A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

With Japan`s Abundant Spider-life, Do Not Forget WEB-SEARCH before you near your front door

One of the big spiders around my house in Tsukuba, Japan, waiting patiently in its web


By Avi Landau

After a hard day at work, play – or both –  you are exhausted. Anticipating a warm greeting from family and pets, imagining turning on the stereo, picking up a book or cracking open a cold (or hot) beverage, your guard might be down. You get nearer to home and your pace picks up, like a trail-horse getting close to its stable…. and just as you are about to reach for the door… AAAAAAH… you are entangled in a complex of fine, sticky filaments! You flail and spin, desperately picking the silky strands from your face and PRAYING TO GOD (even if you are an agnostic) that one of the big fat spiders that lives in your garden in not somewhere about your head or face. A very bad end to your day (and  the spider’s, too!).

You have just ruined a good four or five hours’ work that the eight-legged engineer has put into making its elaborate web. It’s too bad for you too, as plenty of harmful and annoying insects are caught in these traps.

That’s why you`d better be on your guard, especially at night, when you are coming down your front walk. If there is no outdoor lighting ( as is the case many a time at my house), you had better take it slow and keep your hand stretched out in front of you as a web detector.

The ironic thing is that some Japanese spiders, especially the big, yellow and round-bodied KOGANE-GUMO, perhaps in order to protect their creations from being trampled on or walked through by large creatures, actually weave clearly visible patterns into their webs. These are called KAKURE-OBI in Japanese, and STABILIMANTIA in English. There is an interesting variety of these patterns and it seems that specialists are still at loss as to their exact function. I had never seen them before coming to Japan, but have heard that they can also be found in England and Australia. Please look for these mysterious designs in any webs you may pass by.

A spider near my front-door!

A spider and its web in Tsukuba- note the ziz-zag shaped stabilimentia (kakure-obi) running down the center

Another thing you might notice in this season are the tiny, sand colored sacks, suspended in cobwebs. These are the spider`s eggs.

Tsukuba’s spiders are beautiful and abundant. They and their webs are fascinating to look at and photograph. They certainly make you think. They display the most sublime designs found in nature, almost (but not quite) defying the possibility of being the product of random selection- and  nature’s most cruel and terrifying face (what can be more horrifying than watching a spider coldly and efficiently dealing with its unfortunate prey?).

An interesting cultural note is that in Japan there is a story involving a spider’s web which is very similar to the biblical story of the young (future King) David hiding from King Saul ( who in a paranoid rage is out to kill him). In that story, Saul decides not to enter and search the cave in which the future king of Israel is hiding because a large spider’s web is covering the entrance.

In the same way, a legend about Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, tells of how the future in his youth, the future warlord was hiding from his enemies in the hollow of a tree. Since the opening was covered with a spider’s web, his pursuers did not search inside and find him, allowing him to go on living and eventually change the course of Japanese history.

Enjoy Tsukuba’s beautiful spiders, but you don’t want to get TOO CAUGHT UP. Always proceed with caution at night.

Spider outside of a Hachiman Shrine, Ami-Town (October 2020)

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