In Kyoto, where the base of Mt. Hiei and Mt. Uryuyu converge, there is a small cluster of temples and shrines. Stone monuments and legendary pine trees mark the path. Somewhere in that mix of nature and carved stone and wood is my house, built several decades ago and still prone to the weaknesses of its rapidly ageing structure. In the summers, the humidity goes right through the walls, and in winter, our breath is visible, but it’s a good home.
I think the animals in the mountains would agree.
We’ve had many interesting house guests, the most infamous being the red itachi, or weasel, that invaded our house in 2011. For weeks, N J and I had been hearing a strange pitter-patter in the ceiling and thought we might have a mouse infestation. I woke up one morning after Christmas to find a bag of granola strewn all over the living room. After a thorough investigation of the house, I discovered that our genkan, or entryway, had been built rather shoddily, and there was a massive, fist-sized hole running the length of the step. (This of course explained why our house got so cold in winter, so hot in summer, and seemed to be the general party house for every flying cockroach in the neighborhood…)
When I first showed this problem to my landlord, she insisted (against my evidence of granola as a snack item) that it was a cat getting into the house. I’d found scat as well, but she didn’t believe something was getting in through the hole. So, I did the next best thing. I called on my inner Dennis the Menace and powdered the entryway with flour. I didn’t have to wait longer than a night. The next morning, little white footprints emerged from the hole and led straight to my kitchen. As an added bonus, when N J and I came home one night, we caught the little bugger in the act. He looked at us, we looked at him, and then he bolted right back through the hole. Thankfully our landlord boarded up the landing after that.
The next houseguest we had is sort of a cheat, being that he never really made it into our house, but gave me a scare all the same. One morning, while making my way to the bus, a monkey ran across my path. A monkey! While cute, these monkeys are also notoriously aggressive, so it is never advised to make eye contact with or approach them… and he jumpscared me from a fence not even one minute afterward. A student of mine would later tell me that they are very common in this part of Kyoto, often stealing the food offerings left at graves and temples (to the point that the monks don’t leave them out anymore). They also ransack backyard gardens in spring.
But the “houseguest” I want to talk about today is a spider. Not just any spider, but the palm-sized Brown Huntsman that decided to take refuge in my living room after the most recent typhoon (Vongfong) that passed through Kansai.
It just so happens that this story starts with a mild cold I was trying to nurse at around 3am in the morning. I’m one of those people who can fall asleep anywhere, at any time, and sleep rather deeply, but the one annoyance that can strip all of that away is a scratchy throat. So, after a crippling defeat to the throat tickles, I headed downstairs to find gag-inducing, liquorice-flavored Nyquil.
As I was digging around in my medicine cabinet, my bleary eyes noted a strange, shadowy movement in their periphery. I turned my head––my heart promptly jumped several beats. Sliding his way over to the bookshelf was a spider larger than any I have ever encountered.
Let me make this clear. Spiders don’t scare me. Not usually. I capture them in cups and let them outside all the time. But this guy… this beast that was so large it clearly was a hunting time and not a silk-weaving type, struck me with terror. Its pincers were visible from across the room! Its legs were as thick at pencils and it was fast. Frighteningly fast. The moment I jumped, it raised four of its legs like it was trying to emulate Thriller. I put the Nyquil down, take a couple of deep breaths, and then proceeded to chant:
In my sleep-deprived delusions, I believed that if I just ignored the presence of the goliath in my midst and went back to bed, it would disappear by morning. Disappear.
As in, disappear in my house. What was I thinking?! Until the Nyquil kicked in, all I could think about was whether the spider would be smart enough to head upstairs (like our friend the Japanese centipede [pictured below] that decided to cuddle up in N J and I’s bed a couple of weeks ago.)
In the morning, I’d calmed down enough to not consider the spider much of a threat, and went about my merry day. And for the most part, that day was uneventful. I cleaned, did some writing and editing, and watched a movie. Then, because it’s getting cold around here, I decided to take my first soaking bath of fall. I dozed in the tub, relaxed in the quiet, and when I finally got out of the tub to rinse, I was feeling quite refreshed.
Then, I saw a twitching shadow shifting about in the foggy reflection of the mirror.
The spider was back. In the bathroom. Rearing its massive legs at me again.
I dropped the shower head, forwent a towel, and shrieking, covered in bubbles and dripping water everywhere, ran for the kitchen to grab a piece of Tupperware.
The spider was on to me. By the time I got back, the spider had vacated the bathroom and was making a run for the bookshelf again.
Actual footage of the invader.
It remained crouched in the bookshelf until I started prodding it with a large envelope, then made a dash for the kitchen. In a moment of panic (and still not knowing whether the spider was poisonous or not) I realized that my dog was in there and might get bitten, so rushed to meet it. Before it could clear the partitioning-cabinet, I jousted it with my broom.
The goliath retreated, turned the cabinet’s corner, and I rushed round it to find it again.
Except it was gone. GONE!
I decided then and there that it was too dangerous to not be covered, and finished rinsing off, before getting dressed. But there was no sign of the spider upon my return.
And then I sat down on the sofa.
And the spider darted out from beneath it, just barely skirting my feet. I still had the Tupperware in hand, and pounced like a cat on a catnip toy.
The spider was captured.
I was victorious.
But don’t worry. The spider is still alive. Just not in my house.
Then again… Goliath might have been a mommy.
…I think I need to go do a thorough check in all of our dark corners.