With the rainy season fast approaching and the humidity ramping up like an overly-confident Evil Knievel, June is perhaps one of the least favored months in Japan. However, with that said, this combination of conditions is precisely what is required for one of the more beautiful, natural sights: the glow of the firefly.
In her 1002 CE book Makura no Soshi (The Pillow Book), Sei Shōnagon, retainer to Empress Consort Teishi, mused on how elegant one feels when surrounded by the summer’s fireflies. But this fascination is not solely the preserve of ladies of Heian period courts, but to this day, in Japan, as much as spring means cherry blossoms, summer means fireflies.
For many Japanese, the viewing of fireflies has a nostalgic affect, casting their minds back to childhoods, perhaps sitting on their grandparents’ porch, watching them dance in the dusk as in these opening credits for popular TV show Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of the Butterfly), or of this elementary school song of the same name, popularized in the Meiji era to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
For many children living in Nagoya, the bright lights and hustle and bustle of the city means that their chances to see these beautiful insects light up in the night skies are limited. It is for this reason that around the city firefly festivals (Hotaru Matsuri) are held at this time of year, when the mating seasons of the two types of firefly indigenous to the country, the genji-botaru and heike-botaru (for some reason named after rivaling clans during the Heian period) is in full swing.
These spots are great opportunities of children to convene with nature and enjoy the delights of this typical Japanese pastime, while creating memories that they will cherish for a lifetime.
Below are a few such festivals to which you may want to bring your children for an exciting evening, or just enjoy yourselves as adults.
Where better than to experience this most Japanese of activities than in front of this, the most Japanese buildings in the city.
Just a stone’s throw from the castle is Gokoku Jinja, and here too, at this small shrine, you can see the fireflies glow.
Kosho-ji in Yagato is one of the more spectacular Buddhist shrines in Nagoya, and each year near the So-mon gate it holds a Hosho-e ceremony, releasing animals into the wild. The summer event, at which from 20:15 children will release fireflies, teaches youngsters to respect the lives of all living creatures.
There are both genji-botaru and heike-botaru fireflies here at Obata Ryokuchi Greens Park. Just inside the main (honen) entrance to the park you will find details of where best to see the fireflies and an explanation of their habitat.
The best time for seeing the fireflies out at Aoiyama Ryokuchi is after 21:00, so it may be a little late for younger children.
By Mark Guthrie