Archive for Aisho

Top 20 train stations in Shiga Prefecture

Notogawa Station

JR Notogawa Station shaped like a waterwheel.

〜心に残る滋賀の駅舎〜

The train station is a gateway to the local area. First-time visitors may get their first impressions from the train station. It’s like the genkan (foyer) of your house where you might keep a vase of flowers or a painting to please visitors. Although I don’t judge a place by its train station, I do take note of how nice the train station is.

After seeing most of Shiga’s train stations (totaling about 120), I’ve picked and ranked Shiga’s Top 20 train stations. My selections and ranking are based on architectural and aesthetic design, incorporation of the local flavor/character/community, and uniqueness.

Quite a few train stations in Shiga have been rebuilt in the last 10-15 years. Most of them have incorporated the local flavor quite well. Ohmi Railways have Shiga’s oldest train stations which seem to take you back to the prewar days. Due to their look and feel, they retain a historic charm in this modern age.

Very appropriate calligraphy art in JR Maibara Station saying “Welcome home” and “I’m home.” By the Ibuki High School Calligraphy Club for Golden Week 2013.

On the other hand, too many train stations are quite boring. Major stations like Otsu, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and Maibara are functional but nothing special. Even though Maibara Station is Shiga’s sole shinkansen station renovated in 2009, it is bland even though it’s roomy and practical. Well-known painter and Maibara native Hiro Yamagata was also supposed to paint the walls inside the station, but it didn’t pan out due to budgetary reasons. They instead have local artists decorating a few walls, which is fine.

Train stations on the JR Kosei Line are mostly faceless and featureless in gray concrete as they are built under elevated train tracks. They all look the same. Takashima Station, though, has a giant statue of Gulliver right outside. And Ogoto Onsen Station recently got a nice touch with a free hot-spring foot bath nearby.

So this is Shiga’s Top 20 most memorable and interesting train stations as I see it. (Click on the photo to see more photos of the train station and click on the station name for a map of its location.)

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station terrace.

1. Nagahama Station (長浜駅), JR Hokuriku Line, Nagahama
At No. 1 is Nagahama Station. The station building, rebuilt from the ground up in Oct. 2006, is modeled after the station’s first and original building from 1882. They did a great job combining the old and the new. To fully appreciate the new station building, you have to see the original 19th-century station building which is preserved a short distance away at Nagahama Railroad Square, a train station museum with a few retired trains. The resemblance is impressive.

Nagahama Station is airy, attractive, and functional. A great improvement over the old and boring train station built in 1955. Near the ticket wicket is a nice, air-conditioned waiting room that also houses the tourist information desk. The waiting rooms on the train platforms are also convenient, but somewhat small. When you go down the exit escalator on the Heiwado side, you see a beautiful stained glass mural of Hikiyama Festival kabuki actors.

The new station was built on land adjacent to the old train station that was torn down. The location of the old train station is now occupied by a monstrous wedding hall dwarfing the new train station building right next to it. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, it almost totally cancels out the station building. It’s a real shame.

Notogawa

JR Notogawa Station, east side.

2. Notogawa Station (能登川駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line, Higashi-Omi
Another one of my all-time favorite train stations. Rebuilt in 2003, the Notogawa Station building is shaped like a giant waterwheel, the symbol of Notogawa town before it merged with Higashi-Omi in 2006. Notogawa has a giant waterwheel at a local park. The waterwheel design is on both the east and west sides of the train station. It’s so distinctive and very impressive. I loudly applaud the people who planned and designed the building. The building’s waterwheel structure houses an escalator on one end and stairs on the other. The west side of the station has other waterwheel-themed objects, not to mention a local shopping center also bearing waterwheel designs. Although there are train stations in Japan with a real waterwheel next to it, it seems Notogawa Station is the only one that is shaped like a waterwheel. Higashi-Omi’s sole JR train station.

Ninja painting fused with a bench in JR Koka Station, Koka.

3. Koka Station (甲賀駅), JR Kusatsu Line, Koka
One of Japan’s most uniquely localized train stations. JR Koka Station opened its new station building in Nov. 2005. It resembles a farmer’s kura storehouse on the outside. But the inside has a number of visual surprises with ingenious, interactive ninja wall paintings.

Koka is famous for Koka/Koga ninja, and the station plays this up with ninja motifs and playful 3D ninja paintings. Thanks to some very clever optical illusions called “trick art,” you can join in the virtual ninja world by posing inside the painting. (Get your camera ready.) The seven ninja wall paintings were painted by Hattori Masashi (服部 正志), a noted artist. They should rename the station, “Ninja Station.” That would attract more attention and tourists (it would also cost a good bit of money). Koka’s authentic Ninja House and Ninja Village amusement park are popular attractions.

The station building’s first floor has display cases of medicines produced by Koka drug companies. The abundant herbs in the area gave rise to many druggists in Koka. The ninja were also expert with drugs and chemicals. The name “Koka” is often mispronounced as “Koga” (as in Koga ninja) by Japanese and foreigners alike. The proper pronunciation is “Koka.” FYI, there’s another ninja train station at Ueno-shi Station in Iga, Mie, famous for Iga ninja.

Enryakuji Station

Enryakuji Station atop Mt. Hiei.

4. Cable Enryakuji Station (ケーブル延暦寺駅), Hiezan Railway, Otsu
Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji temple (World Heritage Site and National Treasure) are accessible via cable railway from Cable Sakamoto Station in Sakamoto at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga. At the top, you get off at Cable Enryakuji Station. This is the original building that has been used since the cable railway opened between Sakamoto and Mt. Hiei in 1927. It was Japan’s longest cable car route (2,025 meters) at the time. The first floor is the station, while the 2nd floor used to be a VIP room. The 2nd floor is now an exhibition room open to the public. It also has a nice lookout deck. The distinguished-looking building is a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財).

Shin-Yokaichi

Shin-Yokaichi Station platform.

5. Shin-Yokaichi Station (新八日市駅), Omi Railways Yokaichi LineHigashi-Omi
Shiga’s oldest train station buildings are on the Ohmi Railways, and Shin-Yokaichi Station is one of them. It’s a Western-style, two-story wooden building built in 1913. The second floor is closed to the public due to old age. It originally housed the Konan Railway company’s head office (湖南鉄道). Konan Railway originally operated the railway between Yokaichi and Omi-Hachiman before it merged with another company that later merged with Ohmi Railways. Tourists don’t normally get off at this station since most attractions are at the next stop, Yokaichi Station.

Hikone-guchi

Hikone-guchi Station’s long bench.

6. Hikone-guchi Station (彦根口駅), Omi Railways Main LineHikone
Unless you live near here, it’s unlikely that you would ever get off here and see this nostalgic and homely train station. When you enter the station building, which has a surprisingly large floor space like a dance hall, it’s like you’re back in the 1930s. The simple wicket, long wooden benches, and the whole feel of the place had me imagining what it was like in the old days. Moviemakers can use it as a movie set. Perhaps of a scene of young local men boarding a train to go off to a senseless war as their mothers and siblings tearfully bid them goodbye amid cheers of “Banzai!” After belching a loud whistle, the black steam locomotive then slowly pulls away…

Although it almost looks like a condemned building, I hope they keep it for as long as possible. I like it. But there doesn’t seem to be any toilets in the station. The front wall even has a sign saying, “No urinating” (for men). The toilets were removed some time ago due to old age.

Toriimoto

Toriimoto Station platform and building.

7. Toriimoto Station (鳥居本駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hikone
Another example of a prewar Western-style train station building. It has been here since the station first opened in 1931. It has a red mansard roof, perhaps unique in Shiga. The compact interior also reeks of the good old days. If its walls could talk, I can only imagine what stories they could tell. It looks kind of lonely, but beloved by local residents since it was originally built upon request by the local government and residents. Most of the construction cost was therefore borne by the locals. There’s no train station staff so it’s really empty when there are no trains. Toriimoto was the sixty-third shukuba post town on the Nakasendo Road. It has a nice section of traditional shukuba buildings.

Shigaraki Station

8. Shigaraki Station (信楽駅), Shigaraki Kogen Railway, Koka
Shigaraki Station’s little, modern building is nothing special, but it’s embellished with tanuki (raccoon dog) statues, including a giant tanuki right outside to greet visitors. It’s one example of how to make a plain train station into a special one: Decorate it local-style. The tanuki is a symbol of Shigaraki/Shiga and a common sight in Japan with shops and restaurants displaying a tanuki outside the entrance. It has various symbolic meanings.

The Shigaraki Kogen Railway is currently closed as it undergoes repairs of the substantial damage wrought by Typhoon Man-yi in Sept. 2013. It should reopen within 2014.

Riding on Shigaraki Kogen Railway always reminds me of that terrible tragedy on May 14, 1991 when a Shigaraki Kogen Railway train collided head-on with a JR train near Shigarakigushi Station. The trains were packed with people attending the World Ceramic Festival being held at the newly opened Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. Sadly, 42 people died and 628 were injured. Many of the victims were young students and it is one of Japan’s worst train accidents.

The train station has a small exhibit about the accident. When you read about how it happened, it’s hard to believe how negligent the train operators were. It was a horrific scene and I was shocked because I had visited the World Ceramic Festival via the railway only 10 days before the accident. Years later, I visited and prayed at the prayer monument near where the accident occurred. A memorial service is held there annually on May 14 attended by railway officials and relatives of the victims.

Echigawa Station

9. Echigawa Station (愛知川駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Aisho
Opened in March 2000, Echigawa Station’s building is a well-designed and well thought-out building that serves not only as a train station, but also as a local crafts museum featuring temari balls. There’s also a tourist information desk. The train station building is well integrated and alive with people, unlike many of the other newer Ohmi Railways train station buildings which have the community space but hardly any people using it. The adjacent and award-winning Echigawa Public Library also draws people. The station exterior resembles a traditional building in the old post town of Echigawa nearby on the Nakasendo Road.

JR Aburahi Station

10. Aburahi Station (油日駅), JR Kusatsu LineKoka
Rebuilt in March 2002, Aburahi Station has a striking exterior design and a warm, welcoming interior made of wood. The exterior reminds me of the top of a samurai helmet, but the building was actually designed to be a ninja house. But that can’t be right since a real ninja house looked like any other house. (Ninja didn’t advertise that they were ninja.)

Well, the round windows have a shuriken (throwing knife) design. The station also has rental bicycles. Shiga’s southernmost train station next to the prefectural border with Mie Prefecture. When my train to go home (after seeing the Aburahi Matsuri) arrived at the station, I almost felt sad to leave such a comfortable train station.

Gokasho Station

11. Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅), Omi Railways Main LineHigashi-Omi
Love the inside of Gokasho Station. The warmth of wood envelopes you completely almost like a large sauna (without the heat and steam). When I visited, it still had a woody fragrance. Nice traditional-style building inside and out. It was designed to match the Omi-shonin merchant homes in Gokasho. The building was built in 2000 and it still looks new. Adjacent to the train station building is a matching building housing the retirees’ employment office where you can rent bicycles. Note that the kanji character for “ka” in Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅) is different from the one used in the place name “Gokasho” (五個荘).

JR Kinomoto Station

JR Kinomoto Station

12. Kinomoto Station (木ノ本駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
In Oct. 2006, the JR Hokuriku Line switched to direct-current electrification between Nagahama Station and Tsuruga Station (Fukui). This enabled faster and modern Shin-kaisoku (Special Rapid) trains from Kyoto to reach train stations north of Nagahama Station directly (Torahime, Kawake, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Omi-Shiotsu Stations). Before the switch, passengers had to transfer trains at Nagahama Station to go further north. Anticipating a substantial increase in visitors, new train station buildings were built at Nagahama, Torahime, Takatsuki, and Kinomoto Stations. However, by March 2008, the passenger increase was only 0.5 percent, far below what they had hoped for.

Built slightly north of the old station building and opened in Oct. 2006, the new Kinomoto Station building is modern with a traditional look. Spacious and airy and well designed for function and aesthetics. A lot bigger than the old station building. The train station sign is also wooden like on the old train station. (“Kinomoto” means “origin of wood.”) Next to the exit on the ground floor is a large space selling local products and a tourist information counter. The old and much smaller Kinomoto Station building has been retained as a small exhibition space. Kinomoto Station is where you get off to take a bus to breathtaking and historic Mt. Shizugatake. There’s also a giant Jizo statue nearby. Visiting Kinomoto is highly recommended. Note that Kinomoto Station in Japanese (木ノ本駅) uses a different kanji from the one used for the place name Kinomoto (木之本).

Takamiya

Takamiya Station

13. Takamiya Station (高宮駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Hikone
Unique building with a high tower in the center reminiscent of ancient Shinto shrines which were elevated to be closer to the gods. It also might be a play on the name “Takamiya” which literally means “high shrine.” The station building was rebuilt in March 2002. The station is near the old Takamiya-juku, the sixty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations or shukuba post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Near the station is a large torii leading to Taga Taisha Shrine in neighboring Taga.

JR Nagahara Station

14. Nagahara Station (永原駅), JR Kosei LineNagahama
The loghouse is a common building design, but Nagahara has a good reason to use it. Before railroads were built, this area was a port town teeming with wooden maruko-bune boats plying across Lake Biwa between Otsu and this area of northern Lake Biwa. The trademark of maruko-bune was a semi-round log (maruko) along the sides of the boat. Nearby is the Maruko-bune Museum. The station building was rebuilt in April 2000. The inside was kind of dark and musty when I visited some years ago, but I liked the exterior.

Hino

Hino Station

15. Hino Station (日野駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hino
Hino Station is another old station that takes you back to the prewar years on the inside. It has a nice vintage look and feel inside. The station building is the original one built in 1900. However, outside the station building, there are just too many modern objects that clutter the vintage facade: A waiting taxi (and often a bus), phone booth, and vending machine (always the worst offender). Otherwise, I would rank this station higher. Next to the station is a small tourist information office that is always helpful especially during the Hino Matsuri float festival, blooming Shakunage Gorge, and other local festivals. Hino Station is Hino town’s sole train station and one of the main stations on Ohmi Railways.

Inside JR Torahime Station.

16. Torahime Station (虎姫駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Torahime Station rebuilt its building in March 2006. Very nice woody building inside and out. There’s a commercial space where a bakery once operated, but they have since left and finding a suitable tenant has been a problem. Outside the station, there’s a statue of the Tiger Princess (which is what “Torahime” means) and the small Torahime Shrine (popular with fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team in Osaka). Someday, I want to see the cherry blossoms at nearby Toragozen-yama.

Omi-Shiotsu

Omi-Shiotsu Station

17. Omi-Shiotsu Station (近江塩津駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Nice traditional-looking structure rebuilt in Sept. 1995 to look like a lodge. The wooden sign says “Kaido Ajikama Lodge” (海道・あぢかまの宿). It was the name of a real lodge that existed in here in Shiotsu, a former post town along the Hokkoku Kaido Road (北国街道) going from Maibara/Nagahama to Fukui and the Hokuriku Region. Inside, the arch-shaped corridor to the train platforms reminds me of an underground military bunker. Omi-Shiotsu Station is where you transfer trains between the Hokuriku Line and Kosei Line. Remember this station if plan to travel around northern Lake Biwa by train. Nothing much nearby.

Toyosato

Toyosato Station

18. Toyosato Station (豊郷駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Toyosato
Rebuilt in the late 1990s, Toyosato Station’s building looks like an Omi merchant’s home or storehouse. A testament to the many Omi merchants who once lived in the area, including Itoh Chube’e, founder of Itochu, one of Japan’s leading trading companies. His home is open to the public.

If you see an umbrella or umbrella design in the station, it refers to the Goshu Ondo song and bon dance co-founded at Senjuji temple (千樹寺) in Toyosato. These days, Toyosato’s main attraction is the Toyosato Elementary School made famous by the popular K-ON! anime/manga series in 2009-2010. The train station is in a quiet neighborhood with stone statues of a tortoise and hare showing you the way to the elementary school.

JR Kusatsu Station East Entrance

19. Kusatsu Station (草津駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line and JR Kusatsu Line, Kusatsu
The station’s slanted roof lines are similar to the roof of the Kusatsu Honjin, one of Japan’s best preserved Honjin used for VIP lodging in former post towns. A traditional-looking gate (photo) and a road marker on the pedestrian deck add a nice touch.

Although it has nothing to do with the architecture, the best thing I like about Kusatsu Station is the little tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket. As soon as you give your ticket to go out, it’s right there. When staffed during the better part of the day, they are very helpful with directions to places. Local-area tourist pamphlets are also available at all times.

One of my pet peeves is that JR train stations always have tourist pamphlets in plain sight, but for a different destination. They don’t stock tourist pamphlets for the place I just arrived at. Why not have tourist pamphlets for that place? I just spent a good amount of money to get there, and now they want me to go somewhere else?? They should also care about inbound people, not just outbound. When a tourist gets off the train, the first thing he/she wants is a map of the place of arrival. Instead, you have to search for the map signboard or tourist info office if there is one. But Kusatsu Station is the rare exception where the tourist info booth and local brochures are right there. A few train stations in Shiga have a tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket only during major festivals.

Kusatsu Station is Shiga’s busiest train station with the highest daily average of boarding passengers exceeding 27,000 in 2012. The second busiest is neighboring Minami-Kusatsu Station with over 24,000 passengers daily. In comparison, Otsu Station sees over 17,000 passengers daily and Kyoto Station has over 185,000 passengers. These numbers do not include the number of people getting off the train.

Taga Taisha-mae

Taga Taisha-mae Station

20. Taga Taisha-mae Station (多賀大社前駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Taga
The building is shaped like a shrine building, to match Taga Taisha Shrine and the large torii right outside. An exhibition space (waiting room) is integrated with the station building rebuilt in 2002. The quality of the exhibitions is good when there are exhibitions. A large showcase displays ema prayer tablets from many shrines. The station is the end terminal of the Taga Line. Taga Taisha Shrine is a short walk away.

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station before the wedding hall was built.

Incorporating the train station with local elements certainly boosts visitors’ impressions and the local folks’ pride and morale.

People are starting to realize that the train station itself can be a tourist attraction. Just look at the magnificently reconstructed Tokyo Station and the nyan-nyan Kishi Station in Wakayama. People in Otsu should take note when they think about how to revitalize the Otsu Station area. To attract more people, make the train station the attraction. How about filling the station building with B-kyu (B-grade) gourmet food stands? Cheap but delicious local food always attracts people. Great if we could eat B-kyu food year-round in Otsu instead only once a year. Right now, most of the restaurants in and around Otsu Station are nothing special. The Otsu Station area needs to have something special that Hama-Otsu doesn’t have and preferably found nowhere else in Japan.

After March 2014, the city of Otsu quit managing the Otsu Station building that it has been sub-leasing to tourist offices, shops, and restaurants. It has been paying JR, the building’s owner, 16 million yen annually to lease the building. They cite the old air conditioning that will cost 200 million yen to renovate. The city and JR will discuss what to do with the building. It’s a golden opportunity for them to think out of box and be more imaginative and bold to revitalize ho-hum Otsu Station.

Shinkansen

Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki.

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without trains. Japan’s first railway opened between Yokohama and Shimbashi (Tokyo) in 1872. Shiga laid its first railway 12 years later in 1884 between Nagahama and Tsuruga (Fukui). In 1889, the Tokaido Line was completed. In 1900, Ohmi Railway opened a train line between Hikone and Kibukawa. The Keihan Line in Otsu started running between Hama-Otsu and Ishiyama-dera in 1914. The defunct Kojaku Railway Line (江若鉄道) opened between Miidera Station and Eizan Station (now Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station) in 1921. It was the predecessor of the JR Kosei Line that took over in 1974. All these railways gradually extended their lines to what they are today. In Oct. 1964, the shinkansen started stopping at Maibara.

If there’s one thing that has improved in Japan, it’s rail transportation. Trains have gotten faster, cutting travel times significantly. Train/subway lines have also increased or been extended, mainly in urban areas. Trains are also more comfortable with non-smoking cars and Western-style toilets.

Can you imagine that until the 1980s, smoking was allowed in most train cars, train stations, and platforms? Older folks may remember seeing cigarette butts all over the train platform and an ash tray in front of all the train seats. Most of the shinkansen cars also allowed smoking. It wasn’t until the 1990s when non-smokers’ rights gained traction and most or all train cars and stations started to prohibit smoking. Thank goodness. This trend has spread to other public places such as restaurants and even city streets and beaches. Excellent.

Of course, many train station buildings have also much improved with brighter, cleaner, and more spacious interiors. Restrooms also tend to have toilet paper and sometimes even soap as an added bonus. Major stations also have escalators and elevators. I remember Tokyo Station had a small army of hardy men called “Akabo” (Red Caps 赤帽) who were red-capped porters earning tips by carrying your heavy luggage up or down the stairs. They made a decent living when suitcases still didn’t have casters and there were no escalators. Akabo at Tokyo Station became extinct in March 2001. I wish I took a picture of them.

Another major improvement and development is the employment of women as train conductors and drivers. Once upon a time, we never ever saw women train conductors and drivers. Now they are quite common.

Sorry that this blog post turned out to be longer than I expected. Often one topic leads to another story or tidbit. I’m not really a train fan except for the shinkansen, but trains are a fact of life in Japan and a great convenience.

Essential Japanese Train Station Vocabulary (by Philbert Ono)

  • tetsudo 鉄道 – railway
  • eki 駅 – railway station (train, subway, or street car)
  • ekisha 駅舎 – railway station building
  • eki konai 駅構内 – inside or within the train station.
  • kippu uriba きっぷうりば – place to buy tickets
  • kenbaiki 券売機 – ticket vending machine
  • Midori no Madoguchi みどりの窓口 – Manned ticket counter or office at major train stations to buy reserved seat tickets (and rail passes). Colored in green and usually open from 5:30 am to 10 pm.
  • joshaken 乗車券 – regular-fare train ticket
  • tokkyuken 特急券 – express-fare train ticket
  • jiyuseki 自由席 – non-reserved seating
  • shiteiseki 指定席 – reserved seating, extra charge required.
  • machiai-shitsu 待合室 - Waiting room in the train station. A room to keep warm in winter or cool in summer while waiting for your train. Most train stations have a small waiting room on the platform.
  • te-arai 手洗い – restrooms (toilet)
  • kaisatsu 改札 – Ticket wicket/gate where you present your ticket or tap card.
  • ICOCA – IC smart card issued in the Kansai area as a rechargeable tap card to pay the train fare through an automated wicket equipped with a card reader. Prounounced “Ikoka” which means “Shall we go?”
  • ressha 列車 – train
  • Futsu 普通 – Local train stopping at every station. Also called Futsu-ressha 普通列車.
  • kaku-eki 各駅 – Stops at every station.
  • Kaisoku 快速 – Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Futsu. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Shin-kaisoku 新快速 – Special Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Kaisoku trains. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Tokkyu 特急 – Limited Express long-distance trains stopping only at major train stations. Extra charge required.
  • Green-sha グリーン車 – First-class car requiring extra charge.
  • shinkansen 新幹線 – Bullet train. Nozomi only stops at the major stations (doesn’t stop at Maibara). Hikari trains stop at a few more stations (sometimes Maibara) and Kodama trains stop at all shinkansen stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
  • daiya ダイヤ or jikokuhyo 時刻表 – Train schedule
  • yukisaki 行先 – train destination
  • unkyu 運休 – canceled train
  • okure 遅れ – Delayed train. Usually preceded by the number of minutes the train is delayed.
  • yusen-seki 優先席 – Courtesy seat for elderly, handicapped, etc. Formerly called “silver seat” シルバーシート.
  • rosen 路線 – train line (Biwako Line, Kusatsu Line, etc.)
  • senro – 線路 – Railroad/train tracks. If you drop something on the tracks, alert the station staff.
  • homu ホーム – Station platform where you board the train.
  • Roku-ryo-hensei 6両編成 – Six-car train. If it’s a 10-car train, it’s called Ju-ryo hensei.
  • nanban-sen 何番線 – Which platform No.?
  • shasho 車掌 – On-board train conductor who may check your express train ticket (on tokkyu and shinkansen). He/she also sells train tickets if your boarding train station does not have a ticket machine or manned ticket window.
  • deguchi 出口 – exit (Nishi-guchi 西口 West exit, Higashi-guchi 東口 East exit, Kita-guchi 北口 North exit, Minami-guchi 南口 South exit)
  • shuten 終点 – Last stop on the train line.
  • coin locker コインロッカー – Coin-operated lockers for luggage. Only the larger train stations have it.
  • kanko annaisho 観光案内所 – tourist information desk
  • renta-saikuru レンタサイクル – Bicycle rentals. Or just say “jintensha karitai.”
  • basu noriba バスのりば – bus stop
  • taxi noriba タクシーのりば – taxi stand

Movie review: Idai Naru, Shurarabon

Shurarabon-posterLake Biwa and Hikone are getting a PR boost from this movie called, Idai Naru, Shurarabon (偉大なる、しゅららぼん The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom) currently playing in theaters. (Movie trailer in English at the bottom of this article.)

The movie title is making everyone ask, “What the heck is Shurarabon??” It’s not a normal Japanese word, but knowing that the movie was filmed almost entirely in Shiga Prefecture was enough for me to see the movie (and read the manga) to find out.

Overall, I thought the movie was good and worth seeing especially if you know Shiga. The story, casting, special effects, and Shiga scenery came together well enough. For us Shiga people, it’s a movie to gleefully exclaim, “I know where that is!” or “I’ve been there!” Indeed, many familiar places appear in the film unlike last year’s Time Scoop Hunter (about Azuchi Castle) that showed few recognizable places in Shiga.

The cast and crew spent one month in Shiga in spring 2013 filming the movie. Much of it was filmed in and around Hikone Castle. Another major spot was Chikubushima (pronounced correctly most of the time, except once when it was pronounced “Chikubujima”). We also see the inside of Daitsuji temple in Nagahama, Himure Hachimangu Shrine and Omi Kyodaisha Gakuen in Omi-Hachiman, Omi Shonin-tei restaurant in Aisho, Maiami-hama beach in Yasu, and stately Rokkaen in Kuwana, Mie Pref. It was all on-location and they didn’t shoot in any movie studio. This movie review doesn’t have any plot spoilers so you can still read on even if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Based on the novel by Osaka-born Makime Manabu (万城目学), Idai Naru, Shurarabon is a modern-day fantasy story centering on two feuding Lake Biwa (Biwako) lakeside clans, the Hinode Clan (日出家) and Natsume Clan (棗家). Key members of both clans have supernatural powers gained and retained from the divine water of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake and greatest “power spot.” If they move away from Lake Biwa, they lose their powers. Once upon a time, other lakeside clans (called Lake People) at other lakes in Japan existed, but those lakes lost their power and so their Lake People also lost their powers.

The Hinode Clan’s main family is Japan’s only family to live in a castle. They live in the fictitious Iwabashiri Castle in the fictitious city of Iwabashiri (石走) in eastern Lake Biwa. The castle and city are actually Hikone. Even JR Hikone Station is shown as “Iwabashiri Station” in the movie. The Hinode Clan, led by clan head Hinode Tankuro (日出 淡九郎), has the power to enter a person’s heart and mind and control it. This mind control enabled Tankuro to become a local business tycoon by making his disagreeing opponents agree with him. Many businesses in Iwabashiri bear the Hinode name.

Shurarabon-kiyoko

Tanjuro, Kiyoko, and Ryosuke enter the castle (Tenbin Yagura).

Meanwhile, the Natsume Clan is in decline. Most of its branch family members have been purged from Lake Biwa by Tankuro. Only the main Natsume family is left in Iwabashiri. Clan head Natsume Nagami (棗 永海) runs a martial arts dojo. The Natsume Clan has the power to control a person’s physical actions and can also manipulate time. So they are good at stopping fist fights, etc.

One big drawback is, whenever a supernatural Hinode clan member uses his/her power, supernatural Natsume clan members will hear a great big noise (SHU RA RA RA!!). And vice versa. Whenever a supernatural Natsume clan member uses his power, supernatural Hinode clan members will hear a thunderous noise (BO-BO-BON!!). Another reason why they don’t like each other.

Shurarabon-boom

Ryosuke hearing the dreaded noise as Natsume Hiromi uses his power.

Shortly after birth, Lake People babies undergo a religious ceremony at Chikubushima to determine whether he or she has supernatural powers (chikara). If the baby has the power, it is given a first name that includes no more than one kanji character having the sanzui radical for “water” such as 涼介 (Ryosuke), 淡十郎 (Tanjuro), 清子 (Kiyoko), and 広海 (Hiromi). In the movie, those with supernatural powers also bear a birthmark in the shape of Lake Biwa. This power also cannot be revealed to common folks, making it a childhood burden.

The movie begins with 15-year-old Hinode Ryosuke, the main character (played by Okada Masaki), arriving at Iwabashiri Castle for a home stay to hone his supernatural powers under the main Hinode family. Ryosuke is from a branch family of the Hinode living on the opposite side of the lake on the western shore. Hinode Clan tradition stipulates that all supernatural Hinode Clan members spend their three high school years at the main family’s residence (Iwabashiri Castle) to train. Ryosuke arrived in April (cherry blossom season), the day before the start of high school. While attending high school (named Iwabashiri Gakuen), Ryosuke is trained at the castle.

The main Hinode family’s heir is another 15-year-old, Tanjuro, the son of clan head and business tycoon Tankuro (Sano Shiro). Tanjuro is an eccentric, spoiled brat, and treated like a lord and living legend with exceptional powers. Although he is depicted as short and chubby in the novel, he is quite slim in the movie played by Hamada Gaku.

Shurarabon-moat

Ryosuke and Tanjuro commute to school driven by boat man Genjiro.

Ryosuke is Tanjuro’s distant cousin and a normal teenager except for his powers. He becomes a slave-like attendant to Tanjuro. Ryosuke and Tanjuro commute to their high school (filmed at the gate of Shiga University and the classroom and grounds of Omi Kyodaisha Gakuen) via moat boat in hilarious red school uniforms. Red is Tanjuro’s favorite color, but I saw it as a salute to the Ii Clan’s trademark red samurai armor. The school uniform for boys was actually black.

For 1,300 years, the Hinode and Natsume clans have been rivals feuding over their supernatural powers. Hinode heir Tanjuro wants to forfeit his inherited powers and end the feud. He arranges a meeting with Natsume Hiromi (Dai Watanabe), his classmate and heir to the Natsume Clan. Tanjuro, Ryosuke, and Hiromi are all in the same high school class. They meet at the Natsume Clan’s dojo (filmed at Omi Shonin-tei in Aisho) and Tanjuro proposes that he and Hiromi both leave Lake Biwa to pursue their personal interests. Since they will both lose their powers, the feud would stop. Although the manga mentions that Tanjuro would go to France to pursue art and Hiromi should go to Italy to study fashion, the places they would move to is not mentioned in the movie.

Of course, both their families fiercely opposed this proposal. However, a third force with overwhelming powers comes into play, bringing together the two heirs and Ryosuke to fight off the third force. There are some good special visual effects here.

Shurarabon-trio

Classmates Natsume Hiromi, Hinode Tanjuro, and Hinode Ryosuke team up (Hikone Castle Museum).

At the very end of the movie (after the credit roll), Tanjuro reveals what “Shurarabon” really means. (Surprising and a little disgusting.)

The story has quite a few supporting characters, but the movie is too short to fully develop and explore all of them. There’s Kiyoko, Tanjuro’s tough older sister who got stressed out by the noise of people’s thoughts and confined herself to the castle. She’s supposed to be chubby, but actress Fukada Kyoko is slim. High school delinquent Kasai (Koyanagi Yu) was funny and Natsume Clan head Nagami (Takada Nobuhiko) had excellent on-screen presence. Wish we could’ve seen more of them in the movie.

The Hinode clan’s boat man, Genjiro, was cast well with Sasano Takashi. Fujimiya Toko (Kanjiya Shihori) is Ryosuke’s busybody power trainer with only one memorable scene using a rubber ducky. Another major supporting role was high school principal Hayase Yoshiharu (Murakami Hiroaki). Wish we heard more about his background as a member of the Hayase Clan who originally lived in the castle until they sold it to the Hinode family. And Ryosuke’s brother Kosuke doesn’t appear at all in the film.

The movie omits or abbreviates many scenes and elements from the original story. Even the manga introduces quite a few Shiga things like the Lake Biwa Giant Catfish and the board game Carrom (カロム), popular in eastern Shiga (Hikone). But we hardly see it in the movie. Too bad they can’t make movies longer than 2 hours. Since the film pretty much whipped through the storyline, it would be worth reading the novel too. But it’s still entertaining for us to see Shiga on the silver screen.

The Shiga Location Office’s blog has a good collection of photos and anecdotes about the filming locations. It says that the moat boat scene with Tanjuro and Ryosuke commuting to school amid cherry blossoms was filmed in the early morning before the arrival of the hordes of tourists coming to see the cherries. The extras used in the high school scenes were students from Hikone Higashi High School next to Hikone Castle and near Shiga University. The school’s interior scenes were shot at Omi Kyodaisha High School over three days.

When they shot the Natsume dojo scene at Omi Shonin-tei restaurant, the classy restaurant treated them to a sumptuous lunch of Lake Biwa carp. For the special effects scene with the horse running through the lake, they set up a huge green screen in Moriyama. Not only that, they brought over live Lake Biwa carp fish (koi and funa) to wiggle around in the scene. (At first I thought the fish were computer graphics.) For the scene showing Chikubushima’s underwater cliff, they filmed the face of a huge stone quarry in Koka.

I don’t think I’ll have time to read the long Japanese novel, but there is an English version of the novel which I plan to read and review here.

Movie Stars’ Impressions of Shiga
At the theater, I bought the colorful movie program (¥700). The three main stars are interviewed and they each give their impressions of Shiga:

Hamada Gaku (Hinode Tanjuro): “It was my first time to visit Shiga and Lake Biwa. When I first saw Lake Biwa, it looked so big that I thought it was the ocean. I was so surprised. And Hiko-nyan was awfully cute. Honestly, I thought it was only about Lake Biwa. But there were areas with a castle town atmosphere and we filmed at most of the famous sights. We also went on special sightseeing tours like seeing inside Hikone Castle, so it was great.”

Okada Masaki (Hinode Ryosuke): “The local people cooperated with us really well, so I was very grateful. While we were filming at Hikone Castle, they gave us many little gifts (i.e. snacks and food) and many volunteers turned out so I was so happy. And Hiko-nyan was our rival! How can he be so cute (laughs)! Real cute. He kind of waddles while walking so it was hard for him to go up the stone steps. But after he went up the steps, I saw his happy and relieved face. That was cute too, darn it (laughs)! From the first day of filming, I saw him as a rival, that cat! But now, it’s so nostalgic.”

“It was my first time to see Lake Biwa. I heard that it was Japan’s largest lake, but I didn’t know it was that big! I felt power from Lake Biwa at Chikubushima. That place was mystical and we can’t go there that often. It was wonderful to throw the small clay dish at the shrine torii too, even though mine just nosedived.”

Fukada Kyoko (Hinode Kiyoko aka The Great Kiyoko): “We filmed a lot at Hikone Castle, so whenever I saw Hiko-nyan passing by, it made me so happy. I always looked for him. When the timing was right, I was able to see him. I looked forward to seeing him every day. Also, the image I had of Lake Biwa was different from what I saw. It was like an emerald-blue ocean. When we filmed on the beach of Lake Biwa (Maiami-hama in Yasu), it was so windy, making it difficult. But it was so beautiful. When I saw that scene in the movie, I was awestruck and thought, ‘Wow, how beautiful!’”

Shurarabon-miami

The Great Kiyoko at Maiami-hama beach.

Makime Manabu, author of Idai Naru, Shurarabon
Makime was born in 1976 in Osaka where he grew up. He graduated from Kyoto University. He has written a slew of novels set in the Kansai Region. At least one novel each for Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. Now it was Shiga’s turn with Idai Naru, Shurarabon. His stories are an interesting mixture of fantasy and local history in a modern-day setting. His previous novel, Princess Toyotomi, set in Osaka, was also made into a movie. Two of the actors in Princess Toyotomi also appear in Idai Naru, Shurarabon.

Makime published Idai Naru, Shurarabon in monthly installments from May 2010 to April 2011 in Shosetsu Subaru (小説すばる), a literary magazine published by Shueisha. The installments were then published as a novel. Makime loved eastern Shiga and visited Hikone and Chikubushima many times to research the novel.

The concept of people receiving superpowers from the lake’s divine water is an amusing exaggeration of our dependence on Lake Biwa. And the idea of Lake Biwa being Japan’s greatest “power spot” is a good one. I hope this movie will prompt people to visit Lake Biwa to seek or recharge their “power.” It certainly has worked for me.

Shiga-only movie ticket with Hiko-nyan.

Shiga-only movie ticket with Hiko-nyan.

*Japanese personal names above follow the Japanese custom of the surname coming before the given name.

Now Playing
Idai Naru, Shurarabon (偉大なる、しゅららぼん) is currently playing in Shiga Prefecture at the following theaters:

United Cinemas Otsu
Alex Cinemas Otsu
Hikone Viva City Cinema
Aeon Cinema Omi-Hachiman
Aeon Cinema Kusatsu
Minakuchi Alex Cinemas (Koka)
Theaters outside Shiga: Click here

Admission
Adults: ¥1,800
High school and college students: ¥1,500
Elementary and Jr. High students: ¥1,000
Ladies day (every Wed.): ¥1,000 (ladies only)
Late show (8 pm or later): ¥1,200
First day of the month: ¥1,000
Age 60 and above: ¥1,000
Married couples with a spouse age 50 or older: ¥2,000 per couple

*Movie ticket collectors should note that Shiga-only movie tickets with Hiko-nyan pictured with Tanjuro and Ryosuke are being sold at selected vendors in Shiga. They include Hikone Castle and Museum ticket offices and tourist information offices in Hikone and Nagahama. These tickets are good for admission at all theaters in Japan showing the movie.

Trailer with English subtitles (Video link: http://vimeo.com/82622019):

Official Website

Autumn festivals and foliage November 2013 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals, events, exhibitions, and autumn leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November 2013. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.) Compiled by Philbert Ono.

20131027-8443

Kunimasu trout at Lake Biwa Museum.

Oct. 26 – November 24, 2013
♦ Kunimasu Trout Special Exhibit, Lake Biwa Museum, Kusatsu, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
A special and rare exhibit (the first in western Japan) of live kunimasu trout (Oncorhynchus kawamurae or black kokanee), previously thought to have gone extinct in the 1940s. Kunimasu was an endemic fish found only in Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture, but became extinct (along with most other fish species in the lake) in the 1940s when the water became too acidic. The acidic water came from nearby Tamagawa hot springs. In 1940, they allowed the hot spring’s highly acidic water to flow into the lake for a hydroelectric power plant and for diluting the hot spring’s acidity. The war effort was Japan’s top priority at the time, and they didn’t care about the environment and some fish becoming extinct. A far cry from today. The lake still has not fully recovered from its acidic water.

In 1930, kunimasu fish eggs were sent to a number of lakes in Nagano, Yamanashi, and Toyama Prefectures as an experiment to see if they could be hatched and bred artificially. Sending fish eggs to other places was done to increase stocks of food fish. In 1935, the eggs were sent to Lake Saiko and Lake Motosu near Mt. Fuji and even to Shiga Prefecture’s Samegai Trout Farm in Maibara. The hatching experiment was deemed to have failed since no kunimasu were ever caught outside Lake Tazawa. In 1997-98, the Lake Tazawa Tourist Association offered a 5 million yen cash reward for any kunimasu caught in Japan. But no luck.

Then in 2010, Kyoto University professor Nakabo Tetsuji (中坊 徹次) requested a fish fanatic celebrity and illustrator, nicknamed Sakana-kun, to draw an illustration of a kunimasu. To help him draw this “extinct” fish, Sakana-kun had people send him specimens of himemasu (Oncorhynchus nerka or kokanee) which is a close relative of kunimasu. Then one fish sent from Lake Saiko in Yamanashi Prefecture caught Sakana-kun’s attention since it looked like kunimasu. He sent it to Professor Nakabo who examined and checked the DNA. He and his research team confirmed it to be kunimasu in mid-December 2010. They announced the find to the press and it was Japan’s fish story of the century.

It turned out that fishermen at Lake Saiko had been catching kunimasu all along, but called it kuromasu because it turned black (kuro means “black”) before spawning. It was relatively common to catch even among sport fishermen. People who dared to eat the black fish found it to be very delicious. Lake Saiko now retricts fishing in areas where the deep-water kunimasu is thought to dwell. And Lake Tazawa is working to cleanse its acidic water to allow kunimasu back to its original home.

Five artificially-hatched kunimasu are displayed in the Lake Biwa Museum aquarium’s special exhibition room. Museum admission for adults is 750 yen (kids free), but it will be free for all on Nov. 16-17 as part of Kansai Culture Day when most museums in Shiga and neighboring prefectures will be free.

By train, get off at JR Kusatsu Station on the Tokaido/Biwako Line. Get out the Nishi-guchi west exit and wait at bus stop 2. Take the bus going to Karasuma Hanto (peninsula) and get off at Biwako Hakubutsukan (琵琶湖博物館). About 25 min. Buses run about twice an hour on weekends and once an hour on weekdays. Bus fare 420 yen. Bus schedule hereGoogle Map
琵琶湖博物館 よみがえった魚 クニマス
http://www.lbm.go.jp/tenji/ex_suizoku/s_topic_131026_kunimasu.html

dotaku2013

Japan’s largest dotaku bell in Yasu.

October 5-Nov. 24, 2013
♦ Homecoming Exhibition for Japan’s Largest Bronze Bell and Yayoi no Mori Foliage Illumination, Dotaku Bronze Bell Museum (Yasu Folk History Museum) (Yasu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan 銅鐸博物館 野洲市歴史民俗博物館), Yasu, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (till 9 pm on Nov. 16-17), closed Oct. 15 and Nov. 5
Yayoi no Mori Foliage Illumination on Nov. 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 at 5:45 pm – 9 pm (enter by 8:30 pm).
A very special and rare exhibit of Japan’s largest ancient bronze bell (called dotaku) found near the museum in Yasu. The bell, designated as an Important Cultural Property, is owned by the Tokyo National Museum where it is normally exhibited. This is the first time this bell will be exhibited in its hometown of Yasu since it was unearthed in 1881. A smaller dotaku on loan from the Tokyo National Museum and numerous replica dotaku bells are also on display.

On Aug. 20, 1881, two young lads were playing on nearby Mt. Oiwa when they stumbled across three dotaku bells partially exposed in the ground. The next day, eleven more dotaku were discovered in the same area. The bells are dated from around 100 BC to 300 AD (Japan’s Yayoi Period). The bells were not really used as bells. They were more for decorative and religious purposes. Two of the dotaku were acquired by the Tokyo National Museum. The remaining dotaku were scattered among various people. Their whereabouts were unknown until an investigation found 12 of them at temples and Japanese and overseas museums. It’s frustrating that none of the original dotaku discovered in Yasu are in Yasu. Another case of bungling and ineptness by local officials who couldn’t recognize a good thing when they saw it. Near the museum, there’s a monument where the large bell was found. Yasu’s official mascot, Dotaku-kun, is modeled after this bell.

Also, the museum has Yayoi no Mori, an outdoor display of Yayoi-Period grass shacks and garden of autumn foliage that will be illuminated in the evening on the days listed above. The museum will also be open till 9 pm on Nov. 16-17. Museum admission 200 yen for adults. Free admission for Yasu residents and free for all on Nov. 16-17 for Kansai Culture Day.

From JR Yasu Station’s South exit (Minami-guchi), take a bus going to Karyoku Koen (花緑公園) or Murata Seisakusho (via Nishi Gate 西ゲート経由 村田製作所行き) and get off at Dotaku Hakubutsukan-mae (銅鐸博物館前). Bus ride is only a few minutes. From bus stop, cross the road to get to the museum. The bus stop to go back to Yasu Station is up the slope on the other side of the road where you got off. You can ask the museum about the bus times to go back. Buses run infrequently. Bus schedule for weekdaysSat. and Sun. here. Or 10 min. by taxi. Google Map

銅鐸-日本最大銅鐸の里帰り-
http://www.city.yasu.lg.jp/doc/kyouikubu/hakubutukan/2013doutaku.html

Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2013
♦ 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. Google Map
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
http://www.city.hikone.shiga.jp/kanko/event/event111103.html

November 3, 2013
♦ Omi Jingu Shrine Yabusame Horseback Archery, Otsu, 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
One of Shiga’s largest shrines, Omi Jingu will hold horseback archery on this national holiday known as Culture Day. The festival starts with a ceremony at 12:30 pm and the archery begins at 1 pm along the main path. Reserved seating is also available for 500 yen. Call the shrine at 077-522-3725 to make reservations. Otherwise, get there early to get a good spot. The shrine is also famous for clocks and karuta tournaments. Near Omi Jingu-mae Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line. Google Map
近江神宮流鏑馬神事
http://oumijingu.org/publics/index/134/

November 9, 2013
♦ Traditional Fireworks Summit in Koka, Koka-shi Minakuchi Sports No Mori (soccer field), 5:00 pm
Awesome display of ground fireworks from masters all over Japan. If seeing fireworks in summer is too hot for you, this would be good. Free admission.
20-min. walk from Minakuchi Jonan Station on the Ohmi Railways. Or from Kibukawa Station, take the Heart bus and get off at Sports no Mori. Google Map
第14回全国伝統花火サミットin甲賀
http://www.koka-kanko.org/res/?evid=325

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 10-December 1, 2013
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. Google Map
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Kongorinji

Kongorinji

November 16-December 1, 2013
♦ 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 in eastern Shiga: Saimyoji (西明寺) in Kora, Kongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi. They are famous for autumn leaves and structures that are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Each temple also has its own unique characteristics. Saimyoji has a National Treasure Hondo worship hall and National Treasure pagoda that you can enter. It’s also deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Kongorinji has many little Jizo statues and a National Treasure Hondo main hall 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. The Hondo temple hall has an 11-faced Kannon statue carved by Shotoku Taishi, a prince credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan.

During this period, convenient shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between these three temples and a few train stations. The shuttle buses run most frequently from north to south, that is, from Saimyoji to Kongorinji and then to Hyakusaiji. Board the shuttle bus at JR Kawase Station or Ohmi Railways Amago Station. The bus will stop at Saimyoji first. Check the bus stop for bus departure times. After touring Saimyoji, catch another shuttle bus to the next temple, Kongorinji, and then Hyakusaiji. Shuttle buses also run from Hyakusaiji to Eigenji (listed below), another temple famous for foliage. From Hyakusaiji and Eigenji, buses go to Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. Buses depart once or twice an hour from 9:10 am at Kawase Station and 9:20 am at Amago Station. From Hyakusaiji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:35 pm for Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station arriving at 5 pm. Or you can catch the 5 pm shuttle bus for Amago Station (arrive 5:46 pm) or Kawase Station (arrive 5:56 pm).

If you want to go from south to north, catch the shuttle bus at Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station at 9:35 am and get off at Hyakusaiji. From Saimyoji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 5:33 pm for Ohmi Railways Amago Station and JR Kawase Station. Buses also run between Ohmi Railways Taga Taisha-mae Station and Saimyoji. See the bus schedule here (in Japanese).
Bus fare is 200 yen per ride which is only 10-20 min. They also offer a day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for 1,650 yen. This day pass includes passage on all Koto Sanzan shuttle buses and all Ohmi Railways trains. A good deal if you plan to ride on Ohmi Railways. Each temple also charges admission of 500 yen. Note that if you like to take your time, you might not be able to see all three temples in one day.
Saimyoji Map | Kongorinji Map | Hyakusaiji Map
秋の湖東三山
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/bus/event/2013/kotoushuttle/images/kouyou.pdf
Official sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Eigenji

Eigenji in autumn. Hondo on right.

November 9-30, 2013
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. Google Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
http://eigenji-t.jp

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha Shrine in autumn.

November 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 2013
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:45 pm – 9:00 pm
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 at 9:02 pm on weekdays and 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Google Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 15-December 1, 2013
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 500 yen. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Google Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/

Chojuji in autumn.

November 16-December 1, 2013
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio 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, 9:20 am, 9:30 am, 10:15 am, and 11:25 am. Bus schedule here. Google Map
湖南三山めぐり
http://www.burari-konan.jp/konan3zan/

November 16-December 8, 2013
♦ Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
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 not allowed. 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. 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 1, 2013
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show, Lute Plaza, 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」
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_7133/?month=2013/12&area=nagahama

December 1, 2013
♦ 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. Google Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~tarobo/

Summer 2013 fireworks in Shiga Prefecture

Here’s the fireworks (hanabi) schedule for Shiga Prefecture in summer 2013 listed by date. If you want to see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri) instead, click here.

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.)

July 13, 2013
♦ 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 14.
高宮納涼花火大会
More info: 高宮商工繁栄会 TEL:0749-22-2075
http://takamiya.ciao.jp/?cat=11

♦ Yasu River Hanabi Taikai in Ritto, 7:45 pm – 8:25 pm
Along the Yasu River. 20-min. walk from JR Moriyama Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 15.
野洲川花火大会
More info: 栗東市観光物産協会 TEL:077-551-0126
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/rittou.html

July 20, 2013
♦ Echigawa Gion Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Aisho, 7:30 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 21. About 40,000 people are expected.
愛知川祇園納涼祭花火大会
More info: 愛荘町秦荘観光協会/愛荘町愛知川観光協会 TEL:0749-37-8051
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/echigawa.html

July 27, 2013
♦ 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 28.
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
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/otsushiga.html

♦ 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. Near Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station.
甲賀夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 TEL:0748-60-2690
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/koka.html

Aug. 1, 2013
♦ Hikone 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.
彦根大花火大会
More info: (社)彦根観光協会 Phone: 0749-23-0001
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/hikone.html

♦ Ogoto Onsen Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Ogoto Port, 8 pm – 8:30 pm
20-min. walk from 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.
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
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ogoto.html

♦ Omi-Imazu Furusato Natsu Matsuri, 9:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Climax of Imazu’s summer festival starting from 1 pm.
近江今津ふるさと夏祭り やっさ!今津!!2013
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. 3, 2013
♦ Makino Summer Carnival at Makino Sunny Beach in Takashima
マキノサマーカーニバル2013
More info: 四季遊園マキノ交流促進協議会事務局 Phone: 0740-28-8002
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/makino.html

♦ Ujisato Matsuri Summer Gathering in Hino, 3:30 pm – 9 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (bon dance, etc.) held in the northern parking lot of Hino Town Hall.
氏郷まつり「夏の陣」2013
More info: 日野町イベント実行委員会 Phone: 0748-52-6562
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ujisato.html

♦ Kotonarie Summer Festa in Higashi-Omi’s Hibari Park
Part of an illumination andmusic festival. 20-min. by bus from Yokaichi Station. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
コトナリエサマーフェスタ2013
More info: 東近江市湖東商工会 Phone: 0749-45-2571
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/kotonarie.html

♦ Konan Natsu Matsuri in Konan, 8:20 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/contents/special/post-32.html

Aug. 4, 2013
♦ Hachiman Tenbin Matsuri in Omi-Hachman, 7:30 pm
Includes bon dancing. At Kitanoshosawa area. Shuttle buses provided from Omi-Hachiman Station.
八幡てんびんまつり
More info: 八幡てんびんまつり事務局 Phone: 0748-32-6654
http://www.azuchi-shiga.com/tenbin.htm

Aug. 5, 2013
♦ Nagahama Kita-Biwako Hanabi Taikai at Nagahama Port, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
10-min. walk from Nagahama Station. Very crowded so go early to save a spot or pay for special seating. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
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
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/nagahamakitabiwako.html

Biwako hanabi

Hama-Otsu on Biwako fireworks day. Tall walls block your view.

Aug. 8, 2013
♦ Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Hama-Otsu and Nagisa Park, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
This is the big one, but a steep admission (around 4,300 yen, 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. Farther away is the free area along Nagisa Park which is terribly crowded with people reserving viewing spots from noon. Spectacular show, but have fun trying to get home via the tiny nearby train stations or gridlocked roads afterward. Foul weather will postpone it to Aug. 12. (If the weather is questionable, call 0180-99-3339 to find out if the fireworks will be held or not.)
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
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/biwako.html

Aug. 9, 2013
♦ Ishiyama-dera Sennichikai and Setagawa River fireworks, 8:15 pm – 8:45 pm
Fireworks along the Seta River near Ishiyama-dera temple. 10-min. walk from Ishiyama-dera Station on the Keihan Line.
石山寺千日会と瀬田川に煌く炎のページェント
More info: (社)石山観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ishiyamadera.html

Aug. 16, 2013
♦ Somagawa Natsu Matsuri near Kibukawa Station, Koka
Fireworks are part of the summer festival with taiko drummers and lantern floating on the river.
杣川夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 Phone: 0748-65-0708

Aug. 17, 2013
♦ Setagawa River Hanabi Taikai 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.
瀬田川花火大会
More info: 瀬田川流域観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/takebe.html

Aug. 25, 2013
♦ Kinomoto Jizo Dai-ennichi fireworks 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: 0749-82-5902
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1031/?month=2013/08

Also see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri).

UCC coffee factory tours in Aisho, Shiga

UCC Shiga Factory in Aisho, Shiga. (UCC photo)

The new UCC Shiga Factory (UCC滋賀工場) in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture has started free factory tours from April 2, 2013. UCC is a famous coffee brand in Japan synonymous with canned coffee. The Shiga factory started full-scale operation in March 2013 and makes coffee in plastic bottles (930 ml) and cans (300 ml and 400 ml) with screw-on caps.

The free factory tours are conducted twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They offer two tours on both days starting at 10 am and 1 pm. The tour is about 80 min. and up to 18 people can join the tour. Make reservations (in Japanese) at the UCC Web site.

The tour includes a coffee-tasting session to compare regular coffee with coffee made with a concentrate, a video showing UCC’s coffee fields in Hawaii and Jamaica, an explanation of how coffee is made, a tour of a manufacturing line capable of filling up to 800 cans of coffee per minute, and live observation of quality control managers at work via a monitor. Everything is probably in Japanese only.

Note that photography (including video) is not permitted during the tour. Pets, baby strollers (can be stored), and wheelchairs are also not allowed due to the numerous stairs. See photos of the Shiga factory here.

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