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Japanese Seasonal Events: Firefly Watching

It’s now rainy season in Japan. Although I’m already excited about rainy season, there’s another thing that made me excited – the fireflies! I live here in Japan for few years already but I have never tried firefly watching before. I didn’t even know there are events being held for this every year.

Whenever I hear the word firefly (hotaru in Japanese), the first thing that comes to my mind is the animated movie entitled “Grave of Fireflies”, or “Hotaru no Haka”. It’s directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli. This movie is based on the semi-autobiographical novel written by Akiyuki Nosaka in 1967, about two young siblings during World War II in Japan. In Japanese culture, firefly is believed to represent the souls of the dead. As reflected in the movie, fireflies represented not only the soul of dead soldiers but also those who were victims of the war.

In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing to you my first experience of firefly watching. But before that, let me give you a little background about fireflies in Japan.

Background about fireflies in Japan

Types of fireflies in Japan

There are about 45 types of fireflies in Japan and only 14 of them lights up distinctly. Among those 14 types are Genji (Luciola cruciata), Heike (Luciola lateralis), and Kumejima fireflies. These three are the only species of firefly in Japan where larva lives in the water. Genji firefly, sometimes known as Japanese firefly, is the most popular type of firefly in Japan due to its bigger body size and emits stronger light compare to others.

How to differentiate between male and female fireflies

Male and Female Firefly Body PartIllustration of the difference between male and female fireflies’ luminous organ (left),
larva of firefly (right)
(clip from information board in Shirochi, Takahashi)

Firefly’s stomach is divided into 6 joints. For males, the luminous organ is located both in 5th and 6th joints while for females, only the 5th joint. As with the body size, female Japanese firefly is about 18 millimeters while male is about 15 millimeters. The ones that fly around the waterside are mostly males. On the other hand, females stay on the leaves or stalks while emitting a weak light. When the male firefly finds one, it flies toward the female firefly while emitting a bright light to attract it. The female firefly then flickers a strong light in return. Then, mating follows.

The life cycle of Japanese firefly:

Firefly life cycle

Life cycle of Japanese firefly
(clip from information board in Shirochi, Takahashi)

July

Japanese female firefly produces from 500 to a thousand of eggs and leaves it near the water’s surface on a damp moss. Then, egg hatching happens about a month after.

August to March

After the egg hatches, the larva then moves to the water until March and feeds on small black snails (kawaniwa in Japanese).

April

The larva then moves up to the riverbank and stays in the soil before transforming into a pupa.

May

It develops into a pupa and starts to form wings, getting ready to fly.

From end of May to June

Fireflies start to fly and mate. And, the cycle goes on.

 

Did you know?

  • After becoming an adult, a firefly doesn’t eat anything but only drinks night dews. An adult male firefly is said to live for about 5 days while an adult female lives for about 7 days.
  • Fireflies in eastern Japan light up in 4-second period while 2-second period in western Japan, including Shikoku and Kyushu.
  • While male fireflies in eastern Japan already rest on the leaves by 9 PM, in Kyushu, even after midnight male fireflies are still very active flying around.

 

Getting information about firefly events and viewing spots

Last May, a friend of mine happened to mention about firefly watching. I immediately searched online for possible places I can go nearby. Good thing here in Japan is, for every season, cherry blossom viewing, autumn leaves viewing, fireworks watching it be, you can always find online ranking of places to go for your reference. Just search the keywords like “firefly”, “ranking”, “2014”, “Japan”, of course in Japanese, and you’ll get a long list of websites that offer these information.

It always amazes me to find how detailed and organized are the information available online in Japan. In one of the websites I visited, you can select specific region or city to narrow down the list. Then, a map will be shown where you can easily check which viewing spot is near from your location. For each viewing spot, details such as address, contact number, time frame, events, parking and sometimes about free transportation from the nearest train station are provided.

Things to keep in mind and manner during firefly watching

Nowadays, places where we can see fireflies are getting fewer. In order to protect them, please keep in mind the following while enjoying firefly watching:

Fireflies are sensitive to strong light.

When taking photos, be sure not to use flash or electric light.

Don’t leave any garbage.

Take your garbage with you. Let’s keep the area clean so we can enjoy the same beauty for the next time.

Don’t step into the bushes to capture the fireflies.

For safety, children should always be accompanied by an adult.

The area can be dangerous due to darkness and poor vision.

 

In the second part of this series, I will be taking you to my first experience of firefly watching in Japan.

References:
Kurashi to Bioplaza 21
Hotaru no Isshou (Hotaru no sumu furusato to Morioka-shi Tamayama-ku)
Pairhat (Hotaru Naruhodo)

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ren

A gaijin in Okayama who enjoys viewing cherry blossom in spring, fireworks in summer, eating grilled sanma (Pacific saury fish) in autumn and oden in winter.

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