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Magical Fireflies: 3 Places To See Them In Their Natural Habitat

福島

Written by Merilwen Horseback

2017.06.08

With their otherworldly light, fireflies have always been linked to the supernatural world. This article introduces the common types of fireflies that can be seen in Japan and three places where you can see them in their natural habitat.

With the spreading of urbanization, the chance to see fireflies has become so rare that most of the people living in the city haven’t seen them for many years. But, however rare they may seem, there are still many places that are claimed as their havens. This article will show you some tips on where to find fireflies and how to take beautiful pictures of them.

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

Fireflies and Legends about Them

Fireflies, or lightning bugs, are special insects that emit light from their abdomen to attract the opposite sex. Though hosting a fairy-like “fire” in their bodies, these creatures are often associated with death. The Victorians believed that fireflies were "Death’s messengers". If a firefly got inside your house, it meant that someone from the family would be taken away by death.

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

The green lights of the fireflies are sometimes so eerie that they'll give you goosebumps

Similarly, in Japan, it is believed that fireflies are actually the spirits of warriors who fell in battle. This metaphor might have inspired Akiyuki Nosaka to write his famous short story “Grave of the Fireflies”, which later was adapted into the Ghibli Studio animation film with the same title, directed by Isao Takahata. The fireflies in this story didn’t only represent the soldiers who died in World War II, but also the innocent people who died from the indirect effects of the war.

Firefly Viewing In Japan - See Them In Their Natural Habitat!

Poster of the film "Grave of the Fireflies"

On the other hand, the mystical light that fireflies emits has been used as a metaphor in Japanese poetry for the burning passion of love ever since the oldest poetry collection "Man’youshu" was compiled in the 8th century.

Where to Find Fireflies in Japan

During the summer, firefly festivals will be held all around Japan, offering dreamers a chance to catch a glimpse of this short-lived but totally magical creature. Even inside big cities, there are many festivals being held at shrines, near rivers or even in the gardens of luxury hotels, as long as the conditions are favorable enough for fireflies to appear.

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

Please note, however, that in many cases, these fireflies are brought from different places to gather at the festivals. Being non-native to the new places, they tend to die very soon. And because there are no larvae to replace them to extend the time their lights can be seen, normally these festivals last only one week. Remember to check the schedule at each place carefully before heading there to avoid disappointment.

Unlike these festivals, native habitats of fireflies provide a longer period of observation, sometimes up to two months! However, they are mostly remote places where trees and forests are preserved, and water is clean. This means that public transportation is not always available. It is the best if you can hire or rent a car or a bicycle and go there by yourself. Imagine yourself being surrounded by thousands of flickering green and yellow lights (not thousands of people) in a quiet and dark place. It’s a completely different world!

Types of Fireflies that Can Be Seen in Japan

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

In Japan, there are three main species of observable fireflies: Hime-hotaru, Genji-hotaru and Heike-hotaru (* “hotaru” means “firefly” in Japanese, while Genji and Heike are the names of two famous warrior families in Japanese history). The mating season of fireflies varies depending on geographical locations and species.

Just like in the case of cherry blossoms, the season of the fireflies starst from the south and gradually expands to the northern regions. Among the three species, Hime-hotaru is the fastest to mature from their larva stage and to start attracting females with their light.

This year, the season of Genji-hotaru and Heike-hotaru is from early June in the Kansai region, mid to late June in Kanto, and late July in Tohoku.

Hime-hotaru fireflies come out approximately two weeks earlier. During the season, the active time of the fireflies is after nightfall (around 7 PM) to 10 PM. However, in some cases, you will have to wait until midnight for them to come out in full force. So prepare to spend the whole night hunting for them.

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

Genji-hotaru, on the other hand, emit cool green light. (Can you see the face smiling at you?) The picture was taken in Motosu, Gifu prefecture.

Fireflies need moist air and dark places for their life cycle and reproduction, so you can find them in woodland areas, near clean water bodies, and places less-disturbed by human activity (such as street lights or headlights at night).

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

While Hime-hotaru fireflies prefer forests, you are likely to find the other two species rather near rivers or canals.

Three Great Places to See Fireflies in Their Natural Habitat

Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

Motosu Hotaru Park in Gifu is very close to roads and residence districts, but the local government has reserved it for fireflies so that it satisfies their need of water and darkness. You can find Genji-hotaru and Heike-hotaru here. The place is just 550 m away from Motosu Station, so you can just simply get off the train at the station and walk there.

Motosu Citizens Sports Plaza

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Magical fireflies and where to find them (part 1)

Another great place to see the fireflies is in Sekigahara, south-west of Gifu Prefecture. It is more remote as it lies in the waterland between Mount Matsuo’s foot and Fujiko River. The nearest station is Sekigahara Station, which is around 2 km away, so it’s better to use a car or a bicycle to get here. With the thick darkness and deep forest, the number of fireflies you can see is also higher.

Hotaru Park

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Firefly Viewing In Japan - See Them In Their Natural Habitat!

For Kanto residents, Shimoyoshida in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture is a great place to observe Hime-hotaru. The dense forest there provides the perfect habitat for this type of firefly with yellow-light. Locates just two driving hours away from the Tokyo city centre, the place is totally within reach. You can depart around 6 PM, enjoy viewing the fireflies for 2-3 hours and get back at midnight.


In the second part of this article, you can read about how to take beautiful photos of fireflies!

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