A giant firefly
that way, this way, that way, this -
and it passes by.
Because haiku relies on keywords to suggest the seasons, fireflies are often used to indicate summer. These winged lanterns render a sublime touch to Sei Shonagon's description of summer in the classic Pillow Book (Makura no Shoushi).
(translation by Ivan Morris)
According to Japanese teacher and translator Namiko Abe, the "eerie lights are also thought to be the altered form of the souls of soldiers who have died in war." This was probably the sentiment behind Studio Ghibli's Graveyard of the Fireflies, one of the most well-known and critically acclaimed animated film on those who suffered and died in the Second World War.
Scientists agree that firefly numbers are declining. If you ask older people, they are bound to say that they have seen many more fireflies in their youth than at present. We have only ourselves to blame for the pesticides that pollute the soil and water, the destruction of firefly habitats, and the urban light pollution which disturb firefly mating patterns. The presence of fireflies means that the environment is still pristine enough.
Fireflies used fill the river side of Kinchakuda, the purse-shaped field in Koma, Hidaka, Saitama. But the widespread use of pesticides caused them to disappear. The local government brought in experts to bring back the fireflies and a 400 meter stream was roped off and designated a firefly sanctuary. From late May to early June, people can stroll beside the roped off area and watch the fireflies among the reeds. Sometimes, if you're lucky, they might decide to rest on your hand. Plan to camp by the river side as many people do on the weekends. Watching the fireflies could be the awe-inspiring highlight of your stay.