The Japanese honey bee

The Japanese honey bee (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.

You can learn about three wild colonies 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 honey bees has been protected.

Giant hornet

The Japanese giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia japonica) is terrible. It can completely destroy a bee colony.

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 were no practical manuals about 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.

Everyone in Japan had heard about "bees", but only a few knew Japan had a native bee. It was almost impossible to start keeping Japanese honey bees without knowing a beekeeper keeping Japanese honey bees.

Keeping Japanese honey bees became popular after the late 90s for the following reasons.

  1. Some practical manuals were published in the late 90s
  2. Beekeepers started to share how to keep Japanese honey bees on the internet
  3. A popular pop idol group kept Japanese honey bees in a television program which talked about rural living

Obtaining 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.

Another way to get a colony to find a swarm of bees that have been hanging from a tree for a few hours to a few days (during swarming season). Beekeepers capture the 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 USD. Hobby beekeepers prefer to keep costs low.


A Langstroth hive is not commonly used by hobbyisits to keep to keep Japanese honey bees. A simple and traditional beehive, the 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 freely.

There are many advantages, especially for hobbyists.

  • Low cost to construct the hive
  • Less time and effort to manage the bees
  • Few skills and know-how are needed
Pile box hive

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

Pile box hive

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

This video is a documentary about traditional Japanese beekeeping using a log hive.