Archive for Aisho

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

Plum blossoms in Shiga Prefecture

Nagahama Hokoen Park plum blossoms.

Plum blossoms, called ume (梅) in Japanese, have absolutely the sweetest and most pacifying fragrance of all the flowers in Japan. Whenever you see plum blossoms, put your nose right next to the flower and smell. It will sooth your soul. There are many varieties of plum blossoms, but they basically white, pink, or red and each color smells differently. The white ones have the most dainty smell, while the red ones have a stronger and more concentrated sweet smell.

Plum blossoms have been an intricate part of Japanese culture, art, and aesthetics for centuries. The term shochikubai (松竹梅), meaning pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms, is an auspicious and favorite aesthetic concept in Japan that you can find on folding screens, sliding fusuma doors, and Japanese paintings. In my bedroom in Shiga, I have hand-painted fusuma on two sides of the room with beautiful paintings of shochikubai. My dad had excellent taste when he bought them in Hikone before I was born. I have treasured them ever since I became old enough to appreciate them. Sadly, they don’t make them like that anymore, at least at affordable prices.

In most parts of Japan, plum blossoms bloom in Feb. and March. In Hokkaido, they bloom in May, at the same time as cherry blossoms. When they reach full bloom depends on how cold/warm the winter is. The colder it is, the later they bloom.

Although Shiga does not have huge plum blossom groves like in Minabe, Wakayama; Kairakuen Garden in Mito (Ibaraki Prefecture); or Ome in Tokyo, Shiga has a few good plum groves called bairin (梅林) or plum gardens (baien 梅園) and plum blossom bonsai displays called bonbaiten (盆梅展).

Nagahama Hokoen Park 豊公園
Although Hokoen Park is most famous for cherry blossoms, it also has a decent number of plum trees. Great place to photograph them with Nagahama Castle in the background (photo above). They bloom in March. Near JR Nahagama Station. Google Map

Nagahama Bonbaiten in Keiunkan.

Nagahama Bonbaiten 長浜盆梅展
This is perhaps Shiga’s most famous plum blossom bonsai exhibition, held annually for 62 years since 1952. The venue is the stately Keiunkan (慶雲館), a Japanese-style former guesthouse originally built in 1887 to accommodate Emperor Meiji when he visited Nagahama. It’s near JR Nagahama Station. They have 90 bonsai trees on display, including one that is almost 3 meters tall or 400 years old. Don’t touch and try to smell these prized trees. Nagahama also has another bonbaiten in Azai. Until March 10, 2013. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm, Admission: 500 yen (200 yen for high school and younger) Google Map

Kamo-no-sato Bonbaiten, Maibara 鴨の里盆梅展
Held in Green Park Santo (グリーンパーク山東), a large recreational park in Maibara. Inside the Spark Santo hall (すぱーく山東) are about 120 bonsai plum trees raised by over 30 devoted growers. They also have an orchid show at the same time. Near JR Omi-Nagaoka Station. Until March 10, 2013. Hours: 9:30 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm), Admission: 400 yen (200 yen for high school and younger, free for elementary schoolers) Google Map

Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (Omi-Fuji Green Acres), Yasu 近江富士花緑公園
Sandwiched between the foot of Mt. Mikami and Kibogaoka Bunka Park, Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (also called Omi-Fuji Green Acres) is about flowers and greenery, including plum and cherry blossoms. They have a blog showing the progress of their plum blossoms blooming. Buses from JR Yasu Station go to Kibogaoka Bunka Koen Park’s Kibogaoka Nishi Gate from which you can walk to the park. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm. Google Map

Statue of Saint Shinran in front of the plum tree he planted at Homanji temple in Echigawa, Aisho.

Homanji temple, Aisho 宝満寺
This temple in Echigawa has a historically significant plum tree in front of the Hondo main hall. While traveling, Saint Shinran, founder of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Sect, was unable to cross the Echigawa River due to flooding. So he stayed at this temple temporarily. During that time, he planted a plum tree which bloom red plum blossoms. Near Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station. Google Map

Plum blossoms at Ishiyama-dera temple. Smell the different varieties.

Ishiyama-dera, Otsu 石山寺
Ishiyama temple has an impressive 400 plum trees in three hillside plum groves. Since there is a variety of plums, there’s a good chance of seeing at least a few in full bloom in Feb. or March. They have a blog showing how much the plums are blooming. Ishiyama-dera also has an indoor plum tree ikebana (Mishogoryu School 未生御流) exhibition called Ume Tsukushi-ten (梅つくし展) until March 18, 2013 in one of their temple buildings called Myoo-in (明王院). This indoor exhibition is free if you have paid the temple admission fee. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Keihan Ishiyama-dera Station. Hours: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm (enter by 4 pm), Temple admission: 500 yen Google Map

Sakamoto Bonbaiten, Otsu 坂本盆梅展
I’ve never seen this, but it looks worthwhile. About 50 small and medium-size plum blossom bonsai trees are exhibited in the noted garden of Kyu-Chikurin-in (旧竹林院) in the temple town of Sakamoto. Near Sakamoto Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line. Peak period is from mid- to late Feb. Until March 3, 2013. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm), Admission: 310 yen (150 yen for kids) Google Map

 

Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Kusatsu shukuba

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Near JR Kusatsu Station.

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day (set to April 30 this year since the 29th is Sun.), May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day. This year’s calendar in 2012 can make it a nine-day holiday for the working folk if they only take off on two working days (May 1 and 2).

In Shiga, it is prime time for matsuri festivals. There are so many matsuri during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see. The festivals will be extra special this year because many GW festivals were canceled or postponed last year due to the 3/11 triple disasters.

Here are some of the GW matsuri I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure. Click on the image to see more photos and information of the respective festival. Maps of the shrine locations, etc., are provided by the Map links.

kaizu rikishi

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri Festival in Makino, Takashima.

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. See my video here. Google Map

hino matsuri

Hino Matsuri at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: Hino Matsuri in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. See my video here. Google Map

Kenketo matsuri

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社).

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

Kenketo ryuo

May 3: Kenketo Festival at Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: The Kenketo Festival is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Also see my YouTube Video here. Google Map

Shichikawa matsuri

May 4: Shichikawa Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. See my video here. Google Map

Omizuo matsuri

May 4: Omizo Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: Omizo Matsuri has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

 Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri in Higashi-Omi near Notogawa Station.

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. See my video here. Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Google Map

misaki

May 4: Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho, near JR Inae Station.

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. See my video here. Google Map

Hyozu matsuri

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri in Yasu.

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. See my video here. Google Map

Sushikiri matsuri

May 5: Sushi-kiri Matsuri at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

naginata moriyama

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

Namura sekku

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival bull’s eye at Namura Shrine in Ryuo. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. See my video here. Google Map

Shiga fireworks in summer 2010

Here’s the fireworks (hanabi) schedule for Shiga Prefecture in summer 2010 listed by date:

July 17, 2010
Echigawa Gion Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Aisho, 7:30 pm – 9:20 pm
Along the Echigawa River bank near Miyukibashi Bridge. If rained out, to be postponed to July 18.
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://www.biwa.ne.jp/~e-machi/new/hanabitaikai.html

July 24, 2010
Kashiwabara-juku Yaito Matsuri fireworks, 9 pm – 9:20 pm
Near JR Kashiwabara Station in Maibara.
柏原宿やいとまつり
More info: 中山道柏原宿やいと祭実行委員会 TEL:0749‐57‐0256
http://yaito.kashiharasyuku.com/

Aug. 1, 2010
Hikone Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Matsubara Beach, Hikone, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
30-min. walk from Hikone Station. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 4.
彦根大花火大会
More info: (社)彦根観光協会 Phone: 0749-23-0001
http://www.hikoneshi.com/event/?itemid=641

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 ryokan in Ogoto.
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://www.ogotoonsen.com/sightseeing/hanabi/

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!!2010
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
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/new/20100620_613.html

Hachiman Tenbin Matsuri in Omi-Hachman, 7:30 pm
At Kitanoshosawa area. Shuttle buses provided.
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://tenbinmaturi.hp.infoseek.co.jp/

Aug. 5, 2010
Nagahama Kita-Biwako Hanabi Taikai at Nagahama Port, 7:30 pm
10-min. walk from Nagahama Station. Very crowded so go early to save a spot or pay 3,000 yen for special seating. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 9.
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

Aug. 6, 2010
Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Hama-Otsu and Nagisa Park, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
This is the big one, but prime viewing areas all charge admission of about 4,000 yen (even for children above age 3). The free area is farther away and terribly crowded. People are no longer allowed to save a place with vinyl mats, etc., until the fireworks day. Would you believe people saved a viewing place on Nagisa Park as early as 2 weeks before the fireworks day? If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 10.
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://www.biwako-visitors.jp/hanabi/index.html

Aug. 7, 2010
Makino Summer Carnival at Makino Sunny Beach in Takashima
マキノサマーカーニバル2010
More info: 四季遊園マキノ交流促進協議会事務局 Phone: 0740-28-8002
http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_12577.html

Ujisato Matsuri Summer Gathering in Hino
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」2010
More info: 日野町イベント実行委員会 Phone: 0748-52-6562
http://www.town.shiga-hino.lg.jp/contents_detail.php?co=cat&frmId=1386&frmCd=4-15-2-0-0

Kotonarie Summer Festa in Higashi-Omi’s Hibari Park
Part of an illumination festival.
コトナリエサマーフェスタ2010
More info: 東近江市湖東商工会 Phone: 0749-45-2571
http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_373.html

Aug. 9, 2010
Ishiyama-dera Sennichikai and Setagawa fireworks, 8:30 pm – 9 pm
Fireworks along the Seta River near Ishiyama-dera. 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://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_304.html

Aug. 16, 2010
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
http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_301.html

Aug. 17, 2010
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 a waterborne 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://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_303.html

Aug. 25, 2010
Kinomoto Jizo Dai-ennichi fireworks near JR Kinomoto Station
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://www.biwako-visitors.jp/search/event_12358.html