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Saturday, Jun 28, 2014

Science And Tech

Modern technology brings beauty of fireflies closer

The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN | Saturday, Jun 28, 2014

Light trails from fireflies at Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo (Photographed using a long exposure)

Now is the best time to view fireflies in the Kanto region.

You might think the insects are seldom visible in urban areas, as they usually fly around rice fields and brooks, their soft lights twinkling, but today a smartphone app provides busy urbanites with the location of fireflies on a real-time basis. Many people can enjoy watching fireflies after work in the centre of Tokyo.

My smartphone received a message on June 4 saying, "Now is the best time to view fireflies in Tokyo." Weathernews Inc., a Japanese company specialising in weather information services, began a new service in May called "Hotaru no Hikari" (The light of fireflies). It provides the location of fireflies every Thursday through a smartphone app based on reports from 6.5 million people who witness fireflies across the nation.

With more than 10,000 people providing information every week, an employee of the company was surprised at people's interest in the insects.

"They're more popular than we anticipated," he said.

I headed for a viewing spot on June 13, relying on the information on the company's website.

I got on a Joetsu Shinkansen train from Tokyo Station at 5:32 p.m. I checked the weather forecast at my destination using my smartphone, and was relieved to discover there was zero per cent chance of rain.

In about an hour, I arrived at Jomo Kogen Station in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture. Upon arrival, I saw the entrance for "Tsuki-yo no Hotaru no Sato" (A village of fireflies under the moonlight) in front of the station.

After 8 p.m., I was viewing fireflies flying in front of me one after another, a sight which healed my weary soul. With the pinpoint weather forecast and the information on viewing fireflies, the chances of missing them had been minimal. I felt good and said, "Hey, fireflies. Come here."

On weekends, many people visit here from Tokyo with their briefcases. An office worker, 44, and his wife, 28, said they frequently came to view the fireflies, finding the view romantic.

There's even a notable spot to view fireflies within the loop of the JR Yamanote Line-Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo in Bunkyo Ward. The hotel began opening up its garden even to people not staying at the hotel around this season 60 years ago. Though it used to purchase fireflies, the hotel has been farming them at its own breeding facility since around 2000 out of consideration for the environment.

Four years ago, the hotel began forecasting when fireflies will fly around for the first time each season. It calculates the daily average temperature from the first day when firefly larvae are found on land, and when the combined temperature reaches a total of 500 C, that is deemed to be the first day when the light from fireflies can be observed.

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