During the summer months, if one were to peruse Google Trends via katakana keywords, one would observe a considerable spike in popularity for hotaru (蛍; firefly) and kabutomushi (カブトムシ; rhinoceros beetle). These spikes coincide with the time of year when such insects enter into the adult stages of their lives. The tail end of their maturation marks a pivot towards summer and the vitality of the season; fireflies are particularly beloved as they color the night sky. Floating like a living paper lantern, the firefly represents an infinite source of nostalgia, injecting itself into countless pages of poems and Japanese animation.
About the Japanese firefly
Among the more than 2000 various observed species of firefly, there exist two distinct varieties in Japan: the genji-botaru (源氏蛍) and the heike-botaru (平家蛍), both named after the warring clans of the late Heian Period. Their lifecycle plays out largely in the shallow, muddy plains of Japan’s rivers and lawns; however, for a short period, during the months of June and July, the firefly emerges from its chrysalis to paint the dark of summer. During a mating ritual, females produce light through a chemical found in their abdomen (this is known as bioluminescence), seeking a partner while inadvertently serving as a muse for the human observer.
The firefly is inseparable from the Japanese mantle of summer; here are just a few of the opportune destinations and events for those interested in experiencing a viewing for themselves.
1: Shinshū Tatsuno Firefly Festival (第６９回信州ほたる祭り) - June 2017)
The Shinshū Tatsuno Firefly Festival is held in Tatsuno-chō in Nagano Prefecture, and is renowned for its swelling population of fireflies (it is said that over 10,000 can be observed in a single night!). The event centers around Tatsuno Firefly Park (ほたる童謡公園; Tatsuno dōyō kōen) and for a mere 300 yen, one can revel in the beauty of the insect while indulging in other festival amenities, including traditional performances and food vendors. The firefly is the bedrock of the region’s tourism industry and has been a premiere destination for some time. Peak observation will occur in June this year.
2: Chinzansō Hotel Firefly Viewing (ホテル椿山荘東京) - June–July 2017
Chinzansō Hotel in Tokyo’s Bunkyō Ward offers a more refined experience for those less interested in the unkempt charm of the countryside. The two varieties of Japan’s firefly make an appearance in Chinzansō’s historical garden (established in the Meiji Period). The sprawling green serves as a backdrop for meal services the hotel offers; customers are able to experience a variety of specials that will undoubtedly complete a night of firefly viewing. The festivities will run through the months of June and July.
3: Kugayama Firefly Festival (久我山ほたる祭り) - June 4th-5th 2017
The Kugayama Firefly Festival provides an intimate urban twist on firefly viewing. Operating for over ten years around the Kanda River in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, the festival affords an opportunity to see over 2000 fireflies, as they are released annually. As the site is accessible by the Keiō-Inokashira Line, and those staying in Shibuya can get there easily. The event will be held from June 4th–5th, 2017.
Regardless of where one decides to appreciate the light of the fireflies, it will undoubtedly lead to bright memories.
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