Firefly Squid! Late night adventures in Toyama Bay

The firefly squid (hotaruika in Japanese) are one of the more famous parts of Toyama Bay. One can barely escape the posters with cobalt blue lines during a visit to Namerikawa City. Being able to see the real thing, however, is an entirely different problem. The firefly squid stay deep in the bay during the day, and only rise up at night, throwing themselves onto the shore between March and June. This means that trying to catch a glimpse of the creatures may lead to sleepless nights waiting for small lights on a beach.

Fortunately, the city of Namerikawa organizes tours where tourists can go out at sea in a pleasure boat and watch the fishermen as they collect the firefly squid from the fixed fishing nets, a traditional way of fishing in the region with a history of over 400 years. 2 other CIRs and I embarked in our section manager’s car at 1:30 am to participate in this tour and see the firefly squid with our own eyes.

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After a quick information session in the Hotaruika Museum shop, where many souvenirs and foods are sold during the day, we walked out to the fishing port at 3 am for a ride on the pleasure boat. It was a chilly March night, but everyone aboard the boat was excited, from kids to grandparents, and everyone in between.

We arrived in front of the first fixed net system just in time to see the boat’s crew start reeling it in. The boat floats sideways into the net as the fishermen pull it and move the catch towards the edge, where another boat waits. Once the two boats are close enough, the fishermen use hand nets to scoop the firefly squid out of the fixed net system, all while leaving bycatch in. The tour goes by two fixed nets before bringing the tourists back to shore.

We only caught a peek at the light at the first net, but the second net is where the magic came to life. The glowing squid were creating a line around the net, and everyone was excited to catch glimpses of the blue light. For around twenty minutes, we watched the fishermen gather the squid with hand nets before placing them in boxes. The unmistakable bright blue of a few squid seemingly flying in the air was an amazing spectacle. One man threw a few squid towards us, which the children gleefully caught and started playing with. One even got some ink on his fingers before he threw it back out to sea.

 

The season is still early, and so far there haven’t been many firefly squid rising up to the surface, but that may mean the bulk will come later! I’m very glad I was given the chance to see this natural phenomenon first hand, and hopefully I’ll get to see it again!

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Summer Festivals, and an Exchange Teacher to Oregon

“Tatemon” at the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.4 edition (August 23, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

We are having a very hot summer here, and even overnight lows sometimes never reach below 80F/27C. But summer is a time for festivals and fireworks everywhere in Japan, with over a dozen within Toyama Prefecture. And in Japan, even average, small-city fireworks are spectacular displays. This summer, I went to the Furusato Ryugu Festival in Namerikawa City and the Jantokoi Festival in Uozu City, which both had outstanding fireworks shows over the bay.

In sister state news, we have a major announcement: we are reinstating the exchange teacher program, which had been suspended for several years. Ms. Akiko Nakano of Toyama Prefecture will be spending the next year and a half in Oregon, teaching at Sheridan Japanese School! We are thrilled to have this development in sister state relations, and excited for Ms. Nakano and everyone at the school. We would like to thank Sheridan Japanese School and the Oregon Department of Education for all of their support.

Firefly Squid Season Kicks Off

Originally written for the Vol.5-No.1 edition (April 8, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

For Toyama, one sign of spring is the start of hotaruika (firefly squid) season. From April 9th to May 5th, sightseeing boats in the City of Namerikawa will take customers out to Toyama Bay for the opportunity to see the glow of firefly squid up close.

Firefly squid are a small species of squid that are only 4 to 6 cm (about 2 in.) long, and have over a thousand bioluminescent organs on their bodies that emit a magical blue-white light. Although they can be caught in other places, Toyama Bay is the only place where large numbers of firefly squid gather near the shore. Roughly 15 km (over 9 mi.) of this coast is designated by Japan as a Special Natural Monument.

The sightseeing boat leaves at 3:00am, and visitors are able to watch firefly squid being caught. When the squid come in contact with the nets, the stimulation causes them to emit light, creating a mysterious glow that spreads over the surface of the sea. On the way back, visitors can even see the beautiful sunrise over the Tateyama Mountain Range.

Another way to see the firefly squid is at the Firefly Squid Museum, which offers a firefly “show” that runs through late May. In their special water tank, a net is pulled to reveal living, shining firefly squid. There is also a spring where sea water from 333 meters (1000 feet) deep is pumped up, and visitors can directly touch firefly squid and other sea creatures.

Firefly squid are truly unique creatures and are not to be missed on a spring visit to Toyama.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now