By Sherilyn Siy
Fireflies -- One of the most magical ways nature heralds the beginning of summer. Many people cherish happy memories of spotting these little specks of light which inspire childhood fantasies of fairies and magical beings. Called hotaru in Japanese, fireflies occupy a special place in traditional Japanese summers. Studio Ghibli's Graveyard of the Fireflies is probably one of the most well-known and critically acclaimed Japanese animated film that features these winged lanterns. Sei Shonagon in her Pillow Book (Makura no Shoushi) also mentions fireflies in her description of summer:
"In summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is!" (translation by Ivan Morris)
Unfortunately, firefly numbers are diminishing, no thanks to widespread paving over of firefly habitats, extensive use of pesticides, and the light pollution that make it difficult for fireflies to spot each other for mating (resulting in fewer larvae for the following season). Fireflies can then be considered an indicator species -- its presence indicate a pristine environment.
For a period of time, fireflies disappeared from Kinchakuda, the purse shaped field most famous for the majestic carpet of red higanbana (spider lily) flowers in September. The local government brought in a hotaru expert to help bring them back. These efforts have been rewarded. In the middle of Kinchakuda is a roped off place with a small stream hidden by tall reeds. This is the designated firefly sanctuary and crossing the rope is prohibited. People young and old can enjoy a night stroll along this area and spot dozens of these flickering wonders resting by the banks of the stream. I think you're particularly lucky if you catch them flying about and have them land on your hand.
Fireflies make their first appearance in Kinchakuda in early June, usually before the start of the rainy season or tsuyu. Plan to camp by the Koma River and make firefly watching one of the highlights of your overnight stay. For a short designated period, the local government puts up solar lights to mark the path around the firefly sanctuary.
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For Sherilyn Siy, Asia is home. Born in Hong Kong, Sherilyn spent time in the Philippines, China, and now lives in Japan. She speaks English, Filipino, Chinese (or putonghua), and Hokkien, her family's local dialect. Running is one of her favorite ways to explore Japan. She proudly finished the 2015 Tokyo Marathon -- her first ever full marathon -- in 4 hours and 37 minutes. She was absolutely psyched when she got selected again to run the new Tokyo Marathon route in 2018. She hopes to complete other races in Japan.