It was late in the evening, almost dusk. The hot August night was silent, no breeze. The only sound was the creaky gears of the ancient bike that my school had let me use. As I came over the hill I saw what I thought could only be a large snake crossing the road. Its dark menacing body moving awkwardly like the shadow of no snake I had ever seen. As I got closer in the darkening twilight I slammed on the brakes and creaked the bike to a halt several feet from where the creature had just moved from the concrete. Looking back at me was not a snake at all. It was the hugest most alien centipede I had ever seen, easily several feet long.
The next day I was trying to tell my boss about it. I kept using the word “centipede” and she looked back with a puzzling look. I reached for me my small purple pocket dictionary and found the Japanese word for it, “mukade”. I pointed and she let out a long sigh nodding her head. “Ahhhh.” Like it was no big deal. Perfectly normal.
So apparently this was a thing. This was a very real thing in the area I lived in with large tracts of bamboo forest floors for these little bastards to hunt on. And hunt they did. Hunt and grow. Did I mention they have large venomous pincers?
I did not think much of it again until I the next summer, sometime in July near the end of my contract. I was getting ready to unroll my futon for the night when I lifted my pillow to find about a three foot mukade rolled up nonchalant and relaxing as if I was the one invading ITS space.
I called my office manager immediately, yelling, “Big mukade!” into the phone.
It was not long before he showed up at my door with sprays and powders to arm me against the oncoming invasion. Apparently, they don’t just show up one at a time, but as whole families. Sure enough, I found the mama and a baby or two not long after that. Needless to say, I did not sleep well for the rest of my stay in my apartment.
I don’t know if there is a significant cultural meaning. They can be seen as large iconic emblems on the banners of certain Samurai clans. You can imagine the impact these frightening invaders had me. They became permanently etched in memory and in sketchbook entries as the most negative image of my time in Kyoto. I eventually began to use them in paintings to counter my use of the dragonflies. For me, you can keep your depictions of demons. This otherworldly and ominous insect is forever the embodiment of death, decay, and pure evil. Thus, when you see them in my paintings, that is what they are there for.