Yokaichi giant kite under construction

New design of Yokaichi giant kite announced on July 10, 2010 at Yokaichi Odaki Kaikan, Higashi-Omi. Photo by Yokaichi Odako Kaikan.

Every three years, the giant kite flown at Higashi-Omi’s annual Yokaichi Odako (Giant Kite) Matsuri festival in May is replaced with a new one. And this year in 2010 is when they are building a new giant kite to replace the old one which saw its third and last flight in May 2010.

The retired giant kite was installed in the Yokaichi Giant Kite Museum (Yokaichi Odako Kaikan 八日市大凧会館) on July 4, 2010. Meanwhile, the new giant kite is now under construction for about a month from July 10 to Aug. 13, 2010 at the annex behind the museum. The great thing is that anyone can come in and help build the giant kite. No prior training nor experience required. Just go there and someone will tell you what to do. It could be twirling paper strips, pasting paper, or maybe even painting. Or you can just go and watch them work. The work progresses quickly.

The giant kite is about the size of 100 tatami mats. Three years ago, I went there a few times to help build the kite. It was very interesting. See photos here.

One thing you have to understand about the giant kite’s design is that it expresses a certain theme using a combination of word play with an illustrated pair of animals and one or two kanji characters. The design theme for the new kite in 2010 is “Healthy mind and body” (心身 健やか).

The upper half of the design has a pair of dragons. The kanji for dragon is 辰 (tatsu). There are two of them, so it is 辰辰. This tatsu kanji can also be pronounced as shin. So the kanji pair is pronounced as “shin-shin” which is the intended word play for the kanji characters 心身 (meaning mind and body) also pronounced “shin-shin.”

The bottom half of the design is dominated by the kanji 健 for sukoyaka (健やか) which means “healthy.” And so the design means “Healthy mind and body” (心身 健やか). The large kanji is always painted in bright orange. For this kite design, a professional kanji calligrapher was hired to write the 健 kanji for the kite. Incidentally, 2012 will be the year of the dragon when this kite will still be flying.

The design was based on two winning design entries by two eleven-year-old kids who won the design competition. Every three years, the public is invited to submit designs for the new giant kite. For 2010, the design theme was “health” (kenko 健康).

On July 10, 2010, the Yokaichi Odako Preservation Committee announced the winning designs and the final design. This is what they do if there is no single outstanding design entry. They pick the best designs from multiple winners and base the final design on them. This also happened the last time three years ago. The design winner(s) receives only recognition and no prize.

Volunteers work on the Yokaichi giant kite in 2007.

The Yokaichi Giant Kite Museum (Yokaichi Odako Kaikan 八日市大凧会館) is within walking distance from Yokaichi Station on the Ohmi Railways (map here). Also see the progression of the new giant kite’s construction at the Yokaichi Odako Kaikan blog here.

Japan’s oldest clay figure in Higashi-Omi

Making national news in May 2010 was the discovery of Japan’s oldest clay figure (called “doguu” 土偶) in Higashi-Omi. Slightly larger than a human thumbnail, the tiny clay figure is about 1.3 cm tall and depicts the upper torso of a female. Though the head is missing, the figure shows an ample bust and narrower waist.

The clay sculpture has been dated as from the early Jomon Period, about 13,000 years ago. It was found in the Aidani-kumahara ruins (相谷熊原遺跡) in Higashi-Omi’s Eigenji area near the Echigawa River. They found it in a pillar hole.

The clay figure will be on public display as follows:

Period Place Hours Addresss/Phone Closed
June 9-20 Eigenji Public Library 10:00-18:00 東近江市山上町830-1
Mon., Tue.
June 23-July 4 Notogawa Museum
10:00-18:00 東近江市山路町2225
Mon., Tue., June 25
July 7-16 Azuchi Castle Archaeological Museum
9:00-17:00 近江八幡市安土町下豊浦6678
July 17-Aug. 31 Shiga-ken Maizo Bunkazai Center
9:00-17:00 大津市瀬田南大萱町1732-2
Sept. 3-12 Omi-Shonin Museum
9:30-16:30 東近江市五箇荘竜田町583

Info in Japanese:

Higashi-Omi buses collect used cooking oil

Chokotto bus at Yokaichi Station

Chokotto bus at Yokaichi Station

Those cute little buses you see outside Yokaichi Station and elsewhere in Higashi-Omi, called Chokotto bus, have started collecting used cooking oil from September 1, 2009. Bring an old PET bottle (label detached) of your used cooking oil and give it to the bus driver. In return, you will receive a 100-yen ticket which can be used for your next ride on the bus. One ride costs 200 yen for adults, so it’s a 50% discount.

The collected oil will be converted to biodiesel fuel (called BDF in Japan) which the buses use as fuel. BDF has very clean emissions in its exhaust which may smell like tempura. You can actually breathe in the BDF exhaust from the vehicle’s exhaust pipe without any health risk.

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