Gifts from the rainy season: Fireflies

The rainy season announces the forthcoming arrival of summer and brings along rain, humidity and a number of experiences that can only be enjoyed during this time of the year.

One is the sight of blooming hydrangeas you can read about here, another is the stunning night view of fireflies.

Fireflies are to summer, what cherry blossoms are to spring.”

Fireflies, hotaru [蛍] in Japanese, have a meaning that is similar to the one given to sakura, cherry blossoms, fireflies represent the fleeting nature of life flashing and passing by in a short time. Some poets have linked fireflies to the feelings of burning love and after World War II fireflies represent also the souls of people who died because of the conflict.

The image of the firefly is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, one of the most famous Japanese songs is Hotaru no Hikari [蛍の光], translated light of the fireflies, and it is often sang during events closing ceremonies, graduation ceremonies and some shops or public activities use it to inform customers and visitors that it is almost closure time. The lyrics are about a dedicated student who reads under the light of fireflies and about youth that seems to have passed so quickly. For quite a long time I heard this song so often that I confess I thought it was the national anthem.



During the fireflies season many cities and botanical gardens organize hotaru viewing events. A famous spot one hour from Tokyo is Fussa City.

I went to Fussa with Husband last Saturday and we highly recommend the experience. During the event there were stalls where to buy Japanese street food and drinks, dancers and performers entertained the public from the early afternoon and the atmosphere was lively. The event started at 1 pm but the fireflies were not visible until around 8 o`clock in the evening.

We arrived around 4 o’clock and got off at Ushihama Station witch is the closest station to the venue of the event. Fireflies can be seen in the Hotaru Park and from the bridge over the Tama river. We decided to head to the park where we arrived at around 6 o`clock and obtained a spot. We spent our waiting time enjoying our food and snacks, watching the performances organized by the locals and singing the few Japanese songs I know.  By the time we arrived there was already a number of people in the park and some groups even organized with picnic mats and bento. It felt like hanami season.

Fireflies live only in clear rivers and they are a rare sight in the cities these days, Fussa citizens breed every year five hundred fireflies to be released during the viewing event. If you are in Tokyo around mid June don`t miss it. There was a bit of crowd (ok, a lot of crowd), sometimes we where disturbed by rude people pushing to get to the first raw, annoying “photographers” who insisted using a flash unit, which not only disturbed the fireflies but was ruining the view to everybody, and lots of people who persisted trying to take pictures with their smartphone, which, for the record, is just impossible, but it was without any doubt worth it to endure it all and enjoy this rare sight. Hotaru viewing has been romantic, special and simply unforgettable.

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