My husband and I just moved to Okinawa in May and we live in a fairly new area. We live on the first floor and thus far, I've probably seen at least 8 small roaches in two months. We keep the house very clean and uncluttered, so I don't know how or why they are getting in. I even woke up to one crawling on me the other night!

My husband has put new weather stripping around all the doors & windows and I've made an appointment with Entomology to spray. I also convinced my neighbors to have their homes sprayed as well since they've been seeing them too. I hope this helps, but I don't know what else to do!!!

Shari said...

Hi, Laura Jean, and thanks for commenting. I'm going to keep an eye on your blog and see what you have to say.

Fortunately, we only see between 1 and 3 roaches a year. I think they were getting in through our unscreened kitchen exhaust fan and through one of two exhaust grates in the apartment that open directly outside. I can't block these grates (though they are small), unfortunately. I've heard that roaches can crawl in through drain pipes as well.

Thanks for commenting!