The big names and famous photo opportunities in Kyoto city can seduce visitors and locals for an entire lifetime. However, the rest of the prefecture should not be overlooked. Uji, just 15 minutes from central Kyoto by train, draws visitors throughout the year for the Tale of Genji Museum, Byōdō-in Temple and traditional cormorant fishing in the summer months. Though you learn in the museum that the Uji river and its surroundings are entrancing in each season, there's a special something to visit for in late May and early June: fireflies.
A short bus ride (or a fair uphill walk) from the city centre brings you to the Uji City Botanical Park where its entrancing firefly population show off their luminescent talents for just a few weeks a year.
The park's hilly position gives lovely views stretching south to Osaka, and it's the perfect place to watch the sky's changing colours at sunset before seeking a different type of light show. Once the sun sets and dusky light bathes the area, I recommend browsing the photographs of the park's previous flower bed masterpieces, they are quite spectacular. You can also squeeze in a quick lap of the greenhouse; a jungle in its own right, full of exotic flowers and beautiful blooms, in the evening it is cooler and beautifully lit. There is also a special display to peruse in the waiting area; when I visited it was an impressive collection of azalea bonsai trees, pruned to perfection. Finally, when all is dark, venture down the lantern-lit path in search of the park's seasonal attraction...
You know you are in the right spot when you hear excited children call out "mitta!", "ii naaa" and "pikka, pikka!" to equally enthusiastic parents. Fireflies dance, pulsating with incandescence, seemingly unaware of the audience they are entrancing. It is a truly magical and hypnotic experience, and in no way marred by sharing it with delighted families and hand-holding couples. In fact, I think the company improves the experience; for a short time you can share in the beauty of nature. It transcends all barriers of language, culture and age. The fact that photography and artificial light of any kind is banned also helps maintain the atmosphere of enchantment and mystery.
Equally beautiful by day and in each season, Uji City Botanical Park is worth a visit whenever you are in the area. But for the magical fairy lights, go in May or June with the people you love.