Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage 2018

pagoda

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

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

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

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

Each temple charges admission ¥600 for adults.

Kongorinji

Kongorinji

Hyakusaiji

Hyakusaiji

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

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

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

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

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

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

Eigenji

Eigenji

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

Official temple sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage 2017

pagoda

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

In 2017, the Koto Sanzan autumn foliage season will be November 18th–27th, 2017. Shuttle buses will run between Hikone Station and the three Koto Sanzan temples.

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

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

Until late Nov. or early Dec. 2017, all three temples will be holding a special display of their unique Buddha statues normally hidden from the public. Kongorinji temple is displaying its Daikokuten statue (大黒天), the largest in Japan.

Each temple charges admission ¥600 for adults.

Kongorinji

Kongorinji

Hyakusaiji

Hyakusaiji

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

Autumn foliage shuttle bus

During this year’s autumn foliage season from November 18–27, 2017, convenient, low-cost shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between Hikone Station and these three Koto Sanzan temples. At Hikone Station, the first shuttle bus leaves at 9 a.m. and goes to Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji. From Hyakusaiji, the shuttle bus goes back to Hikone Station while stopping at the other temples along the way. (See the shuttle bus schedule below.) It will take most of the day to see all three temples so start as early as you can in the morning. (Unlike in previous years, the shuttle bus no longer runs to Eigenji and Yokaichi Station.)

Although you can pay the shuttle bus fare per ride (costing ¥300 to ¥600), I recommend buying the day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for ¥1,200 (¥600 for kids). This day pass is good for riding the shuttle bus between Hikone Station and the three temples. Get on and off as much as you like for one day. So you start and end at Hikone Station. The Momiji kippu day pass is sold at Hikone Station’s bus stop at the west exit from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. If you like to take your time (for photography, etc.), you might not have time to see all three temples in one day.

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

Koto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 18th–27th, 2017), Hikone Station to Hyakusaiji (read down).
Bus StopBus 1Bus 2Bus 3Bus 4Bus 5Bus 6 
Hikone Station9:00 am9:35 am10:00 am11:10 am1:10 pm2:45 pm
Taga Town Hall9:25 am10:00 am10:35 am11:35 am1:35 pm3:10 pm
Seseragi no Sato9:30 am10:05 am10:40 am11:40 am1:40 pm3:15 pm
Saimyoji9:35 am10:10 am10:45 am11:45 am1:45 pm3:20 pm
Kongorinji9:45 am10:55 am11:55 am1:55 pm3:30 pm
Kongoen-guchi9:50 am11:00 am12:00 pm2:00 pm3:35 pm
Crefeel Koto9:56 am11:06 am12:06 pm2:06 pm3:41 pm
Yomiaido10:00 am11:10 am12:10 pm2:10 pm3:45 pm
Arrive Hyakusaiji10:10 am11:20 am12:20 pm2:20 pm3:55 pm
Koto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 18th–27th, 2017), return trip from Hyakusaiji to Hikone Station (Read down)
Bus StopBus 1Bus 2Bus 3Bus 4Bus 5Bus 6 
Depart Hyakusaiji10:30 am11:50 pm1:25 pm2:50 pm4:20 pm4:50 pm
Yomiaido10:40 am12:00 pm1:35 pm3:00 pm4:30 pm5:00 pm
Crefeel Koto10:44 am12:04 pm1:39 pm3:04 pm4:34 pm5:04 pm
Kongoen-guchi10:50 am12:10 pm1:45 pm3:10 pm4:40 pm5:10 pm
Kongorinji10:55 am12:15 pm1:50 pm3:15 pm4:45 pm5:15 pm
Saimyoji11:05 am12:25 pm2:00 pm3:25 pm4:55 pm5:25 pm
Seseragi no Sato11:10 am12:30 pm2:05 pm3:30 pm5:00 pm5:30 pm
Taga Town Hall11:15 am12:35 pm2:10 pm3:35 pm5:05 pm5:35 pm
Arrive Hikone Station11:40 am1:00 pm2:35 pm4:00 pm5:30 pm6:00 pm

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

Eigenji

Eigenji

秋の湖東三山
Shuttle bus info in Japanese:
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/bus/2017.10.31kotousanzan/index.html
Japanese pamphlet: http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/file/bus_shuttlebus_kotousanzan2017.pdf
Official sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

UCC Shiga Factory tours in Echigawa, Aisho

Entrance

Entrance to UCC Shiga Factory in Aisho.

The UCC Shiga Factory (UCC滋賀工場) in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture (near Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station) started full-scale operations in March 2013 to make regular coffee in plastic bottles (930 ml) and cans (300 ml and 400 ml) with screw-on caps. It uses the clean water from the Suzuka mountains to make the coffee.

UCC is a very famous coffee brand in Japan synonymous with canned coffee since they invented and popularized canned coffee in 1969. “UCC” stands for “Ueshima Coffee Company” named after Ueshima Tadao who founded the company in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture in 1933. Coffee was one of the Western things that came to Kobe and he fell in love with the drink with his first cup. UCC’s innovative canned coffee got its big break at Expo ’70 in Osaka. With all those people drinking UCC canned coffee milk at the expo, it was a major PR coup.

In 1989, they started operating their own coffee plantation (UCC Hawaii) in Kona, Hawaii which also conducts tours for the public. They also have a coffee farm in the famous Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

UCC Shiga Factory Tours

The UCC Shiga Factory conducts free factory tours twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They offer two identical tours on both days starting at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The tour is about 80 min. long and up to 22 people can join the tour. Reservations are required at the UCC website (in Japanese). The reservations page shows a calendar indicating when space is available. An “x” means no spaces are available. A number indicates the number of spaces still available on that tour. You can make reservations up to three months in advance and it must be made by 4:00 p.m. the day before the tour.

They do not allow pets, baby strollers (can be stored), and wheelchairs (due to the stairs). Kids younger than jr. high school need to be accompanied by an adult. If there are enough foreigners, I was told that tours in English are also possible.

You have to get to the factory at least 15 min. before the tour starts. You can enter the factory up to 30 min. before the tour starts and enjoy a cup of coffee while waiting. If you come by car, parking is available in front of the factory. If you come on foot, follow the pedestrian path (follow the signs) toward the left of the giant coffee cup. There is a security gate where they will ask for your name. (In Japanese, say “kengaku” which means factory tour.)

When you enter the building, they will greet you and ask for your name. There is a lobby where you take off your shoes and wear house slippers. The lobby wall has a display of the products made at the factory. Photography is allowed only in this lobby (and outside). Photos and videos are not allowed anywhere else in the factory. Our friendly factory guides were women in red uniforms.

entrance

Follow the pedestrian path to the factory entrance ahead.

lobby

UCC Shiga Factory 1st floor lobby. Sign for selfies says, “Visited UCC Shiga Factory.”

UCC

Lobby displays coffee drinks made by the UCC Shiga Factory.

From the lobby, we were told to go upstairs to the “Theater Room” which is a nice coffee lounge with chairs, tables, small gift shop, and a video screen. As we waited for the tour to start, we were served free UCC coffee and we could choose which coffee to drink. The room also has a showcase tracing the company’s history with product displays. You can see how the UCC coffee can design has evolved since 1969. The tour started with a short video in Japanese introducing the company and its coffee farms in Jamaica and Kona, Hawaii.

Then we left the room and entered the factory after saying the “magic password” to open the factory door. We walked through a corridor with glass windows on both sides and saw mostly metal pipes going in all directions and large vats. One stop was in front of the production line where they fill coffee cans (800 cans of coffee per minute). Another stop was at a line where plastic PET bottles were being transported. Those 1-liter PET bottles were actually made from small test tube-size plastic pieces (called “preforms”) that is expanded and inflated at the factory into regular-size PET bottles. Amazing, I had never wondered how PET bottles were made until then. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to transport those small preforms to the factory than ready-made bottles which take up a lot more space. They also showed us the very thin films used for the PET bottle labels.

Unfortunately, the factory production lines were not operating when we were there. Apparently, their production quota had been reached so they weren’t operating. It wasn’t a 24/7 operation. So we didn’t see anything move. No noise, and almost no people. Looks very automated.

We also had a live video chat with a quality control inspector working in the quality control room. He explained how he samples the coffee through smell and taste to ensure product quality. I asked him (jokingly) how he prevents overdosing on caffeine while on the job. He said he doesn’t sample enough coffee to overdose on caffeine. He only samples a few cups of coffee worth per day for his job. (He says you need to drink tens of cups of coffee in a day to overdose on caffeine.)

Next, we were led to the “Coffee-Tasting Room” where we sat for a coffee-tasting session. We each had two tiny cups of different coffee to compare regular coffee and coffee made with a concentrate. They definitely smelled and tasted different. They explained how each type of coffee is made and how it affects the taste.

Lastly, we were led back to the “Theater Room” lounge where they introduced their latest coffee products and their little gift shop on a small shelf. If you buy something at the gift shop, they give you a door prize like packets of instant coffee. And if you buy at least ¥1,000 of gifts, they give you two free bags containing six instant coffee packets. Lots of freebies and there wasn’t anything expensive to buy. We also had time to taste UCC’s different canned and bottled coffee. I tasted them all and noticed differences in the taste, sweetness, milkiness, and smoothness. I concluded that coffee in small cans tasted better than the coffee in large PET bottles.

Since the factory is still new, the place is nice and clean and the staff were friendly and nice. After the tour if you have time, I recommend also visiting the Omi Jofu Traditional Crafts Center down the road and try hands-on weaving.

This gift set cost only ¥200 at UCC Shiga Factory gift shop.

canning date

Imprinted on the neck is the expiration date and “SGF” which indicates “Shiga Factory.”

Senbei

Coaster-shaped senbei crackers imprinted with “UCC Shiga Factory.”

Obviously I had to buy this Kona Coffee and little canvas bag (since I’m from Hawaii).

packets

Buy at least ¥1,000 of gifts and get this free. Six instant coffee packets in each bag.

Freebies

Free door prize (instant coffee) with any purchase.

Also see UCC’s 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.

Coincidentally, I tried this large can of sweet UCC coffee during my last trip to Hawaii.

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