2 – 10 July 2022・Location: Aoba Ward, Sendai...
Pagoda light up meets firefly matsuri in a must-see event for temple lovers and nature enthusiasts!
Yesterday we had an incredible opportunity to visit the Jogi Nyorai Saihoji Temple to check out the pagoda illumination as well as the firefly festival!
The yearly festival, which was canceled for the last 2 years due to COVID-19, opened with a prayer ceremony in front of the 5 storied pagoda, illuminated in an enchanting blue light. We were then led to a small prairie in the middle of the nearby forest to admire the fireflies, cared for by the monks at the temple. We were very surprised at how high the fireflies would fly, illuminating the surrounding trees like Christmas lights. Unfortunately, due to the lack of rain this season, there were much fewer fireflies than usual (about 1/3 the usual amount!). Even still, it was really a worthwhile sight to see.
Genji Botaru, Heike Botaru & Hime Botaru
We were blessed with with Mr. Umetsu's company, the Buddhist monk behind this festival, who really took the time to answer all of our questions about Japan's fireflies. During this event, we learned that in Japan, there are 3 main species of firefly (or "hotaru" as they're called in Japanese!): the Genji Botaru, Heike Botaru and Hime ("princess") Botaru. Interestingly, in countries like Canada, female fireflies don't glow, only the males do. In Japan, however, the females do glow, although you're unlikely to see them flying around since once they've found the perfect place to lay their eggs on lower ground, they won't budge from there. Instead, they wait patiently for an ideal mate to find them in their humble abode.
Behind the Name
As you may have already noticed, the first two fireflies are curiously named after historical time peridos: the Genji and Heike Periods. There are many theories around why these names were given. Mr. Umetsu explained to us that the way these fireflies would fly together reminded people of the "Battle of Genpei," a historical battle in which the Genji clan were victorious, leading the common people to call the larger species of firefly "Genji," and the smaller "Heike".
Another explanation posits that the name "genji botaru" comes from "Hikarugenji," the main character in Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji. When the next species of firefly was discovered, the name "Heike" is said to have been given in contrast to the already existing name, Genji.
How to Tell the Difference?
Generally, fireflies found around ponds and rice paddies are Heike Botaru, while those around rivers and fresh clean water are Genji Botaru. Another way to distinguish between these fireflies is by looking at their abdomen, where a red cross can be spotted on the Genji Botaru!
The Lesser Known Hime Botaru
The Hime Botaru is a rarer find and consequentially a much less researched species. They are, however, instantly identifiable due to their special characteristics. Compared to the Genji Botaru, whose light slowly glows in the night, Hime Botaru look like they're having a party, sparkling like disco lights!
Rather than us explaining the differences between the fireflies here, it's much more impressive to see it with your own eyes! The difference in sparkle and glow between the Genji Botaru and Hime Botaru is really quite impressive! We highly recommend making the trip out to the Jyogi Nyorai if you have the time, or plan it in your schedule next year when there might be even more fireflies!
Written by Catrina Sugita
Writer & 2022 Editor-in-Chief