Archive for Higashi-Omi

Winter festivals Jan.-Feb. 2014 in Shiga

Updated: Feb. 27, 2014

After Japan’s biggest celebration called New Year’s, it’s back to work. But there’s still some fun left during this cold or freezing season. Here are some recommended winter festivals (matsuri) and events in Shiga Prefecture during January to February 2014. (Most Web sites are in Japanese only.)

This page will be updated with new events as the winter weeks go by.

January 9-11, 2014
♦ Hokoku Shrine Toka Ebisu, Nagahama
Dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, worshipped for succeeding in life and for business prosperity. It holds the Toka Ebisu festival for three days centering on Jan. 10th. Ebisu is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, representing business prosperity. During the three days, shrine maidens sell small bamboo branches with various lucky decorations. On Jan. 10, there will be a procession of kimono ladies and a float from the shrine to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Hope it doesn’t snow. On the 11th, they will throw lucky mochi. Google Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Katsube Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Very impressive fire festival, but cold while you wait for it to start. Twelve giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm after a taiko procession around the city and ceremony at 6 pm. See the video at top of this page. 勝部の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photosGoogle Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Fuke Sumiyoshi Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Six giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm. Related to the Katsube Shrine Fire Festival held at the same time. Less crowded than Katsube Shrine. 浮気の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map

January 19-December 28, 2014
♦ Kuroda Kanbee Expo (黒田官兵衛博覧会), 9 am – 5 pm, Nagahama
Yet another Taiga Drama-related “expo” in Nagahama. Held in concert with 2014′s year-long NHK Taiga Drama called Gunshi Kanbee (軍師官兵衛) airing on NHK TV. The expo will explain and show Kanbee’s connection with Shiga (Omi) while he served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. There are two venues: Nagahama Castle and a distinctive, Western-style building (formerly a Shiga Bank branch) in Kinomoto. I’ll report on it in more detail when I visit later. Admission 400 yen for Nagahama Castle History Museum and 300 yen in Kinomoto. Google Map | Website

bonbaiten

Bonbaiten in Nagahama.

January 18-March 10, 2014
♦ Nagahama Bonbaiten 長浜盆梅展, Nagahama, Keiunkan (慶雲館), 9 am – 5 pm
This is perhaps Shiga’s most famous plum blossom bonsai exhibition, held annually 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 and can be centuries old. Don’t touch and try to smell these prized trees. Admission: 500 yen (200 yen for high school and younger) Google Map | Website

January 10-March 10, 2014
Kamo-no-sato Bonbaiten 鴨の里盆梅展, Maibara, Green Park Santo (グリーンパーク山東), 9:30 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm)
Green Park Santo is 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. Admission: 400 yen (200 yen for high school and younger, free for elementary schoolers) Google Map | Website

Feb.-early March
Plum blossoms in Shiga
Shiga has a number of plum blossom gardens. See this post for a list of plum blossom gardens in Shiga.

setsubun

Taga Taisha Setsubun bean throwing on Feb. 3.

February 3, 2014
♦ Taga Taisha Setsubun, Taga, 11 am and 2 pm
Shiga’s most impressive Setsubun festival with impressive ogre (called oni in Japanese) dancers from Shimane Prefecture to act as the demons to chase away during the festival. Highlighted by bean-throwing (mame-maki). They will hold two mame-maki sessions on Feb. 3, at 11 am and 2 pm. Expect a large crowd. More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map | Website

February-March 2014
♦ Hina-matsuri
dolls (雛祭りの雛人形) are being displayed at various locations in Shiga to celebrate Girl’s Day on March 3.

On the weekend of Feb. 15-16, 2014, Gokasho in Higashi-Omi is having a unique event of live hina dolls called Ningen Hina-matsuri (にんげん雛まつり). Yes, they are real girls, ten of them, dressed as Hina dolls. They will appear twice on both the 15th and 16th at 10:00 am to 11:30 am and at 1:30 pm to 3 pm at the Omi-shonin merchant home of Tonomura Shigeru (外村繁邸).

Gokasho, Higashi-Omi: Normal hina ningyo dolls are also displayed in the Omi-shonin merchant homes and museums. They are on display until March 23 (9:30 am to 4:30 pm) in the former residences of Tonomura Uhee (外村 宇兵衛), Tonomura Shigeru (外村 繁), Nakae Jungoro (中江 準五郎), and Fujii Hikoshiro (藤井 彦四郎邸). The homes are large, stately Japanese-style mansions. Must-see for architecture buffs. Buy a single 600 yen ticket and you can enter all the homes. Closest train station is Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map

Omi-Hachiman: Former Ban family residence (旧伴家住宅) until March 23, 2014 (closed Mon.). Omi merchant home which also served as a girls school and public library until 1997. Spacious room with a large display of Hina dolls. The former Nishikawa Residence (Kyu-Nishikawa-ke Jutaku 旧西川家住) also has doll display. This is a large Omi merchant home designated as an Important Cultural Property. The Kawara Roof Tile Museum and some shops in central Omi-Hachiman will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Hino: Omi Hino Merchant House (近江日野商人館) until March 9, 2014. The former home of Hino merchant Yamanaka Hyouemon was donated to the town in 1981. Now a museum exhibiting the history and artifacts of the Hino merchants. Admission 300 yen. Another place is Hino Machikado Kan-okan (日野まちかど感応館) which is a former home along Hino’s main road. It is also a tourist information office. Free admission. Some shops and homes in central Hino will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Enjoy Girl’s Day! Japanese hina-matsuri map: http://www.omi-syonin.com/htm01/book2014.htm

Feb. 25 to March 3, 2014
♦ Shiga Prefecture Food and Craft Fair (Dai-Omiten) 琵琶湖夢街道 大近江展, Takashimaya Department Store (8th floor) in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, 10 am – 8 pm (till 6 pm on March 3)
Held annually to promote Shiga products in Tokyo, numerous food booths and crafts are displayed and sold. Hiko-nyan will also appear on March 1 and 2 at 12 noon and 2 pm on the rooftop stage.

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/

Shiga History July-Aug. 2013

Under a new Shiga News blog category called Shiga History, I shall be posting a summary of Shiga Prefecture’s news bits every two months gleaned from Shiga Headlines on Twitter. This is the first installment covering July-August 2013. Since I started tweeting from July 17, 2013, it starts from that date.

Funazushi die-cut postcard

Funazushi die-cut postcard.

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s news bits for July-August 2013 (according to the year, month, day, and time posted at Japan time). Originally posted on Twitter under Shiga Headlines by Philbert Ono. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters including spaces and links (shortened by Twitter).

2013/07/17 21:51 Fifty new microorganism species unique to Lake Biwa discovered over the past 7 years. Attracting int’l attention. http://t.co/bXBxPjoT4K
2013/07/18 1:27 “Art from the Lakes” exhibition of 7 Shiga artists at Lansing Art Gallery, Michigan, Aug. 2-Sept. 28, 2013. http://t.co/fvfEFBdcgs
2013/07/19 6:14 In July, they start fermenting nigorobuna carp to make funazushi. Shiga fishing cooperatives offer day-long classes. http://t.co/03DlV8IHCF
2013/07/19 8:46 Shiga post offices are selling funazushi die-cut postcards, the 5th in the series. Looks more like dried persimmons. http://t.co/thlybOcFoF
2013/07/20 0:15 Steam locomotive SL Kita-Biwako runs from Maibara Sta. to Kinomoto every Sunday at 10:09 and 13:16 till Aug. 25. For Rsvn call 0088−24−5489.
2013/07/20 0:39 Watch or help them build the new Higashi-Omi giant kite at the Higashiomi Odako Kite Museum till Aug. 8. http://t.co/20jVj7OFMM
2013/07/20 23:50 New book about abandoned train stations shows old Kojaku Railway Omi-Imazu Station buildng, nice but in disuse. http://t.co/BewEeWH9jC
2013/07/20 23:51 Cosplayers posing with Hikonyan at the Japan Expo in Paris in early July. Can’t do this in Japan. He’s too popular. http://t.co/Y7ng314HTR
2013/07/23 10:36 Sumo wrestler Nionoumi from Otsu did poorly in Nagoya with 1 win, 14 losses. He will sink down from Juryo No. 4. http://t.co/ffdzKGBwRb
2013/07/23 14:06 Shiga Lakestars have a new head coach in Chris Boettcher, American from BYU. Former Mormon missionary in Japan. http://t.co/qJq5DbFd7F
2013/07/24 4:36 For 3 years in a row, over 90% of adult residents surveyed thought living in Shiga was “Nice” or “Very nice.” http://t.co/wPpDNFzGQB
2013/07/29 11:02 Hikone Higashi High School beat Omi Kyodaisha 3-1 to represent Shiga at the national high school baseball tourney at Koshien in Aug.
2013/07/31 9:41 Successful Tonda bunraku puppet show by 10 foreigners on July 28 in Nagahama. Covered by NHK TV Otsu news tonight. http://t.co/E2ahkk1BiN
2013/08/02 8:48 Inazuma Rock Fes snagged PUFFY as one of the acts on Sept. 21 at Karasuma, Kusatsu. Tickets on sale from Aug. 17. http://t.co/EGV0N9Kzxp
2013/08/04 16:29 Uminoko, Shiga’s “Floating School,” marked its 30th anniversary. Its 1st voyage with 5th graders was on Aug. 2, ’83. http://t.co/9KWBaWl5Yy
2013/08/06 14:03 Aug. 4 in Higashi-Omi, a fireman, 2 kids, and 7 others badly burned when he splashed alcohol on a flaming pan for a fire extinguisher demo.
2013/08/12 6:37 New Higashi-Omi giant kite completed Aug. 8. Displayed at Kite Museum annex until 18th. “Connections for bonding 繫.” http://t.co/OZDd6iOMns
2013/08/13 6:36 Hikone Higashi H.S. lost their 1st game at Koshien to Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate) 5-9. As long as you did your best, we’re still proud of you.
2013/08/22 7:56 My video of the Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo dance on July 27, 2013. http://t.co/XMjeC8jcoh
2013/08/27 13:05 Controversial Osprey planes and US Marines in Okinawa may come to Takashima this Oct. for joint training with the Ground Self-Defense Force.
2013/08/27 13:31 Shiga’s 6th graders and 3rd-year jr high students scored lower than the national average on scholastic achievement tests in April.

*This is the beauty of Twitter. I can easily save and archive my posts (tweets) into a neat table. Something that’s not possible with Facebook which is essentially a black hole sucking in all your content without giving anything back.

Click here for Shiga History Sept.-Oct. 2013

Autumn festivals Sept. 2013 in Shiga Prefecture

Here are some recommended autumn/fall events and festivals in Shiga in September 2013.

September 1-30, 2013
Genkyuen Garden Insect Chirping Concert, Hikone, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Genkyuen Garden next to Hikone Castle will be open in the evenings in September. If you miss the cicadas in summer, you can still hear insects chirping in the garden that will be lit up along with Hikone Castle in the background. Matcha tea will be served at cost and free gagaku and koto performances will be held on the weekends. Admission ¥500. Near JR Hikone Station. Google Map
玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
http://www.city.hikone.shiga.jp/kanko/event/event110901.html

Autumn Moon at Ishiyama from Hiroshige’s “Omi Hakkei” (Eight Views of Omi).

September 19-21, 2013
Ishiyama-dera Temple Autumn Moon Viewing, Otsu, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The temple grounds will be adorned with many lanterns while the huge Ishiyama rock and National Treasure Tahoto Pagoda will be lit up. The temple also has a Moon-Viewing Pavilion. The Hondo main hall will also have stage performances. The event coincides with the Harvest Moon. The autumn moon over Ishiyama-dera was made famous by woodblock prints by Hiroshige. Admission ¥500. Near JR Ishiyama Station. Google Map
石山寺 秋月祭
http://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/ishiyamadera/gyouji/shugetsusai/index.html

September 21-22, 2013
♦ Inazuma Rock Fes, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu, 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm (both days)
Annual rock concert hosted by pop singer T.M. Revolution Nishikawa Takanori who is from Yasu. Also performing is UVERworld, popular rock group from Kusatsu. On the 21st, PUFFY will perform. Part of the concert proceeds will be used for Shiga’s environmental preservation.
Shuttle buses to the concert site provided for 1,000 yen roundtrip. Board at Nomura Undo Koen Park, 10-min. walk from JR Kusatsu Station. Concert tickets at the door ¥9,300. Map
イナズマロックフェス2013
http://inazumarock.com/

Omi merchants

Omi merchants

September 23, 2013
♦ Buratto Gokasho Town Walk
, Gokasho, Higashi-Omi, all day
Some 100 people dressed as Omi-shonin merchants will parade along central Gokasho at 1 pm. A number of festivities will be held from the morning including taiko drummers at 9:55 am, calligraphy performance at 10:40 am, and a wedding couple at 11 am, A few Omi merchant homes normally closed to the public will also be open and temple and shrine treasures will be displayed in Gokasho. Gokasho is famous for the grand, old homes of wealthy Omi merchants who traveled all over Japan selling cloth, lacquerware, medicines, etc. Near Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map
ぶらっと五個荘まちあるき
http://www.shigahochi.co.jp/info.php?type=article&id=A0013815

September 29, 2013
♦ 3rd National Udon Summit 2013 in Higashi-Omi, Yokaichi, 10:30 am-3:00 pm
Taste udon noodles from various places in Japan and vote for your favorite. Looks like 14 udon makers will be there, including one from Kagawa Prefecture. Most are from Shiga. Two event sites at Honmachi shopping arcade and the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (Odako Kaikan) parking lot, respectively 5-min. and 20-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. Google Map
全国ご当地うどんサミット2013in東近江
http://www.udon-summit.jp/

Festivals and events in October 2013 here.

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo

Video link: http://youtu.be/U6vSoyvD2Sw

This is my video of the Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri (八日市聖徳まつり) festival in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture on the evening of July 27, 2013. It’s an annual bon dance held for the 44th time on the Ekimae road perpendicular to Yokaichi Station. A bon dance is a Buddhist tradition to welcome ancestral spirits visiting in summer. It was my first time to see one of Shiga’s biggest bon dances.

The evening started with the Saturday Night Market (本町土曜夜市) at the Honmachi shopping arcade from 5 pm to 9 pm. The arcade was crowded with games, food, and knickknacks. It got quite hot in there being a covered arcade with little ventilation.

The Shotoku Matsuri started at 7 pm with a mascot character show in front of the yagura tower. Followed by a Yokai costume parade of goblins, ogres, and demons led by Gao, a local ogre mascot who visits homes and scares bad kids to become good. This event plays upon the place name of “Yokaichi.” Although the kanji characters for Yokaichi (八日市) means “8th Day Market,” it can also be written with different kanji characters (妖怪地) meaning “Land of Yokai.” Yokai, haunted house attractions, and ghost/horror stories are the traditional staple of summer in Japan. It’s supposed send cold chills down your spine to cool you off in the hot weather.

The main event, called Goshu Ondo So-Odori (江州音頭総おどり), was held from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm. About 750 dancers (including hula dancers) from 26 groups formed a long, oblong circle around a yagura tower where top-notch singers and musicians performed Goshu Ondo folk songs. The dance groups were local organizations and companies. There was one group where anybody could join in and dance, but it was difficult to spot and quite crowded. A typical bon dance is usually 2 hours long held for two nights or so, but the Goshu Ondo was less than an hour held on only one evening. The festival ended with a short fireworks display above Yokaichi Station. About 6,000 spectators attended.

The Shotoku Matsuri is named after Prince Shotoku Taishi, the founder of Yokaichi and one of Japan’s most revered and historical figures. He is credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan during the 7th century and establishing many Buddhist temples including Hyakusaiji.

The Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri was worthy of a video because it features Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) folk songs native to Shiga. You won’t hear typical bon dance songs like Tanko-bushi here. Goshu is another name for Omi, Shiga’s old provincial name. The Goshu Ondo originated in Yokaichi and nearby Toyosato. It has a distinctly different rhythm compared to other bon dance songs. Goshu Ondo songs are a mixture of Buddhist prayers and narrative singing. Its present form originated in the late 19th century.

The person who created the Goshu Ondo was Nishizawa Torakichi (西沢寅吉) in the latter 19th century. He also collaborated with another Yokaichi resident, Okumura Kuzaemon (奥村久衛左門). Torakichi was a master of composing and reciting prayer songs (祭文語り) that had centuries-old roots in propagational prayers composed by mountain ascetic priests. Elements of those old prayer songs remain in the Goshu Ondo. Torakichi modified it to integrate narrative singing which became a form of entertainment for the masses (before they had TV, movies, etc.).

Fujino Shirobe’e (二代目藤野四郎兵衛), a prosperous Omi merchant in Toyosato, rebuilt a neighborhood Buddhist temple called Senjuji temple (千樹寺) after it was destroyed in a fire. Shirobe’e wanted a new prayer song to dedicate the new temple in July 1846. Shirobe’e invited the renown Torakichi to Toyosato to compose a new prayer song. The song was performed and danced to at Senjuji temple. The villagers liked the song and danced to it at the temple. They used folding fans and umbrellas as props for the dance as they did for previous prayer songs. The new-style song came to be called “Goshu Ondo.” Senjuji temple still stands near Toyosato Station. It has a stone monument for the Goshu Ondo. A park in Yokaichi also has a Goshu Ondo stone monument. I noticed a slight disagreement regarding the exact origin of the Goshu Ondo (Yokaichi vs. Toyosato), but it’s safe to say that it originated in both Yokaichi and Toyosato.

There are now many different Goshu Ondo songs. The lyrics include prayers (for good harvests, etc.) and drama-filled storytelling. They also have the same returning chorus  (kakegoe) starting with “Sorya” or “Kora” (in Toyosato) as follows:

Sorya yoito yoiya maka dokkoisa no se!
ソリャ ヨイト ヨイヤ マカ ドッコイサーノッセ!

If you hear this, you know it’s the Goshu Ondo. (Watch the video to hear it. It’s quite infectious.) Also, even though different Goshu Ondo songs have different lyrics, the dance motions are basically the same. Dancers from Toyosato traditionally dance with an umbrella or folding fan. Dancers from Yokaichi don’t use such props. But they might wear a mask. In recent years, jazz, funk, and reggae versions of the Goshu Ondo have been created to attract more young people.

Many of the dance groups are from local companies. Not surprising when you think that the Goshu Ondo has Omi merchant roots. The Omi merchants who sold cloth, laquerware, medicines, etc., all around Japan helped to spread the Goshu Ondo as side entertainment for customers. Quite a few Omi merchants were also lead singers of Goshu Ondo. Even the dance depicts the Omi merchant, as you will learn in the video. One place outside Shiga where the Goshu Ondo took root was in Yao, Osaka where it morphed into the famous Kawachi Ondo which sounds quite different from the Goshu Ondo. The dance is also different.

For this video, three local Yokaichi kids did some hands-on reporting, with a few cameo appearances by other folks. Before making this video, I couldn’t find any decent videos showing the Shotoku Matsuri’s Goshu Ondo dance. I only found videos of the mascot character show which is such a minor event. Although there are lots of Goshu Ondo videos shot elsewhere, I found none of the Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri. So now the world finally has a decent (and informative) video of the Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo dance at their fingertips.

Summer 2013 festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Biwako Otsu Tourist Ambassadors in yukata.

Here are some of the many events and festivals in Shiga in summer 2013 (Web sites are in Japanese). If you want to see the fireworks schedule instead, click here.

July 5 – Sept. 1, 2013, 9 am-5 pm – Biwako Hakodate-yama Lily Garden, Imazu, Takashima びわこ箱館山ゆり園
Lilies galore high up on Mt. Hakodate with views of Lake Biwa in Imazu, Takashima. From JR Omi-Imazu Station (Kosei Line), take a bus to the Hakodate-yama gondola station (15 min.). In winter, the place is a ski ground. The 1,800 yen fare includes the gondola (round trip) fare and admission to the lily garden.
http://www.yuri-hakodateyama.com

July 21, 2013 (Sun.), 8 am-5 pm – Higashi-Omi Dragon Canoe Race 東近江市ドラゴンカヌー大会
Held at Higashi-Omi’s Notogawa Waterwheel and Canoe Land waterfront park (能登川水車とカヌーランド), over 80 dragon boat teams (including women teams) will race on a 300-meter course. If it’s rained out, it will be postponed to July 28. Be sure to also check out the giant waterwheel, symbol of Notogawa.
http://www.city.higashiomi.shiga.jp/0000004099.html

July 25-27, 2013, evening – Tamura Shrine Mantosai Lantern Festival, Koka 田村神社万灯祭
Some 9,000 donated lanterns will festoon this shrine in Tsuchiyama. On the 26th are festival ceremonies and stage entertainment from 6 pm. From Ohmi Railways Kibukawa Station north exit, take the Aikuru bus and get off at Tamura Shrine (about 40-min. ride).
http://www.koka-kanko.org/res/?evid=241

July 27, 2013 (Sat.), 7 pm-8:40 pm – Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri, Higashi-Omi 八日市聖徳まつり
Folk dance festival in front of Omi Railways Yokaichi Station. Hundreds of people will dance the Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) which is a bon dance and folk song native to Shiga. First there will be a parade of mascot characters from 7 pm to 7:40 pm, followed by the folk dancers from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm.
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

July 27, 2013 (Sat.), 3 pm – Shigaraki Fire Festival, Koka しがらき火まつり
Impressive procession of 700 torches following a 2.2 km route from the Shigaraki Chiiki Shimin Center (甲賀市信楽地域市民センター) to the Atago area starting at 7:45 pm. The procession is 50 min. long. Followed by fireworks until 10 pm.
http://www.shigaraki.or.jp/fire_fes/index.htm

IMG_7487

Birdman Rally, Hikone

July 27-28, 2013 (Sat. from 8 am, Sun. from 6 am), Japan International Birdman Rally, Hikone 鳥人間コンテスト
Held annually since 1977, contestants from all over Japan compete to see who can fly the furthest over Lake Biwa in their handmade and human-powered flying contraptions. On Sat., they will hold time trials for propeller planes and the glider contest. On Sun., human-powered propeller planes will compete for distance. The event is held on Matsubara Beach in Hikone, right near the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. Note that the event schedule/holding is subject to weather conditions. If it’s too windy (typhoon), it can be canceled or postponed. Sponsored by Yomiuri TV who will broadcast the contest on a later date. http://www.ytv.co.jp/birdman/index.html

Mizunomori Lotus Pond and Mt. Mikami

July 27-28, 2013, Mizunomori Lotus Festival, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu みずの森 ハス祭り
Karasuma Peninsula includes Lake Biwa Museum and a huge lotus field that blooms from mid-July to early Aug. The weekend festival from 7 am to 5 pm is scheduled to have some musical entertainment (taisho koto and yoshibue reed flutes). Buses run from JR Kusatsu Station.
http://www.seibu-la.co.jp/mizunomori/

Aug. 3, 2013 (Sat.), 3 pm – 9 pm - Furusato Ryuo Natsu (Summer) Festival, Ryuo ふるさと竜王夏まつり
Held at Imose-no-Sato (妹背の里), this summer festival is packed with entertainment, games for the kids, candle floating, Goshu Ondo dancing, and fireworks.
http://www.town.ryuoh.shiga.jp/event/natu.html

Taga Taisha Mantosai lantern festival.

Aug. 3-5, 2013 (Fri.-Sun.), 7 pm – 9:30 pm - Taga Taisha Mantosai Lantern Festival, Taga 多賀大社万燈祭
Held at Taga Taisha Shrine in Taga, the Mantosai or 10,000-Lantern Festival is a beautiful night festival when over 10,000 paper lanterns are lit within the shrine grounds from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. The donated lanterns are for the repose of ancestral spirits. Sarugaku dance by the Taga-za troupe will be performed on the evening of Aug. 4. Other entertainment is also held each day of the weekend festival.
http://www.tagataisya.or.jp/info/mantou/index.html

Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle

Aug. 3-4, 2013 (Sat.-Sun.), 1 pm-9 pm – Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle, Otsu 滋賀B級グルメバトル
B-kyu gourmet is B-rated food (like a B-movie) that is cheap and aimed at the working class. It also includes good ‘ol home cooking. The Hama-Otsu lakefront (near Hama-Otsu Station on the Keihan Line) will have 31 of the most popular food booths from the first (2011) and second (2012) B-kyu festivals. They will serve cheap food (priced from 200 to 500 yen) using homegrown ingredient(s) from Shiga such as Omi-gyu beef, red konyaku (devil’s tongue), and fish from Lake Biwa. It is a “battle” or contest where the food booths receive popular votes (via disposable chopsticks) from customers. A jazz festival will also be held and fireworks on both nights at 8:50 pm. Note that the food booths require tickets instead of cash. You can buy 1,000-yen ticket books having ten 100 yen tickets. The food festival was held for the first time in July 2011 and turned out to be wildly popular with a total of 120,000 people attending over the two-day period. It was so crowded and many booths ran out of food quickly. Best to go early. I want to go again, but I dread the summer heat, standing in long lines in front of the popular booths. Read my report for event in 2011 here.
http://www.b-shiga.com/

Aug. 4, 2013 (Sun.), 9 am-5 pm – Kannon Furusato Matsuri Festival, Takatsuki, Nagahama 観音の里ふるさとまつり
On this day, you can go on a free or 1,500 yen bus tour to see various Kannon statues at temples in Takatsuki, including the National Treasure 11-face Kannon statue at Doganji temple. You can see statues which normally require an appointment for viewing. If you like sculpture or Buddhist art, don’t miss seeing the National Treasure. The tour starts at Doganji temple, a 5-min. walk from JR Takatsuki Station.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1015/

Aug. 8, 2013 (Wed.), 7:15 pm-8:30 pm – Hikone Tanabata and Music and Dance Contest (Hikone-bayashi So-Odori Taikai) 彦根七夕・ばやし総おどり大会
Lively festival music and dance parade along Hikone’s main shopping streets centering in Ginza. The street will also be festooned with Tanabata streamers (during Aug. 4-8).
http://www.hikoneshi.com/media/download/2013_summer.pdf

Aug. 14-15, 2013 - Hifuri Torch Festival, Hino 火ふり祭
Held for two evenings during the obon season. Participants light their torches at Gosha Shrine and tap the torches on the road as they proceed to Hibarino park where the torches are thrown up to a large pine tree. The more torches get stuck on the tree, the better the next harvest will be. Near Hino Station (Ohmi Railways).
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hino-to/005.html

Takebe Taisha boat procession on Seta River. Click to see more images.

Aug. 17, 2013 (Sat.), 5:45 pm (boats depart), 8 pm-9 pm (fireworks) - Takebe Taisha Senko-sai Festival, Seta River, Otsu 船幸祭・瀬田川花火大会
One of Otsu’s Big Three Festivals, the Senko-sai is a portable shrine procession on boats going down Setagawa River from Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge to Nango sluice and back. Held annually by Takebe Taisha Shrine (worships legendary warrior Yamato Takeru) near the bridge. The festival starts at 5 pm when the portable shrines leave the shrine, and climaxes with fireworks on Seta River after the boats return at about 8:00 pm. The festival attracts few spectators (unlike the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka), but large crowds start to gather in the evening for the riverside fireworks starting after the festival boats arrive back at 8 pm. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line.
http://takebetaisha.jp/event/senkousai/

Imazu Regatta with Chikubushima in the background.

Aug. 18, 2013 (Sun.), 9:30 am – 2 pm – Imazu Regatta, Takashima 今津レガッタ
The Imazu Regatta was originally held annually during 1927-36 by the rowing club of the local high school in Imazu (the present Takashima High School). However, the war forced the annual regatta’s cancellation. In Aug. 2006, a local NPO called the Takashima-Imazu Rowing Club restarted the Imazu Regatta with the support of the rowing clubs from Imazu Junior High School and Takashima High School. They use a variety of rowing boats (including a replica of a fixed-seat boat from the early 20th century) to race on a 500-meter course. Anyone can sign up to race/row. Beach is near Omi-Imazu Station. More photos here.
http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~t-imazurowing/

Samegai

Samegai Jizo-bon Matsuri

Aug. 23-24, 2013 (Fri.-Sat.), 6 pm – 8 pm – Samegai Jizo Matsuri Festival, Maibara 醒井地蔵まつり
This evening festival is a good excuse to wear a yukata and stroll along the crystal-clear river. The river is highlighted by a variety of handmade dolls or dioramas created by local school kids. Also see food booths and a local shrine to pray for the deceased. Samegai was a post town on the Nakasendo Road. Near JR Samegai Station in Maibara. During July 20 – Aug. 4, 2013, the tiny baikamo flowers (miniature plum blossoms) in the river will be lit up in the evening during 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_840/?month=2013/08

Aug. 24, 2013 (Sat.), 8:30 pm – Makino Highland Reed Torch Festival, Makino, Takashima マキノ高原ヨシたいまつ祭り
The festivities start at noon climaxing at 8:30 pm with the lighting of numerous reed torches dotting the grassy highland area and ending with fireworks.  The festival event schedule is yet to be determined as of this writing. From JR Makino Station (Kosei Line), take the “town bus” and get off at Makino Kogen Onsen Sarasa (マキノ高原温泉さらさ). Buses leave Makino Station once an hour until 6 pm (schedule here).
http://www.makinokougen.co.jp/publics/index/90/

Sept. 1-30, 2013, 6:30 pm-9 pm – Genkyuen Insect-Chirping Evening, Hikone 玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
Benches are provided in the lit-up garden to listen to insect chirping accompanying classical Japanese music or reed flutes. One friend told me that he enjoyed it more than expected. Garden admission charged. Near Hikone Station.
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/mushinone

Also see the 2013 summer fireworks schedule here.

Looks like we’re in for a very hot and humid summer. Right after the rainy season ended earlier than usual (though it did start earlier than usual), bam, we got hit with a heatwave. The people most vulnerable to heat illness, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke (all called netchusho 熱中症) are those who have never experienced it.

The scary thing about heat illnesses is that it can come on very suddenly with no warning. One minute you’re feeling okay, and the next minute you feel like passing out on the spot. It’s a really scary feeling when you feel like you are losing consciousness because it seems like you’re gonna die. It’s different from falling asleep. It’s like your power switch is being switched off. Your nervous system shuts down. When it occurs to you, it’s hard to tell if it’s serious or not. If the victim is unable to talk back to you, it might be serious and an ambulance needs to be called. People can and do literally drop dead from heatstroke (called nesshabyo 熱射病).

If you see someone suffering from heat illness, lay the person down in the shade or air-conditioned room, elevate the legs to facilitate blood flow to the head. Place something cool (like a bottle of water) on the neck, underarm, or loin area. Give water while making sure the person doesn’t choke. Fan the person too.

Even a minor bout (not life threatening) of heat illness (sometimes called natsubate 夏ばて) can be quite debilitating and can take you weeks to recover. It can also lead to other ailments like dizziness, a feeling of being in a constant daze, or prolonged lightheadedness.

Play it safe and don’t stay out in the heat for too long, even at home. Take a break often in an air-conditioned room. Drink water every hour and consume some salty food. Also consume protein like milk and bananas so that your body can produce more blood. Avoid alcohol which will dehydrate you. (I’ll never figure out why beer gardens are so popular when people should be hydrating themselves instead.)

When you perspire, better not to keep wiping it off. Letting your perspiration evaporate will cool the body. Of course, one problem is that the humidity can be so high that your perspiration is unable to evaporate. That’s when you should seek refuge in an air-conditioned place. Another wise thing to do is to take a dark umbrella for shade and an ice pack/towel for your neck. It really helps.

Stay cool y’all in Japan.

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival 2013


Video link: http://youtu.be/Y6DMpluPV9k

Here’s my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (東近江大凧まつり Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri) held on Sunday, May 26, 2013. Another one of my ongoing video series with local kids introducing the sights in English. We took three Japanese kids from Higashi-Omi who had never seen the kite festival (neither did their parents). The video also has a few cameo appearances by other local folks.

It was a nice day, somewhat hot under the sun, but cool in the shade with good winds. There were all kinds of kites in the air, many of them quite exotic from around Japan. Didn’t get to see them all though.

They flew the giant kite several times during the morning and afternoon sessions. Watch the video to see how high it flew. The giant kite festival was held at the Fureai Undo Koen Park in Notogawa for the first time this year in 2013 (map here). Since it is closer to Lake Biwa than the old riverside site in Yokaichi, the wind supposed to be better. The former site was also getting narrower with the river widening or eroding.

The new festival site was certainly large enough, but it was still too narrow to fly the big kite. If they could run across the length of the park, it might work. But they pulled the giant kite across the park’s width because the wind was blowing that way. So each time they pulled the giant kite, it went up, but immediately went down when they stopped pulling after running out of ground.

However, compared to the old site and compared to last year’s festival when they had no wind at all, this new site is way better. Videos of the giant kite last year showed that the kite couldn’t even leave the ground. At least it well got off the ground this year.

The new site is also a lot more convenient for people coming from outside Higashi-Omi. JR Notogawa Station is convenient on the Tokaido Line and they had free shuttle buses going to the park. The park had no public parking so they provided designated parking lots some distance away from the park. Too far to walk, so free shuttle buses also ran from the parking lots.

Another major change was the name of the festival. It was formerly called the “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri” until 2011. They changed the name to “Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri” last year in May 2012. Some people opposed the name change and I feel sorry for people in Yokaichi (central area in Higashi-Omi) for losing a namesake that they’ve known for about 30 years.

The fact is though, the kite festival has a 300-year history. And it was not originally called “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri.” The festival was started by villages in the Yokaichi area that started flying kites for Boy’s Day in May to celebrate the birth of a boy. The villages eventually competed in kite-making and the kites got larger and larger. The kite festival was named after the respective village. When villages merged and got a new municipal name, the name of the kite festival also changed accordingly. So the name of the festival actually changed a number of times. That’s the way it goes when a festival is not held by a shrine or temple.

They build a new giant kite every three years. The kite we saw was three years old and flew for the last time that day. This summer, they will build a new giant kite to be flown for the next three years until 2016. Glad we got to see this kite before it was retired. The artwork is simply awesome. And the meaning too (explained in my video). If you missed it, you can see it displayed at the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (map here) during the next three years.

Also see my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (whose name also changed) with the same three kids at a festival prelude event on May 5, 2013.

 

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum video


Video link: http://youtu.be/N_B3H6Ym9kw

Higashi-Omi in eastern Shiga Prefecture is famous for its giant kite measuring 12 meters by 13 meters. It’s flown on the last Sunday of May at the annual Giant Kite Festival (Odako Matsuri). (Details below.)

For people who can’t see the festival, they should visit the Higashi-Omi Giant KIte Museum (東近江大凧会館 formerly Yokaichi Giant Kite Museum) not far from Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station (map here). It displays the previous giant kite along with hundreds of kites from all over Japan and the world.

I made this video of the kite museum with three English-speaking local kids as the reporters. We went to the museum on May 5, 2013, Children’s Day, when the kite museum held an event for kids to paste stickers written with their wishes or dreams on the giant kite. They also attended a kite-making session.

We are gearing up to see the giant kite festival on May 26, 2013 to be held at Fureai Undo Park west of JR Notogawa Station. Free shuttle buses will run from Notogawa Station. They are holding the festival at a different riverside park now, closer to Lake Biwa where the winds are stronger. The old riverside festival site was getting narrower due to the river getting wider. Winds were also weaker. Also note that they changed the name of festival from Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival to Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival.

Update:
After a ceremony at 9:20 am, the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival 2013 (東近江大凧まつり 2013) will start from 10:15 am with a kite flying contest. They will fly the giant kite twice, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 2:30 pm to 3 pm when the festival will end. There will be some stage entertainment like taiko drumming, display of the giant kite on the ground, and an area to fly kites. They’ll have food and souvenir booths.

Free shuttle buses from JR Notogawa Station (from 8 am), the Odako Kaikan kite museum, and designated parking lots will run to the festival site at Fureai Undo Koen park.

*We had a great day at the kite festival. Video here: http://youtu.be/Y6DMpluPV9k

Shiga’s Top 10 festivals in April-May

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, April 15

April is a great month. Soon after the onslaught of cherry blossoms, we have an onslaught of festivals (matsuri). This is the time to go out and celebrate the coming of spring, pray for good harvests, and see the traditional splendor of Shiga. The highest number of matsuri are held during these two months, especially during the string of national holidays in late April and early May called Golden Week. During the Golden Week holidays, Shiga has multiple festivals on the same day.

To make it easier to decide which ones to see, I’ve picked Shiga Prefecture’s Top 10 Festivals for April-May. I ranked them based on scale (number of participants, length of festival, etc.), grandioseness, cultural importance/significance, cultural perpetuation and practice for younger generations, uniqueness, and enjoyment by spectators.

1. Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, Nagahama Hachiman Shrine, Nagahama, April 15
Deciding Shiga’s No. 1 spring festival was a toss-up between the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri and Sanno-sai (No. 2 below). But I gave the edge to the Hikiyama Matsuri because it centers on passing on a traditional art to kids. Young boys undergo months-long rigorous training in voice and acting to put on a kabuki play during the festival. The festival has four ornate floats (hikiyama) with a small stage for authentic kabuki plays performed by grade school boys. Even if you cannot understand what they are saying, just looking at their makeup, costumes, and acting will delight. The kabuki performances start at the shrine at 10 am. Then the floats are pulled to other spots in central Nagahama where the boys perform again. By the evening, all the floats gather at the Otabisho across town for more revelry until 9:30 pm when it ends. Although it gets crowded in front of the float, you can usually see the kabuki actors because they are elevated on the float. My video | Google Map

Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha

2. Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Otsu, April 12-15
Held by Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in western Otsu at the foot of Mt. Hiei. This is perhaps Shiga Prefecture’s largest festival in terms of participants and the number of events. Held over a few days, you can see diverse events and rituals like an evening torch procession, thunderous rocking of portable shrines, and even a boat procession on the lake. One thing I like is the joint cooperation of Shinto and Buddhist priests in the ceremonies. You can see and hear both Shinto priests and Tendai Buddhist priests from Enryakuji temple praying or chanting at the same ceremony during the festival. So it’s not entirely a Shinto festival. Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was historically affiliated with Enryakuji temple until the state required that Shinto and Buddhism be separate organizations. It’s up to you to decide which day and what time to see the festival. Click on the link above to see my photos of the festival (taken on April 13-15) to decide what you want to see. I saw and photographed all the major festival events except on the first day when they brought down the portable shrine from a low mountain. If it’s one festival that wore me out after three days, it’s this one. My video | Google Map

3. Niu Chawan Matsuri, Niu Shrine, Yogo (Nagahama), once every several years on May 4
Another of my all-time favorite festivals. They have three wooden floats topped with lofty “balancing act” chawan bowl decorations. They also hold beautiful sacred dances by boys dressed as girls. A procession of colorful flower umbrella dancers also provides a colorful accent to the festival. It’s held deep in a mountain valley of Yogo in northern Nagahama so the whole area is lush and peaceful. The only problem is that the festival is held only once every 5-6 years. The last time it was held was in 2009. According to rumors, the festival will be held in May 2014, next year. My video | Google Map

Hino Matsuri floats at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine.

4. Hino Matsuri, Hino, May 3
Shiga has a good number of float festivals, but the grandest one in spring is the Hino Matsuri. It’s grand because they have as many as 16 ornate floats with large wooden wheels that they pull through the main streets of Hino town. Each float belongs to a specific neighborhood in Hino and they are decorated with elaborate tapestries, paper lanterns, and a homemade paper sculpture on the roof that changes every year. They also have side attractions like a portable shrine procession and ceremonies featuring a sacred dance. From the morning, the floats are pulled along the streets to gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine, the center of the action. They play festival music and show off their floats. If you have time, you should also visit Shakunage Gorge, famous for rhododendron growing in a scenic gorge. There are lovely nature walking paths. Buses run from Hino Station. My video | Google Map

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival held on the last Sun. in May.

5. Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (formerly Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival) (Odako Matsuri), Higashi-Omi, last Sun. in May
The giant kite, made of washi paper and a bamboo frame, measures about 13 meters by 12 meters (size of 100 tatami mats) and weighs 700 kg. It is a work of art with a distinct shape, cutouts, and paint job featuring a traditional design of a large kanji character and twin animals. The design is selected from entries from the public and a new giant kite with a new design is made every three years. The public is also invited to help build the new kite every three years during the summer. On the festival day, the kite is flown on a riverbank a few times. It usually doesn’t stay aloft for very long unless there are strong winds. It can even crash so they clear the whole area whenever they fly the kite. You can also sign up to pull the kite. I did it once and they run at full speed. Kind of scary because if you trip and fall, you might get trampled. From 2013, the festival site will be at the Fureai Undo Park in Notogawa. Free shuttle buses will run from Notogawa Station. After (or before) the festival, be sure to check out the Odako Kaikan Giant Kite museum. Shuttle buses run to the museum. My video | Google Map

Kenketo Matsuri in Tsuchiyama, Koka.

6. Kenketo Matsuri, Koka (Tsuchiyama), May 3
Held at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社), Kenketo Odori is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. First there’s a procession to the shrine, and the boys start dancing at the shrine at around 2 pm. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The festival has an interesting twist when the crowd rushes to the man (sometimes knocking him down) holding a flower basket to take all the flowers. To get to the shrine, get off Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways) and catch the Aikuru Bus. Get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. My video | Google Map

Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima

Shichikawa Matsuri’s yakko-furi procession.

7. Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima, May 4
The largest festival in western Shiga is held at Oarahiko Shrine. It features a yakko-furi (samurai laborers) procession, yabusame horse runs, and portable shrine procession. The shrine is nearest to Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line). If it’s too far to walk, you can rent a bicycle at the train station. My video | Google Map

Ayame girls at Hyozu Matsuri.

8. Hyozu Matsuri, Hyozu Taisha Shrine, Yasu, May 5
I call this Shiga’s best portable shrine festival. Over 35 portable srhines (mikoshi) are carried around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in a very lively and gregarious style. Two of the mikoshi are carried by all women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. They wear colorful happi coats to carry the mikoshi. The only thing is that the gravel path can kick up dust. Best to watch the festival from upwind. A few foreigners also participate. It starts in the morning and ends in mid-afternoon.  My video | Google Map

9. Hachiman Matsuri, Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Omi-Hachiman, April 14
Shiga’s biggest fire festival featuring several tall straw torches (as high as 10 meters) that are lit from 8 pm. If you have time during the day, you should come and look at the torches which are great works of art. The festival is prayer for an abundant harvest. They light the torches one by one. This festival is usually billed together with the Sagicho Matsuri another fire festival held in March. Sagicho Matsuri is still my favorite festival in Omi-Hachiman. My video | Google Map

10. Taga Matsuri, Taga Taisha Shrine, Taga, April 22
If you like horses and traditional costumes, see this festival. They have a long procession featuring Shinto priests, children in costume, women warriors, and more people on 40 horses. A total of 500 people are in the procession. There is a morning procession leaving Taga Taisha at 10:30 am for Totonomiya Shrine deep in Taga’s countryside, and an afternoon (main) procession leaving Taga Taisha at 2 pm for the Otabisho, a short distance away from Taga Taisha. My video | Google Map

For other spring festivals in Shiga, see my previous posts: April 2012 | May 2011 | May 2010 | 2009 Chawan Matsuri

Hina-matsuri doll festivals in Shiga 2013

Hina dolls in Gokasho. Click image to see more photos.

Hina-matsuri dolls (雛祭りの雛人形) are being displayed at various locations in Shiga to celebrate Girl’s Day on March 3.

On the weekend of Feb. 23-24, 2013, Gokasho in Higashi-Omi is having a unique event of live hina dolls called Ningen Hina-matsuri (にんげん雛まつり). Yes, they are real girls, ten of them, dressed as Hina dolls. They will appear twice on both the 23rd and 24th at 10:00 am to 11:30 am and at 1:30 pm to 3 pm at the Omi-shonin merchant home of Tonomura Shigeru (外村繁邸).

Gokasho, Higashi-Omi: Normal hina ningyo dolls are also displayed in the Omi-shonin merchant homes and museums. They are on display until March 20 (9 am to 4:30 pm) in the former residences of Tonomura Uhee (外村 宇兵衛), Tonomura Shigeru (外村 繁), Nakae Jungoro (中江 準五郎), and Fujii Hikoshiro (藤井 彦四郎邸). The homes are large, stately Japanese-style mansions. Must-see for architecture buffs. Buy a single 600 yen ticket and you can enter all the homes. Closest train station is Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map

Omi-Hachiman: Former Ban family residence (旧伴家住宅) until March 17, 2013 (closed Mon.). Omi merchant home which also served as a girls school and public library until 1997. Spacious room with a large display of Hina dolls. The former Nishikawa Residence (Kyu-Nishikawa-ke Jutaku 旧西川家住) also has doll display. This is a large Omi merchant home designated as an Important Cultural Property. The Kawara Roof Tile Museum and some shops in central Omi-Hachiman will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Hino: Omi Hino Merchant House (近江日野商人館) until March 10, 2013. The former home of Hino merchant Yamanaka Hyouemon was donated to the town in 1981. Now a museum exhibiting the history and artifacts of the Hino merchants. Admission 300 yen. Another place is Hino Machikado Kan-okan (日野まちかど感応館) which is a former home along Hino’s main road. It is also a tourist information office. Free admission. Some shops and homes in central Hino will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Enjoy Girl’s Day!

Japanese hina-matsuri map: http://www.omi-syonin.com/htm03/index.html#page=1