If you’re visiting Japan between March and the end of May then you’re in for a treat and the chance to see something truly unique and spectacular. You’ll need to come to the city of Namerikawa in Toyama Prefecture, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the north of Kanazawa, but I promise it’s worth it. Namerikawa is home to the Hotaruika Museum and is home to the firefly squids. Once a year in spring, the harvesting of the firefly squids – aka Hotaru-ika – provides for a seasonal viewing of them, to see them, and to even touch these tiny bioluminescent sea creatures. This truly unique thing to do in Japan is a great way to understand more about these tiny creatures, and for the foodie in Japan, to eat them in all manner of ways! Here’s how to explore and see more of the Japanese Firefly Squid. We’ll tell you when to see Japan’s firefly squid, how to book a firefly squid Japan trip, and what to see at the Hotaru-ika Museum in Namerikawa.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER
There are many different and unique things to do in Japan as well as specific Japanese foods that you should try because you won’t find them anywhere else. The firefly squid of Toyama Bay definitely fits into both of those categories. As ever with Japan and with attractions and events that have limited capacity you’ll need to both plan ahead and book ahead to be able to experience it.
In brief: Hotaru-ika – aka firefly squid are tiny sea creatures with bioluminescent organs on various parts of their body. It means they glow blue in the dark. They live in Toyama Bay in the central Japan Sea and are fished between March and the end of May from Namerikawa fishing port. Firefly squid are a seasonal seafood delicacy, so foodies flock here to eat them. But you can also visit the world’s only Firefly Squid museum and learn about them, or take a middle-of-the-night boat trip to see the squid being caught and emitting their spooky, but very cool blue glow.
Trips start at 2 am. There’s one hotel in town that can be booked online. It’s recommended to book it asap. Book the Sky Hotel in Namerikawa here. (The hotel is fine, the rooms are tiny, and it was baking hot, but the breakfast is good and the staff are friendly)
What are Firefly Squid
Firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans) are known in Japan as Hotaru-ika and spend most of the time in the deeper waters of Toyama Bay, usually between 200 and 400 meters (700 to 1300 feet).
In springtime, their spawning season, and at the end of their life (they only live one year) the females rise to the surface and head towards the shallower waters and shore to release their eggs, after which they die.
Adult firefly squid are about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) long on average and they’re browny red, emitting blue and green light (humans however can’t see the green light, just the blue).
The firefly squid have photophores at various points on their body – around the eyes, on their stomachs, and at the ends of their “fourth legs”, which emit blue light. There are various schools of thought as to why they emit the blue light
- To detect prey more easily
- As a warning system to other firefly squids
- As a defense mechanism
When to see Firefly Squid
You can see Firefly Squid in March, April, and May, but only in the town of Namerikawa. Firefly squid are caught at night by local fishermen and you can see them at night by joining a boat trip from the Firefly Squid Museum in Namerikawa, or during the day by visiting the Firefly Squid Museum in Namerikawa.
If you’re in Japan during this spring season, then you’re likely also chasing Cherry Blossoms – here’s our guide to following and finding Japan’s Sakura.
Where to see Firefly Squid
Firefly Squid is caught on fishing boats sailing from the Namerikawa Fishing Port. Namerikawa is north of Toyama, and about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Kanazawa. You can see them on a boat that leaves from the fishing port, or in the Hotaruika Museum in Namerikawa.
You can also see Firefly Squid in bento boxes sold at Toyama station, and at various sushi bars and restaurants in the Toyama prefecture.
Note, though you can only see them when in season, unless, of course, they’re dried!
How to see Firefly Squid
There are two ways (apart from in restaurants and bento boxes) to see firefly squid. You’ll either need to visit the museum in Namerikawa or take a boat trip from the Namerikawa fishing port. Here’s the detail on both of those ways to see Hotaruika.
Visit the Hotaruika Museum in Namerikawa
This museum dedicated to the firefly squid was opened in 1988 and contains displays about the lifecycle of the firefly squid as well as hosting live shows of the bioluminescence of the creature.
Take a Firefly Squid Boat Trip
Nightly trips out to the firefly squid fishing grounds take place during the fishing season for the squid (March through the end of May). There’s a capacity of 70 people, which drops to 35 people at the end of the season.
Visiting the Namerikawa Museum of Firefly Squid
This small museum right on the waterfront of Namerikawa is a great place for an introduction to the firefly squid. You don’t have to visit the museum to take the boat trip and you don’t have to take a boat trip, you can just visit the museum.
Adult tickets to the Namerikawa Museum cost 820 Yen per adult (410 Yen per child) and they include access to the live theatre where they’ll show you the firefly squid emitting their blue lights. So if you’re not able to get a ticket for the firefly squid boat trip, or you don’t fancy the middle of the night experience, this is a great way to see the firefly squids in action. (it’s also a considerably cheaper option too!).
The museum has exhibits on the history, culture, and ecology of firefly squid (hotaruika), which is a famous local delicacy in Toyama Prefecture. You can learn about the squid’s life cycle, habitat, and the traditional fishing methods used to catch them. There are also interactive exhibits and a theater where you can watch videos about squid.
Outside of firefly squid fishing season (when there are no live squid to see) the price for the museum drops to 620 Yen for adults and 310 Yen for children.
The museum is entirely in Japanese, and that includes the live theatre overview and presentation of the firefly squids, but Google Translate works well on the signage and to be fair you’ll probably figure it out.
The museum is open from 9 am until 5 pm every day, but from June 1st to March 31st is closed on Tuesdays.
- Address of Hotaru-ika Museum: 410 Nakagawara, Namerikawa, Toyama 936-0021, Japan
- Opening Hours of Hotaru-ika Museum: 9am until 5pm.
- Admission Price of Hotaru-ika Museum: 820 Yen for Adults, 410 Yen for Children.
Taking a Firefly Squid Boat Trip
This boat trip only runs for about 6 weeks each year. In 2023 the dates are 1 April to 7 May, and will be about the same in future years, you’ll just need to check here for the exact dates. The trips coincide with the time of year that the firefly squid are being fished. Here’s the key information that you need to know about taking a boat trip to see firefly squid in Japan.
Firefly Squid Boat Trip Dates
The firefly squid boat trips take place from the beginning of April until the beginning of May. At the peak of the season, there are two boats, each carrying 35 tourists. At the end of the season, there is only one boat, with a 35 person capacity.
How many tickets are available for the Firefly Squid Boat trips?
The season is only about 6 weeks long, and for about two-thirds of that time, two boats go out, each holding 35 people. The end of the season only has 1 boat, again for 35 people.
How to book a Firefly Squid Boat Trip
There are 3 ways to book a firefly squid boat trip. I’ll start with the one that you’re most likely to use.
Book the boat trip to see Firefly Squids online. You’ll need to use Google Translate for the sites and also for the resulting emails, assuming that you don’t speak Japanese.
This is the easiest way to book this trip. Here’s how
- Go to the Hotaruika Museum website here
- Follow the link to Edisone (you can use this link, or follow the link from the museum website) or send them an email – the email address is here.
- You’ll be able to see the available dates for firefly squid trips and see if it fits with your schedule.
- Create an account.
- When you have created an account you can see what is still available and request places for the number of people in your party and the dates that you want.
- Click to confirm and you’ll get a confirmation email.
THIS IS NOT A BOOKING.
The museum is very clear that you have to wait until they confirm the booking by email, which can take up to 4 days. Our booking confirmation came through in 2 days.
You can also book by calling the museum. Note that you’ll need to speak Japanese to do this.
The telephone number to reserve boat trip tickets for Firefly Squid Japan is 076 – 475 – 0100 (only available from 9 am until 4 pm)
Alternatively, if you’re in the area, call in at the museum, book your trip, and then just pay on the morning of your arrival for the boat trip.
If you book online you’ll get an email reminder the day before your trip reminding you to turn up.
Cost of a Firefly Squid Boat Trip
A trip on the firefly squid boat costs 5,000 Yen for adults and 3,000 Yen for children. Payment is in cash only when you turn up for registration on the morning of your trip. Unless you are very lucky you cannot just turn up at 2 am and expect to get on a boat, you MUST prebook. And as online booking closes 3 days before and they don’t commit to checking emails on holidays and weekends you’ll want to do it well in advance. If you speak Japanese then you can call them as well and book.
Firefly Squid Boat Trip Cancellations
The trips do get canceled and it’s primarily because of the sea conditions. If the sea state is not good, then it will be canceled, but it’s unlikely to be canceled until 1:30 am when your trip starts at 2 am. So you’ll need to be in Namerikawa at that time anyways. As you haven’t paid anything for the trip there are no refunds to be made, you just don’t pay.
If your firefly squid boat trip is canceled, then be sure to head to the museum and see the firefly squids there.
What to wear on the Firefly Squid Boat Trip
The museum recommends that you wear something that you don’t mind “getting squid or squid ink on”. This was a mystery to us – as the boat trip details are very clear that you are not going to get on the fishing boat, you’re definitely on a tourist boat. The fishermen, to show the illuminated firefly squid scoop them out of the big net and then wave their smaller net around in the air before dumping the catch into the plastic bins. There are a few flying squids involved in this process. And there’s also the potential for a little flying squid ink too.
It’s 1:30 am when you leave the hotel. It’s April or early May. You’re going out to sea. You’ll want to wear layers and something waterproof in case it rains. In mid-April, I took my waterproof trousers and waterproof jacket, to wear as windbreaks and was glad I had. I’d layered up with a t-shirt and fleece too and had a hat. I’d have been grateful for gloves but didn’t have any.
If you’re taking your daypack or a bag with you, please DON’T wear it when you are watching the squids. There is limited space on the boat and if your daypack is getting a better view than other people it is somewhat irritating. In April 2023 100% of domestic tourists were wearing face masks. About 25% of foreign tourists, including one with a hacking cough, were not.
What to bring on the Firefly Squid Boat Trip
Bring your camera. Bring some warm layers and a hat. You’ll only be out on the boat for about an hour, but there is NOTHING open at that time, if you are going to want some water, bring a bottle of water. If you’re staying at the Sky Hotel in Namerikawa you’ll be expected to leave your hotel key at the reception, which is manned 24 hours.
What to Expect on the Firefly Squid Boat Trip
If you stay in Namerikawa the night before your Firefly Squid boat trip, then the only place you can book online is the Sky Hotel, which is located right by the Namerikawara station, so its convenient for dropping bags if you want to explore before you can check-in (check in is at 2 pm and checkout at 11 am the following day). The Sky Hotel in Namerikawa is a convenient (and easy) 10-minute walk down to the Hotaruika Museum, where you go for registration and to pay your fees for the Firefly Squid Boat Trip.
You’ll want to set your alarm for 01:30 and head down to the museum. The route down is easy, straight down the road that’s in front of the railway station. Follow the blue asphalt pavement and squid and dish tiles and drain covers.
Check-in for the squid boat trip is in the museum shop, there’s a small booth set up, especially for registration and payment and there is plenty of staff on hand to help and direct you. But only in Japanese. For about 4 weeks two boats take the trip, each holding 35 people. On the day we visited out of the two boats, there were about 10% international visitors, and all the rest were domestic tourists.
After you’ve checked in and handed over your cash. Remember it’s cash only for the Firefly Squid trip. You’ll get a ticket and a boarding pass. You’ll then be issued with a lifejacket, which you just need to put on before you get on the boat. There are two boats, and while it doesn’t matter where you sit when you’ve been issued the life jacket, just watch for the sign that it’s your boat being called (they will hold up the same ticket that you’ve been given for boarding).
You won’t leave the museum shop area until about 2:20 am, so there’s plenty of time for some photos in front of the Firefly Squid montage. The staff are happy and willing and experienced at taking photos.
When it’s time, you’ll walk down to the boats. There’s no rush. The tourist boats and the fishing boats leave about the same time, it’s very well organized. And you’ll board the boats.
There may have been a safety announcement, but it was all in Japanese.
There are only 35 people on each boat and that means that everyone will get to see the firefly squid, but bear in mind that the boats will have the fishing operation on their RIGHT-HAND SIDE. So if you get on first and want to pick a side, you know which to go for.
We were on the left-hand side, but the captain led Nigel through the wheelhouse to the “best seat in the house” for the second net.
The boats motor out from the harbor, following the fishing boats, which all have a small stove on. Presumably to warm the fishermen from the perishing cold – the water temperature is about 5 degrees Celsius.
Assuming that the weather is good, then you’ll get to see one of the boats deal with the catch from one net and then move onto a second net. The nets are fixed, and the fishing boat crews are simply drawing them in. It’s a seriously labor-intensive job, as you can see by the number of men involved.
The squid are sorted before the boat moves off
After this, you’ll return to the fishing port. You’ll then have the chance to go back to your hotel or head to the firefly squid auction near the fishing port. Either way you’ll get a souvenir dry squid to eat, or take home.
Where is Namerikawa
Namerikiawa is about 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) north of Toyama, which is the closest station that you can get to on your JR Pass. Most people venture as far as Kanazawa and stop there, but it’s worth coming a little further north if you’re in the area at the right time of year to see firefly squid.
How to get to Namerikawa
Namerikawa is most easily reached by first getting to Toyama, which is the closest station that is covered on a JR Pass (read about JR Passes here). You’ll then need to take a private rail line train, costing 390 Yen to Namerikawa station. Note that two lines come here from Toyama, and you’ll want the Ainokazetoyama Tetsudo line. They have their own ticket office just outside the JR station in Toyama. Just follow the signs.
There are machines to buy tickets or the booths also sell tickets. Staff speak enough English to sell you the ticket and to point you to the right platform (it’s usually platform 4).
Where to stay in Namerikawa
You don’t have to stay in Namerikawa but you will need to be at the Hotaruika Museum at 2 am and there aren’t any trains or buses running at that time, so if you’re using public transport, then actually you will have to stay in Namerikawa.
There’s one hotel you can book in Namerikawa. (this isn’t a big place). It’s called the Sky Hotel. It’s right by the train station and just a 10-minute walk down to the museum. Book the Sky Hotel in Namerikawa here.
You’ll find information on a couple of other places to stay in the town, listed on the museum website, but they’re small ryokan-style places and you’ll have to call them to book.
What to eat in Namerikawa
There’s a restaurant at the Sky Hotel (which actually does rates inclusive of breakfast, which is a set Japanese menu), but they have good coffee too. There are several supermarkets where you can pick up something to eat, just take a look at Google and there are a couple of izakayas, a ramen place, and there’s a good place called Kajiyabashi which is about a 10-minute walk from the Sky Hotel – they do set meals there and it’s friendly and well priced, although there’s no English spoken and no English menus – their menus translate easily with Google Translate and they have photos. I recommend the Tempura Rice Bowl (the Tempura was fabulous) and the Sashimi Rice Bowl (fabulous and it did include firefly squid too) set meals.
Final Words on Seeing Japanese Firefly Squid
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Japan, then this really is a stunning place to visit and thing to do. You’ll need to plan ahead, but it’s a great experience and despite it all being in Japanese it was really interesting. If you don’t have the budget for the boat trip at 5,000 Yen, then do head to the museum where you’ll get to learn about the firefly squid, to see them, and to even touch them if you want to.
We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.