Lake Biwa Rowing Song mini concert in Imazu 2017


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

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Shiga’s most famous and beloved song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌), shiga-ken.com held a special mini concert in Imazu on April 16, 2017 with the cooperation of the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum (琵琶湖周航の歌資料館) and Imazu Port in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture.

The highlight was twin sisters Jamie and Megan Thompson at Imazu Port singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song (English version of Biwako Shuko no Uta) to the accompaniment of Lake Biwa reed flutes (yoshibue) played by Lake Reed (レイクリード), a duo consisting of Kikui Satoru (菊井了) and Kondo Yumiko (近藤ゆみ子). The result was stupendous and oh so pretty, both in sight and sound on a beautiful day in front of a blue Lake Biwa at Imazu Port. Watch the 5-min. video embedded above and see for yourself.

It was only our second time to perform at Imazu Port. The last time was on June 3, 2006 when we first introduced and performed Lake Biwa Rowing Song in public. For this second time, I decided that instead of staging a repeat performance of what we did in 2006, we should do something different. Having Lake Biwa reed players join us was perfect. It turned out that it was the first time for Lake Reed to perform together with multiple singers.


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

We also held an indoor mini concert at the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum. The performance of Lake Biwa Rowing Song was repeated and followed by three pretty songs by Lake Reed. Watch the 23-min. video embedded above.

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Jamie & Megan Thompson together in Japan for the first time in 8 years.

Our mini concert turned out to be a media event with coverage by Asahi Shimbun, Chunichi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, and Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers. I came prepared for the media with these T-shirts I designed and gave to Jamie and Megan to wear. I also gave them Biwa pearl necklaces (closeup photo below).

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Lake Biwa pearl necklaces.

I had these Lake Biwa pearl necklaces custom-made for this day. I found a freelance accessory maker in Otsu named “Malble” (pronounced like “Marble”) who was making earrings using this Lake Biwa-shaped, gold-colored accessory. It says, “Always With You.” (Like Lake Biwa is always with you.) I had her make these necklaces strung together with a medium-size Lake Biwa pearl. They came out very nice at reasonable cost.

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Rehearsing inside the song museum before going to Imazu Port.

Since summer 2016, prominent people and organizations in Shiga and Kyoto announced plans to hold Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th anniversary events in 2017. I also wanted to take part in these events.

So I asked Jamie and Megan (who sang Lake Biwa Rowing Song in English in 2006 while they were working in Japan as JET Program ALTs), if they could visit Japan in 2017 to participate in one of these anniversary events, especially in June (the song’s actual anniversary date) or November (Kyoto University’s main anniversary event).

It turned out that they both could make it to Japan only in April 2017. Since there were no anniversary events in April, we held our own commemorative mini concert on April 16. Couldn’t let such a rare trip to Japan by both sisters go to waste.

The performance at Imazu Port started at around 1:30 pm after all the cruise boats left Imazu Port. It was mainly for me to shoot videos for a music video (embedded at the top). The media also took photos and interviewed us under a somewhat hot sun. We then moved to the nearby Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum for an indoor mini concert and social gathering that lasted until about 4 pm.

The ever so helpful and cooperative Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum allowed us to use their room on the second floor for our indoor mini concert. They also secured permission for us to perform at Imazu Port.

I didn’t really publicize this event since it was intended for only friends and invited guests and the local media. However, during the 2.5 months of planning, the event started to take on a life of its own as it morphed into something more substantial. I knew things like this never go according to plan, so I remained flexible and played it by ear.

As I expected, we ran behind schedule and were unable to do a few things that I had planned. But all-in-all, our event turned out very well with great weather, no accidents or illnesses, great videos and photos, and everyone having a fun time. Many people also went on the 3:30 pm Sakura cruise to Kaizu-Osaki afterward. I’m glad that it was worth coming to Imazu which is quite far for most of us.

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Jamie and Megan talk with the press. Back of the T-shirt is the CD cover and “Children of the Lake” below it.

Talking to the press took longer than expected since so many of them showed up and they had lots of questions. They also kept asking for my age which I declined to say since it was irrelevant. (Japanese newspapers always like to state the age of the people they write about. It has never happened in my case though.)

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Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum, near Omi-Imazu Station. It has panel displays explaining the history and meaning of the song and a listening station where you can listen to many cover versions.

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Mini concert inside the song museum.

Our indoor mini concert started with Jamie and Megan singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song with Lake Reed playing Lake Biwa reed flutes.

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Lake Reed playing Lake Biwa reed flutes. They even brought a bundle of reeds (left) as a prop.

Lake Reed then performed three songs: Furusato (Hometown), Miyagete-goran Yoru no Hoshi wo (Look Up at the Night Stars), and Umi no Koe (Voice of the Sea). (Watch the video to hear them play.) They were brilliant. So pretty. Omi-Hachman resident Kikui Satoru was the person who actually invented the Lake Biwa reed flute in 2000. So he’s been playing it longer than anyone else in the world. We were so lucky to have him and his partner Kondo Yumiko perform for us. Everyone performed on a voluntary basis, no one got paid.

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Over 50 people attended our mini concert inside the song museum.

Mr. Kikui was also generous enough to bring 15 reed flutes to hold a sample lesson mainly for the kids who came. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for it. Sounds like I have to plan a follow-up event to make it happen.

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Kiyora playing the shamisen.

Our third performer was Kiyora, a third grader from Moriyama. She played the famous cherry blossom song, “Sakura, Sakura” with her shamisen. As a beginner, she played quite well.

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Former Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada talks about the upcoming music festival in Otsu. Holding up the PR poster is Kitagawa Akihiro of ~Lefa~.

We were also honored to have former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko attending our event. Being the president of Biwako Seikei Sport College in Omi-Maiko, she’s very busy. And yet, she made the time to hear us sing. We thank her for coming.

She and singer Kato Tokiko (who made Biwako Shuko no Uta a national hit in 1971) are organizing the 1st Biwako Music Festival (第一回びわ湖音楽祭) at Biwako Hall in Otsu on June 30, 2017. Tickets are still available as of this writing.

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Kitagawa Akihiro sings with Jamie and Megan.

Another special guest was Kitagawa Akihiro, vocalist and one half of the Nagahama-based duo ~Lefa~. Akihiro once studied in Canada, so he does have an interest in singing in English. He sang in English with Jamie and Megan impromptu. He has a very good voice, so I see great potential in him singing in English after I coach his pronunciation. It was the first time for me to meet Akihiro. I saw former Governor Kada’s Facebook video of him singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song in English so I invited him to our event. ~Lefa~ was formed in 2010 and they play all around Japan at shopping malls, local events, etc., and sing Biwako Shuko no Uta. They also often hold mini concerts at Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum. The other half of ~Lefa~ is guitarist and keyboard player Kono Hiroyuki.

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In the end, the few of us who didn’t go on the cherry blossom cruise to Kaizu-Osaki remained to sing Biwako Shuko no Uta in a circle.

We were running an hour late. Most of the audience left at around 3:20 pm to catch the Cherry Blossom Cruise for Kaizu-Osaki departing Imazu Port at 3:30 pm. So only about 15 of us remained until we ended at around 4 pm. Everyone burst into smiles and started clapping after we finished singing the song in Japanese. It’s such a heartwarming song, and being from Hawaii where we have many, many renown hometown songs, I’m so glad Shiga has such a song. It’s been 11 years since we announced the English version, but slowly and surely, I see it catching on.

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Lake Biwa Rowing Song set of 6 postcards given as a free memento to all attendees.

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Chunichi Shimbun newspaper was one of five papers that covered us (April 17, 2017 issue).

Shiga History January–April 2017

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Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s major and interesting news headlines for January–April 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.

2017/1/3 2:16 Happy 2017! It’s a warm New Year’s, hardly any snow on Mt. Ibuki. Wishing you a healthy and good 2017.
2017/1/6 10:05 Hikone’s mascot Hiko-nyan received 11,796 New Year’s nenga postcards this new year as of Jan. 6, 2017. About 300 more than last year.
2017/1/6 10:20 In Shiga, 7,855 men and 7,200 women (born April 2, 1996–April 1, 1997) will mark their Coming-of-Age on Jan. 9. 440 more than last year.
2017/1/6 11:53 2017 NHK Taiga Drama “Onna Joshu Naotora” (#おんな城主直虎) from Jan. 8 will be about Ii Naotora, Hikone Castle Lord Ii Naomasa’s adoptive mother.
2017/1/9 8:27 Kyoto University Rowing Club’s official 2017 calendar includes “Lake Biwa Rowing Song” English lyrics for the 1st time. https://t.co/gs1pnsLbpe
2017/1/14 3:57 Hip-hop PR video for Hikone Castle’s 410th anniversary (Mar. 18–Dec. 10, 2017) going viral (in Japanese only). https://t.co/sIm341BZsF
2017/1/15 3:08 Good news for skiers. Snow in most of Shiga this weekend, especially northern Shiga.
2017/1/16 5:13 Hino & Higashi-Omi are holding a Hina doll tour for foreigners on Feb. 25 for ¥2,000. Send application by Feb. 10. https://t.co/edXxRI893e
2017/1/17 13:59 Docomo cell phone users in Otsu & parts of Kyoto are having connection problems due to the heavy snow & power outages disrupting cell towers
2017/1/17 15:24 Funny weekly manga about Shiga by Sakana Kouji (in Japanese only). Updated every Fri. 滋賀の面白い漫画 by さかなこうじ https://t.co/whiKwY1t6S
2017/1/18 12:49 Shiga Pref. Government will bar Dentsu from bidding on any PR-related contract jobs citing the overworked Dentsu employee’s suicide (高橋まつり).
2017/1/24 10:08 Heavy snow in northern Shiga continued from yesterday, delaying trains/buses & causing traffic jams. 115 schools in Shiga were closed today.
2017/1/26 4:26 A deliberation committee (琵琶湖周航の歌100周年記念促進協議会) met for the 1st time to plan the PR for the 100th anniv. of Biwako Shuko no Uta rowing song.
2017/1/26 13:25 Heavy snow has destroyed or damaged 123 greenhouses mostly in eastern Shiga, damaging 0.52 ha of crops like mizuna & spinach.
2017/1/27 10:28 For the second year in a row, Shiga Gakuen will represent Shiga at the 2017 Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament
2017/1/31 9:21 Made my first Lake Biwa pearl brooch at a workshop conducted by Otsu-based Jinbo Pearls this past weekend in Shibuya, Tokyo. That was fun! 
2017/2/8 18:47 Sep. 2016: Five Ayaha H.S. #綾羽高校 baseball players in Kusatsu shoplifted shoes at a sports shop. They received “guidance” and quit the team.
2017/2/10 15:42 Omi-Hachiman is taking steps to eliminate or hide utility poles to beautify and protect its traditional townscapes from March 2018. #無電柱化
2017/2/10 15:44 Heavy snow is expected to continue this weekend in Shiga, especially in Hikone, Maibara, and Nagahama.
2017/2/13 20:46 Four Keihan Railways station names will change in March 2018: Hama-Otsu, Sakamoto, Bessho, & Ojiyama. Otsu will pay ¥15 mil. for the change.
2017/2/14 15:26 Enryakuji’s Tendai Zasu Abbot 森川宏映座主 held a service at Kyoto’s Nishi Hongwanji for the 1st time on the 1,000th anniv. of Genshin’s death.
2017/2/24 22:58 Shiga dept stores have joined the “Premium Friday” campaign on the last Fri. of the month to cater to workers who get off work early at 3 pm
2017/3/4 15:47 Shiga food/crafts at the 29th Omi Fair in Takashimaya Dept. Store Nihonbashi Branch 8th floor in Tokyo, March 8–13. https://t.co/YIy7P3xool
2017/3/5 5:48 Kenyan Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii won the 72nd Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon today in 02:09:06, Sasaki Satoru was 4th at 02:10:10.
2017/3/7 2:06 Nagahama International Friendship Association 長浜市民国際交流協会 has started English Cafe for English conversation. Next one will be on March 12. https://t.co/B2FS2yvNST
2017/3/8 14:02 Heard interesting discussions & met people at the Japan Heritage International Forum in Tokyo, March 7. Lake Biwa is also a Japan Heritage. https://t.co/mtWFWshACP
2017/3/11 7:38 Hikone Castle garden Genkyuen’s pond is undergoing major repairs. Pond water has been drained. Looks very drab now.  
2017/3/11 7:40 In front of Nagahama Station, the new shopping/restaurant complex on the old Heiwado site should be opening soon. 
2017/3/11 7:44 March 12 is the last day of the Nagahama Bonbaiten #長浜盆梅展 plum blossom bonsai exhibition (now in peak bloom) in the Keiunkan (慶雲館). 
2017/3/11 7:58 Actress Kaho Tsuchimura (center) #土村芳 was at Hikone Castle’s Tenbin Yagura on March 10 to film NHK TV morning drama series “Beppin-san.” 
2017/3/17 9:26 Tasted Shiga’s famous Salad Roll サラダパン for the 1st time. Basically a hot dog bun with mayonnaise and small slices of takuan pickled radish. 
2017/3/17 9:30 初めてサラダパンを食べました(木之本のつるやパンより)。なんか戦後の昭和時代っぽいな懐かしい味でした。素朴な作りで誰でも同じもんが作れそう。こんなもんで人気・有名になるなんてちょっと驚きました。外国人にもオススメできるかどうかはちょっと微妙です。 https://t.co/SrqATDPmU6
2017/3/18 3:59 The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga will close on March 31, 2017 for 3 years for major renovations. See their last exhibition before it closes.
2017/3/18 4:00 Hikone Castle’s 410th anniversary celebration started today with special exhibits inside castle buildings. Ends on Dec. 10, 2017.
2017/3/18 14:34 HigashiOmi police sergeant Kumita Masaya 汲田昌也 (36) arrested for threatening to kill his GF over the phone when she tried to break up w/him.
2017/3/18 14:48 Eight Nagahama policemen punished for sexual harassment of 2 policewomen in Nov. by using a pro wrestler’s hold on the women and taking pics. 
2017/3/18 14:59 Otsu City Hall miscalculated tax bills and national health insurance premiums & benefits totaling ¥12.99 mil. affecting 272 Otsu citizens.
2017/3/18 15:05 Earlier this month, Hikone City Hall sent 27 “My Number” personal ID cards (indicating the birthdate, address, etc.) to the wrong addresses.
2017/3/18 15:09 Hiko-nyan will have a new official pose, showing him with both arms raised (banzai) and smiling.
2017/3/19 9:47 Spouse seekers in Higashi-Omi reach out through bathhouse poetry serenading – The Mainichi 歌垣風呂 銭湯の壁越しに歌を詠み合い「婚活」 https://t.co/zzufegvvde
2017/3/22 11:11 Former Gamo-Higashi Elementary School head teacher Arikawa Tomoaki (50, 有川智章) found guilty of forcing 4 women to meet him after sending candid pics
2017/3/22 11:19 As of Jan. 1, 2017, Shiga’s average land prices have fallen 9 years in a row, by -0.4% over 2016. Land prices in Kusatsu & Moriyama rose.
2017/3/22 11:31 Toray Arrows pro volleyball player Kimura Saori retired this month after a 12-year pro career including 4 Summer Olympics & a bronze medal.
2017/3/22 11:39 Shiga Gakuen beat Tokai Univ. Ichihara Boyo H.S. 6-2 in their 1st game at the Senbatsu Spring Koshien nat’l high school baseball tournament.
2017/3/22 12:33 Itoen is selling their Koi-cha #濃い茶 bottled tea (525 ml) with a special “Mother Lake” sakura label until Mar. 31 for Lake Biwa donations. 
2017/3/23 13:00 Otsu mayor Koshi Naomi is taking a voluntary 30% pay cut next month to make amends for 7 corrupt city employees in the past 2 months.
2017/3/23 13:04 From Maibara, the “My Bara” 米バラ umeshu plum cake shaped like a rose (bara) is very good. Sold at Ibuki-no-Sato Road Station 伊吹の里 in Maibara. 
2017/3/24 11:14 At a Heiwado in Otsu, bought up all the Itoen Koi-cha #濃い茶 bottled tea with the special “Mother Lake” label. It’s for a spring party… https://t.co/PszEIdUym7
2017/3/24 11:18 Monreve bakery in Moriyama is famous for Funazushi Pie, a cookie made with funazushi fermented Biwako carp. Love it! 
2017/3/24 13:08 守山駅の近くにある洋菓子店モンレーブのふなずしパイ(10枚入り¥1250)。商品開発に苦労されたそうですが、さすがのヒット商品。うなぎパイと連想して甘そうと思いがちけど、全く甘くない。 鮒寿司の独特な匂いも味も見事に取り入れている。本物の鮒寿司が苦手の方にはこれがいい。 https://t.co/OtxcFvjLPn
2017/3/26 9:25 Shiga Gakuen tied w/Fukuoka-dai Ohori 1-1 in their 2nd game today at the Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament.
2017/3/26 10:19 English guide to Hikone Castle’s 410th anniversary (March 18 to December 10, 2017). https://t.co/7aSlRdxzUQ
2017/3/28 9:52 Shiga Gakuen lost to Fukuoka-dai Ohori 3–5 in the tiebreaker today at the Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament.
2017/3/28 17:22 Osaka High Court overturned Otsu District Court’s injunction against the restart of KEPCO’s No. 3 & 4 nuclear reactors at Takahama in Fukui.
2017/3/30 16:58 Head teacher (50) at Tamao Elementary School in Higashi-Omi suspended for 6 mo. for injuring a man with a beer mug during a quarrel last Aug.
2017/4/1 15:34 Modern Museum of Art, Shiga now closed for 3 years of major renovations & expansion to house Shiga’s art treasures & works by the disabled. https://t.co/19pvloW6TB
2017/4/1 15:38 滋賀県立近代美術館の3年間の休館で数十名の職員が解雇されました。皆さん、お疲れ様でした。再就職先が見つければいいですね。頑張ってください。 https://t.co/Sc4nujdn7y
2017/4/2 14:41 Bye-bye Hashimoto Naoko 橋本奈穂子 (Kinomoto native), today’s her last day as newscaster on NHK News 7. We’ll miss you. https://t.co/dBddQ3RSDX 
2017/4/3 12:46 Otsu City Hall today created a new dept. (未来まちづくり部) that will work to model the city after Geneva, Switzerland. Good luck to them.
2017/4/4 13:53 In this building next to Nihonbashi Station, Shiga will open its new Tokyo PR center and gift shop this Oct. to boost its brand recognition. 
2017/4/5 15:12 Only 38% of Shiga’s non-native jr. high English teachers & 62% of high school English teachers have EIKEN Grade Pre-1 or higher. 英検準1級
2017/4/5 15:21 Only 37.1% of Shiga’s jr. high students have attained EIKEN Grade 3 & 31.5% of high school students have attained Grade 2 or higher. 英検3級
2017/4/5 15:30 なんで学校で日本人の先生が英語を教えるの?Nativeはダメ?アメリカでは外国語を教えている先生のほとんどはそのnativeの方です。私もアメリカで日本語を習った時(小学校〜大学)、先生はほとんど日本人でした。じゃないと、教える資格がないし、生徒たちも信用できへん。
2017/4/9 20:22 Here’s the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri 2017 Festival Schedule in English. Child kabuki on April 13 to 16. https://t.co/bP8QrU33aM
2017/4/11 13:32 A few glass windows were found shattered by fist-size rocks at four primary & intermediate schools in Omi-Hachiman on April 11 morning.
2017/4/12 5:49 毎日新聞(滋賀版)、ありがとうございました。
2017/4/17 6:06 滋賀版の朝日新聞、毎日新聞、読売新聞、産経新聞、そして特に中日新聞、どうもありがとうございました。当日の熱い日差しの中、お疲れ様でした。 https://t.co/Ejlkdq9XCz
2017/4/19 12:00 Kaizu-Osaki lakeshore road (Rt. 557) blocked by landslide. Section between Osaki-dera & Nihonmatsu is closed. Take Rt. 161 & 303 instead.
2017/4/22 4:23 Went on a Sakura Cruise from Imazu Port in mid-April. Got off the boat at Kaizu-Osaki Port and walked around for 30 min. Beautiful! #桜クルーズ 
2017/4/22 6:46 5-min. video of our live performance of “Lake Biwa Rowing Song,” April 16, 2017 at Imazu Port in Takashima.
2017/4/26 2:00 “We are ready” says Gov. Mikazuki with regard to emergency measures for any missile attack by North Korea on its army’s 85th anniv.
2017/4/26 15:21 I’m not complaining, but my “We love (place name)” slogan seems to have inspired copycats in Shiga. Maibara cable TV & visitors bureau FB. 
2017/4/28 6:55 Martin Stack, one of the best friends we ever had in Shiga, is battling an illness. Friends in Shiga made this video: https://t.co/UGWv8G63Kf
2017/4/29 8:54 Ninja-related sites in Koka and Iga (Mie) have been jointly designated as a Japan Heritage by the Agency for Cultural Affairs on April 28.
2017/4/29 8:56 Very strange that the Koka-ryu Ninjutsu Yashiki house is not part of the Japan Heritage designation. #甲賀流忍術屋敷 https://t.co/IgEnlaR0yD
2017/4/29 9:03 えーっ!なんで が日本遺産に入ってないの??油日神社などの社寺が入っているのに。おかし過ぎるよ。俳優Harrison Fordも訪れた屋敷だぜ。日本遺産審査委員会よ、もっとよく調べなあかん。https://t.co/IgEnlaR0yD

Shiga History Sept.–Dec. 2016Chronological History of Shiga | Shiga History May–Aug. 2017

Videos of Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day.

It is prime time for matsuri festivals in Japan and Shiga has a load of them. There are so many matsuri in Shiga during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see.

Here is a collection of my video clips (in varying quality) of Golden Week festivals I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure.


Video link: https://youtu.be/xYQujzeDO8o

April 29: Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-buri Procession (坂田神明宮の蹴り奴振り) in Maibara reenacts the procession of Lord Ii Naonobu from Hikone when he came to worship at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine (坂田神明宮) in 1733 in Maibara. The men walk with a stylized, kicking action. It starts with a Shinto ceremony which includes dancing by shrine maidens. Starts at 2 pm at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine near JR Sakata Station (Hokuriku Line). Photos | Website | Map


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

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri (草津宿場まつり) celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:45 am (from city hall) to 3:40 pm (Kusatsu Station East Exit). Near JR Kusatsu Station. Photos | Official site | Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/86wY3dOgLEw

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri (海津力士まつり) features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station in northern Takashima. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight (or lit-up smartphone) so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/S5CG04vUdMA

May 3: Hino Matsuri (日野祭) in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. They also hold a festival eve on the evening of May 2. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/59UfQMWjkZY

May 3: Kenketo Odori (ケンケト踊り) at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. Starting in the early afternoon at the shrine, the delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/isdfpgLUa54

May 3: The Kenketo Festival (ケンケト祭り) is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Photos | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/JW0sE2IXIQM

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri (七川祭) at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/110DRdk9c5s

May 4: Omizo Matsuri (大溝祭) has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/r_FYQwW_l-4

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri (伊庭の坂下し祭) held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. Photos | Website | Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi (篠田の花火) is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/lSjPZkbGhS4

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival (御崎神社 火まつり) in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/XqVS_P7Nccg


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

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri (兵主祭) is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/0_4CjYXHCls

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri (すし切りまつり) sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. From Moriyama Station, take the bus and get off at  Shimoniikawa Jinja. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/1-Ti5JQTt_o

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri (長刀踊り まつり) at Ozu Jinja Shrine (小津神社) in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/PU7an9F3GdQ

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival (苗村神社 節句祭) at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. Photos | Website | Google Map

Sakura cruises to Kaizu-Osaki

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Kaizu-Osaki is deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots (さくら名所100選 according to the Japan Cherry Blossom Association). During the first half of April, four km of cherry blossoms bloom along this lakeshore in northern Lake Biwa in Takashima.

During the peak bloom period in mid-April, the traffic along the lakeshore road is horrendous. Renting a bicycle at Makino Station and cycling to Kaizu-Osaki is recommended. Walking is also possible for people who don’t mind walking at least 40 min. from Makino Station.

On sunny days, it’s quite spectacular with the cherry blossoms against the blue lake and blue sky with Chikubushima island in the background. But watch out for the cars since much of the lakeshore does not have a walking path. The tunnels are also narrow. Use a flashlight or turn on your smartphone when walking or bicycling in the tunnels.

In mid-April 2017, I finally tried a different and much more pleasant way of enjoying the sakura along Kaizu-Osaki. I went on Biwako Kisen’s “Sakura Cruise” from Imazu Port for the first time on board the megumi trimaran (triple hulled for stable ride). It was only one of many “sakura cruises” or “sakura hanami boats” that swarm the area during the cherry blossom season. (“Sakura” means cherry blossoms.)

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Imazu Port for cherry blossom cruises to Kaizu-Osaki.

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megumi is powered by bio diesel fuel and solar and wind energy.

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Upper deck of megumi.

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Megumi’s indoor heated cabin with large picture windows.

Cruise operators Biwako Kisen (琵琶湖汽船) and Ohmi Marine (オーミマリン) both offer sakura cherry blossom cruises to Kaizu-Osaki during early to mid-April. Biwako Kisen has boats departing Imazu Port and Nagahama Port, while Ohmi Marine has boats going from Hikone Port and Makino Dock.

Both cruise companies have at least four boats daily, and they may schedule extra boats on peak weekends. The fare is around ¥3,000 to ¥3,500. I highly recommend going on a cruise that also docks at Kaizu-Osaki Port where you can get off the boat and walk around Kaizu-Osaki for about 30 min. before returning to the boat. Otherwise, other boats just cruise along Kaizu-Osaki without docking. Note that if the water is rough on windy days, the boat might not be able to dock.

From Imazu Port, the cruise that includes 30-min. docking at Kaizu-Osaki takes about 90 min. round trip. From Nagahama Port and Hikone Port, it takes about 2.5 hours.

The Biwako Kisen “sakura cruise” schedule is here.

The Ohmi Marine sakura hanami cruise schedule for Hikone Port is here and for Makino Dock here.

I was lucky to see the sakura in full bloom on a sunny afternoon. Here are some photos.

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Kaizu-Osaki in the distance.

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Getting closer to Kaizu-Osaki.

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Approaching Kaizu-Osaki Port where Osaki-dera temple is.

megumi at Kaizu-Osaki Port.

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Beware of heavy traffic when leaving the dock.

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Look for the pedestrian path.

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30 min. is not enough to walk the entire length of the walking path.

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We get another look at the sakura as we leave Kaizu-Osaki.

More photos of Kaizu-Osaki here.

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri 2017 Festival Schedule


Video link: https://youtu.be/3zYuarHUHXs

All 13 Nagahama hikiyama floats appearing in 2017! YOISA!!

Held annually on several days centering on April 15 by Nagahama Hachimangu ShrineNagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (長浜曳山祭) is a major float festival in Nagahama in northern Shiga Prefecture. The main highlight is child kabuki actors (boys age 5 to 12) performing on four ornate wooden floats. On Dec. 1, 2016 (JST), Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri was inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as one of the 33 “Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals in Japan.” All festival events are within walking distance from JR Nagahama Station on the JR Hokuriku Line. Since there’s no detailed festival information and schedule in English from official sources, I provide this festival schedule in English based on official festival information and my recommendations. With a little knowledge of what’s what and what’s going on, I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy this festival much more after reading this post.

There are 12 kabuki floats (called hikiyama) with a kabuki stage and one “guardian” float named Naginata-yama with no stage. Every year, only four of the kabuki floats perform kabuki at the festival. Three groups of four kabuki floats take turns appearing in the festival each year so each float group appears (performs kabuki) every three years. The same four floats appear together each time. Only the Naginata-yama guardian float appears in the festival every year, but does not perform kabuki.

To see all 12 kabuki floats, you normally would have to see the festival three years in a row. However, this year in 2017, to celebrate the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation, all 12 kabuki floats will make an appearance in the festival on April 15, the main festival day. But only four floats (Kasuga-zan, Kanko-zan, Gekkyuden, and Seikai-zan in 2017) will perform kabuki. The remaining eight non-performing kabuki floats will only be pulled to the Otabisho for display.

Although April 15 is the main festival day (called Honbi 本日), there is a slew of festival events and kabuki performances before and after this day. If you can’t make it to Nagahama on April 15, you can still see kabuki performances on April 13 (evening), 14 (morning), and 16 (all day).

In 2016, I photographed most of the festival events held during April 12–16. The video embedded above shows all the major festival events during this period. A few ceremonies and rituals are closed to the public.

Another thing to know is that the four kabuki-performing floats draw lots to determine the order of their performances. Being Float No. 1 is most desirable since they get to perform first on April 15 (main festival day) and can end early and go home early. They also have the honor to host the Sanbaso prayer dancer who performs before their kabuki play.

In 2017, Float No. 1 is Kanko-zan (諫皷山), Float No. 2 is Kasuga-zan (春日山), Float No. 3 is Gekkyuden (月宮殿), and Float No. 4 is Seikai-zan (青海山).

Here is the schedule of Nagahama Hikiyama Festival events in 2017 (times are approximate, and delays may occur). Also see the festival map toward the end of this post. The photos are screenshots from my video embedded above. Click on the photo to see the respective video segment.

April 1, 2017: Float Replacement Event (曳山交替式)
9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.: The hikiyama floats exhibited in the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum will be pulled out and taken back to their neighborhoods to prepare for the festival. Then the four floats appearing in next year’s festival will be brought into the museum to be displayed.

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April 9: Senko-ban Visitation (線香番)
Festival officials visit the four floats’ kabuki practice halls to watch a kabuki rehearsal and time the performance. Before clocks were invented, they used a burning incense stick (senko) to measure the kabuki play’s length. This is also when the parents see their sons perform for the first time. However, the actors do not wear the makeup and costumes yet. This ceremony is not open to the public since the practice hall will be filled with the boys’ parents and relatives.

April 9–12: Hadaka-mairi Shrine Worship (裸参り)
From 8:00 p.m. every night on these four days, scantily-clad young men (wakashu 若衆) from the four floats gather at their respective kabuki practice hall and parade to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine where they pray and purify themselves by running around a well and splashing themselves with the cold well water. They pray for a successful festival, healthy actors, and to draw a favorable lot on April 13 that determines the order of the floats’ performances. They all want to be Float No. 1 which performs first and goes home first on April 15 (main day).

From Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, they march through Otemon-dori shopping arcade to Hokoku Shrine across town where they pray and splash in a well again. On their last worshipping day on April 12, Otemon-dori shopping arcade has festival musicians and representatives from non-performing floats (i.e. those not performing in the festival this year) to greet the wakashu men. They play festival music (called shagiri 囃子) and offer cups of sake (rice wine) to the wakashu leaders and Kujitori-nin. They shout “Yoisa! Yoisa!” the whole time and drink a lot of sake.

You will notice that they wear different colored headbands. The young man wearing a red headband is the Kujitori-nin (籤取り人) who will draw the lot at the lot-drawing ceremony on April 13. The men wearing a blue headband are the guards (警護) who direct the wakashu. The men with a white headband are the rank and file. When a float’s wakashu pass by another float’s wakashu, a scuffle may break out since they are rivals in drawing lots. Quite a spectacle at both shrines and in-between.

April 12: Portable Shrine Procession (Mikoshi togyo 神輿渡御)
From 6:30 pm, men carry a mikoshi portable shrine from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine to the Otabisho rest place across town while shouting, “Yoisa!” They go through the Otemon-dori arcade and a few side streets. Along the way, festival musicians from other floats greet the portable shrine (no sake is served). Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri’s festival music is called shagiri (しゃぎり) instead of hayashi (囃子). The portable shrine was made in 1676 by Fujioka Kanbe’e (藤岡甚兵衛) with donations from shrine parishioners. The Fujioka family was a renown woodcarver and Buddhist altar maker in Nagahama.

The portable shrine brings the deity closer to the people and chases away evil spirits. They occasionally raise the portable shrine to wish happiness and safety to the people around it. The portable shrine arrives at the Otabisho at about 7:30 pm. The Otabisho is a rest place for the god traveling in a portable shrine. The portable shrine remains in the Otabisho until April 15 evening.

April 10–12: Public Kabuki Practice (公開稽古)
Only during these three days, each float’s kabuki practice hall is open to the public. You can watch the boys (mostly age 5 to 10) practice their kabuki play usually once in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The practice hall is typically a small community center in the float’s neighborhood. It has a large room with a makeshift kabuki stage in the same size as on the float. (For practice times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.)

Anybody can watch them practice without any reservation or admission fee, but they do not wear the kabuki makeup and costumes (no dress rehearsals). They have been practicing every day since March 20 (spring vacation), so by this time, they have mastered their roles quite well. They receive some fine-tuning during this time.

When you watch them practice so hard (sometimes they even break down and cry), you will come to appreciate how much work it takes to put on a kabuki play. You can also see what the boys really look like without the kabuki makeup. Then when you do see them in kabuki makeup (from April 13), you will be amazed at their transformation.

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Before the kabuki makeup and costumes…

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And after the kabuki makeup and costumes.

The kabuki play is directed by three instructors called San’yaku (三役): The choreographer, tayu narrator, and shamisen player. The choreographer casts the actors’ (yakusha) roles usually according to their physical attributes. The choreographer is usually an experienced kabuki actor and directs the actors’ movements and voice. The tayu narrates the story in a highly stylized manner like in kabuki. The shamisen player provides the only music played during the kabuki performance.

Since 1990, the Nagahama Hikiyama Cultural Association (長浜曳山文化協会) has been working to train local artists to become tayu narrators and shamisen players in the festival. In 2016, for the first time, all four floats had at least one locally-trained tayu narrator or shamisen player. Previously, they were all from outside Shiga.

Each performing float also publishes its own festival program booklet or brochure introducing the float and kabuki actors in Japanese. (If it has English, it’s usually not very good.) You can buy one for cheap at the practice hall.

*Tip: On April 12, you can see three different festival events: Kabuki practice during the day, the portable shrine procession from 6:30 pm, and the hadaka-mairi shrine worshippers from 8 pm.


April 13
The main events on this day are the lot-drawing ceremony and the first kabuki performances in full costume for the public held in the evening.

Taiko Drum Call (起し太鼓): Before dawn at all float neighborhoods, a small team walk around and beat a taiko drum as a wakeup call.

Sacred Staff Receiving Ceremony (御幣迎えの儀)
7:00 a.m.: Representatives (including the Sacred Staff Messenger age 5–7) from the four floats go to Nagahama Hachimangu to receive their sacred staff (zigzag paper streamers) to be mounted on their floats.

Lot-Drawing Ceremony (Kujitori-shiki 籤取り式の儀)
1:00 p.m.:
At Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, four unmarried lads representing the four floats wear a red headband (like they did at the Hadaka-mairi) and sit in front of the shrine priest inside the worship hall. They are the lot drawers (Kujitori-nin).

Four pieces of paper are written with float numbers one to four. Each piece of paper is crumpled into a ball and placed on a tray as a lot to be drawn. There is a tray for each lot, and each lot drawer selects and carries back a tray. While sitting together, they all open their paper lots at the same time to see who is Float No. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Being Float No. 1 is most desirable since they will perform first on April 15 and can go home early. They also get to host the Sanbaso prayer dancer which is the festival’s opening performance and prayer for an abundant harvest. The Lot-drawing ceremony is not for the public since the shrine’s worship hall is too small to allow the public inside to see the ceremony. However, you can see them from outside celebrating (throwing the lot drawer into the air, etc.).

April 13 Kabuki Performance (十三日番)
6:00 p.m. to around 8:30 p.m.: The four floats hold their first public kabuki performances in full makeup and costume in their respective neighborhoods. (For exact performance times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.)

In case of rain, the float will be covered with a tarp or moved to the shopping arcade for shelter.

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Sanbaso dancer (三番叟)

About the Sanbaso dancer
Float No. 1 receives the honor of hosting the Sanbaso dancer. The Sanbaso dances on Float No. 1 before the float’s kabuki play and he is the first performer on April 15 (main festival day) at the shrine. He holds a bell tree shaped like a ripe rice plant and performs prayer dances for a rich harvest.

The Sanbaso performs two short dance segments. The first segment is Momi-no-dan (stomping segment) where he waves his sleeves and stomps on the ground like he is preparing the ground for planting. He also does the “crow jump” (karasu-tobi) by jumping three consecutive times.

The second segment is Suzu-no-dan (bell segment) when the Sanbaso shakes his bell tree and mimes the planting and growing of rice. His costume has a crane design and his high cap has tiger stripes and a red sun on both sides.

The Sanbaso is a well-known dancer in Noh and kabuki. He comes from a Noh prayer dance called Okina (翁) dating from the 14th century as a religious ritual. Okina has three dancers praying for longevity, peace, endless joy, prosperity, and rich harvests. Sanbaso is the third dancer in Okina which is traditionally performed on auspicious and celebratory occasions like New Year’s and at the beginning of the day’s Noh or kabuki program. This is why he always appears first on the main festival day. The Sanbaso dances each time the float performs during the festival days. The boy playing the Sanbaso is recruited from the public in Nagahama and he is around age 10. He has his own choreographer, tayu narrator, and shamisen player. Ciick here to see the Sanbaso video clip.


April 14
The day before the main festival day is also a busy day. Lots to see/photograph.

Kabuki Performance in Local Neighborhoods (自町狂言)
9:00 a.m. to noon: Morning performances of kabuki plays are held by the four floats in their respective neighborhoods. The floats perform once or twice in the morning. For exact times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.

Floats Proceeding to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (Noboriyama 登り山)
12 noon onward: After they finish their morning kabuki performances, the four floats proceed from their neighborhoods to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Float No. 4 arrives at the shrine first, followed by the others in reverse numerical order. All four floats arrive at the shrine by 4 p.m. It’s a spectacle to watch them pull the floats through the streets and the shopping arcade as they shout “Yoisa! Yoisa!” It’s a stop-and-go process. Meanwhile, the Naginata-yama float is pulled from its storehouse across town and arrives at the Otabisho rest place at 4 p.m. It is the only float that does not go to the shrine.

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About the Naginata-yama “Long Sword Float” (長刀山/小舟町組)
This is the only float with no kabuki stage, an Imperial-style carriage with only three wheels. Carries banners and long swords. A ceremonial and “festival guardian” float appearing every year on April 14-15 only at the Otabisho. It does not go to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Built in 1775 with Chinese lion sculptures on four sides. It’s a nice float, but does not attract the crowds. It’s a quiet float.

After the Sword Procession on April 15, red banners are hoisted on the float. Before Float No. 1 arrives at the Otabisho in the late afternoon, Naginata-yama’s red banners are replaced by white ones bearing the Minamoto Clan’s crest. The float’s caretaker is the Naginata-gumi association from the lakeside Kobuna-machi neighborhood (小舟町 now in Asahi-cho) where Minamoto Yoshiie landed for his victory march to Nagahama Hachimangu.

Evening Kabuki Procession (Yu-watari 夕渡り)
7:00 p.m.: Evening procession of all the child kabuki actors in full costume walking from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine to Nagahama Hikiyama Museum through Otemon-dori shopping arcade. It starts with actors from Float No. 4, then No. 3, 2, and 1. Occasionally, the actor will stop and pose for photographers. Each actor is escorted by an adult relative (usually the father) holding a paper lantern and wooden placard indicating the actor’s name, age, and kabuki character. The procession includes festival musicians (no floats). A real crowd pleaser for locals and tourists alike.

All the kabuki actors (and stagehands) are treated like royalty during the festival. They receive gifts from relatives and friends and are very much pampered by their parents for undertaking such a difficult and rigorous task of kabuki acting. (A few of them even do it more than once.) The mothers have to make sure they don’t get sick or catch cold. This childhood experience stays with them for life and many of them come back to Nagahama to help out with the festival. In recent years, the floats have had difficulty recruiting kabuki actors (and musicians) since there are fewer kids in their neighborhoods.


April 15: Main festival day (Honbi 本日)
The festival’s peak day with kabuki performances here and there in central Nagahama from 9:45 am to 8:15 pm. The four floats start at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine where they perform in succession. Then they start moving toward the Otabisho and perform three more times at multiple locations (see map below). Before and after the kabuki performances, there are other processions and ceremonies. Note that the floats can be prone to be late (especially in the evening), so the time schedule is only approximate.

Before dawn: Taiko Drum Call (起し太鼓) at all float neighborhoods.

April 15 Events at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine
7:00 a.m.:
 Spring Festival Ceremony (春季大祭). A religious ceremony, not really for tourists.

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8:30 a.m.: Morning Kabuki Procession (Asa-watari 朝渡り) of child kabuki actors arrive at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Colorful procession, but too early in the morning for spectators.

9:10 a.m.: Sword Procession (Tachi-watari 太刀渡り) of sword bearers arrives at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine after going through Otemon-dori arcade. Led by a golden sacred staff, this procession reenacts the Hikiyama Matsuri’s original samurai procession before floats were added. Young men wear ceremonial aprons (similar to sumo wrestlers) and young boys wear samurai armor and a long naginata sword (2–3 meters long). They depict Minamoto no Yoshiie’s victory march to the shrine after he won the Gosannen War (1080s) in the Tohoku Region. Minamoto no Yoshiie was a famous samurai who founded Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine in 1069.

By the 16th century, Nagahama Hachimangu was ravaged by civil war, so Nagahama Castle Lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved and rebuilt the shrine at its present location further inland. He also used his own samurai retainers to restart the shrine’s annual festival procession dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshie.

The Sword Procession is conducted by the Naginata-gumi group which also pulls the Naginata-yama float. It has the Matajirohama beach (又次郎浜) where Minamoto no Yoshie landed for his victory march to the shrine.

After resting at the shrine for a short period, the Sword Procession goes to the Otabisho to mount their long swords on the Naginata-yama float.

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9:25 a.m.: Okina Maneki (翁招き) is an opening ritual held in front of Float No. 1 to mark the start of kabuki performances. A long bamboo pole attached with a wooden placard is waved to the shrine and to Float No. 1 as a signal to start the festival and the festival music begins. Float No. 1 is then moved into position for the first kabuki performance (opening with the Sanbaso dancer).

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9:45 a.m.–1:45 p.m.: Kabuki at the Shrine (Hono kyogen 奉納狂言) has the four floats perform kabuki at the shrine in succession starting with Float No. 1. These performances are dedicated to the shrine. Each play is about 40 min. long. After a float finishes a kabuki performance, it leaves the shrine and goes to the next performance location on the way to the Otabisho. The next float is then moved into position in the shrine to give its kabuki performance. So there is a break time between performances.

If you want to see all the kabuki plays on the four floats, one option is to stay at the shrine to see all of them. But it’s standing room only, so you may get tired standing for that long. There is paid seating, but they require advance tickets (costing a few thousand yen) sold in Feb. and usually sell out quickly. If you sit on the ground, you won’t be able to see the float since everyone is standing in front of you.

You can just watch one or two floats at the shrine, take a break, and watch the other floats at other locations and times. For kabuki performance times at the shrine and elsewhere, see the table below. All four floats will also perform at the Otabisho later in the afternoon and evening (also standing room only).

Each float has five to seven kabuki actors and one or two stagehands. There used to be more actors like 10 or more per float, but there are fewer kids now. It’s also quite expensive to rent the kabuki costumes. Since each kabuki float performs every three years, that’s how long they have to raise money for the festival.

Although watching the kabuki is impressive without even understanding it, you would enjoy it more if you knew the kabuki story. Most of the kabuki plays are well known and you may be able to find an English synopsis online if you know the kabuki play’s title in Japanese or English. Sometimes the kabuki play includes something about Nagahama.

*The order of the floats’ performances is decided on April 13 by the Kuji-tori ceremony (籤取り式の儀) where they draw lots to see which float is No. 1, 2, 3, or 4.

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Performing at Kanaya Park.

After performing at the shrine, each float will move across town mainly along Otemon-dori road (shopping arcade, Kurokabe Square, etc.) to the Otabisho rest place. Along the way, they will stop and perform kabuki three more times with the last performance at the Otabisho by Float No. 4 held from 7:35 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. The map below has a red line indicating the float route on April 15 and the kabuki performance spots (1 to 7) along the way. To enlarge the map, click here.

Float No./Location1. Hachimangu2. Shrine path3. Kanaya Park4. Hikiyama Museum5. Arcade intersection6. Kurokabe Square7. Otabisho
Float No. 19:45–10:30 am12:00–12:45 pm2:00–2:45 pm4:00–4:45 pm
Float No. 210:55–11:35 am1:10–1:50 pm3:10–3:50 pm5:15–5:55 pm
Float No. 312:00–12:40 pm1:50–2:30 pm4:05–4:45 pm6:25–7:05 pm
Float No. 41:05–1:45 pm3:05–3:45 pm5:15–5:55 pm7:35–8:15 pm
*Times are approximate. Location numbers correspond to the numbers in the map below.

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April 15 Otabisho Events
In 2017, to celebrate the festival’s designation as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, all 13 Nagahama Hikiyama floats will appear at the Otabisho by evening. The Otabisho (御旅所) is a small shrine building on a large parking lot near Hokoku Shrine (short walk from JR Nagahama Station). It is where the portable shrine rests during its journey away from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine.

10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: The eight non-performing kabuki floats will arrive successively at the Otabisho parking lot to join the Naginata-yama guardian float (暇番山登り山). They will only be displayed and not perform any kabuki. It might be tricky to try and see these floats being pulled to the Otabisho while the four kabuki-performing floats are performing at the shrine and elsewhere at the same time. You won’t be able to see everything.

4:00–8:15 pm: Successive kabuki performances are held by the four floats as they arrive at the Otabisho one by one. Float No. 1 should arrive at 3:30 p.m. and start performing kabuki at 4 p.m. The last float (Float No. 4) is scheduled to finish its kabuki performance at 8:15 p.m. By 7:30 p.m. when Float No. 4 arrives, all 12 kabuki floats and the Naginata-yama guardian float will be on display at the Otabisho. A very rare occasion to see all the floats together. The last time they did this was in 2006 to celebrate the merger of Nagahama’s neighboring towns (Azai-cho and Biwa-cho). The kabuki actors are whisked home right after their performance. They don’t stick around for the latter events. They are exhausted and need to sleep and be ready for the next day.

9:00 p.m.: Portable Shrine Procession (Mikoshi togyo 神輿渡御)
After all the floats finish performing at the Otabisho, a short Shinto ceremony is held and the portable shrine that was brought to the Otabisho on April 12 is taken out and carried around the Otabisho a few times before it goes back to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Note that it can get chilly this late in the evening, so dress warmly.

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9:30 p.m.: Returning Floats (戻り山)
The floats start to leave the Otabisho to return to their neighborhoods. Naginata-yama is always the first float to leave, followed by Float No. 1 and the other three floats in order. The last Float No. 4 might leave as late as 11 pm. The floats go back to their neighborhoods. In 2017, since there will be 13 floats, it might take longer for all the floats to leave.


April 16: After-Festival Kabuki (Goen kyogen 後宴狂言)
Morning (9:00 a.m.) to evening: Kabuki performances are given by the four floats in their respective neighborhoods in central Nagahama. They also perform on stage at the Nagahama Bunka Geijutsu Kaikan hall for a paying audience from 10:55 a.m. Each float’s final performance of the festival is called senshuraku (千秋楽). It starts between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. (For exact times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.) Expect to see some tearful kids and relieved parents after the last show is over.

April 17: Sacred-Staff Returning Ceremony (御幣返しの儀)
8:00 am: Representatives (including the Sacred Staff Messenger around age 5–7) from the four floats go to Nagahama Hachimangu to return their sacred staffs (zigzag paper streamers) that were mounted on their floats. Not much for tourists.


For more information about the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival in English, including the festival’s origins, history, and all the floats, watch my YouTube video (embedded above). I don’t mean to brag, but it’s the world’s most comprehensive video about the festival in English. Being 91 min. long, it’s a long video, but you’ll learn a lot and enjoy the festival a lot more by knowing more about it and knowing what to expect.

For festival details in Japanese, see or download the official festival guide book pdf.

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Festival information booth at the shrine.

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