The Ohio night falls around 9pm in the summertime, and with the darkness comes the fireflies, hoards of them, glowing like stars in the blackness. So many stars. In Hawaii there are no fireflies, no dots of light in the trees after the steady sunset. I’d forgotten how thick the field of fireflies could be back home.
Japan is very big on the appreciation of nature. In the spring, as the sakura bloom, the parks are flooded with picnickers, settling down with blue tarps and bento boxes to participate in hanami, the flower viewing. Autumn brings the momiji gari, the viewing of the changing leaves. (Japan, it should be noted, is also very proud of their “four distinctive seasons”.) In the summertime, they have the hotaru gari, the viewing of fireflies.
Running through June and most of July, my study abroad in Kobe put me in Japan right during hotaru gari season. Many of my classmates, having grown up in Hawaii, were thrilled at their first chance to see fireflies. They planned an excursion into Osaka, to a park known for having fireflies. I declined the trip. It was a weekday, I had studying to do, and I’d spent all my childhood chasing lightning bugs.
A few nights later, as my host family sat around the living room before heading to bed, my host father came to us with a suggestion. It was one that I struggled to understand, because neither of us was fluent in the other’s language, and our communications involved a lot of hand gestures and dictionary referencing with a healthy dose of guessing. As far as I could tell, he was asking if I’d like to go up the hill and see some worms. It seemed like an odd thing to do at night, but I agreed, because I’d come to Japan to be adventurous, after all. So we all threw coats on over our pajamas and headed up the hill towards the park.
My host family lived a few blocks from what could barely be called a river. We followed the river up the mountain, my host brother bounding ahead with limitless energy as I flagged wheezily at the rear of our little parade. I hadn’t wandered up this way before, and I’d rarely wandered the city at night. It was slightly creepy and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if we encountered the family of wild boars that I was always seeing in the river as I walked to and from school.
We arrived at our destination, a small playground and wooded area bordering the river. My family immediately began scanning the grass near the water. I followed suit, unsure of what exactly I was looking for. My host father was shining a flashlight into the tall grass. Every once in a while somebody would point, uncertain, and he’d direct the beam that way. And then something flashed and I knew. We were hunting fireflies.
Hotaru gari translates directly as “firefly hunting”. In Japan, there aren’t many fireflies left anymore, and so people travel to the best viewing spots just to catch a glimpse. We saw a few fireflies that night, and my family was very happy. I was happy with them, yet it was a strange sort of feeling, when my own memories still play clearly in my head; of running through the yard at nightfall, sweeping fireflies into my hands, letting them glow between my fingers.
Standing on the porch in Ohio as the fireflies glowed like stars in the blackness, I sent a text to my host mother.
夜の時、多いホタルをいます。 At nighttime, there are many fireflies.
Just my way of saying I’m thinking of them.