Tokyo: On a recent vacation in Tokyo, Takumi Yamamoto opted for a special lunch of cricket curry and silkworm sashimi, washed down with a water bug cider.
The 26-year-old office worker, from the western prefecture of Hyogo, is one of scores of consumers across the world who have taken an interest in entomophagy, or eating insects, as bugs slowly become a more viable food source.
As a child, Yamamoto said he sometimes snacked on soy-sauce basted grasshoppers. In Tokyo, he indulged in insect cuisine at Take-Noko cafe, which embraces all things buggy.
"It's fun to select from a wider variety of dishes," Yamamoto said at the cozy second-floor cafe, surrounded by insect art and terrariums of skittering beetles, ants and cockroaches.
"Everything was tasty. In particular, the water bug cider was quite refreshing and delicious, like a green apple." Entomophagy started to be taken seriously globally after the United Nations deemed bugs a sustainable source of protein to feed a global population estimated to swell to 9.7 billion by 2050.
The impact of the livestock industry on climate change, coupled with global food security issues due to extreme weather and conflicts, have also increased the interest in the high-quality, economical nutrition that bugs provide.
While some consumers think eating insects is just gross, Japan has a rich culinary history of insects as food.
Grasshoppers, silkworms, and wasps were traditionally eaten in land-locked regions where meat and fish are scarce, a practice that picked up amid food shortages during and after World War II, said Take-Noko manager Michiko Miura.
"Recently, there have been advances in rearing things like crickets and mealworms for food, so the possibility of using insects as ingredients is really growing," she added.
Several companies, including national bakery brand Pasco, have sold made cakes and snacks from cricket flour, and processed food maker Nichirei and telecom Nippon Telegraph and Telephone have invested in bug ventures in the past year.
The term "crickets" also started to trend in Japanese media recently after reports the powdered insects were being used in school lunches and snacks.
Consumer interest has also extended to Take-Noko, which manager Miura says is often fully booked on weekends.
Its curry is studded crickets in meatball form and dried garnish. The delicate "sashimi" is the left-over casing of silkworms, and the cider is infused with water bug extract and topped with a whole insect, said to taste like shrimp.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Takeo Saito who founded his namesake company Takeo Inc nine years ago and has grown it to include packaged food business offering more than 60 types of arthropod treats, from scorpions to tarantulas.
"Our aim is not for insects to be something separate, but to be enjoyed at the same table as vegetables, fish, and meat," said Saito.