We’re a sucker for an unusual museum.
Most people go to Kichijoji to see Inokashira Park, especially at this time of year in cherry blossom season. Many others also visit the Ghibli Museum to marvel at Totoro and friends.
But there are some intrepid souls who make a different kind of trip, into the “insect lair” that is the Suwa Lucanidae Museum. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds.
You might be forgiven for mistaking the museum for a house – and that’s because it is! The owner lives upstairs but converted the ground floor to his hobby.
Mr. Shimizu (the “Suwa” in the museum name refers to where the family used to live, not his surname) was a regular salaryman for years but his real passion was beetles. He ended up accumulating hundreds of the six-legged creatures.
After the Shimizu family relocated to Kichijoji it turned its house into a museum devoted to the stag beetle collection.
There are some 200 species and 500 beetles on display, hailing from Japan, as well as India, South America, Europe and elsewhere.
You can find the insectarium around the edge of Inokashira Park, on the way to the Ghibli Museum. On a weekday you may well have to ring the bell to the door to the house round the side, as the museum entrance is often locked and unstaffed.
Inside the one-room museum there are rows and rows of neatly framed and organized stag beetles.
The orange labels indicate a Japanese specimen, while the green ones are for overseas beetles.
We thought they looked like an army, like ranks of soldiers and tanks lined up for battle.
If you are brave enough, you can borrow a magnifying glass (with a light) to get a close-up view.
When we visited it was the son of Mr. Shimizu the collector who opened up for us. As it was a quiet afternoon he gave us a private tour and even showed us an extra special beetle specimen that is kept behind the counter in its own box.
There are also two live stag beetles in aquaria on the windowsill.
He said that the museum was built for families to come and learn about nature. Apparently summer is the busiest time of year but the chances are you will have the place mostly to yourself during the week.
Japanese pop culture has a bit of an obsession with beetles and insects. It is also pretty timeless too, from retro characters like Kamen Rider to more modern creations such as Heracross in Pokémon.
The Mushiking: King of the Beetles arcade game from Sega was hugely popular when it came out in 2003. For a time you could always see a couple of kids almost jumping onto the machines as they played virtual beetle fighting tournaments. There are also collectible cards that work with the arcade game by scanning them. Mushiking even spawned a TV anime series spin-off.
Creepy crawlies like beetles are not the objects of phobia as much as in the West. They are cool heroes, warriors that can do battle with enemies. Many kids do this for real, holding beetle wrestling matches or tug-of-war contests with live insects.
Osamu Tezuka was also a bit of an insect freak, calling his animation studio Mushi Productions (Bug Productions, a play on one of the characters in his name). He even wrote a manga called ‘The Book of Human Insects’ in 1970. Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ it ain’t!
The Suwa Lucanidae Museum is not for the squeamish, that’s for sure, but when you’ve had your fill of bugs, head out to the park across the road to hunt for specimens in the wild.
Suwa Lucanidae Museum
Access: JR Kichijoji Station (12-15 minutes’ walk)
Address: 1-14-4 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka City
Opening Times: 9:30-13:00, 14:00-17:30
Closed on Mondays, Thursdays (just Mondays during summer)