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JAPAN

Firefly festivals in the summer capture spirit of growing up in old Japan

by Alisa Yamasaki

Staff Writer

It’s hard to believe there was a time when fireflies outnumbered the neon lights of Tokyo. Luckily there are still places outside the capital where the glowing insects still reign.

Throughout the months of June and July, areas across Japan will hold hotaru matsuri (firefly festivals), and several of those will start this weekend. Riverside locations near three major cities — Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima — will hold such nighttime gatherings, promising more than 3,000 fireflies at each event.

In Fussa, Tokyo, there will be taiko drumming and mikoshi (portable shrines) along with food stands ahead of the bug watch at dusk. The Fussa Hotaru Matsuri is set to take place at Kumaushi Kaikan on June 15 from 1 p.m., and admission is free. (For more information, visit www.fussakanko.jp/pa0206.html. The site is in Japanese).

The festival at Kanbayashi River in Kyoto will feature a night market as well as things to do for families, such as a traditional fish-catching game. The Hotaru Matsuri takes place at Kanbayashi Sansou in Ayabe, Kyoto, on June 15 from 2 p.m. Admission is ¥200 for adults and high school students. (For more information, visit www.city.ayabe.kyoto.jp/kanko/event/ 20130615hotaru.html. The site is in Japanese).

Finally, at Yamano Noson Park in Hiroshima Prefecture, visitors can learn from specialists how to make firefly basket lanterns. There will also be kagura (Shinto dance with music). The Yamano Hotaru Matsuri takes place at Yamano Noson Park in Fukuyama on June 15 from 6:30 p.m. The basket-making lesson costs ¥300. (For more information, visit www.city.fukuyama.hiroshima.jp/life/ detail.php?hdnKey=11898. The site is in Japanese).

Wild fireflies prefer damp environments with no wind, and their numbers usually peak around 8 p.m. Some festivals will supplement the natural fireflies by releasing specially bred ones at the same time.

The Tokyo Hotaru Festival, a festival along the Sumida River that features electronic lights that are meant to resemble fireflies, has come and gone for this year. Urbanites might enjoy seeing the real thing in the countryside while they still can — organizers say that the endangered fireflies are increasingly seeking cooler habitats.