Places to Go
Gifu Insect Museum

Gifu Insect Museum

Added In: Places to Go › Tourist spots

Address: Gifu Park, Gifu City

Betsy Headley

Tourists are drawn to Gifu City like bees to honey. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Kinka, Gifu is the capital of Gifu Prefecture and a picturesque destination. Visitors buzz up Mt. Kinka ropeway then hike a modest distance to reach Gifu Castle - a white pearl on the peak. In the evening, accompanied by humming semi (cicadas), people swarm to the banks of the Nagara River. They board long, wooden tour boats that transport them back in time for a view of the ancient ritual of cormorant fishing by firelight (ukai). Like moths to a flame, summertime travelers flutter into town to be awed by fantastic fireworks (hanabi). There is a potpourri of fascinating choices for everyone - historical sites, gardens, temples, galleries, nature hikes, and museums.
One unique, privately-run museum, and the oldest of its kind in Japan, spotlights those tiny (and not so tiny), often maligned creatures that inhabit almost every nook and cranny on Earth - INSECTS! They may get a bad rap, but are absolutely vital to the ecosystem and consequently to our very existence. Tucked unassumingly beside the Gifu City Museum of History in Gifu Park, The Nawa Insect Museum was founded by and named after Yasushi Nawa, he who discovered the Gifu Butterfly (Gifu-Cho). The Nawa Insect Research Center opened in 1896 and moved to Gifu Park in 1904. The Nawa Insect Museum was established in 1919, and Tetsuo Nawa, present director/curator, is the fifth generation member of the Nawa family to hold that position. Designed by architect Goichi Takeda, the Museum exhibits a plethora of insect specimens, roughly 30,000, with over 18,000 different species represented. Primarily, insects from the warmer parts of the world are highlighted, with most specimens native to South America, New Guinea, and Africa. The Nawa Entomological Laboratory, located directly across from the Museum, conducts classes on insects and specimen preparation.
On one visit to the Museum, this writer glimpsed a museum staff member wielding a generous butterfly net over a large-leafed tree adjacent to the Museum. His efforts yielded two fine examples of the local, silky black butterfly called a monki ageha.

Insects inspire curiosity! One gains a new admiration for nature’s imagination and sense of humor, when viewing hundreds of elegant examples. On the first floor, check out the marvelous camouflage artists such as the walking stick insect and the leaf insect from Malaysia. One intriguing butterfly called the Owl butterfly (Fukuro Cho), sports eyes on its wings to mimic an owl and dissuade hungry birds. There are beetles upon beetles – all sizes and shapes! Enormous, glossy black beetles like the Elephant beetle from Brazil, demand inspection. Colorful beetles bearing a metallic sheen are stunning. An endless parade of exquisite variety… An interesting short video demonstrates the process of insect preservation and mounting, illustrating how the knowledge of entomology, attention to detail, and a steady hand are essential. Several live insects, including walking sticks, can be examined up close in glass cages. Three excellent insect ink stamps can be discovered by alert visitors touring the first and second floors. The stamps make great souvenirs. Also, there is a small gift shop that sells clever trinkets that might make you squirm.

The Second Floor Exhibition Room is resplendent with beetles, butterflies, moths, and two outsiders – a tarantula and scorpion (both arachnids). Children and adults dart from one numbered display case to the next hoping to solve The Nawa Insect Museum Quiz (available in English). Skills at bug observation are well-tested, so give it a try. You may be surprised at what you don’t know!

One huge display contains extraordinary, luminous blue morpho butterflies – a sea of glistening wings. Stag beetles, giant water bugs, and poisonous and non-poisonous butterflies are also meticulously and creatively exhibited.

A trip to The Nawa Insect Museum is a journey inside a mysterious, often hidden world. Perhaps, one must explore the Museum with the fresh eyes and open heart of a child, in order to appreciate how miraculous insects are. Anyone with children will understand the fascination, and delight, with which insects are held in Japan.

The Nawa Insect Museum
Gifu Park
2-18 Omiya-cho
Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture, Japan
Tel: 058-263-0038
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (End of July – August 9 a.m.-6 p.m.)
Closed: December 28-January 3
Admission: Adults 500 yen, Children 400 yen

Gifu Insect Museum
Here's looking at you!
Gifu Insect Museum
Museum Director Hideo Nawa, his wife and the author