Fireflies, called hotaru, have a special place in Japanese culture. They are associated with fallen soldiers and romantic passion. They can be seen in traditional paintings and mentioned in poetry. It's not surprising that almost every region of Japan has several firefly watching events called hotaru matsuri. Many urban parks breed and release fireflies for this special occasion. However, in rural Japan, there are still plenty of places where you can see fireflies in wild nature.
From 2000 firefly species that live on Earth, Japan has three main kinds: Hime-hotaru, Genji-hotaru, and Heike-hotaru. The fireflies have s short lifespan. After spending about 20 months of their life as larvae, they come alive just for a few weeks for their mating season. That's when the males emit light to attract a female partner. Hime fireflies are the first to mate. They can be seen in southern areas, like Okinawa, as early as March. Genji and Heike firefly season usually lasts through the month of June. Meanwhile, in the north, they can be seen as late as mid-July.
Hokubo Firefly Village (May–June)
Hokubo Firefly Village in Maniwa is famous for its abundance of fireflies in Okayama Prefecture. It boasts all three firefly species. Located on the banks of Bitchu River, the area is a perfect natural habitat for Genji and Heike fireflies that are attracted by water. The area around Bitchu-Kanachiana Cave has numerous Hime fireflies. Fireflies are best observes around 8:30-9 p.m. from early May through late June.
Tokkawa Firefly Festival, Okazaki (late May–June)
Aichi region has been praised as a perfect natural habitat for Genji fireflies. Tokkawa Firefly village, located on the banks of the clean and well-managed Tokkawa River, is famous for its hotaru season. Located on the outskirts of Okazaki-City, the park includes the Okazaki-City Firefly School for those who want to learn more about the Japanese fireflies. The annual Tokkawa Firefly Festival is held during the month of June from 6 to 9 pm. Thousands of fireflies concentrate on the riverside area creating a magnificent scene with their yellow-green glow.
Minakami Firefly Festival at Tsukiyono Firefly Village (mid-June–mid-July)
Minakami pristine nature is beautiful not just during the day but also during the night when swarms of Genji, Heiki and Kuromao fireflies overrun the area. The high season at Tsukiyono Firefly Village on the west side of Jomo-kogen Station lasts from mid-June to mid-July. The 1.2-mi (2-km) scenic trail is available from 8 to 9 pm.
Shinshu Tatsuno Firefly Festival at the Tatsuno Firefly Park (June)
Mountainous Nagano prefecture with its large rivers has been long known as a home for fireflies. Especially, it concerns its scenic Matsuo Valley. Every June Tatsuno Firefly Park in the area features at least 10,000 dancing lightning bugs. This is a premier firefly-viewing spot in the Nagano region. In addition to scenic trails, the festival features food and a cultural program with traditional music and dances.
Hanami Firefly Festival in Kemi Firefly Village (late June)
Another great location in Nagano is Kemi Firefly Village where local conservationists did an excellent job preserving and enlarging a fragile firefly population. Hanami Firefly Festival in Kemi village usually takes place during the last week of June.