I guess different people measure the passing of time in different ways. For example, sports fans perhaps move from season to season through which tournament is coming up next, fashionistos maybe mark time until the next big collection is released, for me it's nature.
Just as the cherry blossoms mark the start of spring, I'd say that the fireflies herald the end of the season. As June starts I'm already anticipating the few days when they will briefly illuminate the night. We aren't quite there yet though, but we are getting close.
One day I'm out driving with Andrew and we stop to look at a temple that catches out eye, but what I notice even more is how the rice has grown so tall and lush in the fields. It only seems like a few weeks ago that the seedling were being planted and there was more water than rice in the fields.
As the rice grows, so the tadpoles that once swam in the paddies mature and start to leave the fields. A closer look at the leaves on the bushes, turns up little froglets hiding everywhere. This exodus is another sign that spring is drawing to a close, and soon it will be fire fly season.
We still have places to check off out list of things to see in Shiga before we leave, and now seems like a good time to go and see the ruins of Azuchi Castle; once the seat of Oda Nobanaga in the late 1500s, and a site of great strategic significance given it's proximity to Kyoto.
Now there is nothing left standing, and only the foundations show where the castle once stood. However, there is a festival held there every year, so not only do we get to stroll around the site, but we get to see some taiko drumming and can mingle with some mock samurai as well.
Actually, the quiter part of the ruins up on the hill away from the festival is far nicer though. With paths running along the wooded slopes, and reminants such as an old pagoda and a gate house hidden away waiting to be discovered. The complex must have covered pretty much the entire mountain back in day. It must also have been an impressive place, as much a display of status and power as much as it was an exercise in military defence; very much befitting a man of Oda Nobanaga's status, the man who paved the way for the unification of Japan under the Shogunate sysytem of rules.
However, on the grand scale of things even ventures this grand and people this powerful are ephemeral as the fireflies I'm hoping we'll finally get to see this evening - how's that for a segue?
Yes, the real reason we are visiting this side of the lake isn't just for the castle ruins, it's to spend the evening one of Shiga Kens firefly hotspots, Maibara. We've aready seen references to fireflies on several local signs, and, of course, on the drain covers (as I've mentioned before each town has it's own unique drain covers that feature things that the town is well known for; in this case fireflies).
Now, as it begins to get dusky we head down to the riverside, a stretch where the town has been making an effort to keep the water conditions and surrounding environment suitable for fireflies, then we wait.
Sure enough, as it gets darker, small dots of luminescent yellow-green start flicking on and off at points along the river.
From that point on the numbers start to increase rapidly and, leaving the safety of the reeds, begin floating up into the gloaming. Of course, using a flash on your camera would just drown out their delicate glow, so the only way to capture them is by slowing down the shutter speed and opening up the aperture. The result is that, instead of blinking lights, you get ghostly trails scrawled across the picture tracing their lazy erratic flight.
It really was a wonderful display that lasted for about an hour, at the peak of which there must have been at least a couple of hundred fireflies displaying.
This was actually just the first of four firefly viewings I enjoyed this year, the others were all more local though as there is a field just a few minutes walk from my school where you can also see fireflies; though not in the numbers you can see in Maibara.
The last trip was especially fun though as I decided I wanted to share this wonderful sight with my students as well. So, I asked the Principle if I could arrange a school trip for interested students to go and see for themselves. I got permission and the assistance of the science teacher who would help wrangle the kids. However, the day we planned the trip for was forcast for bad weather... after a quick scramble to replan, we realised that only the evening of that day was a possible substitute - this meant that the students wouldn't have time to bring the permission papers signed by their parents back to the school in advance. However, it was unavoidable so we simply told the students that is they wanted to join they had to go home get the signature, and return to the school at 7.30 for the field trip.
With this sudden change of plan I didn't expect many students to make the effort to come, but, much to my surpise around the time of the trip students just kept turning up with permission papers. In the end more than 30 students turned up eager to go and see fireflies, and two of my colleagues fron the English department also volunteered to come along and help out as it was far more than we expected.
So these last few pictures are from that evening. Kanda Sensei (the science teacher) gave a brief talk about fireflies, then we went to the stream to observe and catch some. Everybody had a lot of fun and we must have caught around 40 in total (which we let go again before we returned to the school).