For many who didn’t grow up in tropical climates, catching a glimpse of fireflies, or “lightning bugs,” is something special. For Japanese people, it’s another reason for a series of annual festivals, both in Tokyo, and at select smaller cities on the outskirts, amongst farms and wetlands.
Every firefly guide under the sun (moon?) has differing recommendations regarding under what conditions are best to see them: after it rains, before it rains, when it’s clear skies, before dusk, after dusk, in the forest, in the meadow, near water, in fields, early in the season, late in the season – even deciding where to go to secure your best chances to see them is difficult. But armed with this shortlist of location recommendations, you’re bound to catch a fair few.
Most of the sites are available in Japanese only; most of the dates, times, and locations should be straightforward enough, but when in doubt, they are easily translatable with the Google Translate plugin! Just remember, wherever you choose to go, be mindful of the grounds’ rules, especially in regards to photography and crowds. One last thing to keep in mind: many of the images featured in this article are the results of long or multiple-exposure photos that are later layered in Photoshop, and are quite unlike the real thing seen with the naked eye.
For photographers looking for “the shot” (like in the main photo, which is the result of nearly one hundred combined photos, and was taken in southern Japan), a lot of patience – and an entirely rural site – is required. Nevertheless, the sites listed below are a great experience for the whole family, especially for those who have never seen them. (Click on the headers to go to the websites.)
Tokyoites hesitant to venture far into the inaka beyond the 23 wards will tell you this is the “best downtown place” to see fireflies. The hotel offers a month-long special spa, menu, and garden viewing event just for the occasion. And hey, even if you can’t see a ton of them, at least you’ll have a great dinner.
2018 firefly viewing period: until Jul 3
Another private garden downtown that offers dinner and a firefly show. Requires reservations (along with a strict dress code!) and a “firefly” fee of ¥2,000 per guest. The garden is peaceful, the lawn spacious, and lesser known than Chinzanso.
2018 Firefly nights are available Tue-Fri, until Jun 29
Spend a day riding the coasters and enjoying carnival-style snacks at west Tokyo’s largest amusement park, Yomiuriland, and enjoy spotting a few fireflies after sunset to wind down. The park admits that firefly counts have dwindled in recent years, so biologists working in conjunction with engineers have built parks specifically to help breed fireflies. Wander among the illuminations and, for only ¥500, support the health of the lightning bug population.
2018 firefly viewing period: Jun 1-Jul 1
The expansive park on the western bank of Tamagawa River in Kawasaki, along Odakyu line, is a treat for anyone who ventures out there. The Park offers year-round seasonal activities, flowers, and foliage – including plenty of visible, wild fireflies during the month of June. The boardwalk wraps through the garden, and into the “field of fireflies” for optimal viewing. Open late!
2018 firefly viewing period: Jun 8-24, 7-9pm, more info: Hotaru no Kuni
It’s only open for a few days, but it’s likely the most convenient location: Shibuya! The private, indoor and protected botanical garden is proud to have a few in-house fireflies of their own, guaranteed to be flying around during the days listed on their site. Stop by at their recommended time to see a few exotic plants and the glittering bugs flying around.
2018 firefly viewing period: Jun 20-24, 5:30pm-9pm (last entry 8:15pm)
This is easily one of the best locations in the vicinity of Tokyo to see more than a dozen fireflies. A bit further to reach, but worth the trip – the expansive park has ample wetlands, fields, flower patches, and soft hills in the area. About a ten or fifteen-minute-walk from the nearest station (Nakayama), but free entry and plenty of space to wander and see your own. Park staff are eager to give tips and show you the prime locations to see them. Show up early!
2018 firefly viewing period: late May-early June
When you’re looking to see an abundance of wild fireflies, it’s best to go beyond city limits. Hachioji’s Yuyake Koyake Village offers an authentic camping experience, horseback riding, nature adventures, and, in June, firefly viewing. Bring the family and enjoy a weekend on the grounds with other outdoorsy types, and get your fill of nature’s beauty at the village.
2018 firefly viewing period: Jun 9-24
The earliest of all of the places on our list listed places – the first week of June – but a good one for those closer to Yokohama. The small garden opens up on select days and for limited time only for visitors to see their fireflies float around. Great for a date and paired with some nearby “things to do” in Yokohama as well.
2018 firefly viewing period: until Jun 3, more info: Firefly Evenings
A bit north of the Hachijoji firefly park, but this one comes with a fully fledged festival, too. The Fussa Festival is an annual event that attracts thousands of people who are all clamoring to see the hundreds of fireflies in the nearby park. The festival has all of the works of a traditional summer festival: taiko performances, a parade, great “yaki” food, and a sea of yukata-wearing-goers. Probably is the most crowded of all of the locations, but likely to be the most fun, as well.
2018 Firefly Festival: Jun 16, 1pm-9pm
Main Image: Tsuneaki Hiramatsu