Japan’s genji-botaru fireflies - a popular and much sought after early summer sight.
There are two species of fireflies in Japan, the genji-botaru and heike-botaru (the Japanese word for firefly is “hotaru” and the “h” becomes a “b” when connected with the name of the species). They were named after two feuding clans of the Heian period (794-1185) and the larvae of both species are aquatic feeding on small fresh water snails.
The genji-botaru are larger than the heike-botaru, reaching 1.2cm-1.8cm in length, and brighter than the heike-botaru making them the preferred variety for Japan’s early summer pastime of firefly viewing.
Seeing fireflies in urban areas is unlikely as both firefly species require clean and mineral rich water in order to grow (and the genji botaru larvae require clear flowing water) but as Nara City and Nara Park are right at the foot of the Yamato Basin’s eastern mountains, there are two locations in easy walking distance of the sites of Nara Park where visitors can see the fireflies for themselves!
The Daibutsu Hotaru
Daibutsu means “big Buddha statue” in Japanese. Todaiji Temple’s Daibutsu is one of the most famous sites in Nara. The aptly named “Daibutsu Fireflies” can be seen along a small watercourse between Todaiji Temple’s Great Buddha Hall (the Daibutsu-den) and the Nigatsu-do Hall (up the hill from it) near the grounds of Karakuni Shrine.
Once inside the Temple's grounds, approach the main hall and turn right at the wall surrounding the Daibutsu-den’s grounds and follow the path along the wall to the Ura-Sando Path behind the Daibutsu-den. Turn right and follow this path up the slope and take the first right to reach the water course.
The Daibutsu Hotaru can be seen from the start of June to the beginning of July and peak at about the middle of June. Their location in the middle of Nara Park makes them quite possibly the only World Heritage fireflies in the world.
The Noto River
As a result of conservation efforts undertaken by the Takahatake Nature Classroom and students from Asuka Junior High School, fireflies can be seen in a number of places along the upper reaches of the Noto River.
Upward of 300 individual fireflies have been reported along the section of river immediately to the south of Asuka Junior High School’s grounds and at other areas nearby!
To reach Asuka Junior High School and the Noto River get the yellow number 1 or number 2 City Loop bus from JR or Kintetsu Nara Stations to the Wari-ishi-cho Bus Stop. Head north to the stoplight, turn right and then follow the road up hill. Take the third right and follow the road to a T-intersection and turn left.
Take the first left after the road makes a right turn. Follow this road until it reaches Asuka Junior High School’s sports grounds and then follow the grounds to the Noto River. There are fireflies here and at other locations along the river in this neighborhood. A little bit of exploring will be rewarded with fantastic photo ops!
The fireflies along the Noto River can be seen from around the end of May to the beginning of July with the peak coming around mid-June.
Like the sakura of spring, the fireflies’ time is limited. Each one only lives for about 2 weeks after hatching and just like the sakura, this short-lived beauty reminds us not to take things for granted and appreciate the good in the world.