Home > Pre-Japan > Hotaru and Onta

Hotaru and Onta

Japan loves its seasons. It’s got the obligatory spring, summer, fall and winter of course, but then it’s got a few fairly unique ones. They’ve got cherry blossom season, they’ve got rainy season (which we are currently in the midst of by the way…not pleasant!) and they’ve got firefly season!

I’ve recently made the acquaintance of a girl (woman? I’m reaching the age where I am having trouble making the distinctions now…) who lives in Yamakuni. Her name is Akane and she speaks fluent English, quite a gem here in country Japan. Her parents own a restaurant in Yamakuni and after meeting a few weeks ago they invited me to come see the fireflies with them. I would go up on Saturday, we would have dinner, watch the fireflies, and I could catch a bus home the next day. I was told the fireflies gathered in droves and were quite a sight to behold!

Naturally I agreed and last Saturday off I went. The day started with a bit of a hick up as the bus from Nakatsu station was 15 minutes late. 15 minutes! In Japan that’s almost the apocalypse.  (Only two minutes off, in fact.) Upon arriving I had a delicious hamburg which Akane’s mother cooked for me (apparently not everyone gets this honor, so I am quite pleased) and I met a family of Japanese folk who lived only about three minutes away from my apartment. They invited me to come play with them sometime (to come play in Japanese translates to “come around for a spell,” it does not involve toys necessarily.) I never caught their names so I doubt that will happen, but thanks to their explanation I’ve got quite detailed directions to their house! Ah Japan.

After dinner we were off to see the fireflies! I don’t know whether this is common with all fireflies all over the world, but the Japanese fireflies at least only gather near totally clear water. As such there are only certain places where they hang out. They also don’t love the rain, which made Saturday a bit of a downer as it began to sprinkle a bit around 8.  Never the less I was able to see quite a few fireflies, and they were really something. I had never seen so many fireflies lighting up together, it was almost mystical. Had it not been raining, there might have been many more. Unfortunately because it was dark and my camera is not too great (also I don’t really know how to use it in the dark) I have no pictures of the event. I did manage to snag a firefly on my finger though!

There's one!

Correct me if I am wrong, but that’s quite a large insect, isn’t it? American fireflies aren’t that big are they?! I was shocked at its size, but then I really should not have been considering Japan’s other insects, which are equally as enormous. I will certainly be going back to see them again next year, hopefully when it is not raining!

On Sunday Akane and her parents took me to a really cool little town called Onta (小鹿田, the kanji readings are so obscure even Japanese people cannot pronounce it upon seeing it) where for the past three hundred years 10 local families have been hand making and baking pottery. The pottery that comes out of this little village is quite famous, and is sold as far as Tokyo and Osaka for quite the mark-up. We had the chance to watch one of the guys making the pottery, and it was a true art. He took a slab of clay and turned it into a dish so quickly I almost believed I could do it myself. It was so effortless I found it difficult to believe there was any skill involved at all. Of course such is the prowess of a master potter. I didn’t dare take a picture of him, but when we got outside I did take some pictures of their rather unique ovens.

One of the ovens in Onta

It is difficult to see from the picture, but the oven is built on a slope. They heat the bottom, and then the heat and smoke rises all the way to the top. They bake their pottery at a toasty temperature of 1300 degrees celcius for 55 hours. Someone may need to correct me on that temperature, because as I write that it sounds awfully hot. Is that a possible temperature for baking pottery? There are only two main ovens in the town, and everyone bakes their pottery together at the same time.

The bricks are used to block up the doors when the oven is on.

These water powered logs are used to pound the sand into clay.

Despite the rain it was a great morning, and after a stop at a delicious bakery in the middle of nowhere we went back and I hopped a bus home to meet my friend Shirin for some dinner and some baking. After the insanity of last weekend’s mud volleyball, this weekend was a lovely return to the calm which I really need to wind down from my busy week!


Categories: Pre-Japan
  1. Jessica
    June 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

    hey Dash – I haven’t commented in a while, but I try to keep up! I loved this post. I was just at a party and a woman who is an Idaho native said that catching fireflies in a jar was one of the things on her “to-do-before-dying” list. Since fireflies and jars were a normal part of my east coast US childhood, this seemed like an odd life ambition to me, but there aren’t any out here and they seem like a mythical creature, I guess.

    love from me and the boyz

  2. Rachel
    June 17, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    There’s a great place to see them in Koge-machi, keep going inland from Tomoeda shogakko, there’s a river running along the base of the mountains on the other side of the valley from the road. There’s tons of them on that river. I think Shirin teaches at Tomoeda shogakko, if not…

    Do you know where Taihei-raku is? Keep going past there, round past the dam. Turn right at the T intersection, then keep going round the mountain til you get to another T intersection. Tomoeda shogakko is to the right, turn left to go up the valley to the fireflies.

  3. Shirin
    June 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Dear Dash 🙂

    I saw your post on Facebook and decided to read your blog, and you write really well! Definitely one of the better blog entries Ive read! Thanks! It caught my eye because Im working on a Hotaru poem right now…And I was even more surprised to read my name down the bottom! That was a great day! -Failure muffins aside!! We should definitely go again soon… I have a bike now though im having trouble riding it in a straight line…got it off my friend and its a baa-chan bike… I also reallllly am craving apple pie… sometime soon? I also want to do an article about that Cafe we went to! I took lots of photos!

    As for the temps, it did sound too hot, so I checked and according to Wiki (very reliable I know…) its accurate:
    ”As a rough guide, earthenwares are normally fired at temperatures in the range of about 1000 to 1200 degrees Celsius; stonewares at between about 1100 to 1300 degrees Celsius; and porcelains at between about 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius.”

    Keep writing! When I get a moment Im gonna look at some of your other posts!

    I like your banner too… though I think its highly un-Japanese to not make a play on words with ‘ken’ to reproduce the much-loved ‘Yes we ‘ken” Haha… food for thought!

    Your friend,

  4. Peri Bearman
    June 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    I’m looking forward to my Onta pot for my birthday! (grapje)

  5. Dash
    June 18, 2010 at 3:31 am

    whoa! four comments! rock on.

    Jessica, thanks for the comment! Yeah I never really grew up with fireflies as much, but there were always a few around every once in a while. I’d never seen this many together before though!

    Rachel, thanks for the tip! I’ll definitely check that out next year, that sounds a bit closer than Yamakuni 😀

    Shirin, thanks for the essay! haha. You know, I never even thought about the “yes we ken” pun…I was so proud of myself for coming up with “Everything you ken do I ken do better…” pun. I may have to design another banner with that on! Or, more accurately, get my brother to make it. Although I came up with the design, he just made it on the computer because I can’t use photoshop or any of that.

    And finally Mom, you’ll get yours after I get mine, haha. They were quite pretty, I need to go back sometime when it’s not raining so I can properly browse around!

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