Fireflies (hotaru)

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Fireflies, firefly (hotaru)

***** Location: Japan,
***** Season: various, see below
***** Category: Animal


CLICK for more photos

The kanji image shows a "lantern insect" .
Their appearance along rivers of Japan brings a romantic, poetic feeling to all who watch them. And it did not cost the farmers a penny to go out and enjoy them.
The "fire" these animals emit is cold, though.
There are more than 40 different types of fireflies known in Japan.

Some say they are the vengeful spirit of Genzanmi Yorimasa 源三位頼政
(another name for Minamoto no Yorimasa), .
He was a warrior, leading the Minamoto armies at the beginning of the Genpei War. Suffering defeat, he committed suicide in the Byodo-in temple in Uji.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

Some fireflies are named after the region where they were most beautiful and romantic to watch, in a historical setting.


Two special types of fireflies,
the Heike-botaru and the Genji-botaru 源氏蛍, are special kigo in Japan.
Heike-botaru, heikebotaru 平家蛍 - Luciola lateralis
Genji-botaru, genjibotaru 源氏蛍 - Luciola cruciata

CLICK for more photos To understand the deep appreciation of the Japanese for fireflies, you need to know a bit about Japanese history and the conflict between the clans of the Heike and the Genji around 1180, which ended in the fall of the Heike clan.
The Tale of the Heike / Heike Monogatari)

. . . CLICK here for Photos of Heikebotaru!

. . . CLICK here for Photos of Genjibotaru !

. Heike densetsu 平家伝説 legends about the Heike clan .
Heikegani 平家蟹 Heike crabs, Heikea japonicum

. . . CLICK here for Photos of the Tale of the Heike!

From the example of the firefly you see how a small animal like a firefly can be a guide to the rich history and art of Japan.

Luciola lateralis. - lightning bug, Leuchtkäfer

The Japanese word hotaru comes from
ho taru 火垂る (hi o taru) to drip fire

another explanation is

ho teri 火照り fire glows


Kono Bairei (1844-1895)


kigo for mid-summer

hotaru 蛍 (ほたる) firefly, fireflies
Luciola lateralis. Glühwürmchen; Leuchtkäfer

hotaru gassen 蛍合戦(ほたるがっせん)battle of the fireflies, firefly contest (they are looking for a mate)
heikebotaru 平家蛍(へいけぼたる)Heike-fireflies
genjibotaru 源氏蛍(げんじぼたる)Genji-fireflies

Luciola vitticollis

himebotaru 姫蛍(ひめぼたる) "princess firefly"
Hotaria parvula
Mostly in the mountainous regions.

Ujibotaru 宇治蛍(うじぼたる)fireflies from Uji
The ones along the River Uji are most famous.
Ishiyamabotaru 石山蛍(いしやまぼたる)fireflies from Ishiyama
(see below)
Moriyamabotaru 守山蛍(もりやまぼたる)fireflies from Moriyama
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

hotarubi 蛍火(ほたるび) firefly glow

hatsubotaru, hatsu-botaru 初蛍(はつぼたる)
first firefly ( of the season )
asa no hotaru 朝の蛍(あさのほたる) firefly in the morning
hiru no hotaru 昼の蛍(ひるのほたる) firefly at noon
yuubotaru 夕蛍(ゆうぼたる ) firefly in the evening
yoibotaru, yoi-botaru 宵蛍(よいぼたる) firefly at night

ame no hotaru 雨の蛍(あめのほたる) firefly in the rain
kusabotaru 草蛍(くさぼたる) firefly in the grass

oobotaru, oo-botaru大蛍(おおぼたる) large firefly
..... hootaru ほうたる
Genji fireflies
They are out a bit earlier than the smaller Heike fireflies.

 Click for more photos
hogarugari 蛍狩 (ほたるがり) firefly-viewing
a common pastime in olden times, along the famous rivers and rivulets.
A free passtime that even the poor farmers could enjoy.

hotarumi, hotaru-mi 蛍見(ほたるみ) going to observe fireflies
... hotaru kenbutsu 蛍見物(ほたるけんぶつ)
. hotarubune 蛍舟(ほたるぶね) boat for observing fireflies
and the fireflies of Seta 瀬田の蛍
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

hotarutori, hotaru tori 蛍採(ほたるとり) catching fireflies

hotarukago, hotaru-kago 蛍籠 (ほたるかご) basket for fireflies
often made from bamboo in the old days.
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

hotaru uri, hotaru-uri 蛍売 (ほたるうり) vendor of fireflies


kigo for early autumn

aki no hotaru 秋の蛍 (あきのほたる) fireflies in autumn
nokoru hotaru 残る蛍(のこるほたる)fireflies still left
yamihotaru, yami hotaru 病蛍(やみほたる) ill fireflies


topic for haiku

tsuchibotaru 土螢 glowworm, Glühwürmchen
glow worm
larves of the female, which do not hve wings


To look at and catch fireflies was one of the common pleasures of the farmers since ancient times. Since the widespread use of farm chemicals, their number has greatly declined and nowadays many villages in Japan make special efforts to multiply these wonderful animals as an attraction for tourists and playground for the local children.

Calling the fireflies to come here in an ancient childrens song

こっち のみ-ずはあ-まいぞ、ホッホッ、ほ-たるこい

ho ho hotaru koi

Hey, fireflies, come here!
The water over there is bitter.
The water here is so sweet,
so come here, please, fireflies.

ho ho hotaru koi


From the Tale of the Heike


... The meadow glimmered with the light of a myriad glow-worms. Asagao smiled with sudden delight. Descending to the river she gathered the fireflies by scores, and, prisoning them in her veil, made a gleaming torch....

....The trembling girl crouched upon the balcony. Affrighted by the clash of arms, a swarm of fireflies rose from the river bank, soaring upon the night like sparks from a mighty conflagration.
The souls of the Minamoto!” cried Asagao despairingly. “Father, we are lost!”....

“A firefly in a prison pent,
Ne’er more to flame upon the moor.”

It is quite a long story within a LONG story!

Safekeep copy is here:
Fireflies and the Heike Monogatari

Click on the picture to see them down by the river.


Sweets called FIREFLY

Hotaru 蛍
from Kameya, Kyoto 亀屋

© PHOTO : kyotofoodie.com

hotaru no miya 「蛍宮(ほたるのみや)」 
From 長久堂
Remembering a story of the Genji Monogatari 蛍兵部卿宮.

© PHOTO : 遠くのこだま

firefly sweets -
the wonderous world of

Gabi Greve

Worldwide use


Another name for firefly here is candle fly

candle fly, cold light
an invitation to dance
after midnight

kenneth daniels (GY)
WKD : South American Saijiki

Things found on the way

.. .. .. .. .. .. More Lore about the Fireflies

The below from F. Hadland Davis book,
"Myths and Legends of Japan" 1913 Unabridged

1. HAIKU, Page 285 (no source or Japanese text given)

Ah, the cunning fireflies !
being chased,
they hide themselves
in the moonlight

2. HAIKU, Page 285 (no source or Japanese text given)

From the Uji river-bank dart myriads of these flashing insects, and in a moment they form a great silver-shining cloud.
The cloud breaks and the flowing river, once dark as black, becomes a winding stretch of gleaming jewels.
No wonder the Japanese poet cries:

Do I see only fireflies drifting with the current?
Or is the Night itself drifting, with its swarming of stars?

3. GHOST LORE Page 286 (no source or Japanese text given)

Fireflies are fond of swarming around willow-trees, which are the most eerie trees in Japan, and this is part of their "ghostly" role as Minamoto Firefly and the Taira Firefly. In ancient days, the fireflies were said to possess medicinal properties.
Firefly ointment was said to render all poisons harmless, and, moreover, it had the power to drive away evil spirits and to preserve a house from the attacks of robbers.

4. STORY Page 287 Hadland (no Japanese text given)

Quoted from "Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan," by R. Gordon Smith
Story called the Vengeance of Kanshiro.

A very old man named Kanshiro wants to make one last pilgrimage before he dies. His neighbors and friends all lend him some money to help him.
Along the way he is robbed by an inn keeper named Jimpachi. Kanshiro dies, but comes back from the tomb transformed into thousands of fireflies and the fireflies rush into Jimpachi's eyes, ears, mouth, and nose.
Jimpachi lives for 20 days, screaming for mercy. But no mercy comes, and finally the fireflies kill the wicked Jimpachi. Immediately thereafter, the fireflies disappear completely.


hotarumeshi, hotaru meshi ホタル飯 "firefly rice"
100 Favorite Dishes of Edo


The Hunt for Fireflies
Eishosai Choki c. 1795


Issa wrote about 100 haiku about the fireflies, maybe more...
Check out the translations of David Lanoue.
Issa and the Fireflies

草も木も 源氏の風や とぶ蛍
kusa mo ki mo genji no kaze ya tobu hotaru

in grass, in trees
the army of the Genji...
fireflies flit

(This haiku alludes to the historical battle between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans. The swarming fireflies remind Issa of a great army lighting campfires or carrying torches in the night.)

uma no he ni mezamete mireba tobu hotaru

the horse's fart
wakes me to see...
fireflies flitting

hatsu-botaru tsui to soretaru te kaze kana

the first firefly
deftly swerves away...
wind from my hand

"tsui to" can mean satto ("suddenly") or migaru ni ("with agility")

Issa calling for the fireflies

hotaru koyo hotaru koyo to yo hitori-zake

come, firefly!
firefly, come!
drinking alone

hotaru yobu yokogao yogiru hotaru kana

while calling fireflies
crossing his profile...
a firefly

hotaru yobu kuchi e tobi-iru hotaru kana

a mouth calling fireflies--
flies in

ao yagi ya hotaru yobu yo no omowaruru

green willow--
thinking of a night
of calling fireflies

hito-goe ya oobone otte tobu hotaru

people's voices--
with all their might
the fireflies flit

Literally, the firefly (or fireflies) are flitting with "bone-breaking" effort ... to reward the people who are calling.

Kobayashi Issa

Click on the picture to see them all.


hiru mireba kubisuji akaki hotaru kana

Alas! the firefly seen by dailight
Is nothing but a red-necked insect
Tr. Asatarō Miyamori

Oh this firefly!
seen by daylight, the nape of its neck is red
Tr. Lafcadio Hearn

seen by day
the firefly's nape
is red
Tr. Michael Haldane

seen by day
the neck is red -
this firefly !
Tr. Gabi Greve

. Reference


lost souls
down by the brook
the fireflies

moonless night . . .
the fireflies dancing
double shifts

fireflies cruising
in bumpy circles . . .
Mandala Valley

Gabi Greve, 2005
living in Mandala Valley

Firefly haiku by Gabi Greve, Japan


hotarubi ya onna no michi o fumihazushi

fireflies alight -
I step off the path
of a virtuous woman

Suzuki Masajo 鈴木真砂女(すずきまさじょ)
Tr. Gabi Greve


hotarukago kurakereba yuri-moetatasu

my cage for fireflies -
when it gets dark I shake it
to shine again

橋本多佳子 Hashimono Takako
Takako Hashimoto (1899-1963)


ookami ni hotaru ga hitotsu tsuite ita

on the wolf
one firefly

. Kaneko Tohta and the Wolf Haiku 金子兜太  


restless firefly
another attempt at
self immolation

kenneth daniels (GY)
Kigo Hotline, June 2009


koko hotaru ta-goto no tsuki to kurabe-ken

"I would like to compare
The glow of these fireflies and moonlight
Reflected in every paddy field"

(Matsuo Basho)

In 1688 (Genroku 1), Basho looked flying around fireflies on the surface of Seta River in Ohmi (The present Shiga Prefecture) on the way home. At that time, he remembered viewing the moon in Sarashina of Nagano, that was noted for "moonlight reflected in every paddy field" and composed this Haiku.

The whole district was called "The mount of Hime (princess)". 河野通有 Michiari Koono's uncle, Michitoki went to the war of Mongolian Invasions (of 1274 and 1281), leaving his only daughter "Hime" and he was killed in the Bay of Hakata.
Michiari carried his remains back to Hime waiting up her father. Hime had been staying at Gianji Temple 義安寺 and kept the grave of her late father throughout her life.

Princess Daruma Dolls at Temple Gian-Ji

Gian-Ji temple in Matsuyama is a zen temple, so it had been said that the origin of "Hime Daruma doll" is a tumbler of Bodhidharma on that Hime's face was drawn, to hold a memorial service for Hime.
Michiari was a samurai of Iyo (ow Ehime) and died in 1311.
The temple Gina-Ji had been build by the child of Kono Kagemichi 河野景通, Kono Shiroo Gian 河野彦四郎義安 in 1539.

Mitarai River flows under Gianji Temple from the front of Ishiteji Temple and it is famous for its Genji fireflies. There would be some fireflies that were pressed by catchers and went out in the hill at the back of the temple, that of the main gate had been already closed.

sanmon ni hotaru nigekomu shimari-nari

There would be some fireflies
Been driven away and went out in
the back-hill of the Temple

(Masaoka Shiki)

. Daruma and Fireflies .

- hotaru 蛍 (ほたる) firefly, fireflies - and
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .

Related words

Hotaru-bukuro 蛍袋(ほたるぶくろ) Pantaloons flower
kigo for mid-summer

... tsuriganesoo 釣鐘草(つりがねそう)
... choochinbana 提燈花(ちょうちんばな)"lampion flower"
fuurinsoo 風鈴草(ふうりんそう)"wind chime flower"
Campanula punctata
literally “Bag for Fireflies” . Glockenblume

. . . CLICK here for Photos !

When one grows out thousands of seedlings, something special always pops up. ‘Pantaloons’ is such a special plant; the flowers are a light purple and shaped in a double ‘hose-in-hose’ like we’ve never seen before.

A rose-purple-dipped drink for the eyes! This is a tasty combination of red winter leaves (& wine-darkened summer leaves) topped with huge, rose-purple blooms. Easy to grow with a spreading habit. A sun lover of Japanese origin.

***** Fireflies from Temple Ishiyamadera, Ishiyamabotaru


. Firefly squid (hotaruika, hotaru ika 蛍烏賊 ) .

. hotarusoo 蛍草 (ほたるそう) "firefly plant" .
..... hotaru saiko ほたるさいこ (蛍柴胡)
Bupleurum longiradiatum
- - - - - and
hotarukazura 蛍蔓 (ほたるかずら) "firefly vine"
Buglossoides zollingeri





etuko said...

almost time
to appear firefly


soft light flying
fireflies in a dark woods
river sound


river frog singing
river sound of stream
pair of fireflies lights


Anonymous said...

Under "things found on the way", it would be lovely to include a link to "Grave of the Fireflies", which I watched last night -- beautiful film.

Thanks for the page -- no fireflies here, and this brings them very close!


. Gabi Greve said...

lone firefly ~
self immolation in
a candle flame ~

a firefly ascends
the astral ciborium ~
lullaby on the moon

Narayanan Raghunathan


. Gabi Greve said...

chasing fireflies -
all I catch is

. Happy Haiku Gallery, Gabi Greve. June 2006 .


Anonymous said...


Arachnocampa is a genus of four fungus gnat species which are, in their larval stage, glowworms.

They are found in New Zealand and Australia in caves and grottos, or sheltered places in forests.

© Wikipedia

Anonymous said...

Lampyris noctiluca

Anonymous said...

a glow worm
fell down on the grass
from the Milky way

a starry sky
descends on the earth –
the swarm of fireflies

a firefly
signals to another one –
singing crickets

travelling alone
the night is warm
from fireflies

Tom M

Gabi Greve said...

thanks a lot for your fireflies, Tom san!

Kigo Hotline said...

a night after rains -
fireflies play hide and seek
in my garden

Sunil Uniyal, New Delhi

anonymous said...


firefly after firefly
out of the wide open
mouth of a woman

—Chuei Yagi

(trans. by Ban’ya Natsuishi & James Shea)

Yagi Chuuei 八木忠栄

Gabi Greve said...

hoo to aku onna no kuchi kara hotaru hotaru

out of the wide open
mouth of a woman
firefly firefly / fireflies, fireflies

hotaru can be singular or plural

Tr. Gabi Greve

Gabi Greve - Boatsman at Seta said...

hotarumi ya sentoo yoote obotsukana

watching fireflies -
the boatsman is drunk
and we worry

Matsuo Basho in 1690

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

at twilight
thin floor mats moist
below the fireflies

yuugure ya hotaru ni shimeru usu-datami

Read the comment by Chris Drake.

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

waga yabu wa jibun hazure no hotaru kana

in my grove
the fireflies appear
at a strange time

This hokku was written on 4/20 (June 6) in 1806, while Issa was staying for a few days with a student in Tagawa, a town on the Tone River just northeast of Edo. In this area the mating season for fireflies, that is, the two weeks when each variety flies around flashing its lights, is usually from the middle of May to the middle of June, depending on the variety. Issa seems to have come to town at a time when most people have been watching fireflies for two or three weeks already and the fireflies are beginning to thin out, yet in the garden of the place where Issa is now staying (or perhaps in a thicket outside Issa's window in a room in the house) the fireflies seem to have only just arrived.

The fireflies could be of a different variety of firefly from those that have appeared already, or breeding conditions and weather along the large Tone River might be variable, or perhaps the oddball fireflies are just as eccentric as Issa is.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

hana-kami ni hittsutsunde mo hotaru kana

wrap it up
in tissue paper --
it's still a firefly

Above is the version of the hokku in the copy of Issa's Eighth Diary made by his follower Yamagishi Baijin (梅塵), found in Issa's collected works at 4.240.

Read the full comment of Chris Drake


Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

sono ishi ga atama abunai tobu hotaru

"Don't bump your head
on that stone!"
flitting firefly
Tr. David Lanoue

Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

uma no kusa kurau oto shite tobu hotaru

sound of a horse
gobbling grass...
fireflies flitting

Or: "sound of a horses." R. H. Blyth, in his translation, pictures one horse; A History of Haiku (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1964) 1.378. I do too. This image conjures a nice set of contrasts: one versus many, large versus small, loud versus silent, strong versus delicate...

David Lanoue

Gabi Greve said...

Heike densetsu 平家伝説 legends about the Heike clan
Heike-botaru, heikebotaru 平家蛍 - Luciola lateralis (right)
Genji-botaru, genjibotaru 源氏蛍 - Luciola cruciata