Passing the scenery of Fuefuki's dancing fireflies on to the next generation.
Fireflies, which appear in many stories and songs including those from older times such as “Nihon-Shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan)” and “The Tale of Genji”, are closely connected to Japanese people and their life, and firefly watching is one of the Japanese early summer traditions. However, the number of fireflies in Japan has decreased rapidly these days and they are getting closer to extinction.
In Yatsushiro-cho in Fuefuki city, you also used to be able to see fireflies dancing around in the air in many places near the water including “Yotsusawa River” that flows down from Inayama, but their numbers have decreased dramatically. But then, the members of the community got together voluntarily to “get back the scenery of fireflies flying around” and both the locals and the city started to take action.
Mr. Shogo Kitta was born in Yatsushiro-cho in Fuefuki city. In addition to his fruit farming business, he established “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Kai (Inayama Fireflies Galaxy Association)” in 2006. Every year during the firefly’s flying season, they organize a walking event called “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Yube (Inayama Fireflies Galaxy Evening)”, which uses a total of 1km long waterway and a walking trail near the maglev train observation deck in Yatsushiro Furusato Park. A spectacle of fireflies in this walking trail along with the nature of rural Japan and a night view of Kofu Basin has attracted a lot of visitors.
Japanese summer evening with fireflies dancing in the air.
“I haven’t seen fireflies these days…” If you’re feeling so, you’re not alone. In fact, there are probably quite a few people who feel the same way. When you think about 20 years ago, as rice starts to grow in the rice fields filled with water and a big chorus of frogs starts to echo in the air in the evening, you see yellow lights dancing 3 to 5m above the ground leaving trails of light. It seems that such a scenery could be seen everywhere back then.
“Back in Showa period, there were lots and lots of fireflies. Those who used to enjoy watching fireflies when they were kids grew up, and then started to think like ‘I want to see them again’ or ‘I want to show them to my kids’ but by that time, there weren’t many at all. There were none around here because of the river works”, says Mr. Shogo Kitta.
Mr. Kitta, who lives in Yatsushiro-cho, collected volunteers in the community who are willing to work together sharing the same goal “to bring back the fireflies and the clean environment where fireflies can fly around” and established “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Kai”.
“We talked to people in the community and we were able to have about 60 households join in.” The fact that about 60 households joined in the first year shows how much people in this community care about their city and the fireflies.
The more I learned about their lifecycle, the bigger my love for them grew.
They started off with creating a livable environment for fireflies. With the support of “The rural revitalization project” organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, they built a waterway for fireflies with a total length of about 1km. We hear that it took them 3 years to complete this waterway.
“But that was just the beginning. Even if you have an excellent waterway, nothing comes out of it if you don’t make use of it”, says Mr. Kitta. Within the “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Kai”, there are 3 separate groups, which are environmental maintenance, public relations and breeding, and each member plays a role.
“We studied a lot about fireflies under an expert. Fireflies inhabiting around here are called ‘Genji firefly’. A female Genji firefly lays 500 to 800 eggs. Then around the time the cherry blossoms start to bloom, they become larvae and come out of the ground, then they emerge and become adult fireflies and start to fly around June. They fly around lighting up and mate, then females lay eggs in moist places. A flying period of those fireflies is from 7 to 10 days. Their lifespan is short. When I learned about their life cycle, my love for fireflies grew bigger.”
The association consists of about 60 households mainly from Yatsushiro-cho and they’ve been staying active without the members hardly changing for years.
“We collect members for ‘Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Kai’ in household units not individuals. One of the reasons behind it is that we wanted people to think about the environment for fireflies across the generations in families. The other reason is that we wanted to make a system like if someone in the family is too busy to work for the group, someone else from the family can step in. The number of our group’s members hasn't decreased, and I think that’s because every member shares the same passion and goal, which is ‘’we want to bring back the scenery of fireflies dancing in the air”.
There were only about 10 to 15 fireflies at the beginning but their numbers have been increasing ever since and now there are so many that it’s difficult to keep track of their numbers.
“We have visitors from overseas sometimes and they tell us they’ve never seen fireflies before and they’re amazed and impressed when they see them light up and fly.”
The romance of summer. Hoping to meet again next year.
In Fuefuki city, known as the fruit kingdom, there has been a lot of development such as an improvement around the hot spring resort in front of the station to provide a better environment for the visitors to enjoy their stay.
During the event “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Yube” that Mr. Kitta and other members organize, by the time the clock hits 19:30, the car park is full with visitors’ vehicles including a few tour buses. “I hope this firefly watching becomes one of the assets for tourism in Fuefuki city”, says Mr. Kitta. He tells us, “Also, fireflies are just charming. When I watch them light up and fly, it feels like they are trying to tell us something.”
“I find it rewarding when I see visitors enjoying watching fireflies. Another thing is, when I think like ‘I wonder if the next generation of those fireflies will be flying next year’, it makes me feel excited and my heart pound, which is the charm of this work. I feel the romance in it, don’t you?”
Countless fireflies flying and blinking in the air that you see here can’t exist without the beautiful nature of Yatsushiro-cho and the hard work of “Inayama Hotaru Ginga no Kai”.
Here again next year, and the year after... We hope that a lot of people will be able to meet the fireflies.