In central Japan, some people are known as wasp hunters. In summer, they search for the nests of hebo, or yellow jacket wasps in the forest. Then they raise the hachinoko (larvae and pupae) in wooden nest boxes. The hachinoko of hebo are among the favored foods of rural people in the southeastern part of Gifu Prefecture.
Hunting hebo and raising the hachinoko has become a hobby of cultural importance. It reaches its climax in November when harvesting time arrives. This is a highlight of the year. So why not compete with one another? Whoever raises the most hachinoko is crowned champion!
Hebo festivals are organized in several villages and towns every year, and they are well worth a visit. The best-known and biggest festival is in Kushihara village, on the border between Gifu and Aichi prefectures.
Wasp hunters take their nests to the Kushihara festival and harvest the hachinoko on the spot. You can watch them donning protective gear, calming the adult wasps with smoke and opening the nest boxes.
Excitement and tension fill the air. The wasp hunters look like children unwrapping Christmas presents. The hachinoko are then put in plastic bags and weighed. The harvests range from less than 1 kilogram to over 7 kilograms. Whoever raised the heaviest amount of hachinoko is crowned champion!
Eat and buy wasps
You can try the traditional hachinoko gohan (steamed rice with wasp larvae). Be sure to try the hebo gohemochi. These are rice cakes that are covered with a sauce of ground hachinoko and grilled over hot coals. This is an excellent snack for those who are a bit squeamish about eating whole hachinoko. A local band will be playing music while you enjoy your hebo rice and hebo gohemochi.
You can also buy packages of hebo hachinoko to take home, as well as inago (rice grasshoppers) and kaiko (silkworm pupae).
While you’re in the area
Want to learn everything there is to know about wasp hunting? Visit the small hebo museum in Kushihara. Pictures, wasp hunting equipment and nest boxes will be on display.
Looking to do more than just eat wasps? The festival is next door to the onsen, the mallet golf course and the souvenir shop. Check out local produce in the souvenir shop, play a game of mallet golf and unwind in the beautiful onsen before heading back home. They serve lunch and dinner at the onsen. I recommend the hachinoko kamameshi (rice cooked in an iron pot together with hebo hachinoko).
For more info: Although these websites are in Japanese, if you’re looking for more information here are two resources: Kushihara Hebo festival and more info on Kushihara onsen, mallet golf and souvenir shop: kankou-ena.jp/kushihara.
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