Thursday, January 31, 2013

Michael Caduto: Princess Firefly’s Lovers— A Traditional Tale from Japan

On a moonlit night during the seventh month, a breeze rocked the crimson petals of a lotus floating on the marsh. Cradled in this flower sat Hotaru, Princess of the Fireflies. Her golden light was a blazing star on a sky of dark water.

Up she flew among the lotus petals, past the wildflowers and out over the rice fields. Hotaru’s light worked its spell. Hundreds of suitors followed, struck by her beauty.

At last Princess Hotaru again came to rest on the petals of her lotus bloom.

Hundreds of suitors followed, struck by Hotaru’s beauty.

“Please,” cried each of the suitors who landed near Hotaru, “take me for your husband.”

“One alone shall win my heart,” she replied.

“What must we do?” they asked.

“You must bring me a gift of fire,” she declared. “Show me that you love me more than life itself.”

“This I will gladly do,” said Golden Beetle.

“I will not return without your gift of fire,” declared Hawkmoth.

“Neither of you can fly as swiftly as can I,” boasted Scarlet Dragonfly.

The three suitors flew off into the night. Scarlet Dragonfly saw a flickering flame where a young girl sat at her desk and read a love letter by candlelight. Her tears fell onto the parchment. Dragonfly flew bravely toward the flame to snatch a bit of fire for Hotaru. Instantly, his wings were singed.

Scarlet Dragonfly flew bravely toward the flame. 

“Oh, how sad!” cried the girl. “Why did you fly into the fire?” Scarlet Dragonfly lay lifeless upon the desktop.

Golden Beetle buzzed to a house where a woman sat mending clothes by the fireplace. Golden Beetle whirred past the woman’s left ear, causing her to jump. There was a crackling and a flash in the fireplace; then a puff of smoke drifted up with the sparks.

“What could that have been?” asked the woman.

She rose from her chair and found the toasted beetle upon the hot coals.

In time, Hawkmoth fluttered toward a house where a student was reading by the light of an oil lamp. Hawkmoth flew close to the flame, but the student brushed him away. Then Hawkmoth plunged into the candlelight and burned his wings. He fell into the thick lamp oil, struggled, and drowned.

Meanwhile, Hotaru waited safely within the petals of her lotus bloom. As she gazed at the stars, a golden light streaked across the sky. “It must be a falling star!” she thought. The light came closer until Hi-Maro, Prince of the Fireflies, perched upon a petal at the edge of Princess Hotaru’s lotus. Hi-Maro unfolded his wings to reveal the brilliant flame of life within. Hotaru leapt with joy at the sight.

“I have come to ask you to be my wife,” said Prince Hi-Maro. He flew up over the marsh, and his golden, dancing starlight captured Hotaru’s heart. The prince and princess were wed later that night. Generations of fireflies have lived amid the lotus petals ever since.

To this day, during the time of the seventh moon, Princess Hotaru’s suitors fly through the darkness on their quest for a gift of fire. One after another, they throw themselves into the flames: tall candles in Buddhist temples, lamps in the courtyards of shrines, kitchen lanterns, and sparks streaking from chimney tops. Each morning, people find the places of night fire littered with bodies. “Look,” they say, “many lovers tried to win the heart of Princess Firefly last night.”

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The story of Princess Firefly could be a symbol of our lives today. The firefly Princess Hotaru is like all those things that we want to fulfill our dreams of happiness. Energy-consuming toys, gadgets, tools, and appliances are our Princess Hotarus — those things that we could not make or use without the gift of fire — the energy supplies that generate the power to produce and run our devices.

So, like Golden Beetle, Hawkmoth, and Scarlet Dragonfly, we spend our time seeking the flames. It takes more then 6,000 electrical power plants, running 24 hours a day, to satisfy the need for electricity in the United States. In our hunger for more and more energy to power a way of life that we find so attractive, we throw ourselves into the flames — often making unwise decisions by wasting energy and using sources of energy that harm Earth and each other.

No wonder Princess Hotaru chooses Prince Hi-Maro, who is also a firefly. About 90 percent of a firefly’s energy is used to make light. Our common incandescent lightbulbs, however, waste 90 percent of the energy they use by producing heat instead of light. The most energy-efficient lights that we can now obtain, which are called light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, convert nearly 80 percent of the energy they use into pure light! If using incandescent bulbs and other devices that consume a lot of energy is acting like the fire-seeking bugs in this story, then using energy-efficient lights is like finding our true Princess Hotarus and Prince Hi-Maros.

Learn more about energy-efficient lighting in Michael’s post, Don’t Be an Energy Hog, Replace Your Bulbs!

The story “Princess Firefly’s Lovers” (above) was excerpted with permission from Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun: 22 Super-Charged Science Projects for Kids © 2011 by Michael J. Caduto. Illustrations by © Clayton Hanmer. All rights reserved.

Author Michael J. Caduto is the creator and coauthor of the international best-selling Keepers of the Earth series and Native American Gardening. He also wrote Earth Tales from Around the World, Pond and Brook, Riparia’s River, and many other books on the power of nature. His awards include the Aesop Prize, the NAPPA Gold Award, the Storytelling World Award, and the American Library Association’s “Best Book for Young Adults.” Michael lives in Vermont. Visit him at

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