Autumn festivals and foliage November 2018 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals (matsuri), events, exhibitions, and fall leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November–December 2018. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.)

Compiled by Philbert Ono. Updated: Nov. 14, 2018

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2018
♦ 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

Saimyoji

Saimyoji

November 18th-25th, 2018
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 Kora, Kongorinji (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 Hikone Station and these three temples. For more details and the shuttle bus schedule in English, click here.

Eigenji

Eigenji

November 3rd-30th, 2018
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 (in Japanese) from Yokaichi Station on weekdays | Saturday | Sunday. Note that from Eigenji-mae, the last bus for Yokaichi Station leaves at 7:16 pm on Sat./Sun. and 8:27 pm on weekdays. Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
Japanese: http://eigenji-t.jp

Zensuiji

Zensuiji and maples.

November 10–December 2, 2018
♦ 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 Meguru-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 (get off at the “Iwane” stop). The last bus leaves Zensuiji (Iwane) at 5:16 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 fare is ¥250 per ride for adults. ¥130 for kids.
Konan Sanzan info and bus schedule in Japanese | Map
湖南三山めぐり

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 10th–25th, 2018, 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. The shrine also has a chrysanthemum display around the same time. 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 StationMap | Photos
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Ishiyama-dera

Ishiyama-dera

November 16–December 2, 2018
Ishiyama-dera Temple Autumn Foliage Light-up
, Otsu, 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Founded in 749, Ishiyama-dera, belonging to the Shingon Buddhist Sect, is the 13th Temple of the Saigoku Pilgrimage. The temple is noted for National Treasure architecture, cherry blossoms, and fall leaves. The maples are nice even during the day, but the evenings will include LED lights. Mini-concerts on weekends at 6:30 p.m. Admission ¥600. Map
三井寺 秋のライトアップ
English:
Japanese: https://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/guide/event/atarayo

November ??, 2018
♦ Miidera Temple Autumn Foliage Light-up
, Otsu, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Established in the 7th century, Miidera temple, or Onjoji, is one of Otsu’s major temples and one of Japan’s four largest temples. It is the headquarters temple of the Tendai Jimon Buddhist Sect and former rival of Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei. It is a complex of numerous structures including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. The temple bell is famous for being one of the Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) depicted in ukiyoe prints. During this period, the temple’s three-story pagoda will also be open to the public. Map
三井寺 秋のライトアップ
English:
Japanese:

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha garden

November ??, 2018
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. Events and merchandise booths will be held on weekends.

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
Japanese: http://www.yasu-kankou.com/

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 17–December 2, 2018
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:
Japanese: http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/kinshu

November 15–December 5, 2018, 5:30 pm–7 pm (enter by 6:30 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 the evening light-up days. Admission 600 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

Toyosato

Toyosato Elementary School (Image: toyosato-kanko.jp)

November 24–December 25, 2018, 5 pm–10 pm
♦ Former Toyosato Elementary School Evening Illumination, Toyosato
Pretty outdoor and building illumination in the evening. Christmas concert on Dec. 22 at 3 pm in the hall. Designed by William Merrell Vories the school has become nationally famous as the backdrop for the popular K-ON! anime/manga series. For groups of four or more, guided tours of the old school are provided for a fee.
Japanese: http://toyosato-kanko.jp/event/illumi2017/
豊郷小学校旧校舎群ライトアップ&イルミネーション

Shaka-do

Shaka-do

October 27–November 25, 2018
Hie Momiji Matsuri Maple Festival, Otsu
In the Yokawa complex of Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, lots of maple leaves in autumn. From the ropeway station, take the shuttle bus to Yokawa complex. 比叡のもみじ
Japanese: https://www.hieizan.or.jp/archives/3218

November 23–December 2, 2018
Metasequoia (dawn redwood) trees, Makino, Takashima
A pretty road lined with Metasequoia trees turn color in autumn. At JR Makino Station, take the Makino Kogen bus and get off at the Makino Picland bus stop. メタセコイア並木
Japanese: https://takashima-kanko.jp/2018/07/post_642.html

November 25, 2018
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show
, Nagahama, 1:30 pm
The famous Tonda puppet troupe will perform three acts at Lute Plaza. Admission 1,200 yen at the door. For info, call 0749-63-7400.
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.
Japanese: http://www.city.nagahama.lg.jp/0000005315.html
Google Map
人形浄瑠璃「冨田人形」

December ??, 2018, 6:30 am
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 at Omi-Shirahama Beach so you would have stay near this beach in Takashima. The balloons aim to land in Notogawa in Higashi-Omi across the lake. Note that weather conditions can cancel the event.
熱気球琵琶湖横断
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/

Tarobogu Shrine Fire Festival

Tarobogu Shrine Fire Festival

December 2, 2018
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 pine tree branches and 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 and anyone can walk over the not-so-hot ashes. Very dramatic festival (photos).
Short walk from Ohmi Railways Tarobogu-mae Station. Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www.tarobo.sakura.ne.jp/posts/news7.html

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

Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage 2018

pagoda

Saimyoji’s 3-story pagoda, a National Treasure.

In 2018, the Koto Sanzan autumn foliage season will be November 17th–25th, 2018. Shuttle buses will run between Hikone Station and the three Koto Sanzan temples. The shuttle bus day pass is ¥1,500 (Momiji kippu) sold at Hikone Station’s west exit bus stop.

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.

Each temple has its own unique characteristics. Saimyoji’s main temple and pagoda are both National Treasures that you can enter. It’s also deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Kongorinji has many colorfully dressed Jizo statues and a National Treasure main temple housing an 11-faced Kannon statue and 13 other statues that are Important Cultural Properties. Hyakusaiji is famous for giant straw sandals on a gate and a Japanese garden. Established by Shotoku Taishi in 609, Hyakusaiji is Shiga Prefecture’s oldest temple and one of Japan’s oldest. After entering the gate adorned with a pair of giant straw sandals, see the Hondo temple hall with an 11-faced Kannon statue carved by Shotoku Taishi, a prince credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan.

Each temple charges admission ¥600 for adults.

Kongorinji

Kongorinji

Hyakusaiji

Hyakusaiji

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

During this year’s autumn foliage season from November 17–25, 2018, convenient, low-cost shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between Hikone Station and these three Koto Sanzan temples. At Hikone Station, the first shuttle bus leaves at 9 a.m. and goes to Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji. From Hyakusaiji, the shuttle bus goes back to Hikone Station while stopping at the other temples along the way. (See the shuttle bus schedule below.) It will take most of the day to see all three temples so start as early as you can in the morning. (Unlike in previous years, the shuttle bus no longer runs to Eigenji and Yokaichi Station.)

Although you can pay the shuttle bus fare per ride (costing ¥300 to ¥600), I recommend buying the day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for ¥1,500 (¥750 for kids). This day pass is good for riding the shuttle bus between Hikone Station and the three temples. Get on and off as much as you like for one day. So you start and end at Hikone Station. The Momiji kippu day pass is sold at Hikone Station’s bus stop at the west exit from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. If you like to take your time (for photography, etc.), you might not have time to see all three temples in one day.

There are also guided tour buses (teiki kanko bus) departing Nagahama, Kyoto, Maibara, and Hikone Stations that are much more expensive (around ¥8,000) and follow a set tour schedule. No English guides.

Koto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 17th–25th, 2018), Hikone Station to Hyakusaiji (read down).
Bus StopBus 1Bus 2Bus 3Bus 4 
Hikone Station9:00 am9:35 am10:35 am11:35 am
Taga Town Hall9:25 am10:00 am11:00 am12:00 pm
Seseragi no Sato9:30 am10:05 am11:05 am12:05 pm
Saimyoji9:35 am10:10 am11:10 am12:10 pm
Kongorinji10:20 am11:20 am12:20 pm
Kongoen-guchi11:25 am12:25 pm
Crefeel Koto11:31 am12:31 pm
Yomiaido11:35 am12:35 pm
Arrive Hyakusaiji11:45 am12:45 pm
Koto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 17th–25th, 2018), return trip from Hyakusaiji to Hikone Station (Read down)
Bus StopBus 1Bus 2Bus 3Bus 4 
Depart Hyakusaiji12:50 pm1:50 pm3:15 pm4:15 pm
Yomiaido12:55 pm1:55 pm3:20 pm4:20 pm
Crefeel Koto12:59 pm1:59 pm3:24 pm4:24 pm
Kongoen-guchi1:05 pm205 pm3:30 pm4:30 pm
Kongorinji1:10 pm2:10 pm3:35 pm4:35 pm
Saimyoji1:20 pm2:20 pm3:45 pm4:45 pm
Seseragi no Sato1:25 pm2:25 pm3:50 pm4:50 pm
Taga Town Hall1:30 pm2:30 pm3:55 pm4:55 pm
Arrive Hikone Station2:00 pm3:00 pm4:25 pm5:25 pm

If you have time on another day, also see Eigenji temple (永源寺) in Higashi-Omi. Being a Zen Buddhist temple, it’s not part of the Koto Sanzan Trio and the shuttle buses do not run to/from Eigenji. Buses run to Eigenji from Yokaichi Station.

Eigenji

Eigenji

秋の湖東三山
Shuttle bus info in Japanese:
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/bus/2018.10.31kotousanzan/index.html/

Official temple sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Things to know before visiting Shiga Prefecture

1. Shiga Prefecture is easy to find on a map of Japan. Just look for the large blue lake near the center of Honshu island. It is next to Kyoto. From Tokyo, Shiga is on the way to Kyoto.

2. Shiga Prefecture’s claim to fame is Lake Biwa (Biwako), Japan’s largest lake and water supply for 14 million people in the Kyoto-Osaka area. Lake Biwa is one of the world’s oldest lakes dating back 4 million years, home to over 70 endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

Chikubushima

Chikubushima, home of Goddess Benzaiten (Benten).

3. Shiga’s most famous tourist sights include Enryakuji Temple (World Heritage Site) on Mt. Hiei, Hikone Castle (National Treasure), Chikubushima island in northern Lake Biwa, Shigaraki pottery district, Harie, Koka Ninja House, numerous National Treasure buildings, and traditional townscapes.

hikone castle

Hikone Castle in spring.

4. Shiga’s most compact and convenient tourist cities are Otsu, Kusatsu, Omi-Hachiman, Hikone, and Nagahama. These cities have multiple tourist sights within a compact area. They also usually have English-speaking staff at the tourist information desk in the train station. Larger cities like Higashi-Omi, Koka, and Takashima have tourist sights spread out over a wide area which may require more time to visit.

5. When traveling by shinkansen high-speed train, Kyoto Station and Maibara Station are the most convenient for Shiga. Kyoto Station is near southern and western Shiga (Otsu, Kusatsu, and Takashima), while Maibara Station is convenient for visiting northern or eastern Shiga (Hikone, Nagahama, Maibara, Omi-Hachiman, Higashi-Omi). Both Kyoto and Maibara Stations have local train lines that go to other areas of Shiga.

Lake Biwa

Northern Lake Biwa

Southern Lake Biwa

Southern Lake Biwa

6. The eastern and southern sides of the lake are the most populated and developed, so the JR Biwako/Tokaido Line runs through here frequently. In contrast, the west side and northern side of the lake are more rural and the JR Kosei Line runs less frequently. Shiga is well connected to Kyoto/Osaka through local train lines.

Shirahige

Cycling past Shirahige Shrine in Takashima.

7. Most train stations in Shiga have rental bicycles. You can rent a bicycle at one train station and return it at another station. High-end bicycles for long-distance cycling can be rented at Maibara Station. Bicycling around the lake (called “Biwa-ichi”) takes two (via Biwako Ohashi Bridge) or three days.

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

8. Shiga’s major festivals (matsuri) include Sagicho Matsuri in Omi-Hachiman in mid-March, Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri in mid-April, Sanno Matsuri in Otsu in mid-April, Otsu Matsuri in Oct., and Hikone Castle Festival Parade in Nov. Detailed festival schedule here.

kaizu

Kaizu Osaki in April.

9. Shiga’s most beautiful cherry blossoms in April are at Hikone Castle, Nagahama Castle, and Kaizu-Osaki northern lakeshore. More about Shiga’s cherry blossoms here.

Genkyuen Garden

Genkyuen Garden and Hikone Castle in fall.

10. Shiga’s famous spots for autumn leaves in Nov. are the Koto Sanzan Temples (Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji) and Eigenji Temple in eastern Shiga. At Genkyuen Garden next to Hikone Castle, the autumn leaves are lit up in the evenings, creating beautiful reflections on the pond.

funazushi

Funazushi is like cheesy fish.

11. Shiga delicacies include fermented fish called funazushi made with endemic lake carp called nigorobuna, locally-grown wagyu beef called Omi-gyu, red devil’s tongue (aka-konnyaku), Omi tea, and Club Harie Baumkuchen cake.

Shigaraki tanuki statues

Shigaraki tanuki statues

12. Shiga’s famous souvenirs include Shigaraki pottery (especially tanuki racoon dog statues), Lake Biwa freshwater pearls, Omi sensu folding fans, Otsu-e paintings/prints, Hiko-nyan dolls, and Shiga die-cut postcards sold only at post offices in Shiga.

13. It is possible to go completely around Lake Biwa by train, but it is not a continuous, looping train ride. You will have to transfer trains at least twice, usually at Yamashina Station in Kyoto and Omi-Shiotsu Station in Nagahama. But it’s not a tourist thing to go completely around Lake Biwa by train. Only the JR Kosei Line along the west side of the lake gives nice views of the lake.

14. “Omi” (also spelled “Ohmi”) is one word you may often see in Shiga. It was the former name of Shiga before Japan’s modern era and still synonymous with “Shiga.” It is also used as a prefix in place names or train station names such as “Omi-Hachiman” to distinguish it from other places named “Hachiman.”

“Heiwado” is another word you may often see as Shiga’s most ubiquitous and beloved corporate brand. It is a supermarket and local department store chain near major train stations. Great place to buy local food and souvenirs.

15. Staying at a hotel in Shiga (especially in Otsu) would be viable even for visiting Kyoto. Finding a hotel room in Shiga may be easier (like the capsule hotel in Otsu Station). Otsu is a short train ride to Kyoto (JR line or Keihan Line).

16. Shiga Prefecture is not be confused with the famous Shiga Kogen Highland ski area in Nagano Prefecture, a totally different place.

*To find out more interesting things about Shiga, take the Shiga Image Quiz.

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