Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rowers pass by Ukimido Floating Temple in Katata, Otsu.

Taiko drummers greet rowers at Omi-Maiko.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt. Ibuki in view as they row toward Nagahama.

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

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

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

Rowers pass by Hikone Castle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Related links:

Summer 2017 fireworks in Shiga Prefecture

hanabi

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

Updated: Aug. 11, 2017

Compiled by Philbert Ono

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

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

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiga Prefecture postage stamps

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

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

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

Sights in Shiga

Stamp sheet of Shiga sights issued in 2009.

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

Shigaraki tanuki stamp sheet issued in 2008.

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

Otsu Matsuri stamp sheet issued in 2008.

Takashima sights issued in 2009.

Colors of Kusatsu” stamp sheet issued in 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

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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Set of six Lake Biwa Rowing Song 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

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