Renovation of the old Toyosato Elementary School (豊郷小学校), housed in a building designed by William Merrell Vories in 1937, has been completed and a ceremony was held on May 30, 2009 to mark its completion.
At a total cost of 650 million yen, the old building was repainted, reinforced against earthquakes, installed with an elevator, and preserved as much as possible.
The three-story building’s first floor has a public library and small play area for infants. The second floor with classrooms is preserved as it was originally. The old library next to the main building will be used a gallery.
During 1999-2002, Toyosato gained national attention when this old elementary school building was going to be torn down by the mayor in opposition to activists who wanted to preserve the building.
On May 27, 2009, the swine flu was found to hit a third person in Shiga, a 36-year-old male company worker who works in Kyoto and lives in Otsu. He has a wife and child who so far shows no signs of the flu.
Shiga is no longer taking drastic precautions against the swine flu, as the spread seems to have subsided and flu patients have been recovering well. Much fewer people are also wearing surgical masks on trains, etc. The period of panic and paranoia is passing.
Schools in Shiga reopened on May 27 as scheduled.
Meanwhile, hotels, ryokan inns, and other tourism-related businesses in Shiga and Kyoto have been hit hard by numerous school trip cancellations. As of May 23, about 63,000 visitors canceled trips to Shiga. This translates to a loss of about 1.2 billion yen (1,200,000,000) in business. Businesses are seeking financial help from the prefectural government.
As reported earlier, Omi-Hachiman and neighboring Azuchi are planning to merge in March 2010. On May 22, 2009, the deliberation committee for the merger between the two municipalities held a vote to decide the new name of the city after merging. Two proposed names were up for voting: Omi-Hachiman (近江八幡) and Omi-Hachiman-Azuchi (近江八幡安土).
It was a close vote, but Omi-Hachiman won the most votes. I’m surprised that “Azuchi” was not one of the options. The Azuchi name is far more famous than Omi-Hachiman. Japan’s Azuchi-Momoyama Period is named after Azuchi Castle built by Oda Nobunaga.
It is likely that “Azuchi-cho” will be retained as a place name in addresses after the merger. The current Omi-Hachiman City Hall will serve as the new city’s city hall, while the Azuchi Town Hall will be a branch office.
However, there might be a stumbling block to this merger by a citizen’s group in Azuchi petitioning for the recall of its mayor who is railroading this merger through.
Interesting that neighboring Ryuo-cho is out of the merger picture. Ryuo has the Daihatsu auto factories, but residents still depend on Omi-Hachiman for daily living.
All prefectural public schools which have been closed due to the swine flu scare will reopen for classes on May 27 (Wed.). Nursery, elementary, and junior high schools in the six southern cities centering on Otsu will also reopen on the 27th.
That is, if the swine flu does not further spread in Shiga.
On the morning of May 20, 2009, Shiga’s first case of swine flu has been confirmed. A 23-year-old male student at the Biwako-Kusatsu campus of Ritsumeikan University has been confirmed as the first patient. His symptoms are not serious and will be hospitalized. None of the swine flu cases in Japan have proved to be fatal. It seems to be similar to seasonal flu.
The student lives in Otsu and was visiting his parents’ home in Kobe during May 15-18. In Kobe, he worked part-time at a fast-food place where a high school student also working there was later diagnosed with swine flu.
He attended university classes in Kusatsu on the 18th. They are now contacting his classmates who had classes with him at the university.
Ritsumeikan University and most of Shiga’s public schools (especially in Shiga’s six southern cities) will be closed for seven days starting today. Many public and sports events have also been cancelled. Shiga is Japan’s third prefecture hit with swine flu.
School trips to Shiga are being canceled one after another. One school switched its trip from Shiga to Kyoto which I cannot understand. Matter of time before Kyoto gets it too.
Watch all the surgical masks sell out in Shiga from today.
Due to the spread of swine flu, the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education has decided to cancel all high school student exchange trips to sister cities in Michigan, USA. Some 20 students from Michigan were scheduled to visit Shiga next month for home-stay visits, and 20 students from Shiga were to visit Michigan in Sept. 2009.
Earlier, eight junior high school students from Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA postponed their trip to Omi-Hachiman scheduled for May 8-16, 2009. Due to fears of swine flu, the Grand Rapids people decided to postpone the homestay trip. As part of their sister-city relationship, Grand Rapids and Omi-Hachiman have been sending students to each other for homestay visits.
It is very unfortunate these trips had to be canceled. I’m sure the students are all very disappointed. Taking overseas trips during the formative years of high school brings much mutual unerstanding and experiences, besides lasting memories. Hope they will somehow eventually make the trip somehow, someday soon.
The new Mandala is in this Kongorinji Hondo Hall (National Treasure).
Kongorinji temple (金剛輪寺), one of the Koto Sanzan temple trio of Tendai Buddhist temples (National Treasures) in Aisho, eastern Shiga, lost its precious Mandala about 140 years ago during the Meiji Era (it is now owned by Nezu Art Museum in Tokyo and designated as an Important Cultural Property). They tried to get it back from the museum but to no avail.
So in April 2005, they set out to create a duplicate Mandala and it was recently completed after four years of painstaking art work. A service was held on May 10, 2009 at the temple to transfer a spirit to the Mandala and to install it in the temple. The service was officiated by the 91-year-old Tendai Zasu abbot (the sect’s top priest) as well. The Mandala, called Kongokai Hachiju-isson Mandala (金剛界八十一尊曼荼羅), is now open for public viewing in the temple’s Hondo hall until May 31, 2009. Public viewings of the Mandala will be held only once a year.
Buddhist art lovers will marvel at the Mandala’s depiction of 81 buddhas in the cosmos, with natural pigments brought in from China. Kamakura-Era techniques for the pigments and silk were used to create the 2-meter square painting on silk. The silk came from silkworms (in Ehime Pref. 愛媛県西予市) still creating the old type of silk used during the Kamakura Period. The pigments were also from crushed natural minerals like cinnabar for red, azurite for blue, and malachite for green. The Mandala cost about 30 million yen to make, made possible through the donations of almost 2,000 people.
*The temple is accessible by bus on weekdays from JR Inae Station on the Biwako/Tokaido Line. Buses leave at 9:17, 11:32, and 15:00. Buses do not run on weekends. Google Map
Yogo town, home of Lake Yogo in northern Shiga, held an unusual festival called the Chawan Matsuri or Teacup Festival. It’s been 6 years since it was last held in 2003. It supposed to be held every 3 years, but depopulation and the lack of funds and young people has threatened the continuation of the festival.
It was a very impressive festival with a variety of colorful attractions. Definitely was the best Golden Week festival I saw in Shiga.
The festival started centuries ago when a potter living in Yogo (上丹生) offered teacups to the gods at Niu Shrine in appreciation of the earth used for pottery and his pottery skills.
The festival started with a Shinto ceremony at 10 am at Niu Jinja 丹生神社 shrine. At 11 am, a series of Chigo-no-Mai sacred dances were performed by boys in kimono. Then a procession from Niu Shrine to Hachiman Shrine 1 km away, with a lunch break at Chawan Matsuri no Yakata museum. The floats are crowned with a very tall (over 7 meters) decoration of dolls, bowls, and other objects connected together and somehow do not fall down. The climax is when they detach the supporting poles from the lofty float decorations.