(It's probably important to note here that I know I'm not allergic to Hymenoptera venom, so I 'm not being completely reckless in my attitude. I knew that if I were to be stung, the effect of the venom would be certainly painful, but probably not fatal. And, just for the record, anyone who has not previously been stung by a wasp, hornet or bee should be very, very careful around these creatures, beautiful and intriguing as they are.)
We climbed up the slope to the nest, carrying our tools and our shochu (distilled liquor). I began to dig, using a scythe to cut away at tree roots, and a small spade to dig up the earth, as Tetsuo hit the adult hornets into the liquor.
After about 30 minutes, we swapped roles. The nest was very, very deep, and the whole operation was taking a lot longer than usual. Tetsuo-san is a lot more experienced than me, and I was very grateful that we could swap roles at this point - though I also felt a bit embarrassed that I wasn't able to dig out the entire nest in half an hour.
So, I began to hit the hornets into the alcohol. After about 20 minutes of this fairly meditative/repetitive action, my mind began to wander, thinking about how and why these hornets were being sacrificed, and about the happiness that this liquor could bring to people, friends, colleagues… and suddenly, one of these beautiful creatures shot a stream of venom in my right eye!!
At first, it felt like someone had shoved a lit match into my eyeball. And I couldn't see much.
Then, this feeling began to reduce, and in its place came the sensation that someone had punched me in the eye - although, every time I blinked, the sharp pain of a lit match returned. And meanwhile, my nose was streaming :)
But the real message I want to convey here is - giant hornet venom is definitely very painful, but it is not ALWAYS the sensationalist experience that so many websites claim it is. I know people who have been stung multiple times and continue to collect the nests - including Tetsuo-san. This time, I was able to laugh through the pain and then continue to hit hornets into alcohol for the next half hour or so. My eye was red and swollen, and the feeling lasted for about two hours, I think, and then began to decrease.
I think that it's important to note that the intensity of the sting depends a great deal on the hornet (some are larger than others, within the same species), the person, the situation, and perhaps the events of the previous 24hrs, etc. It's definitely important to be as cautious as possible, but ultimately it's very difficult to say how a potential sting might affect someone.
Meanwhile, Tetsuo continued to dig, but the nest was VERY deep and there were many, many tree roots to be cut away. We had to use a small saw for some of them. An hour or so later, I had some venom in my left eye, too, and a small amount in my nose. Water from my eyes and nose fell through the net as I continued to hit hornets into alcohol, until it was just too much and the two of us climbed back down the mountain to take a break. We threw water over our faces to try and wash away the stinging sensation… Tetsuo was also hit with venom in both of his eyes, but he was far better at dealing with it than I was. I went back only to collect the nest, but he stayed there for longer and managed to hit nearly all of the adult wasps into the liquor.
And here is the nest that we collected! Close to 7.5kg, and totally worth it:
(I think I'll carry an epi-pen next time, though, just in case.)