By Goichi Yonei
Asia News Network
THE EHIME University Museum in Matsuyama has one of the largest collections of insect specimens of any university in Japan, boasting more than 1.2 million beetles, bees, butterflies and other insects from around the world.
This is one of the finest collections held by a university established under the post-war education system. Every summer it holds an insect exhibition that mesmerises insect-loving boys and girls.
Large and small butterflies spread their colourful wings in German-style specimen boxes as if they were alive, while stink bugs smaller than grains of rice are lined up in neat rows by type. The boxes are stacked on the shelves in a specimen room filled with the acrid smell of chemicals.
According to Hiroyuki Yoshitomi, 46, an associate professor of the Entomological Laboratory at Ehime University’s Faculty of Agriculture, 70 per cent of the insects in about 4,300 specimen boxes at the museum belong to the coleopterous family. The museum has an especially world-class collection in that type of insect, which includes beetles, ladybird beetles and long-horned beetles.
“The collection is the result of about seven decades of effort by teachers and students,” Yoshitomi says.
The museum was established by Tamotsu Ishihara (1918-93), the laboratory’s first professor. He later chaired the Entomological Society of Japan.
Ishihara became an assistant staff member in Kyushu University’s laboratory after graduating from the University of Tokyo. In 1945, immediately after the end of World War II, he assumed a post at the Ehime Prefectural Agriculture and Forestry School, the predecessor of Ehime University’s Faculty of Agriculture.
There were many unknown insects at that time, as there was limited knowledge and experience in this area in the Shikoku region.
Directed by Ishihara to collect as many insect samples as possible, teachers and students went around mountains and rivers near the university with insect nets in their hands. At night, they would turn on the lights on the roof of the university building to catch insects drawn to the illumination.
They would then mount the insects or dissect them to identify what they were. Their range of activity ultimately spread throughout the entire Shikoku region, the nation and abroad.
About 10 students conduct research at the laboratory every year. They often travel to remote islands in Okinawa Prefecture or Southeast Asia, for example, to gather insects.
Yukito Tada, 22, who was a laboratory member until this spring, walked around Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture for a week during his junior year, searching for coleopterous insects of the Cantharidae family.
“Whenever we lab members get together, we talk about where we’re going next time to find insects,” Tada smiles.
Yoshitomi adds: “The collection and classification of insects are a true tradition passed down through generations at our laboratory.”
“That’s why all the lab members – teachers and students – love catching insects. We’re all mushi-ya (insect enthusiasts). Ishihara-sensei was also a mushi-ya first and foremost,” he adds with a smile.
The laboratory has organised a summer insect exhibition every year since 1997. Future mushi-ya gather crowd in to see the laboratory’s vaunted collection.
Shigetomi Matsuno, 32, who works at the Wakayama Prefectural Museum of Natural History, enter Ehime University and became an insect researcher after he was inspired by the exhibition as a high-school student in Hiroshima Prefecture.
“I was shocked by the massive collection. I could feel the researchers’ love for insects not just from the volume of the collection but also the way they carefully prepared the specimens,” he recalls.
Yoshitomi has something on his mind these days: He says an increasing number of parents tell their children not to touch the live insects at the exhibition because, for example, they are “dirty.”
“Insects are the most familiar way for children to learn about nature and the environment. The personal experience of getting close to them will bear fruit when they grow up. They won’t litter garbage and engage in other disruptive behaviour, for example,” Yoshitomi says. “Making insect specimens may seem simple and unflashy, but it plays a large role.”
IF YOU GO
>> The museum is on Ehime University’s Johoku Campus, a 20-minute streetcar ride from JR Matsuyama Station plus a five-minute walk. Only researchers can enter the specimen room, but part of the collection is on permanent exhibit. This year’s exhibition will run from August 8-12.
>> It’s open daily, except Tuesday, from 10am to 4.30pm.
>> Admission is free.