2005年6月27日 (月)

Firefly experts tend to be a breed apart


Firefly experts tend to be a breed apart


"Hotaru" (fireflies), a scholarly book published in 1935, is regarded as the bible of firefly experts. Turning the pages, I was taken aback by the author's near-obsessive love for these bugs.



Sakyo Kanda, the author, was a bona fide eccentric. According to Masayasu Konishi, an entomologist, Kanda had zero people skills. That didn't bother Kanda at all. Also, he never had a steady job nor income. Whenever he caught an error in someone's academic paper, he attacked it relentlessly, even if the author happened to be a big gun in the world of academia.

He never married, insisting he intended to "form a suicide pact with fireflies."


Even though he constantly bemoaned his misfortune, his scholastic achievements were hailed abroad. A British academic society practically begged him to become a member, and he was asked to give a lecture to members of the Japanese imperial family. But he snubbed both, declaring his disdain for "authority" in any form. He died at age 65 in 1939.


One of his achievements was the discovery that the genji botaru (luciola cruciata) in western Japan glowed every two seconds, whereas the same species found in eastern Japan did so only every four seconds.

The mystery continued to baffle post-World War II researchers, the majority of whom now believe that the time lag owes to differences in the genetic makeup of the western and eastern fireflies.

But Norio Abe, a civil servant in the employ of Tokyo's Itabashi Ward, has challenged this with his own theory. "East or west, they are the same bug," he asserted. "Fireflies glow at shorter intervals when the temperature rises."


A college dropout, Abe was a member of a motorcycle gang while in high school. In Itabashi Ward, his job is to breed fireflies to teach the importance of ecology to residents. He fell in love with his work.

This spring, he received a doctorate from Ibaraki University for his dissertation. Titled "Hito no Kansei to Hotaru no Hikari" (Human sensibility and the glow of fireflies), it was a compilation of his research findings over 16 years.

"As a researcher, I certainly don't fit the mold," he said. "But I must say I find Kanda's rebelliousness really cool."


Fireflies have fascinated people since time immemorial. Their mysterious glow is beautiful and bewitching. Our ancestors associated it with love and the human soul. Their glow can sometimes even change people's lives, too.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 19(IHT/Asahi: June 27,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)