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

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-dera Station. Google Map
石山寺 秋月祭

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

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 StationGoogle Map

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

Festivals and events in October 2013 here.

Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo

Video link:

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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).

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.

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.


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.

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).

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.

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:

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 in Higashi-Omi. 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.


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