Saturday June 3, 2000

Fireflies

Every June there is an influx of "evening tourists" to the neighbourhood. They sit alongside the Shirakawa between Sanjo and Niomon streets looking for hotaru (fireflies).

Fireflies are the symbol of early summer nights. They need clean environments to exist and it is very unusual to find them in an inner city area. Hence, the interest of visitors, many of whom make a special visit here every year.

The locals also welcome the annual presence of the fireflies and have told us it is only in recent years that they have come back to the neighbourhood. Previously the river was too dirty for them. Local children try to catch them and adults like to sit down by the river and have a beer or an umeshu (plum wine) watching them.

These tiny phosphorescent-green bugs tend to float rather than fly over the river. Mesmerising and gentle to watch, they can be seen from metres away hovering over the water and along the river bank. Female fireflies are apparently larger than the male and have a more intense glow. While the incandesence is intended for a potential mate, it more often attracts small children, and only a few escape to lay eggs before they die.

3 years ago we held a "Hotaru-mi", a firefly viewing party. We lifted out the windows in our house, turned off the lights and let the fireflies glide in and out of the rooms. It was magical. Our guests cried "natsukashii"(it's nostalgic), as most of them had not seen fireflies since childhood. Last year, there were surprisingly few fireflies and the locals were worried. It was a relief to welcome them back this year.