Tokyo Drips With Sweet Honey

I’m fascinated with honey bees. I’m thrilled by the recent rise in urban beekeeping and glad to see that Washington, D.C’s, local beekeeping laws are finally becoming more amenable to this venerable tradition.

One of the earliest extensive treatises on beekeeping was written by Virgil in 29 BC (Virgil’s Georgic IV):

Of air-born honey, gift of heaven, I now
Take up the tale….
The others shine forth and flash with lightning-gleam,
Their backs all blazoned with bright drops of gold
Symmetric: this the likelier breed; from these,
When heaven brings round the season, thou shalt strain
Sweet honey, nor yet so sweet as passing clear,
And mellowing on the tongue the wine-god’s fire.

And the bee as Christian symbol was well-known in Europe. The honey bee has historically been a symbol of Christ’s attributes due to its honey and sting. The honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice and the cross. Bees are also a symbol of the resurrection. The three winter months when bees hibernate reminds Christians of the three days Christ spent in the tomb before rising.

The organization of life in the bees community, with perfectly delineated relationships and its dependence upon and service to the queen bee, also came to reflect an ideal of Christian virtues. Additionally, bees and beehives symbolize eloquence, and are represented with the three known holy orators called doctores melliflui (scholars sweet as honey): St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom. (See more on ancient Christian symbols.)

There’s also St. Gobnait of County Cork in Ireland who is the patron saint of bees. There’s even a contemporary Christian mission group in Uganda called Beekeepers for Christ.

Now, beekeeping is also taking wing in urban Japan! Here’s an excerpt from a recent article:

Eleven stories above the heart of the Tokyo concrete jungle — with its beehive office partitions and swarms of suit-clad worker-bees — enthusiasts have stacked up beehives dripping with golden honey.

“Let’s enjoy the harvest, but be careful you don’t have an accident,” urban beekeeper-in-chief Kazuo Takayasu tells his fellow volunteers from behind the protective fine-mesh net covering his face.

Clad in white body suits, the crew gets to work, squeezing out the glistening syrup using a simple centrifugal machine they crank by hand as a cloud of bees breaks free from the honeycombs. …

The honey is largely organic, he said, because pesticide use has been banned in Tokyo city parks and gardens including the Imperial Palace, about one mile away, where the bees collect much of their nectar. …

Read Beekeepers Add Buzz To Japan Urban Jungle.

Jesus Bees and Street Honey

I love bees. I took a semester of bee-keeping when I was studying biology at the University of California, Davis. It was always a great adventure to ride my bike out to the veterinary medicine school where there was a “study hive.” I would spend hours tracking particular bees in the large glass-walled hive. For extra credit in that course, I wrote a collection of “bee poems” to submit with my research.

Someday, I’ll take up the renegade art of urban beekeeping and sell street honey in the inner city. (It’s actually illegal to keep bees inside the District of Columbia.) Read  here for more on the joys of backyard beekeeping.

Bees also have a time-honored place in Christian history. There are several mentions of bees in the Bible. And they are considered to have attributes of Jesus due to their honey and sting. According to an interesting article by Croatian vet students about animal symbolism in Christian art:

Honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice. Furthermore, bees are of the symbols of resurrection. Three winter months during which it does not come out from the bee-hive remind us of three days after Christ’s death when his body was invisible, then appeared again and was resurrected. The organisation of life in the bees community, with perfectly defined interrelations and relation to the queen-bee, became almost the ideal of Christian virtues. On the other hand, bees and bee hive symbolise eloquence, and are presented with the three known holy orators called “Doctores melliflui” (scholars sweet as honey). They are: St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s also a fascinating bible study out there somewhere on Judges 14 where a hive of bees in the carcass of the lion distracts Sampson as he is on his way to “take” his enemy wife. Tell me what you find. The Hebrew word for bee is: devorah. It’s etymologically related to the words for “speaking” and “choosing a direction.” It’s associated with prophecy.

Of course, most folks have heard that bees are under attack from climate change and mono-crop agriculture. So eat your honey, plant native wildflowers, don’t use pesticides, and love your bees..