Shiga food and gifts 2017

This post kicks off a new blog category named “Shiga Food & Gifts.” I’ll be trying Shiga’s food, beverages, and other products.

This post will be updated from time to time.

Setsubun Festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Ogre dancers at Taga Taisha Setsubun.

February 3 is the Setsubun Festival at many temples and shrines in Japan. It marks the beginning of spring (Feb. 4) according to the lunar calendar. They hold a religious ceremony and then throw fuku-mame lucky beans (dry soybeans) for worshippers to catch. They may also throw beans at ogre (oni) to chase away evil and bad luck (symbolized by the oni) and bring in good fortune (fuku). They usually shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Out with bad luck! In with good fortune!). The bean-throwing is called mame-maki. Like giving New Year’s prayers, Setsubun is a popular event because many people want to eliminate misfortune and invite good fortune to come in the new year.

In Shiga Prefecture, you can see the Setsubun festival on February 3 at the following temples and shrines. There may be slight variations in how they conduct the Setsubun festival. You don’t have to be Buddhist to see or participate in Setsubun (or any other Buddhist events in Japan). Just make sure to dress warmly and enjoy one of Japan’s major traditions.

Catching lucky beans at Taga Taisha.

♦ Taga Taisha Shrine Setsubun-sai (多賀大社 節分祭), Taga, Feb. 3, 11:00 am and 2:00 pm
Shiga’s biggest Setsubun festival is in Taga. They have impressive ogre (oni) dancers from Shimane Prefecture to act as the evil demons to be chased away. They will hold two bean-throwing (mame-maki) sessions. Expect a large crowd.

It starts with a religious ceremony in the shrine’s worship hall. The shrine’s outdoor stage will then show a dramatic performance by the ogres as they are chased away by priests throwing beans at them. The main event is when over 300 people born under the current year’s Oriental zodiac begin to throw soybeans and mochi to the crowd.

The soybeans are thrown in little paper bags, so they won’t get dirty if they fall to the ground. But the mochi are hard as a rock, so watch out. The bean-throwing is fun, but potentially dangerous with beans or mochi hitting your face/head and people shoving you around. Better to not pick up beans/mochi on the ground amid the jostling. Taking pictures is pretty risky as well. One mochi even hit my camera lens. Fortunately, no damage. You should always look up and see where the mochi and beans are flying.

Directions: Taga Taisha is a short walk from Ohmi Railways Taga Taisha-mae Station on the Taga Line.
Map | PhotosVideo | Taga Taisha website

Throwing beans at Zensuiji Setsubun-e.

♦ Zensuiji Setsubun-e (善水寺 節分会星祭), Konan, Feb. 3, 1:30 pm
Belonging to the Tendai Buddhist sect, Zensuiji temple is a National Treasure and one of the Konan Sanzan Temple Trio worth visiting at any time of the year. Their Setsubun festival is somewhat unique since it is held entirely inside the temple. It starts at 1:30 pm with priests chanting and the Goma fire ritual (護摩供奉修) with a small fire inside the temple burning worshippers’ wooden prayer sticks (write your wishes on the stick, ¥500 per stick).

After the hour-long fire ritual, the Three Ogres of Poison (三毒鬼) in different colors enter the temple. Each ogre represents one of the three Mahayana Buddhist poisons. The priest introduces the ogres and explains that the blue ogre (holding a rake to gather desired objects) is greed/desire (貪), red ogre is hate/anger (瞋), and yellow ogre is ignorance/delusion (痴). (This is also when babies in the audience frightened by the scary ogres start to cry.)

Instead of chasing away the ogres, the priest uses the power of Buddha to neutralize their poison hearts. Each of the three poisons have an antidote, such as knowledge to quell ignorance. All the ogres acquiesce and are thereby converted into “good” ogres.

At around 3 pm, the good ogres, priests, and other folks throw beans while shouting, “Fuku wa uchi! Oni mo uchi!” (福は内! 鬼も内! In with good fortune! In with ogres!). This is another unusual thing about Zensuiji’s Setsubun festival, they also welcome the ogres. But they are now good ogres. At the end of the festival, worshippers can have one of the three ogres eliminate their respective poison. The ogre taps the person to cleanse his/her poison. Very interesting Setsubun festival. Photography is permitted.

Directions: From JR Kosei Station on the JR Kusatsu Line, catch a bus bound for Shimoda (下田) and get off at Iwane (岩根). From there, walk up the hill, and follow the signs (if you can read Japanese). A small temple admission is charged.
Photos courtesy of Konan Tourism Association (湖南市観光協会).
Map | Zensuiji photos | VideoZensuiji website | Konan video

Good ogres cleanse worshippers’ poisons at Zensuiji’s Setsubun.

♦ Tachiki Jinja Shrine Setsubun Taisai (立木神社 節分大祭), Kusatsu, Feb. 3 at 3 pm, 5 pm, and 7 pm
Men and women born under the current year’s zodiac animal will throw beans three times on this day. Free ama-zake (sweet sake) and locally brewed sacred sake will be served to visitors. The shrine’s mikuji paper fortunes (sold for ¥200) will also be used in a drawing for many prizes.

Directions: 15-min. walk from JR Kusatsu Station‘s east exit (or take the Mame bus and get off at Tachiki Jinja-mae).
Map | Tachiki Shrine website

Minakuchi

Minakuchi Shrine

♦ Minakuchi Jinja Shrine Setsubun-sai (水口神社 節分祭), Koka, Feb. 3, 7 pm
Minakuchi Shrine’s Setsubun festival is mainly held in the evening from 7 pm when they hold a religious ceremony, perform a lion dance, chase away ogres, and throw lucky beans and mochi. From 3 pm to 7 pm, udon noodles and red bean soup (zenzai) will be available to warm you up. The shrine is most famous for the Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri in April.

Directions: 5-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station. | Map

Wishing everyone good fortune this new year!

Shiga History September–December 2016

Inui Yukiko at the Olympic victory parade in Ginza, Tokyo.

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s major and interesting news headlines for September–December 2016 (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.

2016/9/1 7:28 Between May 1 and Aug. 28, 2016, 582 people in Shiga were taken to a hospital due to heat exhaustion. 110 of them required hospitalization.
2016/9/1 7:31 Due to poor sales and increased competition, the Otsu Parco store will close at the end of Aug. 2017 and be replaced by a new owner.
2016/9/2 15:17 Kyoto Univ. research group found relatively high concentrations of microplastics in southern Lake Biwa. How they affect fish is unknown.
2016/9/2 15:24 Kusatsu cram school teacher Yabunaka Hirofumi (籔中博文) arrested for groping a high school student & shooting nude pics of underage female teen.
2016/9/3 6:34 Mugwort-flavored soft-serve ice cream (yomogi soft cream) on Mt. Ibuki is yummy! https://t.co/L5Wj1g2XUL https://t.co/uy1GHexvfV
2016/9/5 16:09 A few members of the Shiga Kenjinkai in southern California appeared on NHK TV today singing “Hana wa Saku.”

2016/9/6 4:50 Members of the Nanka Shiga Club (Shiga Kenjinkai) in southern California wore nice T-shirts at their summer picnic!

2016/9/7 14:06 Shiga Univ. Education Dept.’s primary school teacher Yamashita Tomoyoshi (39, 山下那義) arrested for groping a 16-year-old girl on a Kyoto train.
2016/9/7 14:07 Voter turnout among 18 & 19-year-olds in Shiga in the July Upper House election was only 50.57%, lower than Shiga’s overall 56.52% turnout.
2016/9/7 14:12 Lake Biwa is plagued with the most water bloom ever recorded. Found in 12 locations for a record 32 days as of Sept. 6, 2016.
2016/9/13 16:10 As of Sept. 1, 2016, Shiga had the most centenarians ever at 637 (as old as age 110), 38 more than in 2015. Only 66 of them are men.
2016/9/13 16:17 As of July 2016, 24.7% of Shiga’s pop. of 1.4 million was age 65 or older. Taga had the highest percentage of 33.3%, then Takashima at 33.3%
2016/9/14 15:15 Ritto native, paralympic swimmer KIMURA Keiichi won the silver in the 50m freestyle & bronze in the 100m breaststroke in Rio!
2016/9/21 18:35 For 8 years in a row, Shiga’s average land price has fallen. As of July 1, 2016, it fell by -0.4%. Higher in the south, but not in the north
2016/9/24 23:58 Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (Sanbaso dancer ) at Tourism Expo Japan at Tokyo Big Sight yesterday. Musicians also played. https://t.co/jyDeMr4Y3z
2016/9/25 9:36 In Otsu yesterday, Shiga Lakestars lost their 1st basketball game in the new B.League against SeaHorses Mikawa, 78-83.
2016/9/30 22:46 Lake Biwa Museum’s website remains offline after a 2nd DDoS attack on Sept. 24 supposedly by anti-whaling Anonymous. http://www.lbm.go.jp/ 
2016/9/30 22:54 Renovated Otsu Station building reopened today with a capsule hotel, tourist info center, free rental bicycles, eateries, & outdoor terrace.
2016/10/1 13:42 Shiga’s 6th graders and 3rd-year jr high students scored lower than the national average on scholastic achievement tests in April.
2016/10/3 11:08 Paralympic swimmer KIMURA Keiichi from Ritto awarded Shiga’s sports honor award for winning 4 medals in Rio, his 3rd Paralympic Games.
2016/10/6 15:51 Nango Jr. High in Otsu has started English classes conducted only in English. All of Otsu’s Jr. high schools will have such classes by 2019.
2016/10/7 13:34 Shiga natives KIRYU Yoshihide (w/IIZUKA Shota) and synchronized swimmer INUI Yukiko appeared in the Olympic parade in Ginza, Tokyo today. https://t.co/dXnDZAd1V7
2016/10/11 8:38 Otsu mayor Koshi prayed today on the 5th anniversary of the bullied 13-year-old jr high school student’s suicide. https://t.co/vyAtmguM1O
2016/10/11 8:44 Maibara Station’s east side now rents out bicycles. Cycle Station has 60 bicycles of various types. Rental rates start from ¥3,500 per day.
2016/10/14 11:29 A lack of oxygen in the mud due to sedimentation of old lotus plants stunted the growth of lotus flowers at Karasuma Peninsula this summer.
2016/10/17 14:36 Remains of large Kofun-Period structures & evidence of iron-making found at Inabe ruins in Hikone. Possibly related to the Yamatai Kingdom.
2016/10/17 14:47 Shiga Prefectural Personnel Committee recommended a raise for over 18,000 pref. employees that will cost an additional ¥1.1 billion/year.
2016/10/21 14:44 Today’s M6.6 earthquake in Tottori also shook Shiga at M2 or M3 which caused no damage.
2016/10/27 6:20 11-year-old boy in Shiga was taken into custody by police for sending a bomb threat letter to Ohara Elementary School in Maibara on Oct. 19.
2016/11/1 2:25 A record 20 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2016 as of Oct. 30, and the number visiting Shiga is also increasing, but still low.
2016/11/2 13:55 20 Shiga prefectural employees logged over 1,000 hours of overtime last fiscal year. Further measures to be taken to reduce overtime.
2016/11/10 3:43 Trump won sister-state Michigan by 0.3%, 47.6% of the popular vote vs. 47.3% for Clinton, about 12,000 votes more out of 5 mil+ votes cast.
2016/11/10 3:45 Hidden Buddha at Eigenji displayed for the 1st time in 30 years until Nov. 27. Ishiyama-dera’s hidden Buddha also on display until Dec. 4.
2016/11/22 11:12 A man (28) from Kora died 3 days after choking on his 5th onigiri at an onigiri eating contest held by JA Higashi Biwako in Hikone on Nov.13.
2016/11/24 10:32 Eigenji temple in Higashi-Omi showing hidden Kannon for the 1st time in 30 years until Nov. 27. Serene, golden face.

2016/11/26 14:06 Ishiyama-dera in Otsu showing its hidden principal object of worship, a huge seated Kannon statue for the 1st time in 33 years until Dec. 4. https://t.co/e4SoFZs8FN
2016/12/1 1:18 Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri now officially a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage along with 32 other float festivals.
2016/12/7 20:47 Nagahama policeman Yasuda Kazushi (33, 安田一司) arrested for hugging a woman (20s) from behind on a Hikone street and attempting obscene acts.
2016/12/7 20:58 The last leg of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to be built from Tsuruga to Shin-Osaka will be decided soon. Shiga is pushing for the Maibara route.
2016/12/8 5:25 Due to low enrollment, Omi Brotherhood Elementary School will stop recruiting from 2018 & close in March 2023 after the last class graduates.
2016/12/13 15:09 Gamo-Higashi Elementary School head teacher Arikawa Tomoaki (50, 有川智章) arrested twice for extortion for trying to force two women to meet him.
2016/12/13 16:08 Dec. 11: North Korean Otsu man Nakagawa Akihiro (中川晃) on the JR Shin-Imamiya Station platform in Osaka pushed a 63-year-old woman onto the tracks who survived.
2016/12/13 16:12 Nakagawa Akihiro (中川晃大、本名、裴晃大) arrested for attempted murder for pushing a 63-year-old woman onto the tracks. Mother in Otsu cites mental problems.
2016/12/13 16:15 Shiga Blog: Renovated Otsu Station building reopens with The Calendar and other eateries. https://t.co/qptLBQ2R8y
2016/12/14 11:26 The Obama-Kyoto Route has been chosen for the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tsuruga to Shin-Osaka citing faster travel times and cheaper fares.

2016/12/25 14:58 Near Hikone Castle on Xmas morning, a 100kg wild boar attacked 4 male tourists on a sidewalk, causing minor injuries. Boar was later killed.
2016/12/26 15:24 Plans have been announced to renovate the 100-year-old Ohmi Railways Hino Station. Donations are being solicited to help cover the cost. https://t.co/mXGDmuUybO
2016/12/27 15:35 Gov. Mikazuki has stated that since the Hokuriku Shinkansen won’t go through Shiga, there’s no reason for Shiga to help bear the cost.

Shiga History May–Aug. 2016Chronological History of Shiga | Shiga History Jan.–April 2017

Renovated Otsu Station building reopens

20161126-0409

After a few years of uncertainty and about a year of major renovations, a new lease on life has been bestowed on the JR Otsu Station building that reopened on Oct. 1, 2016. I dropped by in late Nov. 2016 to check it out.

The train station platforms look the same, but when you get to the turnstiles at the north exit, the place looks cleaner and more spiffy, including the restroom. After passing through the turnstile, you see a new 7-Eleven on the left. To explore the new Otsu Station building, you now have to go outside. Walk outside the building to see the new 1st floor restaurants or enter The Calendar entrance to go upstairs to the 2nd floor. The long corridor and stairways that were inside the building are now gone.

Ground floor restaurants

See ground floor restaurants from outside the building.

On the outside, the two-story station building has a new paint job and looks basically the same structurally, but the interior has been totally gutted and replaced mainly with restaurants on both the 1st and 2nd floors. Besides 7-Eleven, the 1st/ground floor now has Starbucks, Japanese bank ATMs (Sumitomo-Mitsui and Resona), Otsu Tourist Information Center (rental bicycles), and three Shiga-original restaurants: Okaki for Omi beef, Chanpontei for ramen, and Konkian for soba noodles. The renovations have also made the building more earthquake-resistant.

The station building is now named “Vierra Otsu” (ビエラ大津). According to the building’s developer, JR West Real Estate & Development Co., the word “Vierra” was created with the Spanish words “vida” (life) and “tierra” (land or earth), so it supposed to mean “a place for convenient, everyday living.” But why Spanish? There’s nothing Spanish in the building. It’s not even a real Spanish word so no one will understand what it means. In English, we only know “Vierra” as a surname.

Calendar

Ground floor with ATMs on the left and the entrance to The Calendar.

Stairs

Stairs to The Calendar on the 2nd floor. No elevators.

The building’s biggest and most dramatic change is upstairs on the 2nd floor. It’s where they have “The Calendar,” a unique combination of different and almost seamless spaces for a restaurant, cafe, bar, open-air rooftop terrace (barbecue and beer garden), bookshelves selling books, 60-bed capsule hotel, and even a ping-pong table. The open-air terrace was built on an existing rooftop, covering one-third of the station building.

before renovation

Before: Otsu Station building’s 2nd floor in Oct. 2013 before renovations, where The Calendar is now.

restaurant

After: The Calendar restaurant on the 2nd floor.

Indoors, the 2nd floor now looks to be one large room with various spaces. It replaces the old restaurants and offices on the 2nd floor. Very dramatic change if you know what the 2nd floor looked like before (photo above) with a long corridor in the middle of the partitioned restaurants and offices.

capsule

In this corner, the door to the capsule hotel. Phone: 077-526-9080

The capsule hotel, named Calendar Hotel, is on the east end of the building and accessible through an obscure door in a corner of the restaurant. Only hotel guests can enter the small door to the capsule hotel. They don’t allow people to tour the capsule hotel, so I can’t review it unless I stay there. The hotel has separate quarters for men and women with 36 capsules for men and 24 for women, starting at ¥3,000/night. There’s also free Wi-Fi. Not all capsules are equipped with a TV which costs extra. Capsule rates also vary depending on the day of the week (most expensive on Sat. nights). You can also request breakfast and/or dinner. The hotel supposed to be geared for foreign tourists so they should have information in English and other languages.

Compared to the old station building, Vierra Otsu offers a much better choice for dining and hanging out. Good to see restaurants that originated in Shiga. After seeing the Otsu Station building shuttered and almost abandoned for a significant period before the renovations started in Nov. 2015, it was a welcome sight to see it finally reopen. Next we have to wait for the new supermarket (and condominium) slated to replace the AL Plaza mall now being torn down next to Otsu Station.

The whole idea is to revitalize the sleepy Otsu Station area, attract more people (including foreign tourists), and provide a place to dine, rest, and hang out. Attracting more tourists might be quite difficult since the Hama-Otsu area at lakeside is where the action is with a shopping mall, restaurants, cruise boat port, and hotels. There’s not much near Otsu Station except for the prefectural government office.

shuttered

Otsu Station building shuttered and in limbo in 2014. This corner space now occupied by Konkian restaurant.

Built in 1975, the Otsu Station building was originally managed by a public corporation in Otsu that contracted with JR (Japan Railways) to lease floor space to businesses. When this public corporation dissolved, the city took over the building’s management from 2010. However, the aging building was in need of major repairs, especially to the air-conditioning system which would be a major expense. After March 2014, the city of Otsu quit managing the Otsu Station building that it had been sub-leasing to tourist offices, shops, and restaurants. It had been paying JR, the building’s owner, ¥16 million annually to lease the building. They cited the old air conditioning that would cost ¥200 million to renovate. JR also told the city that the building’s commercial potential was too low to justify a reconstruction.

After a few years of discussions and negotiations, the city of Otsu and JR finally came to agreement on the building’s renovations and how much of the bill both would foot. The city agreed to bear two-thirds of the cost while expecting subsidies from the central government, and JR would pay one-third. The total cost was reported to be at least ¥700 million.

Outdoor terrace

Outdoor terrace on part of the west-end rooftop.

As soon as I entered The Calendar restaurant on the 2nd floor, a friendly young waitress greeted me and asked whether I was there to eat or just drink. I was there for lunch so she told me where I could order and pay the cashier in advance. I stood in a short line to order the daily lunch special (¥850) and paid. I was given a beeper that would alert me when my order was ready. I was told that I could sit anywhere so I spent the waiting time touring the 2nd floor looking at everything except the off-limits capsule hotel. Went outside to the terrace and sat in different chairs.

The Calendar has a wide variety of seating and spaces. First you have to decide whether to sit outdoors on the terrace or stay indoors. The weather may easily decide that for you. The outdoor terrace is very spacious, airy, and well furnished with many comfy chairs. Large groups would like the large sofas and tables. It was built on an existing rooftop covering the ground floor. Too bad there are no nice views. Only buildings.

If the neighbors don’t complain, I would like to see live entertainment on the terrace. Perhaps Otsu Matsuri musicians can perform here before the festival as a PR ploy. Or have upcoming local singers, musicians, or hula dancers (especially in summer) to perform. Great place for private parties. I hope they can find a way to use the terrace even in the colder months. It looks like they can install a tarp-like roof over the entire terrace for cold or rainy weather. That space is just too big for it not to be used in the colder months. All that furniture has to be protected from the elements too.

terrace

Chic furniture on the terrace. Train platform on the left.

lounge

Reclining lounge chairs. If we could only see the lake from here.

Indoors, you will find single seats in front of the main picture window, small tables for couples and small groups, and tables for larger groups. There’s even a sit-on-the-floor room next to the ping-pong table in the corner room. This is where I decided to have lunch. It looks like a Japanese-style room, but the floor is varnished wood instead of tatami mats and the cushions are super thick to make it comfortable even for people not used to sitting on the floor. This room seemed popular among couples and families with small kids. It also had a view of passing trains at Otsu Station. I liked this room (and the cushion) as well.

singles

For singles.

couples

Window seating for couples or small groups.

Floor

Where I had lunch. On-the-floor seating next to the ping-pong room.

Ping-pong

Ping-pong room. Close the sliding doors before playing. Paddles and balls provided.

lunch

My lunch: Daily special (hi-gawari lunch) served 11 am–2:30 pm for ¥850 includes soup, rice or bread, and the drink bar (coffee, tea, juices).

My beeper sounded and I went to get my food. The lunch special was okay, but not especially delicious. Main dish was chicken. While I had lunch, a few boys eating in front of me played ping-pong. To play ping-pong, you have to close the sliding doors so the ball doesn’t bounce out. They seemed to have fun, but I wondered how popular it would be among customers. It’s a novel idea to have a ping-pong table, but that room was about the same size as the adjacent sit-on-the-floor dining room where 10 people and I were eating. The ping-pong room is only for 2 or 4 people at the most, and it could seat at least 12 people as a dining room. If they wanted to offer something unique, I think it would be more practical and attractive to convert the ping-pong room into a kids’ playroom where parents can easily watch over their kids while dining. Instead of going to the neighborhood park to socialize with other moms and kids, they could all come here, especially in the colder months. The noisy kids wouldn’t really bother the other customers because the room is set apart from the rest of the restaurant. Great place for kids’ birthday parties too.

The Calendar restaurant is nice and I felt good vibes, but it didn’t make me feel like I was in Otsu. What was missing was localized decor. At the top of the stairs, there were modern posters on the wall, but none were apparently related to Otsu. There is some artwork on the walls here and there (even inside the restroom), but they have nothing to do with Otsu or Shiga. Even the books on the bookshelves, I couldn’t find any Otsu- or Shiga-related books or magazines. How about installing Otsu-e paintings, pictures or paintings of Otsu Matsuri, Otsu-juku, Omi Hakkei, the lake, etc? Promote Otsu. There’s lots of wall space and it needs some local flavor since there aren’t any views of the lake.

Bookshelves

Bookshelves of books for sale. Couldn’t find any books about Otsu.

Central

Central area of The Calendar restaurant. The place was abuzz even well past lunch time. Open from 7 am to 11:30 pm.

Together with the Otsu Tourist Information Center, The Calendar also holds activities such as craft making, cooking, shogi, sake brewery tours, daily exercises, etc. This is good, to have community and cultural activities. They should add foreign language classes for tourist/restaurant/hotel staff if they want to welcome foreign visitors.

One confusing thing is that they have so many different names for the spaces they have: Restaurant, cafe, bar, Japanese-style multipurpose room, Calendar Hotel, capsule hotel, Lobby & Lounge (and Lobby Lounge), Terrace Restaurant, BBQ Terrace, Beer Garden, Book Cafe, Book Store & Cafe, and ping-pong lounge. Some things like the hotel and terrace are obvious, but the restaurant, cafe, lounge, lobby, and bar all look to be in the same room. I don’t know why it was named “The Calendar” either. Couldn’t see any obvious connection nor find any answer.

The Calendar is very spacious and quite big (maybe too big), and it looks like a great place for locals and tourists to hang out. Even the restroom was very modern and chic. I think it has great appeal and potential for people who live or work near Otsu Station. It’s certainly a great improvement over the old building. But Otsu Station is still only restaurants and no shops except for 7-Eleven. It’s going to mainly cater to local residents and workers. It’s great for them, but I don’t think normal tourists would get off the train just to dine here. The simple truth is that there are no major tourist attractions near Otsu Station except during major festivals like Otsu Matsuri. Central Otsu’s attractions are mainly along the Keihan Line which is not connected to Otsu Station on the JR Tokaido Line.

tourist

Otsu Tourist Information Center on 1st floor.

Information

Inside Otsu Tourist Information Center.

After lunch, I dropped by the Otsu Tourist Information Center on the 1st floor. The location and space are great improvements over the old office on the 2nd floor (and in the temporary quarters during the renovations). They still need to have a large sign inside the train station near the turnstiles to point the way to the Center.

I entered the new Otsu Tourist Information Center and expected the usual and polite “Irasshaimase” (Welcome!) that I’m so used to in Japan. But the three women staff never even paid attention to me. Another man soon walked in, and they never said anything to him either. It was like we were invisible to them. They just continued to whisper amongst themselves with their backs facing outward. How can you work there and totally ignore walk-in visitors when you’re not even busy? It’s common sense and standard procedure to greet visitors, especially if you’re in the hospitality industry.

I walked around the room and saw some local products on sale (they need to sell more products unless 7-Eleven already has an Otsu section), a large video monitor, and tourist pamphlets. But the atmosphere was strange. The place was nice enough, but it lacked soul and warmth (人情), at least when I was there in late Nov. I didn’t feel any welcoming vibes, and it was a silent, cold space compared to the many other tourist information centers I’ve been to in Japan. Yes, you could call me a tourist information center connoisseur.

When one of the women finally faced outward, I went up to her and asked a simple question about Ogoto Onsen. She said they didn’t have the answer to my question, so she would give me the phone number for the Ogoto Onsen tourist/ryokan association for me to call them and find out for myself. I was flabbergasted.

“What?? You want me to call them?!” (For information that they should’ve known in the first place.) She said yes, and I shook my head in disbelief and walked out. I didn’t want to start an argument. Like what prevented her from making that call and asking for me?? She could’ve learned something new in the process. If they don’t know the answer, it is THEIR job to try and find out for the visitor. Perhaps if I spoke in English, they might have been more helpful. But it shouldn’t have made a difference.

They need to understand that they are representing the city of Otsu, that they are the city’s front-line ambassadors who give tourists their first impressions of the city. They give the city a human face. Their job might be mundane at times, but tourist information staff are actually very important. (More important than the largely ceremonial Miss Biwako-Otsu Tourist Ambassadors.) It seems the company (BALNIBARBI Co., Ltd.) operating The Calendar is also managing the tourist information center. The restaurant staff were good, but the tourist information staff need to receive better training in both local tourism information and customer service. Please note that I don’t criticize to embarrass people. I criticize to help them improve their product, service, attitude, knowledge, skills, effectiveness, efficiency, professionalism, etc. Because I care about them.

I’m also amused that, as of this writing, Otsu’s official tourist information website does not mention The Calendar in their list of hotels nor in their list of Otsu restaurants even though they are right next door and co-organize tourist activities with The Calendar. Japan is a land of ironies, is what I always say.

Good luck to Otsu Station. Just because the renovated station building has reopened doesn’t mean that the job is done. It’s only the beginning, a stepping stone. They still need to keep brainstorming and working on how to attract more people to the area and the city. The new station building is only a small part of it.

*For detailed restaurant hours, menus, hotel reservations, etc., see The Calendar website in English or in Japanese.

*Additional reading: Top 20 train stations in Shiga

PR posters for the reopened Otsu Station building.

Autumn festivals and foliage November 2016 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals (matsuri), events, exhibitions, and fall leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November–December 2016. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.)

Compiled by Philbert Ono. Updated: Nov. 26, 2016

Eigenji's hidden Buddha

Eigenji’s hidden Buddha

November 8–27, 2016, 8 am–5 pm
♦ Eigenji Hidden Buddha Display (本尊『如意輪観世音菩薩』の御開扉), Higashi-Omi
Eigenji is one of Higashi-Omi’s major temples, famous for autumn leaves. This month in November 2016, they will be showing their hidden Kannon statue for the first time in 30 years. It is the temple’s main object of worship is 60 cm high with a peaceful, golden face. A smaller Buddha said to have been carried by Genko is also on the top of the Kannon’s head. It is to mark the 650th anniversary of Zen Rinzai Sect priest and poet Jakushitsu Genko (寂室 元光 1290-1367) who founded Eigenji. From Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus going to Eigenji Shako (永源寺車庫) and get off at Eigenji-mae (永源寺前). Takes about 35 min. Bus schedule from Yokaichi Station on weekdays | SaturdaySunday.
Temple admission: ¥500

Ishiyama-dera reveals its hidden Kannon (center).

Ishiyama-dera reveals its hidden Kannon (center).

March 18–December 4, 2016, 9 am–4 pm
♦ Ishiyama-dera Hidden Buddha Display (本尊『如意輪観世音菩薩』の御開扉), Otsu
Ishiyama-dera is one of Otsu’s main temples and attractions, famous as the place supposedly where Lady Murasaki wrote the epic novel The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari). The temple’s main object of worship is a seated Kannon statue (Important Cultural Property) three meters high and normally behind closed doors in the main Hondo hall (National Treasure). This year in 2016, this main Kannon statue is open for public viewing. They open this Kannon statue’s doors only once every 33 years! The main Kannon statue is a Nyoirin Kannon (Omnipotent One) with six arms dating from around 1096. It is worshiped for finding a marriage partner, safe childbirth, and happiness and prosperity. They say that it is Japan’s only Kannon that was ordered by the emperor to stay hidden (勅封秘仏). Because of its large size, it’s truly awesome. You may have to stand in line for a few minutes before you can see the statue. It has so much detail. Quite breathtaking and surprisingly it’s not a National Treasure (but an Important Cultural Property). (Photography of the Kannon statue is not allowed.) In addition, they are displaying four little Kannon statues dating from the 7th and 8th centuries that were found inside this main Kannon statue in 2002 (本尊如意輪観音像胎内佛像). A separate admission is charged to view the main Kannon statue. The spacious temple grounds also has autumn leaves and other National Treasure structures like the Tahoto pagoda. For this occasion, they are also allowing people to ring the temple bell (for ¥300) in the tall bell tower. I recommend doing that too, quite unique. Near Ishiyama-dera Station on the Keihan Ishisaka Line accessible from JR Ishiyama Station.
Temple admission: ¥600 + Kannon display ¥500
Official site: http://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/ishiyamadera/gyouji/gokaihi/index.html
Photos | Map

Hikone Castle light-up

Hikone Castle light-up (Image: 光とアートで発信するブランディング事業 彦根・多賀地域連携組織委員会)

October 1–December 31, 2016 evenings
♦ Light & Art – Dramatic Legacy Castle Light-upHikone Castle, Sunset–10:00 pm
New evening event with Hikone Castle’s moat, stone walls, and moatside structures lit up with patterned and colored lighting. Check out the Sawaguchi Tamon turret. Looks beautiful at night.

Taga Taisha light-up

Taga Taisha light-up (Image: 光とアートで発信するブランディング事業 彦根・多賀地域連携組織委員会)

October 1–November 30, 2016 evenings
♦ Light & Art – Dramatic Legacy Shrine Light-upTaga Taisha Shrine, Sunset–10:00 pm
New evening event with colorful LEDs and laser light shining at the shrine, including tori and trees. Looks surreal and dreamy at night. Special event on Nov. 11, 12, and 13.

Matsuri in Nagahama

Matsuri in Nagahama

October 29–30, 2016
Japan Matsuri in Nagahama 2016 (日本の祭り in ながはま), Nagahama and Kinomoto
First-time festival extravaganza over the weekend in late Oct. Streets and plazas in central Nagahama near JR Nagahama Station and JR Kinomoto Station will host festivals from Nagahama and other parts of Japan. If you missed seeing this spring’s Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, you can see all three hikiyama floats perform in front of the Hikiyama Museum on Oct. 30 from 10 am to 3 pm. Yogo’s Chawan Matsuri will also be performed in Kinomoto on Oct. 30 at 3 pm. Other festivals include Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri and Awa Odori from Tokushima on Oct. 30 in central Nagahama. Tonda puppet show, Dosukoi from Kagoshima, and taiko drummers from Shimo-Yogo and Yokaichi (Nagahama) on Oct. 29 in central Nagahama. Omi-Hachiman’s Sagicho will be on Oct. 29 and 30 in central Nagahama. It may be difficult to decide what to see because you can’t see everything. Free admission. They have a pdf in rough English here, but it does not have detailed schedule of events.
Pamphlet in Japanese has detailed schedule: http://matsurinagahama.jp/oshirase01/program.pdf

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2016
♦ Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade, Hikone Castle, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Very elaborate costume parade of mainly kids dressed as samurai and Edo-Period ladies. Highlights include the Hikone Gun Battalion giving a matchlock gun demo (in front of Horse Stable), Ii Naosuke played by an actor on horseback, fireman acrobatics, and Sarugaku dancers. The parade route starts from Joto Elementary School and proceeds along the road to the castle and passes in front of the Umaya Horse Stable. Video here. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map | Video | Photos
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
English: http://www.hikoneshi.com/en/event/articles/220
Japanese: http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/parade

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 12–27, 2016, 5 pm–8:30 pm
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine Maple Festival Light-up, Otsu
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hie in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture is the head shrine for all Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno Shrines in Japan (around 2,000). The spacious grounds includes two shrines that are National Treasures and 3,000 maple trees lit up at night 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm during this period. Even the green leaves look great against the dark sky. Highly recommended if you’re in that part of the city. Near Hiezan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line and Keihan Line’s Sakamoto Station. Map | Photos
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Saimyoji

Saimyoji

November 19-27, 2016
Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage, Kora, Aisho, and Higashi-Omi
Koto Sanzan (湖東三山) is a trio of large Tendai Buddhist temples famous for autumn leaves in eastern Shiga. They are Saimyoji (西明寺) in KoraKongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi (see map below). They are also famous for structures that are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.

During the autumn foliage period, convenient shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between these three temples from Hikone Station and Yokaichi Station. For more details and the shuttle bus schedule in English, click here.

Eigenji

Eigenji

November 6-27, 2016
Eigenji Temple Autumn Foliage and Light-up, Higashi-Omi, 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm for light-up
Although this temple is not one of the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio, it’s also famous for autumn leaves with 3,000 maple trees. Along with Saimyoji, Eigenji is also one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Established in 1361, Eigenji belongs to the Zen Rinzai Buddhist Sect (Eigenji School). Since it’s a different sect, Eigenji is not a member of the Koto Sanzan trio of Tendai Sect temples. Impressive during the day, but also beautiful at night when the leaves are illuminated along with the walking paths. Admission 500 yen.

From Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus going to Eigenji Shako (永源寺車庫) and get off at Eigenji-mae (永源寺前). Takes about 35 min. Bus schedule from Yokaichi Station on weekdays | Saturday | Sunday. Note that from Eigenji-mae, the last bus for Yokaichi Station leaves at 7:26 pm on Sat./Sun. and 8:27 pm on weekdays. Shuttle buses from Hyakusaiji also run to Eigenji during Nov. 16-Dec. 1. Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
http://eigenji-t.jp

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha garden

November 17-30, 2016
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm (until 9 pm on weekends and holidays)
Established in 717 (Nara Period), Hyozu Taisha Shrine has a noted Japanese garden with a pond ringed by small rolling hills and autumn leaves. The fall leaves certainly look colorful and impressive when illuminated in the evenings and reflected in the pond. Mini concerts will be held during the foliage illumination in the evenings.

A short bus ride from JR Yasu Station’s North Exit (Kita-guchi). Take the Yoshikawa Line (going to Nishi Kawahara 2-chome 西河原2丁目 or Ayame-hama あやめ浜) and get off at Hyozu Taisha 兵主大社. Buses are infrequent (schedule here). The last bus leaving Hyozu Taisha for Yasu Station leaves around 9:02 pm on weekdays and around 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 12-27, 2016
Genkyuen Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Hikone, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Adjacent to Hikone Castle, Genkyuen was built as a castle garden in 1677 by Ii Naooki, the fourth lord of Hikone Castle. I would call this Shiga’s best place to view autumn foliage illumination. The pond’s reflection of the colorful autumn leaves at night doubles the impact. Hikone Castle in the background is also lit up for a perfect night scene. Reminds me of a master painter using a black canvas. Admission ¥700 (¥350 for jr high and younger). Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
English: http://www.hikoneshi.com/en/event/articles/221
Japanese: http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/kinshu

Zensuiji

Zensuiji and maples.

November 13-30, 2016
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio Autumn Tour, Konan, all day
Not to be confused with Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan is a trio of Tendai Buddhist temples in the city of Konan. A small city like Konan is lucky to have as many as four National-Treasure structures at the three Konan Sanzan temples. Like Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan temples are also noted for autumn leaves. During this period, a convenient shuttle bus plies between the temples and train stations.

The temples are Jorakuji 常楽寺, Chojuji 長寿寺, and Zensuiji 善水時. Jorakuji has not one, but two buildings that are National Treasures: the Hondo main hall and three-story pagoda. Chojuji means, “Long Life Temple,” and its small, but distinctive Hondo hall is a National Treasure. Zensuiji has the largest and most impressive Hondo hall (National Treasure) bearing elegant roof lines. Not to be missed by architectural buffs. The three temples are all in quiet, rural neighborhoods.

One thing you have to understand is that two of the temples (Jorakuji and Chojuji) are on one side of the train tracks and the third temple (Zensuiji) is farther away on the other side of the tracks. So there are two separate bus routes going to the three temples and there’s a train ride between Jorakuji/Chojuji and Zensuiji.

The Konan Community bus called Meguri-kun runs from JR Ishibe Station (JR Kusatsu Line) to Jorakuji and Chojuji once an hour from 8:24 am to 3:45 pm. From Jorakuji, you can take the bus to Chojuji. From Chojuji, take the bus back to JR Ishibe Station and catch the train to JR Kosei Station one stop away. From JR Kosei Station, take the bus to Zensuiji. The last bus leaves Zensuiji at 5:17 pm for JR Kosei Station. You can also tour the temples in reverse order, starting with Zensuiji. In the morning, buses leave JR Kosei Station (north exit kita-guchi) for Zensuiji at 8:28 am, 9:25 am, 10:15 am, 12:20 pm, 1:45 pm, 2:45 pm, 3:50 pm (except on weekends and holidays)

Bus schedule in Japanese Map
湖南三山めぐり
http://www.burari-konan.jp/konan3zan/

November 12–December 4, 2016, 5:30 pm–8 pm (enter by 7:30 pm)
Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman
Beautiful Japanese garden designed by Kobori Enshu. Part of a temple at the foot of Mt. Kinugasa. Autumn foliage at night is reputed to be most beautiful. Of course, you can also go during the day. Tripods/monopods and food are not allowed. No photography inside the buildings. The garden is usually open only on weekends and holidays, but it will be open every day during Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Admission 500 yen (200 yen for jr high and younger). From JR Azuchi Station, take a taxi for 10-min. ride. Google Map
石の寺 教林坊 紅葉ライトアップ
http://www.d1.dion.ne.jp/~marche/kyourinbou/

December 3–4, 2016
Hot Air Balloon Over Lake Biwa, Takashima, early morning
Dramatic sight of hot-air balloons crossing Lake Biwa. They start off very early in the morning so you would have stay near the launching beach in Takashima. Note that weather conditions can cancel the event.
熱気球琵琶湖横断
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/

December 4,  2016 
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show, Nagahama, 1:30 pm
The famous Tonda puppet troupe will perform three acts. Admission 1,200 yen at the door.
At JR Nagahama Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus at 12:27 pm going to Nagahama Shiyakusho Azai-shisho-mae (長浜市役所浅井支所前) and get off at Biwa Shisho-mae (びわ支所前). Takes about 20 min. Only three buses go there on Sunday. Or take a taxi if you’re rich or going with friends. Google Map
人形浄瑠璃「冨田人形」

December 4, 2016
♦ Tarobogu Shrine Fire Festival, Higashi-Omi, Noon – 4:00 pm
Held annually on the first Sunday of December, the Tarobo Shrine Fire Festival burns a big pile of 100,000 wooden prayer tablets called goma (護摩) collected from believers all over Japan. The tablet is written with the believer’s name, address, and prayer wish. The fire burns as a prayer for family health and safety. After the fire settles down, barefoot priests walk over the hot ashes. Very dramatic festival (photo here).
Short walk from Ohmi Railways Tarobogu-mae Station. Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www.tarobo.sakura.ne.jp/gyouzi.html

For art and museum exhibitions in Shiga, see Kansai Art Beat’s exhibition schedule for Shiga museums.

1 2 3 79