Japanese honeybee

Japanese honeybee (Apis cerana japonica) is a subspecies of the eastern honey bee. They are found everywhere in Japan except for Hokkaido, Okinawa, and smaller isolated islands.


Japanese honey bees live not only in the mountains but also in cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

They are a feral species and prefer to nest in hollow trees. They nest in houses and Japanese-style graves too.

It is not easy to find wild colonies, but there is at least one colony per 1 square kilometer.

Three wild nests are introduced in the following video.

Use in apiculture

Before importing the Western honey bee, honey was solely collected from Japanese honey bees for at least 1400 years.

After introducing the Western honey bee in 1877, most commercial beekeepers switched to the Western honey bee because of its higher honey production. Currently, the majority of honey produced in Japan is from Western honey bees.

However, Western bees cannot become feral because of Giant hornets and Varroa mite. As a result, the habitat of Japanese honeybees has been protected.

Giant hornet

Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) is terrible. It destroy bee's colony completely.

Giant hornet

There has been a resurging interest among hobby beekeepers in keeping the Japanese honey bee due to media outlet coverage and a growing interest in biodiversity.

Japanese honey bees have some traits that may make them more desirable to keep over Western honey bees, such as a more docile nature, resistance to infectious diseases and cold weather, and the ability to defend themselves against the Japanese hornet.

Japanese bees had been forgotten until the late 90s

There are no practical manuals of keeping Japanese honeybees until the late 90s.

The way of keeping Japanese honeybees has been passed down from generation to generation in some mountainous areas.

All Japanese people knew "Bee", but only a few knew Japan had a native bee. It was almost impossible to start keeping Japanese honeybees without knowing any beekeeper who keeps Japanese honeybees.

Keeping Japanese honeybees is getting popular after the late 90s for the following reason.

  1. Some practical manuals were published in the late 90s
  2. Beekeepers started to introduce the way of beekeeping on the Internet.
  3. Popular pop idol group kept Japanese honeybees on Television program which introduce country life

Getting wild bees

Capturing a swarm is the most common way to start keeping Japanese bees.

Wild bees live not only in rural areas but also in cities. Beekeepers set bait hives and wait for the swarms. Beeswax and some other attractants are used to attract swarms.

There is another way. Bees hanging from a tree for a few hours to a few days when a swarm happens. Beekeepers capture hanging bees and put them in a beehive.

Getting bees

Capturing a swarm is the most common way to start keeping Japanese bees.

Getting bees

Buying Japanese bees is not common because only a few commercial beekeepers sell Japanese honey bees.

It is pretty expensive, ranging from 300 - 700 US Dollars. Hobby beekeepers prefer to keep costs low.


Langstroth hive is not often used to keep Japanese honeybees as a hobby. A traditional and simple beehive, pile box hive is mainly used.

It does not contain any removable frames. The structure is simply a box with a small entrance. Like log hives, bees are allowed to build comb as they want.

There are many advantages, especially for hobbyists.

  • Low cost to construct the hive.
  • Time and effort to manage bees is less.
  • Few skills and know-how are needed.
Pile box hive

Pile box hive hive has a very simple structure. It does not contain any removable frames.

Pile box hive

Log hive and simple vertical rectangular hives are used in some mountainous areas where traditional beekeeping used to be practiced. The technics have been passed down from generation to generation.

This video is a documentary of traditional beekeeping with a log hive.

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