UCC Shiga Factory tours in Echigawa, Aisho

Entrance

Entrance to UCC Shiga Factory in Aisho.

The UCC Shiga Factory (UCC滋賀工場) in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture (near Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station) started full-scale operations in March 2013 to make regular coffee in plastic bottles (930 ml) and cans (300 ml and 400 ml) with screw-on caps. It uses the clean water from the Suzuka mountains to make the coffee.

UCC is a very famous coffee brand in Japan synonymous with canned coffee since they invented and popularized canned coffee in 1969. “UCC” stands for “Ueshima Coffee Company” named after Ueshima Tadao who founded the company in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture in 1933. Coffee was one of the Western things that came to Kobe and he fell in love with the drink with his first cup. UCC’s innovative canned coffee got its big break at Expo ’70 in Osaka. With all those people drinking UCC canned coffee milk at the expo, it was a major PR coup.

In 1989, they started operating their own coffee plantation (UCC Hawaii) in Kona, Hawaii which also conducts tours for the public. They also have a coffee farm in the famous Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

UCC Shiga Factory Tours

The UCC Shiga Factory conducts free factory tours twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They offer two identical tours on both days starting at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The tour is about 80 min. long and up to 22 people can join the tour. Reservations are required at the UCC website (in Japanese). The reservations page shows a calendar indicating when space is available. An “x” means no spaces are available. A number indicates the number of spaces still available on that tour. You can make reservations up to three months in advance and it must be made by 4:00 p.m. the day before the tour.

They do not allow pets, baby strollers (can be stored), and wheelchairs (due to the stairs). Kids younger than jr. high school need to be accompanied by an adult. If there are enough foreigners, I was told that tours in English are also possible.

You have to get to the factory at least 15 min. before the tour starts. You can enter the factory up to 30 min. before the tour starts and enjoy a cup of coffee while waiting. If you come by car, parking is available in front of the factory. If you come on foot, follow the pedestrian path (follow the signs) toward the left of the giant coffee cup. There is a security gate where they will ask for your name. (In Japanese, say “kengaku” which means factory tour.)

When you enter the building, they will greet you and ask for your name. There is a lobby where you take off your shoes and wear house slippers. The lobby wall has a display of the products made at the factory. Photography is allowed only in this lobby (and outside). Photos and videos are not allowed anywhere else in the factory. Our friendly factory guides were women in red uniforms.

entrance

Follow the pedestrian path to the factory entrance ahead.

lobby

UCC Shiga Factory 1st floor lobby. Sign for selfies says, “Visited UCC Shiga Factory.”

UCC

Lobby displays coffee drinks made by the UCC Shiga Factory.

From the lobby, we were told to go upstairs to the “Theater Room” which is a nice coffee lounge with chairs, tables, small gift shop, and a video screen. As we waited for the tour to start, we were served free UCC coffee and we could choose which coffee to drink. The room also has a showcase tracing the company’s history with product displays. You can see how the UCC coffee can design has evolved since 1969. The tour started with a short video in Japanese introducing the company and its coffee farms in Jamaica and Kona, Hawaii.

Then we left the room and entered the factory after saying the “magic password” to open the factory door. We walked through a corridor with glass windows on both sides and saw mostly metal pipes going in all directions and large vats. One stop was in front of the production line where they fill coffee cans (800 cans of coffee per minute). Another stop was at a line where plastic PET bottles were being transported. Those 1-liter PET bottles were actually made from small test tube-size plastic pieces (called “preforms”) that is expanded and inflated at the factory into regular-size PET bottles. Amazing, I had never wondered how PET bottles were made until then. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to transport those small preforms to the factory than ready-made bottles which take up a lot more space. They also showed us the very thin films used for the PET bottle labels.

Unfortunately, the factory production lines were not operating when we were there. Apparently, their production quota had been reached so they weren’t operating. It wasn’t a 24/7 operation. So we didn’t see anything move. No noise, and almost no people. Looks very automated.

We also had a live video chat with a quality control inspector working in the quality control room. He explained how he samples the coffee through smell and taste to ensure product quality. I asked him (jokingly) how he prevents overdosing on caffeine while on the job. He said he doesn’t sample enough coffee to overdose on caffeine. He only samples a few cups of coffee worth per day for his job. (He says you need to drink tens of cups of coffee in a day to overdose on caffeine.)

Next, we were led to the “Coffee-Tasting Room” where we sat for a coffee-tasting session. We each had two tiny cups of different coffee to compare regular coffee and coffee made with a concentrate. They definitely smelled and tasted different. They explained how each type of coffee is made and how it affects the taste.

Lastly, we were led back to the “Theater Room” lounge where they introduced their latest coffee products and their little gift shop on a small shelf. If you buy something at the gift shop, they give you a door prize like packets of instant coffee. And if you buy at least ¥1,000 of gifts, they give you two free bags containing six instant coffee packets. Lots of freebies and there wasn’t anything expensive to buy. We also had time to taste UCC’s different canned and bottled coffee. I tasted them all and noticed differences in the taste, sweetness, milkiness, and smoothness. I concluded that coffee in small cans tasted better than the coffee in large PET bottles.

Since the factory is still new, the place is nice and clean and the staff were friendly and nice. After the tour if you have time, I recommend also visiting the Omi Jofu Traditional Crafts Center down the road and try hands-on weaving.

This gift set cost only ¥200 at UCC Shiga Factory gift shop.

canning date

Imprinted on the neck is the canning date and “SGF” which indicates “Shiga Factory.”

Senbei

Coaster-shaped senbei crackers imprinted with “UCC Shiga Factory.”

Obviously I had to buy this Kona Coffee and little canvas bag (since I’m from Hawaii).

packets

Buy at least ¥1,000 of gifts and get this free. Six instant coffee packets in each bag.

Freebies

Free door prize (instant coffee) with any purchase.

Also see UCC’s photos of the Shiga factory here.

The factory is a 15-min. walk from Echigawa Station on the Ohmi Railways. Or 15 min. by taxi from JR Notogawa Station.

Coincidentally, I tried this large can of sweet UCC coffee during my last trip to Hawaii.

Shiga History May–August 2017

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s major and interesting news headlines for May–August 2017 (according to the year, month, day, and time posted at GMT).

Originally posted on Twitter under Shiga Headlines by Philbert Ono. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters including spaces and links (shortened by Twitter). Dates and times below are based on GMT instead of Japan time.

2017-05-09 00:54:22 Otsu Mayor Koshi Naomi was interviewed in English by Foreign Press Center Japan in March. https://t.co/B2gAEFGYFW
2017-05-09 11:41:34 In Moriyama this morning, Yoshimi Elementary School teacher Nakano Keiji (中野啓治, 59) arrested for DUI as he was driving erratically to work.
2017-05-09 11:56:02 Age 22 Inoue Yuta 井上裕太 & two age 14 boys arrested for breaking windows w/rocks at 4 primary & junior high schools in Omi-Hachiman in April.
2017-05-11 17:27:21 Former Kora Town Hall tax worker Kojima Takayasu (30) 小島崇靖 arrested for embezzling ¥30 mil.+ from tax-paying residents by falsifying data.
2017-05-11 17:38:02 Food Bank for accepting corporate food donations will be established to supply food to 63 Kodomo Shokudo kitchens for kids in rural Shiga.
2017-05-14 07:07:20 2nd video of our mini concert in Imazu featuring Biwako reed flute players Kikui Satoru & Kondo Yumiko. So pretty! https://t.co/hwjhfqFGiX
2017-05-16 21:10:00 Shiga Lakestars’ 1st season in the new B.League’s B1 Div. ended with 21 wins & 30 losses, putting them in last place in the West Conference.
2017-05-17 11:07:36 KEPCO’s No. 4 nuclear reactor at Takahama in Fukui was restarted today despite widespread opposition and anxiety in Shiga.
2017-05-17 11:19:14 All shinkansen between Gifu-Hashima & Maibara had to stop tonight for 30 min. when someone went on the tracks at Maibara Station at 5:50 pm.
2017-05-18 11:24:53 98.5% of Shiga’s 2,166 high school graduates in 2017 have found employment. An increase of 0.5% over 2016 & exceeding 98% 4 years in a row.
2017-05-19 10:40:49 The problem with this New York Times article is that “Shiga” is not mentioned at all. Only “near Kyoto.” https://t.co/hJ2SDfsGwB
2017-05-23 11:12:09 Since 2001, 502 non-serious traffic accidents caused by Shiga Prefectural Government employees went unpunished. This oversight now finally corrected.
2017-05-24 23:00:28 Shiga Pref. Gov’t male worker suspended for 2 months for sexual harassment of female worker verbally, forcing lunch date, touching her chest
2017-05-24 23:01:28 Shiga Prefectural Government managerial male worker suspended 4 months for sexual harassment of 2 female workers, touching her hip & thighs, emailing.
2017-05-24 23:02:14 The names, dept., and age of the two male Shiga Prefectural Government workers suspended for sexual harassment have not been disclosed as required.
2017-05-24 23:02:45 Despite widespread opposition and anxiety in Shiga, KEPCO’s No. 3 & 4 nuclear reactors at Oi in Fukui passed safety standards for a restart.
2017-05-26 06:48:47 After 3 seasons, Shiga Lakestars head coach Toyama Koto 遠山向人 will be leaving the team upon completing his contract. His replacement TBA.
2017-05-26 06:50:58 Higashi-Omi Odako giant kite festival will not be restarted until ongoing litigation over the death & injury of spectators in 2015 ends.
2017-05-26 10:16:53 Moriyama city has signed a cooperative agreement with Sagawa Art Museum to offer art education & free admission to local kids & residents.
2017-05-28 08:35:56 Nagahama Royal Hotel’s kitchen suspended for 3 days from May 27 for causing norovirus food poisoning of 36 tourists from Kobe on May 20.
2017-05-29 12:10:38 Delicious lunch today with samurai chopsticks at Azai Sanshimai (sisters) Roadside Station in Nagahama (opened in March 2017). #道の駅浅井三姉妹の郷 
2017-05-31 11:24:55 Huge lotus pond at Karasuma in Kusatsu decimated since summer 2016. Expert says, “Sandy soil is bad, very little chance of recovery.” Sad! 
2017-06-01 14:38:12 Near Nagahama Castle in Hokoen Park today, they started building the new Biwako Shuko no Uta Verse 3 song monument. First the foundation… 
2017-06-02 10:21:57 Taga-native and Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Takahiro Norimoto got double-digit strikeouts 7 games in a row, breaking Hideo Nomo’s record.
2017-06-04 11:00:39 Great show by the Blue Impulse aerobatic team over Hikone today to celebrate the castle’s 410th anniversary. Sakura in the sky and more. 
2017-06-06 13:44:56 KEPCO’s No. 3 nuclear reactor at Takahama in Fukui was restarted today despite widespread opposition and anxiety in Shiga.
2017-06-06 13:51:13 51-year-old Australian Shawn Dennis has become the Shiga Lakestars’ new head coach. Previously an assistant coach for Tochigi Brex.
2017-06-06 14:05:08 Age 43 male worker at JA Kita-Biwako agricultural cooperative embezzled ¥44.77 mil. from people’s accounts for 2 years from Feb. 2015.
2017-06-13 04:56:05 American Jesse LeFebvre, an ordained Shingon (Buzan) Buddhist priest doing the Saigoku Pilgrimage, appointed as Otsu’s Tourism Ambassador.
2017-06-16 14:30:11 Founded in Hikone in 1933, Takata Corporation (4 factories in Shiga) is applying for financial rehabilitation due to massive airbag recalls.
2017-06-16 14:51:38 Official warnings issued to 6 of 36 educators in Shiga who received money/favors from textbook publishers to evaluate textbooks under review
2017-06-18 18:42:13 Yokozuna Hakuho & Miyagino Stable are lodging in Nagahama for the Nagoya tourney. He treated local kids & fans with sumo demo & chankonabe.
2017-06-27 15:45:22 Ninja birthplaces Koka and Iga have signed an agreement to work together to attract more tourists.
2017-06-27 15:56:29 Takata Corporation’s bankruptcy is causing anxiety in Shiga with 4 factories & over 50 subcontractors. Sharp, Toshiba, & now Takata. So sad!
2017-06-28 08:26:29 To mark the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song), the Japan Post Office issued these stamps sold only in Shiga. https://t.co/b8vnhQ8qRz
2017-06-28 08:33:00 The annual Biwako Shuko no Uta choir contest held in Imazu on June 25 was extra special this year with singer Kato Tokiko also appearing. 
2017-06-28 08:35:21 After the choir contest, 120 rowers sang in front of the song monument at Imazu Port including singer Kato Tokiko & former Gov. Kada Yukiko. 
2017-06-28 08:41:29 Also on June 25, a new song monument (Verse 3) was unveiled near Nagahama Castle with Kato Tokiko attending. It’s a glass bench. 
2017-06-28 08:43:19 On June 24–27, 120 rowers took turns rowing around Lake Biwa on 3 boats. They sang at each song monument along the way. Here’s Mt. Ibuki. https://t.co/mwgX6mCiWS
2017-06-28 08:56:40 なぞり周航の最後に大津市の越市長もよく述べた:「周航の歌が世界にも広がることを期待する」(毎日新聞6月28日の滋賀版)。 https://t.co/la8viiqbRZ
2017-06-28 09:25:16 なぞり周航が無事に終わって本当にお疲れ様でした。その企画と実行が大変だったと思いますが、皆さんがよく連携・協力して改めてこの歌のパワーが感じさせられました。凄いなと思いました。滋賀ってやればできるよ。Rowers sing at the Verse 5 monument. https://t.co/86G7dCAUvM
2017-06-30 16:58:23 The 1st Biwako Ongakusai concert at Biwako Hall last night ended with everyone singing Biwako Shuko no Uta for the grand finale. #びわ湖音楽祭 
2017-07-01 09:32:10 RT @Lefa_heart: びわ湖音楽祭、フィナーレの写真です

英語版、琵琶湖周航の歌を作詞された

オノフィルバートさんよりご提供いただきました

本当にたくさんの人のご縁がこのステージに導いてくれました!

2017-07-05 15:40:59 NHK滋賀より:「外国人へ情報発信するのが下手」。延暦寺だけの問題ではない。県内のほとんどの名所や観光施設はそうなんです。英語があってもその質または量が低い。大津が個別に対策をとってもあまり効果はない。まず、滋賀の全体の改革が必要(全市町で)。個別の連携ではなく、全体的の連携を。
2017-07-09 13:49:56 Talked about Lake Biwa Rowing Song at my university lecture in Japanese in Tokyo on July 8. #都内の国立大学 
2017-07-09 13:59:25 Child kabuki from Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (Kasuga-zan) & Asakusa performed today at Asakusa Shrine in Tokyo. #長浜曳山祭東京公演 #子ども歌舞伎 #浅草こども歌舞伎 
2017-07-10 12:47:04 Maibara City Hall manager (40s) in health/welfare dept fired on June 28 for falsifying his work hours to receive ¥2.7 mil. in overtime pay.
2017-07-10 12:47:42 Last week, a Hino High School teacher (31) was charged with displaying obscene materials electronically. The principle apologized to parents
2017-07-10 12:48:00 Hino High School math teacher Kitanaka Ryosuke (北中涼裕, 25) arrested for spreading malicious rumors on social media about an 18-year-old woman.
2017-07-10 12:48:36 The new shopping complex “Ekimachi Nagahama” that replaces the old Heiwado in front of Nagahama Station will open on July 29. #えきまち長浜
2017-07-11 11:58:20 At Otsu District Court, former Kora Town Hall tax worker Kojima Takayasu (小島崇靖, 30) pleaded guilty of embezzling ¥440,000+ of tax money.
2017-07-11 12:00:58 Former Kora Town Hall tax worker Kojima Takayasu (#小島崇靖, 30) had previously been indicted of embezzling ¥1.64 mil+ of tax money.
2017-07-12 05:51:04 オリテ米原。頑張っているから批判したくないけど、普通の方は「降りて」ではなく「織り手」をイメージするじゃないの?そしてこのネーミングは外国人には対象外、無縁となっている。例えば、2020年にニュージーランドの東京五輪のホッケー選手にOrite Maibara!と言っても通じない。
2017-07-12 06:23:58 「市役所」を”City Hall”に統一することは賛成です。その標識や表示を変えるのが大変ですね。
2017-07-12 06:35:49 滋賀県内の道路管理者たちが標識の英語表記を統一するためにガイドラインが作ったそうですが、この一部を見てもまだよくない英語表記が多い。Mt.の後に一個のスペースが必要。「長浜鉄道スクエア」もMuseumの代わりにSquareにしろう。2017年6月9日の中日新聞滋賀版より 
2017-07-13 12:41:18 Summer 2017 fireworks schedule in Shiga: https://t.co/O392NMg8p4 #滋賀県花火大会情報
2017-07-14 13:49:10 Shiga policeman (20s) charged with driving w/o a driver’s license for 11 days in May. Punished with a salary reduction, but he has resigned.
2017-07-14 13:59:24 Hikone Welfare Center worker Fujimoto Toshiya (34, #藤本稔也) arrested for exposing himself to a jr. high school girl on the street from his car
2017-07-14 14:31:35 Shiga Prefectural Government Enterprise Dept. (企業庁) worker (51) punished with a mere 10% pay cut for 15-mo. sexual harassment of female co-worker. #ヤツの名前を公表しろう
2017-07-18 12:59:01 Trial runs of self-driving mini buses from Oku-Eigenji Keiryu-no-Sato (奥永源寺渓流の里) roadside station in Higashi-Omi are planned for this fall.
2017-07-19 09:48:30 Rainy season ended yesterday in Kinki Region. Hot & sunny days are forecast for the next 7 days. Have a fun & safe summer.
2017-07-19 10:29:16 「熱中症」は和英辞書がいつもheatstrokeとなっているが、heat illnessが一番近いと思う。Heatstroke(熱射病)は一番重度で死の危険性がある。「夏バテ」も適当な英語はないけど、summer fatigueかしら。皆さんも暑い夏に健康第一、ご自愛ください。
2017-07-30 14:46:06 Former Biwako Visitors Bureau Tokyo Office Manager Ito Masahiro (60, 伊藤雅博) charged with falsifying & pocketing ¥1.24 mil in travel expenses. Shocking!!
2017-07-30 15:04:02 In Moriyama, Hotel Laforet Biwako renovated, rebranded, and reopened on July 28 as Lake Biwa Marriott Hotel (琵琶湖マリオットホテル).
2017-07-30 15:21:12 The new Ekimachi Terrace replacing the old Heiwado in front of Nagahama Station had a grand opening on July 29. https://t.co/480Sn2gVTS
2017-07-30 15:30:43 Shiga’s new “floating school” under construction will be named “Uminoko” (Child of the Lake) (うみのこ), the same name as the current ship. 
2017-08-02 05:13:25 日野町立図書館でお子さんたち用の英語のイベントが無料で8月23日、25日に開催される。オーストラリア人のセーラ・ニシナさんから。 https://t.co/aEW4OcNVmy
2017-08-06 03:06:53 Kusatsu Basho sumo exhibition tournament held at

Kusatsu Gym on July 31. Sold-out crowd of 3,288 saw Yokozuna Hakuho & other sumo stars. https://t.co/ZwKyuV2d1V

2017-08-06 03:15:32 One of Japan’s oldest train stations in operation since 1916, Hino Station is undergoing major renovations and now looks bold & modern.
2017-08-07 04:28:40 Not a good day to visit Shiga today. Typhoon No. 5 (Noru) passing through until tonight. Lots of rain in northern Shiga too.
2017-08-07 06:25:32 Due to the typhoon, some trains (Shin-kaisoku) will be canceled on the Tokaido/Biwako Line.
2017-08-07 06:27:07 Trains are not running on the Kusatsu Line between Kibukawa and Tsuge and beyond to Kameyama, Kamo, and Iga-Ueno.
2017-08-07 06:56:42 Heavy rain & wind warnings issued for the entire city of Konan. Eight evacuation centers have opened in the city. https://t.co/OIlhpIeiKC
2017-08-07 07:34:23 All boat cruises on Lake Biwa, including Michigan paddle wheeler, have been canceled today. Shigaraki Kogen Railway trains also canceled.
2017-08-07 11:42:31 Most of Shiga is now under the windiest part of the typhoon. No reports of major damage nor injuries so far. Stay safe everyone! https://t.co/QHWiioMm08
2017-08-07 14:18:22 @missyukky 録画して見ました。湖南の皆さん(特に藍染の師匠)が元気そうで嬉しかったです。下田焼の奥さんも映って欲しかった。ほとんどは夫婦や家族で頑張っているので素晴らしい。いつか下田なすも食べたいな。
2017-08-08 03:08:36 Very slow-moving Typhoon No. 5 drenched Shiga well over 12 hours, but no injuries. Anegawa River overflowed in Nagahama flooding a few homes
2017-08-08 03:41:55 Trains not running on JR Hokuriku Line between Maibara and Tsuruga, and on JR Kosei Line between Omi-Maiko and Omi-Shiotsu.
2017-08-08 03:46:55 Hikone Higashi High School beat Hasami (Nagasaki) 6-5 today in the 1st game of the Summer Koshien national high school baseball tournament.
2017-08-08 07:53:50 Trains now running on JR Hokuriku Line and JR Kosei Line, but on a slower schedule. Other train lines in Shiga running normally.
2017-08-10 12:35:31 In Moriyama, Yoshimi Elementary School teacher Nakano Keiji (中野啓治, 60), arrested for DUI in May, was suspended for 6 mo., but resigned today
2017-08-10 12:39:03 Prince Akishino, wife Kiko, and son Prince Hisahito visited a traditional brush maker in Takashima today as part of their summer vacation.
2017-08-14 09:55:09 Hikone Higashi High School lost to Aomori Yamada 2-6 today in their 2nd game of the Summer Koshien national high school baseball tournament.
2017-08-14 10:11:00 Hikone City Hall, undergoing renovations for earthquake resistance until May 2019, has temporarily moved into AL Plaza Hikone, 3rd & 4th fl.
2017-08-14 10:14:46 Hikone-native sprinter Kiryu Yoshihide & teammates won the bronze for the men’s 4x100m final at IAAF World Championships London on Aug. 12.
2017-08-14 21:04:46 8月11日にNHKラジオ「ラジオ深夜便」の番組が「琵琶湖周航の歌」を紹介しました。聞き逃した方のためにホームページで聞けます。2017年8月11日のスライダーを21:40にします。~Lefa~の歌声と歌の研究家の飯田忠義先生が出演。https://t.co/GFIJ5v8Vcs
2017-08-14 21:06:20 Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th Anniversary photo essay in English: https://t.co/88LckAT4Ci
2017-08-18 16:11:02 At Lake Biwa Museum, the Baikal seal tank is too small. The 2 seals can hardly swim around. Very shy, couldn’t see their faces. #バイカルアザラシ 
2017-08-22 04:35:34 Nice to see my “We love Shiga” logo spreading around, even in Brazil. Free to use! 
2017-08-25 19:35:42 Epic war movie “Sekigahara” opens in theaters today in Japan w/Okada Jun’ichi as Nagahama-native Ishida Mitsunari. 
2017-08-28 09:56:53 Shiga’s 6th graders & 3rd-year jr high kids scored lower than the nat’l average on all scholastic achievement tests in April.#学力テスト4年連続平均下回る
2017-08-30 14:55:26 映画「関ヶ原」を見た。三成がメインでまぁまぁ面白かった。「近江」や「琵琶湖」が頻繁に聞く。滋賀のロケも多い(彦根城、龍潭寺、百済寺、延暦寺、日吉大社、愛知川など)。秀吉への三献の茶の場面と三成の斬首前に秀秋や家康との対面が面白い。架空の人物もいるのでやはりフィクションの作品。
2017-08-31 13:30:52 Due to fewer sales & customers, Otsu Parco shopping complex closed today after 21 years in business since 1996. Movie theaters remain open.

Shiga History January–April 2017Chronological History of Shiga | Shiga History Sept.–Dec. 2017

Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th Anniversary

Rowing on Lake Biwa with Mt. Ibuki and Chikubushima in the background. (June 26, 2017)

June 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌 aka Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous song and one of Japan’s best hometown songs.

To mark this milestone, a series of events were held in late June 2017 in Shiga. They included a four-day rowing excursion around Lake Biwa during June 24–27, a choir contest in Imazu on June 25, the unveiling of a new song monument in Nagahama on June 25, and a major concert at Biwako Hall in Otsu on June 30. I didn’t see everything, but I did get a glimpse of the major events.

The rowing excursion was named Nazori Shuko (なぞり周航) which means “Tracer Rowing Excursion.” It traces the rowing route the Kyoto college boys took in 1917 around Lake Biwa, going clockwise from Otsu and on to Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Nagahama, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and back to Otsu. The rowers lodged in Omi-Maiko, Imazu, and Hikone. The rowing excursion was largely organized by Kyoto University Rowing Club’s alumni association (Noseikai 濃青会) with the cooperation of water sports organizations and fishing cooperatives in Shiga. About 120 rowing club alumni took turns rowing on three modern boats designed for long-distance rowing.

For four days, they rowed from around 5 a.m. until early afternoon. This is when the lake waters are most calm and air temperatures are cooler. The rowing excursion also had the participation of local people (住民参加). At times, the rowers were escorted by yachts, canoes/kayaks, and even standup paddleboarders. And at each major stop, the rowers were greeted by local folks including taiko drummers, dancers, and other well-wishers. The rowers also sang the song at each song monument around the lake.

The four-day rowing excursion started at Otsu on June 24, 2017. The rowers started out at the Kyoto Univ. Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River at 5 a.m. and stopped by here at Mihogasaki, in front of the rowing club’s original boathouse in 1917. They left Mihogasaki at around 7 a.m. as people cheered.

At Mihogasaki, Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi (center) and former Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada (event committee chairperson) saw the rowers off. The man with the flag is an alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (university) (第三高等学校) that merged with Kyoto University. The old school’s logo with a cherry blossom and three stripes is on the flag and old boathouse.

Rowers pass by Ukimido Floating Temple in Katata, Otsu.

Taiko drummers greet rowers at Omi-Maiko.

Rowers sing “Biwako Shuko no Uta” on the white-sand beach at Omi-Maiko. This is where they lodged the first night.

Official T-shirts were also sold to the public. They came in white, dark blue, and green. Orange T-shirts were reserved only for the rowers. The back says “Ware wa Uminoko” (We’re children of the lake) and the front had a small 100th anniversary logo (insert).

On June 25, the second day, rowers leave Omi-Maiko and head for Imazu up north.

Rowers pay their respects at Shirahige Shrine in Takashima, famous for the torii in the water.

Rowers receive a warm welcome as they arrive at Imazu, the song’s birthplace. The large banner on shore reads, “Welcome to Imazu!” (ようこそ!今津へ)

Imazu’s annual Biwako Shuko no Uta choir contest was also held on June 25. After arriving at Imazu, the rowers went to the concert hall (Takashima Shimin Kaikan) and went on stage with singer Kato Tokiko and Kada Yukiko (in green) to sing the song as guest singers.

Kada Yukiko and singer Kato Tokiko at the center of the singing rowers swaying on stage.

Also attending the choir contest were these three alumni from the old No. 3 High School which merged with Kyoto University in 1949.

After singing at the choir contest, the rowers walked to Imazu Port and sang in front of the song monument. A busy day, but it wasn’t over yet.

Biwako Shuko no Uta song museum (琵琶湖周航の歌資料館) in Imazu had special exhibits about songwriter Oguchi Taro and composer Yoshida Chiaki. The museum sells CDs of the song (including the English version) and the museum staff is very friendly.

Very nice to see yoshibue reed flute players from Takashima greeting visitors at Omi-Imazu Station during June 24–25, 2017. They continuously played only the rowing song. Their flutes are made of Lake Biwa reeds grown in Harie, Takashima. 針江よし笛


New song monument for Biwako Shuko no Uta Verse 3 unveiled in Nagahama on June 25, 2017. (長浜歌碑・除幕式)

Also on June 25, a new song monument in Nagahama was unveiled in Hokoen Park near the lake shore near Nagahama Castle (map here). In summer 2016, a  group of Nagahama residents formed a nonprofit (長濱歌碑でつなぐ会) to plan, design, finance, and build this new monument. They solicited donations to help foot the cost of about ¥8 million. Although they weren’t able to get more than ¥4 million in public donations, they somehow managed to pay for the new monument in full.

Since Nagahama is a noted glass maker, they decided to make the new monument out of glass made in Nagahama. The new monument also functions as a park bench where you can sit and watch the sunset over the lake. It is perhaps Japan’s most expensive park bench. Seating four people, the glass bench is engraved with Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta where it mentions Nagahama. (“Today is Imazu or, Nagahama, huh.”)

The opening ceremony was held at around 5:30 p.m. for sunset, but it was too cloudy. The ceremony was attended by a substantial crowd who came to see singer Kato Tokiko, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko, Nagahama Mayor Fujii Yuji, and local singers Kitagawa Akihiro and Matsuura Yoko help unveil the new monument.

Earlier in the day in Nagahama, they held stage entertainment and boat cruises with local singers. (Couldn’t see any of it because I was in Imazu.)

June 25 (Sun.) was the busiest day because it was the closest weekend to the actual 100th anniversary on June 28. That night, I went back to Imazu and stayed at a hotel near the station.

While holding a copy of the concert program, singer Kato Tokiko gave a few words and mentioned the 1st Biwako Ongakusai music festival to be held on June 30 in Otsu. Holding the PR poster is Kitagawa Akihiro, ~Lefa~ vocalist.

Kitagawa Akihiro and Kato Tokiko sing behind the new song monument and later everyone released balloons.

Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta is engraved on the center segment of the glass bench. Bolted down in concrete and made of solid glass, it is a park bench shaped like a boat. The top is wavy like water, inspired by nami-makura (rolling with the waves) in the song.


The rowers prepare to depart Imazu at around 5 a.m.

On June 26, the third day of the rowing excursion, I checked out of my hotel near Omi-Imazu Station at 4:30 a.m. and joined the Kyoto University Rowing Club’s official photographers on a fishing boat. We followed the rowers from Imazu to Osaki, Chikubushima, Nagahama, and Hikone and kept our cameras busy.

Alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (第三高等学校) at Imazu to see off the rowers at around 5 a.m. He was also at Otsu. At the center of the cherry blossom is the kanji for “san” (three).

They first rowed from Imazu to Osaki where they would change rowers.

This boat is named “Uminoko” (Child of the Lake). The other two boats are named “Tomari-bi” (Light/Fire on Shore) and “Sazanami” (Lake Ripples). They are named after a key word or phrase found in the song.

The three boats they used belong to the Kyoto University Rowing Club. Thanks to donations from rowing club alumni, they were built in Shiga several years ago and designed especially for long-distance rowing around the lake. The boats have sliding seats and are quite stable in the water. They can also expel water automatically. It’s a far cry from the wooden, fixed-seat boats they used 100 years ago.

The boats are normally used by freshmen members of the Kyoto University Rowing Club to row around the lake every summer.

Rowing toward Chikubushima on a sparkling lake. Luckily, the weather was good during the four days.

On sacred Chikubushima island, non-rowing alumni sing the song in front of the Verse 4 monument while the three boats solemnly look on. This was around 8 a.m. I wish more people could have witnessed this most interesting and unusual scene, but it was well before the arrival time of tourist boats. Besides myself, only a handful of official and press photographers were here to see this. The Mainichi Shimbun reporter hired his own boat just to photograph this.

Mt. Ibuki in view as they row toward Nagahama.

Our friendly boat captain knew well about lake currents and conditions. The waves got a little rough off Nagahama and slightly flooded the boats. Also on our fishing boat was the BBC (Biwako Broadcasting Co.) cameraman. The NHK TV crew also hired a fishing boat to film the rowers. In July, both BBC and NHK aired special TV programs about the rowing trip.

After reaching Nagahama at around 11 a.m., the rowers sing the song next to the new Verse 3 monument at Hokoen Park near Nagahama Castle. Nagahama was also a lunch break.

The song leader (大杉耕一) directs the singing, backed by many local dancers (日本3B体操協会 滋賀支部). The new park bench song monument is behind him.

Rowers pass by Hikone Castle.

In front of the Verse 5 monument at Hikone Port, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko (event committee chairperson) asserted that the “old castle” mentioned in the song must be Sawayama Castle (Ishida Mitsunari’s castle) instead of Hikone Castle since the latter was never attacked (“sharp arrows buried deeply”). She’s got a valid point, but I’ve always assumed that it included all the old castles in eastern Shiga (Hikone, Nagahama, Sawayama, and Azuchi). This is another thing I love about the song. We can all have our own interpretations of it.

After reaching Hikone Port in the early afternoon, the rowers sang in front of the Verse 5 song monument. They sang here again in the early evening with a local school band and lodged in Hikone.

I had fun following and photographing/filming the rowers on the lake, but I declined to follow them again on the next (last) day. (Too much sunburn.)

On June 27, the fourth and last day of rowing from Hikone to Otsu, they took a break at Omi-Hachiman (near the song monument at Horikiri Port) and even danced the Goshu Ondo (folk dance native to Shiga).

Rowers finally return to the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River in Otsu at around 5 p.m. It was a long haul taking about 12 hours. They changed rowers four times.

In front of the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse (Seta Karahashi Bridge in the background), rowers sing the song after a safe and successful four-day rowing excursion. Congratulations to all!
*Thanks to Tetsuo Oshiro for providing some of the photos on this page.

Major newspapers like Chunichi Shimbun covered the 100th anniversary events. (Click on image to enlarge.)


The rowing excursion was soon followed by the 1st Biwako Ongakusai (Music Festival) held on June 30, 2017 at Biwako Hall in Otsu. It was organized by a committee led by former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko and produced by singer Kato Tokiko who made Biwako Shuko no Uta a national hit in 1971. Headlining the concert were top artists Miyazawa Kazufumi (Shima Uta was fantastic), Gospellers, the Tokiko Band (great musicians), and ~Lefa~ from Nagahama. The first half had local youth groups and choirs from Shiga, Kyoto, and Osaka. The second half featured the headlining artists and Kato Tokiko herself.

This is the first Biwako Music Festival and they plan to hold this concert annually around Lake Biwa in the places mentioned in the song. So next year in 2018, it will be held in Omi-Maiko at Biwako Seikei Sport College whose president is former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko. Then in Imazu in 2019. Kato Tokiko will be the producer of the annual concerts. It will take several years before the concert is held in each place mentioned in the song.

One major objective of the Biwako Music Festival is to perpetuate Biwako Shuko no Uta to the younger generations since it is not really taught in schools in Shiga. That’s why you will see local youths performing as well.

At the 1st Biwako Ongakusai Music Festival, a short film about the rowing excursion was shown while concert goers entered the concert hall. It also mentioned the English version of the song and showed footage of our mini concert held in Imazu in April. The short film was shot and edited by Biwako Broadcasting Co.

The 45-page Ongakusai program booklet included this two-page article I wrote about Lake Biwa Rowing Song. I was honored to explain why and how I created the English version. (Click image to enlarge. Sorry, I don’t have it in English yet.)

The concert was held in Biwako Hall’s beautiful Large Hall seating about 1,800. This is ~Lefa~ performing in the audience area for their first number.

~Lefa~ vocalist Kitagawa Akihiro (北川 陽大) also sang “Lake Biwa Rowing Song” in English. His partner Kono Hiroyuki (河野 弘行) played keyboard. Performing at Biwako Hall was their biggest venue so far, a dream come true.

At the end for the finale, all the performers got on stage and sang Biwako Shuko no Uta. So nice to see so many young people singing the song. The audience also stood up and sang.

At the center are the former and current Shiga governors, Kato Tokiko, and other headlining artists all singing Biwako Shuko no Uta.

It was a wonderful concert showcasing a wide variety of music and artists, both amateur and famous. We look forward to the next concert next year in Omi-Maiko.

Otsukaresama and thank you to Kada Yukiko, Kato Tokiko, Kyoto University Rowing Club and their alumni association (濃青会), and everyone else who worked so hard to plan, coordinate, and execute these memorable events like never before. It got many local people involved and I was honored and happy to take part.

This hometown song must definitely be perpetuated to current and future generations. It’s an important part of Shiga’s history and cultural heritage and should be designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property (重要無形文化財). I hope that local educators and parents will come around and realize how precious this song really is to Shiga. Showcasing not only pretty scenes in Shiga, but also life itself. And the melody is classic and timeless. The story behind the song and its creators is also most fascinating. At the same time, the song retains an aura of mystery and intrigue.


On April 16, 2017, we at shiga-ken.com also celebrated the song’s 100th anniversary by holding a Lake Biwa Rowing Song mini concert in English in Imazu. Jamie and Megan Thompson visited Shiga for this occasion and we also had Kikui Satoru and Kondo Yumiko play yoshibue reed flutes as a duo named “Lake Reed.” Here are two videos of our event:


Video link: https://youtu.be/9G94IppUiiE


Video link: https://youtu.be/PjnY67sIcqE

Commemorative events in Shiga are largely over, but not in Kyoto. Kyoto University will be celebrating the song’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, 2017 with the unveiling of a song monument plaque on campus and a lecture (by song researcher Iida Tadayoshi) and concert during their autumn school festival. I will be attending as well and looking forward to meeting guests from Okaya, Nagano (songwriter Oguchi Taro‘s hometown) and Niigata (melody composer Yoshida Chiaki‘s hometown).

PR flyer for Kyoto University’s 100th anniversary song event on Nov. 25, 2017.

The Japan Post Office issued a sheet of stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Available while they last at post offices in Shiga.

Related links:

Summer 2017 fireworks in Shiga Prefecture

hanabi

Here’s the 2017 summer fireworks (hanabi) schedule for Shiga Prefecture (Shiga-ken hanabi) listed by date. Keep in mind that foul weather is always possible and fireworks can be postponed or canceled. “More info” links go to Japanese-language pages. (No information in English except on this page. That’s why I create this page every year.)

Updated: Aug. 11, 2017

Compiled by Philbert Ono

July 8, 2017
♦ Takamiya Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Takamiya, Hikone, 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Near the Inugami River Muchinbashi Bridge. 10-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Takamiya Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 9. Map
More info: 高宮商工繁栄会 TEL:0749-22-2075
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e01080/

July 15, 2017
♦ Echigawa Gion Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Aisho, 7:40 pm – 9:00 pm
At two locations along the Echigawa River bank near Miyukibashi Bridge. 15-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 16. About 40,000 people are expected. Map
愛知川祇園納涼祭花火大会
More info: 愛知川駅コミュニティハウスるーぶる愛知川 TEL:0749-42-8444
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00768/

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri

July 22, 2017
♦ Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri (Finale Fireworks) in Higashi-Omi, 8:30 pm – 9:00 pm
This is a dance festival starting at 7:30 pm and ends with fireworks from 8:30 pm near Yokaichi Station. The festival is a huge bon dance with 600 dancers dancing to Shiga’s native Goshu Ondo folk songs. A large section of the main road in front of Yokaichi Station is closed to traffic for the festival. The festival is named after Shotoku Taishi. Map | Video
八日市聖徳まつり
More info: 八日市商工会議所 TEL: 0748-22-0186
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

♦ Oideyasu Yasu-shi Natsu Matsuri Hanabi Taikai in Yasu, 7:45 pm – 8:25 pm
Along the Shin River. 25-min. by shuttle bus from JR Yasu Station. Shuttle buses will be running. Stage entertainment will start at 4 pm. If rained out, to be cancelled. Map
おいでやす!! 野洲市夏まつり花火大会
More info: 野洲市商工観光課 TEL: 077-587-6008
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e188200/

♦ Otsu Shiga Hanabi Taikai fireworks, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Watch the fireworks over the lake from the famous Omi-Maiko beach. Near JR Omi-Maiko Station (Kosei Line) in western Otsu. If rained out, to be postponed to July 23.
大津志賀花火大会
More info: 大津志賀花火大会実行委員会 TEL:077-592-0378
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00471/

July 29, 2017
♦ Koka Natsu Matsuri fireworks in Minakuchi, Koka, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Koka’s biggest fireworks display held along Yasu River. Part of a local festival of stage entertainment, games, and food stalls. 10-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station. Map
甲賀夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 TEL:0748-60-2690
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00157/

Aug. 1, 2017
♦ Hikone Kita-Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Matsubara Beach, Hikone, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
35-min. walk from Hikone Station. Shuttle buses provided from Hikone Station to a sports ground from which it’s a 15-min. walk to the beach. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2. Map
彦根・北びわ湖大花火大会
More info: (社)彦根観光協会 Phone: 0749-23-0001
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/hanabi

♦ Ogoto Onsen Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Ogoto Port, Otsu, 8 pm – 8:30 pm
20-min. walk from JR Ogoto Onsen Station. Fireworks can be seen from most onsen (hot spring) ryokan and outdoor baths in Ogoto. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2. Map
おごと温泉納涼花火大会
More info: おごと温泉観光協会 Phone: 077-578-1650
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00618/

♦ Omi-Imazu Furusato Natsu Matsuri, Takashima, 9:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Climax of Imazu’s summer festival starting from 1 pm. Near JR Omi-Imazu Station.
近江今津ふるさと夏祭り やっさ!今津!!2017
More info: 近江今津ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会事務局 Phone: 0740-22-2108

Aug. 4, 2017
♦ Nagahama Kita-Biwako Hanabi Taikai at Nagahama Port, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
10-min. walk from JR Nagahama Station. Very crowded so go early to save a spot or pay for special seating for 1,500 yen or 2,500 yen. If rained out, to be cancelled. Map
長浜・北びわ湖大花火大会
More info: 長浜市観光振興課 Phone: 0749-65-6521
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00792/

Aug. 5, 2017
♦ Makino Summer Carnival at Makino Sunny Beach, Takashima, 8:30 pm
マキノサマーカーニバル2017
More info: 四季遊園マキノ交流促進協議会事務局 Phone: 0740-28-8002

♦ Takashima Summer Festival at Makino Sunny Beach, Takashima, 9:00 pm
Fireworks is part of their summer festival that starts at 4 pm.
2017たかしま夏まつり
More info: たかしま夏まつり実行委員会 Phone: 0740-36-2011

♦ Ujisato Matsuri Summer Gathering in Hino, 8:45 pm – 9 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (bon dance, etc.) held in the northern parking lot of Hino Town Hall starting in mid-afternoon.
氏郷まつり「夏の陣」2016
More info: 日野町イベント実行委員会 Phone: 0748-52-6562

♦ Kotonarie Summer Festa in Hibari Park in Higashi-Omi
Part of an illumination and music festival. 20-min. by bus from Yokaichi Station. Fireworks start at 8:40 pm.
コトナリエサマーフェスタ2017
More info: 東近江市湖東商工会 Phone: 0749-45-2571

♦ Konan Natsu Matsuri in Konan, fireworks at 8:00 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (Goshu Ondo bon dance, stage entertainment, etc.) held at the Yasugawa River Shinzui Koen park (野洲川親水公園).
湖南市夏まつり
More info: 湖南市観光協会 Phone: 0748-71-2157
http://www.burari-konan.jp/

Aug. 8, 2017
♦ Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Hama-Otsu and Nagisa Park in Otsu, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
This is the big one, but a steep admission (around ¥4,400, even for children above age 3) is charged in prime viewing areas along Hama-Otsu. Hama-Otsu Port will be totally walled off so you cannot see the fireworks from the street. Viewing areas along Nagisa Park that used to be free are no longer free. They will have about 29,000 paid seating along the shore. It will be terribly crowded with people. Spectacular show (and cost), but have fun trying to get home via the tiny nearby train stations or gridlocked roads afterward. Foul weather will postpone it to Aug. 11. Map
びわ湖大花火大会
More info: びわ湖大花火大会実行委員会 TEL: 077-511-1530
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00765/

Aug. 16, 2017 
♦ Somagawa Natsu Matsuri near Kibukawa Station, Koka
Fireworks are part of the summer festival with taiko drummers and lantern floating on the river. Held annually on Aug. 16.
杣川夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 Phone: 0748-65-0708

Aug. 17, 2017
♦ Takebe Taisha Senkosai Fireworks at Seta River in Otsu, 7:50 pm – 9 pm
Near Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge. Short walk from Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line. Fireworks will climax the waterborne Takebe Taisha Senkosai festival on boats. Map
瀬田川花火大会
More info: 建部大社 Phone: 077-545-0038
https://hanabi.walkerplus.com/detail/ar0725e00357/

Aug. 25, 2017
♦ Kinomoto Jizo Dai-ennichi fireworks in Nagahama, 8:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Held near JR Kinomoto Station. Climax of a local festival with food stalls and games held during Aug. 22–25.
木之本地蔵大縁日 8月22日(日)~25日(水)(花火は25日のみ)
More info: ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会 Phone: 0749-82-5900
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_9406/

Essential Vocabulary
hanabi (花火) – fireworks
hanabi taikai (花火大会) – fireworks (sometimes a contest)
Natsu Matsuri (夏まつり) – Summer festival
noryo (納涼) – Enjoying the cool of a summer evening (at a river, park, etc.)

Shiga Prefecture postage stamps

I’m not really a stamp collector, but the Japan Post Office issues so many commemorative stamps and it’s such a major hobby that it’s hard to ignore. Of course, stamps are a great way to promote whatever it promotes. Assuming that you still send paper letters or postcards in this electronic age of email and messaging. They are also great as souvenirs or gifts (very lightweight).

If you go to your local post office in Shiga, you will likely see Shiga-related stamps and postcards on sale (available only in Shiga). They are sold for a limited time, but most of them become available later by private stamp dealers online (auctions, etc.). New editions are also issued every year or season.

Here are a few of the Shiga-related stamps that were issued in the past.

Sights in Shiga

Stamp sheet of Shiga sights issued in 2009.

Hiko-nyan stamp sheet issued in 2013. Came with a hand towel.

Shigaraki tanuki stamp sheet issued in 2008.

Mt. Ibuki summer flowers issued in 2012. Similar sheet is issued annually.

Otsu Matsuri stamp sheet issued in 2008.

Takashima sights issued in 2009.

Colors of Kusatsu” stamp sheet issued in 2009.

Commemorating the 9th World Lake Conference in 2001 in Otsu, Biwa masu salmon endemic to Lake Biwa.

Enryakuji temple stamp issued in 1996 (Konpon Chudo main hall).

Hikone Byobu folding screen (National Treasure) stamps issued in 1976.

Stamp sheet commemorating the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) in June 2017.

Also read about Shiga’s die-cut postcards here.

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