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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

In Okinawa, there is a well-known folk song about fireflies that goes 

 Jinjin jinjin, sakaya nu mizi kwati utiriyo jinjin, sagariyo jinjin

 Jinjin jinjin, drink the water in front of the liquor store and come down jinjin, fall down jinjin.

Jinjin means “firefly” in the Okinawan language, but other words are also used to describe the insect. In Chinen it’s jēmā and in Miyako Island it’s yānbu, while they use pekkara in Taketomi Island and jinjin-pārē in Ishigaki Island. Jinjin is used in Naha, so we could say that the word belongs to the standard Okinawan dialect (although I don’t know if such a thing exists).

Around half of the Japanese firefly species can be found in Okinawa, yet there are no Okinawan words to describe them. The most common species on the island of Okinawa are Luciola kuroiwae and Curtos okinawanus, while Pyrocoelia miyako Nakane, Curtos costipennis and Pyrocoelia atripennis can be found in the Sakishima Islands. All of these species are terrestrial and consume snails and slugs during their larvae phase. 

Fireflies can also be found around the world. Throughout the main islands of Japan, species such as Luciola cruciate and Luciola lateralis are quite rare, as their larvae live underwater. In Okinawa, there is only one aquatic firefly, Luciola owadai, which can be found in Kume Island. These are the three aquatic species living in Japan.

There is an anecdote that an elementary school teacher once told their class. “Fireflies live near clean rivers. To protect fireflies, we must keep the rivers clean.” However one pupil, who was originally from a remote island, said to the teacher, “On our island, there wasn’t a river near our house but we saw a lot of fireflies around the farms and fields. Why is that?” The teacher was left speechless. Rather than the words of the teacher, who was probably just repeating something they learned from some authority, the child, who saw the real world with innocent eyes, was more accurate. 

Speaking of fireflies, while they are the most well-known type of light-emitting beetle, they emit light in different ways. Some flicker gently, reminiscent of the rhythm of breathing, while others maintain a consistently strong light or emit light in intermittent flashes. Among them, the most unique would be a type of Rhagophthalmus ohbai found in Iriomote Island. The male fireflies do not emit light, while the females emit light from the lower abdomen until they meet a male. Once they spawn, the females emit light from each of their three body segments as they protect the eggs. This firefly appears in the winter months of December and January. We often think of fireflies as summer insects, so maybe this proves that Okinawa is the place of everlasting summer.