Photo/IllutrationFireflies glow in the night sky in the Tagami-machi district in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. (Provided by the Tagami community center)

Last week, I visited a terraced rice field in the Tagami-machi district, a suburb of Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, where I enjoyed watching swarms of fireflies dancing the night away.

"Genji botaru" (luciola cruciata) fireflies glowed far away and high up in the night sky, while "heike botaru" (luciola lateralis) fireflies stayed low at the water's edge, blinking busily.

Teruyuki Kameda, a 74-year-old local farmer, acted as a guide for visitors, giving them walking directions and handing out information sheets of his own making.

More than 10 years ago, he was asked by Kanazawa University to restore a fallow field on campus. This brought fireflies back a few years later.

Kameda went on to bring stones, build ridges and expanded the modest field into a 20-plot terraced paddy.

The bugs are fed and cared for by a local association, called Daigaku Monzen-machi Hotaru no Kai, of which Kameda is a member. The association installed a waterway and populated it with "kawanina" black snails, which the firefly larvae feed on.

Firefly larvae are released into the waterway every year, and local primary schoolchildren are taught how to raise them.

"Why do firefly chrysalises glow, and what makes them start glowing at exactly the same hour every night? Being no entomologist, all this is a mystery to me," Kameda said. "But taking care of them with love makes the firefly population grow, and that's well worth the effort."

The site has grown in popularity by word of mouth, and the number of visitors reached 1,200 last year.

In recent years, news of the return of fireflies has been heard in various parts of Japan.

There was a time when the population plummeted due to frenetic housing development and the widespread use of pesticides and washing detergents that polluted the rivers and waterways around the nation.

But thanks to the efforts of concerned citizens and farmers who cleaned up the environment, fireflies began to return.

Even though the annual firefly-watching season is short, not a few local governments are focusing on these bugs for their community revitalization campaigns.

A haiku by Shizuka Takashima goes: "Fireflies dance/ I cherish this fleeting moment."

June 21 is the summer solstice, the longest day--the shortest night--of the year.

At Kameda's terraced rice field, the dancing of the fireflies reaches a climax this week and next week. Every night, humans and fireflies will be coming together in the dark.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 21

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.