Novelist Morio Kita (1927-2011) was well known for his love of insects.

Just before his home in Tokyo was burned down in the final months of World War II, Kita, who was then in his teens, reluctantly parted with his precious collection of bug specimens. But there was something he just could not bear to lose--insect pins. He brought them out of the house and buried them under a mound of gravel.

Insect pins are indispensable to the process of mounting insect specimens.

Kita recalled in his essay, "I knew I should be able to resume collecting insects (after the war). But along with many items that became unobtainable during the war, I believed I'd never be able to get hold of insect pins again."

As a teen, he certainly was seriously committed to his hobby.

A special exhibition, titled “Ultimate Insect Specimens: Treasured Entomology Collection of the University of Tokyo Spanning the Edo to Heisei Eras,” is currently being held at The University Museum of the University of Tokyo.

For entomologists, the test of their specimen mounting skills is said to lie in how they use insect pins.

To ensure that the wings of dragonflies and butterflies are fully spread for maximum aesthetic effect, the pin is usually stuck in the center of their bodies. With large beetles, such as the Japanese rhinoceros beetle, the trick is to place the pin slightly to the right of the center. And extra-fine pins are used for small moths.

Gazing at the collections that occupied an entire wall, the sight of the innumerable pins in use began to bother me.

Those specimens, after all, were once flying or hopping creatures that lived in the fields. Even though they were dead by the time they were mounted, I wondered how they would "feel" now about their bodies being pierced by giant pins.

"The same thought bothered me before," said Masaya Yago, 47, an assistant professor overseeing the exhibition.

When he was in junior high school, he explained, he stopped collecting insects for a year because he could not bear the guilt of hurting them.

However, Yago continued, preserving high-quality specimens is indispensable to the advancement of research, as well as to the protection of rare species.

When I looked more closely at the exhibits, I noticed subtle differences in the coloration and size of individual bugs of the same species. And those variations somehow made me think of the uniqueness of every living being.

The insect pins have captured the "sparkle of life," so to speak.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.