Shiga History October-December 2014

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s most important and interesting news headlines for October-December 2014 (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).

ShigarakiTanukiSanta

Shigaraki Station’s giant tanuki welcomes train line’s restart. (Photo by Jamie Thompson)

2014/10/4 15:20 Due to Typhoon No. 18 (Phanfone), heavy rain is expected in Shiga from the evening of Oct. 5 to the 6th.
2014/10/5 11:16 On Oct. 6, JR Kusatsu Line will not be running from the morning. Fewer trains will run on the JR Tokaido/Biwako and Kosei Lines.
2014/10/5 11:22 Powerful Typhoon No. 18 (Phanfone) is expected to be closest to Shiga from daybreak on Oct. 6. Avoid mountains and rivers.
2014/10/6 2:36 Tokaido Shinkansen is still not running between Tokyo and Nagoya. JR Tokaido Line is also blocked by a landslide in Shizuoka.
2014/10/6 2:45 Tokaido Shinkansen has just started running between Tokyo and Shizuoka.
2014/10/7 12:40 Scenic Sugaura in Nagahama was officially designated as Japan’s 44th Important Cultural Landscape on Oct. 6. http://t.co/jmMVO1zXSI #重要文化的景観
2014/10/8 7:15 Uploaded my new Otsu Matsuri video shot in Oct 2013. Good to watch if you plan to see the festival this weekend. http://t.co/6hAKaXPXQC #大津祭
2014/10/9 13:04 Shiga food & crafts fair “Ee-mon Umai-mon Matsuri” being held until Oct. 14 at Seibu Otsu. Funazushi, Omi beef, etc. http://t.co/gXoTT9uLoM
2014/10/9 13:54 The approaching Typhoon No. 19 (Vongfong) might or might not affect Shiga this weekend. Still too early to tell. http://t.co/KHUoAek9dZ
2014/10/10 8:36 Otsu Matsuri will go on as planned this weekend, but if there are typhoon winds, they may cancel it even after the parade starts.
2014/10/12 12:08 Typhoon No. 19 (Vongfong) expected to rain on Shiga on Oct.13, peaking late at night. Great that it didn’t ruin this weekend (Otsu Matsuri).
2014/10/12 14:33 A mama bear and two cubs were spotted in Maibara on the road near the Ibuki Kumin Grounds on Oct. 10 at 11:40 am. クマは殺さないでください!!
2014/10/12 14:34 All Ohmi Railway trains will stop running on Oct. 13 from 4 pm due to expected typhoon winds.
2014/10/12 15:06 JR and other train lines will likely stop running all trains from around 3 pm or 4 pm on Oct. 13 in the Kansai and Kinki areas.
2014/10/13 4:18 You can check the JR train lines’ current status in English here: http://t.co/utFBhq3kOw
2014/10/13 12:30 The typhoon is now covering all of Shiga. Higashi-Omi, Koka, and Konan are getting much rain. Typhoon winds expected to last until daybreak.
2014/10/16 12:55 Number of bullying cases in Shiga’s 397 public schools reached a record high of 1,288 cases last school year. BOE says 95% were resolved.
2014/10/16 13:01 Shigaraki Kogen Railway’s 14.7 km railroad was completely reconnected today after the collapsed bridge’s reconstruction. Wait till Nov. 29.
2014/10/16 13:12 The unique sumo ring (built in 1988) near JR Azuchi Station will be dismantled due to redevelopment of the area. http://t.co/OvvGewz67C
2014/10/16 13:22 Hikone’s Josei Elementary School and Rose Park Primary School in Adelaide, Australia became sister schools at a ceremony on Oct. 8. #城西小学校
2014/10/17 12:23 Rare yellow catfish on display at Lake Biwa Museum until Nov. 9. Caught last Sept. Medium size, not the big Lake Biwa Catfish. #イワトコナマズ
2014/10/28 3:22 This season’s first cold winter winds (kogarashi) blew on Oct. 27 in Kinki, 8 days sooner than last year. Kosei Line trains were delayed.
2014/10/29 14:05 A folder of papers showing the contact/personal info of all 716 students of Maibara High School vanished from the teacher’s room in Sept.
2014/10/29 14:09 Shiga BOE found that besides Maibara H.S.,10 other Shiga high schools did not keep personal info docs under lock and key. Now they do.
2014/10/30 15:49 Multiple sightings of bears in past few days in Nagahama & Maibara. Spotted on backyard persimmon trees in Nose, Yashima, & Minami-ike.
2014/10/30 15:55 48 bear sightings in Nagahama/Maibara in Oct. Beware of bears in mountains and forests at dawn and sunset. Hikers should carry noisemakers.
2014/10/30 15:59 Bears are not finding enough food in the mountains so they are invading populated areas. Don’t keep fruits on trees or any edibles outside.
2014/11/1 2:49 A 47-year-old in the Shiga Prefectural Gov’t Statistics Section got fired for drunk driving in Aug. The car overturned in a paddy in Yasu.
2014/11/1 2:51 Omi Jingu Yabusame horseback archery will be on Nov. 3 at 1 pm. Just uploaded my video of last year’s event. http://t.co/K81m39jwTQ
2014/11/2 3:41 Kusatsu’s 6th graders and 3rd-year jr high students scored higher than the national average in 6 subjects on scholastic achievement tests.
2014/11/2 4:07 Besides scholastic achievement test results, Kusatsu BOE released other stats like kids’ cell phone and study habits. http://t.co/fufpfSFY46
2014/11/4 11:09 On Yasu’s 10th anniversary, official mascot Dotaku-kun got a complete makeover with a wider body & light green color. http://t.co/sI0xFjjlKi
2014/11/4 12:21 As of Oct. 1, 2014, Shiga’s population declined year-on-year for the first time in 48 years with 452 fewer people. This trend will continue.
2014/11/10 11:17 Funazushi ice cream (with raspberry sauce) & other new local food now at Aeon supermarket, Nagahama Branch. http://t.co/lVKch8LkYL #ふなずしアイス
2014/11/13 10:11 At Minakuchi-Okayama Castle site in Koka, they found remains of not one, but two tenshu-type towers on the east and west of the Honmaru.
2014/11/14 11:54 RT @japantimes: 1922 Einstein-autographed postcard turns up at Shiga museum http://t.co/tyBjFyR8R9
2014/11/16 3:19 NHK Nodo Jiman TV program now airing from Omi-Hachiman. With Godai Natsuko and Satomi Kotaro. http://t.co/XhXccFhaCd
2014/11/20 15:24 Shiga Prefecture and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam signed pact of economic cooperation on Nov. 13 to make it mutually easier to do business.
2014/11/28 12:02 Fall foliage at Zensuiji temple (National Treasure) in Konan is at its peak now. http://t.co/doerMD6HCL #善水寺
2014/11/29 3:16 After 14 months of repairs, Shigaraki Kogen Railway started running again today from 9:30 am at Shigaraki Station amid much fanfare. #信楽高原鐵道
2014/12/1 17:28 Shiga Bank and Canadia Bank, one of Cambodia’s largest banks, have agreed to form a business partnership later his month.
2014/12/2 10:05 Inspired by the Lake Biwa Rowing Song in English, Linda Birmingham in the UK created and performed her own version: http://t.co/Y12FEMIjI0
2014/12/2 10:09 Overhead monitors on the JR Biwako/Tokaido Line tracking the train stations are great. Displays train delay info too. http://t.co/ASImDed2Ae
2014/12/2 10:11 Christmas lights at JR Moriyama Station’s west side. http://t.co/GBSXoHtVzq
2014/12/4 16:38 Heavy snowfall is expected in northern Takashima/Nagahama on Dec. 5-6.
2014/12/5 17:26 Toray’s new factory completed in Maibara will double the production of carbon fiber auto parts. The lighter carbon fiber is replacing metal.
2014/12/6 5:17 This morning, Hikone saw its first snowfall this season, a week earlier than usual. And Yogo in Nagahama got dumped with 25.5 cm of snow.
2014/12/8 13:17 Shigaraki Kogen Railway’s “Santa Train” is making 2 roundtrips daily until Dec 24. (Tanuki photo by Jamie Thompson.) http://t.co/J3CRqpS15i
2014/12/10 9:40 In Ryuo, since this afternoon, a man has been hanging from power lines after his motorized paraglider got caught. Rescuers are on the scene.
2014/12/11 6:25 Everyone in Japan has now heard of Ryuo thanks to a local 59-year-old male paraglider who got stuck 3 hr yesterday. Made national headlines.
2014/12/17 16:40 Under new ownership, Pieri Moriyama shopping mall reopened on Dec. 17 with many new shops attracting a large crowd. http://t.co/WVTzAjEMOP
2014/12/18 14:43 I welcome any English sites/blogs dedicated to Shiga if they are serious about it. They can understand how much passion+work is required.
2014/12/18 14:48 Here’s a photo blog in English about hiking. Dave has hiked on most of Shiga’s trails. A good photographer to boot. http://davegeographic.blogspot.jp/
2014/12/18 14:58 If you’re into small aquatic animals, see Dr. Robin Smith’s page about ostracods (seed shrimps) in Lake Biwa: http://www.lbm.go.jp/smith/index.html
2014/12/18 15:08 More snow is expected tonight especially in northern Shiga. Also beware of the flu going around. What a dump of snow Nagoya got today.
2014/12/19 11:08 Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi stated that the Lower House elections on Dec. 14 were unnecessary, and they should instead focus on the economy.
2014/12/19 11:16 Shiga Prefectural police worker in his 30s nabbed using his cellphone to snap upskirt photos of a woman in a Higashi-Omi bookstore in Sept.
2014/12/19 11:28 Takashima’s incinerated refuse is still stuck in the city as their old dump in Kobe continues to reject their waste even with lower dioxins.

To Shiga history January-March 2015

October 2014 autumn festivals and events in Shiga Prefecture

Here are some recommended autumn/fall festivals (matsuri) and events in Shiga in October 2014. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.)

Updated: Oct. 17, 2014

Vories

Former Hachiman YMCA, the first building designed by Vories in 1907.

October 4-November 3, 2014
♦ W.M. Vories 50th Memorial in Omi-Hachiman, 9:00 am – 4:30 pm (enter by 4 pm)
To mark the 50th anniversary of William Merrell Vories’ passing on May 7, 1964, a month-long event will be held in Omi-Hachiman where you can see and sometimes enter around ten of the buildings he designed in central Omi-Hachiman. Some of the buildings will include panel exhibitions, and some buildings cannot be entered. Born in Kansas, Vories (1880-1964) moved to Omi-Hachiman in 1905 to work as an English teacher while engaging in Christian missionary activities. He always had an interest in architecture and never had formal training as an architect, but he studied on his own and opened his own architectural firm in Omi-Hachiman in 1908. He and his firm went on to design numerous buildings in Shiga and other places in Japan.

Admission is ¥1,500 for adults (¥1,200 for college students and free for high school and younger kids). Buy your ticket (“passport”) at Hakuunkan hall (near Hachiman-bori Canal) where they will give you a map to all the buildings on the tour. The entire tour is about 2.5 km. There’s no tour guide (except inside the buildings that you can enter) so you just walk on your own. The highlights are his former residence’s living room and the large Hyde Memorial Building inside Omi Kyodaisha Gakuen (Omi Brotherhood Schools). Also interesting is the Andrews Memorial Hall, the first building designed by William Merrell Vories. It was formerly the Hachiman YMCA.

For an extra ¥2,000, you can take a special 2-hour bus tour (called “Tokubetsu Kanran Course” 特別観覧コース) to see and enter two private homes designed by Vories. The bus tour is held on Mondays and Fridays, leaving at 10 am and 3 pm. Reservations required (send email to 50@vories.jp). These homes are outside central Omi-Hachiman such as in Azuchi. Also on the bus tour is the chapel within the Vories Memorial Hospital. Mini lectures (in Japanese) and concerts will also be held during the month (schedule in Japanese here). A similar event was held in 2009 and you can see my photos of the Vories buildings (and maps) in Omi-Hachiman. Hakuunkan hall is an 8-min. bus ride from JR Omi-Hachiman Station’s north exit. Go to bus stop 6 and board the bus going to Chomeiji. Get off at Shinmachi (新町) or Osugicho (大杉町). Map | Photos
ヴォーリズ・メモリアルin近江八幡 ~没後50年記念~
http://vories.jp/

October 4-5, 2014
♦ Art in Nagahama 2014, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (till 4 pm on 5th)
Art works by a few hundred artists from all over Japan will be displayed in central Nagahama. Paintings, pottery, sculptures, etc. Artists will be at booths along the streets in the neighborhood of Kurokabe Square and the Hikiyama Museum. Artist performances (live painting, etc.) will also be held. Art will be for sale. Near JR Nagahama Station. Map
アートインナガハマ2014
http://www.art-in-nagahama.com

Odani Castle

Odani Castle

October 5, 2014
♦ Odani Castle Furusato Matsuri, Odani Castle Park, Nagahama, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Local hometown festival honoring the Azai Clan who lived in Odani Castle. They include Lord Azai Nagamasa and his wife O-Ichi (sister of Oda Nobunaga) and their famous three daughters known as the Azai sister trio (Chacha, Go, Hatsu). The festival includes a samurai costume parade (at 2:25 pm), stage entertainment (all day), falconry demo (at 1:55 pm), food booths, flea market, and mochi tossing (at 2:55 pm). Games and stuff for kids too. A shuttle bus going up to Odani Castle will also depart at the nearby bus stop at 9:45 am, 10:30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 1:45 pm, and 2:30 pm (500 yen roundtrip). A guide will give a tour of the castle in Japanese. Lot easier/faster than walking up the mountain. The adjacent Odani Castle History Museum will also be free. From JR Kawake Station, take a bus for Odani-jo Atoguchi (小谷城址口) taking 10 min. Map
小谷城ふるさと祭り
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_9404/

October 8, 2014
♦ Zensuiji Candlelight Ceremony (Zensuiji Sento-e), Konan, 5:00 pm
Zensuiji is a National Treasure and one of Shiga’s most beautiful temples. They will light over 1,000 candles around the temple’s Hondo main hall at 5 pm. A prayer service will start at 6 pm, followed by a concert at 7 pm. Oct. 8 is the temple’s festival day for Yakushi Nyorai (the buddha of healing and medicine) that it worships. From JR Kosei Station (North exit) on the JR Kusatsu Line, catch the Megurukun community bus bound for Shimoda (下田) and get off at Iwane 岩根. From there, you still have to walk 10 min. Follow the signs (if you can read Japanese). Note that to go back to the Kosei Station, the last bus leaves Iwane at 6:20 pm. Map
善水寺 千灯会
http://www.burari-konan.jp/kanko/sentoue.html
http://www.zensuiji.jp/

Otsu Matsuri festival eve.

October 11-12, 2014
Otsu Matsuri Festival, streets north of JR Otsu Station, sunset till 9 pm on the 11th, 9:00 am-5:30 pm on 12th
One of Shiga’s major festivals with thirteen ornate floats displayed and paraded around central Otsu over two days. The first day of the festival has the floats parked and displayed on the streets and lit up in the evening (Yoimiya) with musicians playing on or near the floats. Very enjoyable. The second day is the festival climax with an all-day procession of all the floats highlighted by occasional performances of karakuri mechanical puppets on the floats (see this post for details about the puppets). It’s not so crowded so it’s easy to get around, take photos, etc. Held by Tenson Shrine in Otsu. At Otsu Station, there will be a festival information booth where you can pick up maps of the parade route. Parade route is within walking distance from Otsu Station. Map | Video | Photos
大津祭
http://www.otsu-matsuri.jp/

Maibara Hikiyama Festival

Maibara Hikiyama Festival

October 11-13, 2014
Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri Festival, near Maibara Station, afternoon and evening
Held annually by Yutani Shrine, festival with two ornate floats pulled around the streets mainly on the east side of JR Maibara Station. Like the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, the floats have young boys performing kabuki. There are three floats and most years only two floats appear. Each float will be paraded and parked at certain spots for kabuki performances three or four times each day. If you go from around noon to around 9 or 10 pm, you’ll see one or two of the floats sooner or later. Exact show times in Japanese. Map | Video | Photos
米原曳山祭
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hozonkai/index.htm

Shigaraki Pottery Festival

Shigaraki Pottery Festival

October 11-13, 2014
♦ Shigaraki Pottery Festival 2014 and Shigaraki Ceramic Art Market, Koka, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Shigaraki Pottery Festival is an outdoor pottery fair at a few venues are in central Shigaraki near Shigaraki Station. Many pottery pieces large and small are displayed in parking lots, tents, etc.

At the same time, the Shigaraki Ceramic Art Market is held at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (Togei no Mori), a short bus ride away. Ceramics artists have their own tent booths selling their wares. A great time to visit Shigaraki.
Note that the Shigaraki Kogen Railway is out of service and buses are running instead between Kibukawa and Shigaraki Stations. You can also take a bus (帝産湖南交通バス) from JR Ishiyama Station in Otsu and get off at Shigaraki Shisho (信楽支所). Map | Photos
信楽陶器まつり
http://www.shigaraki-matsuri.com/
信楽セラミック・アート・マーケット in 陶芸の森
http://www.sccp.jp/park/market/2014/?cat=15

October 12, 2014
♦ Daidogei (Street Performance) Festa in Toragozen, Nagahama (Torahime Ikigai Center 虎姫生きがいセンター), 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Several top-notch street performers will perform on stage, including a Chinese acrobat. The venue will also have food stalls and other entertainment. Performance schedule here. Free admission. The venue is a 10-min. walk from JR Torahime Station. Map
大道芸フェスタin虎御前
http://www.torass.com

October 12, 2014
♦ Hoko Matsuri, Nagahama, 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Procession of people and kids dressed in samurai costume marching from Hokoku Shrine (豊国神社) to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine and back. They impersonate Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his “Seven Spears” samurai who won the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583. It’s a not grand procession, but if you happen to be there that day, it’s worth seeing. Map
豊公まつり
http://kitabiwako.jp/syusse/houkou.html

Koka Ninja Village

Koka Ninja Village

October 12, 2014
♦ All-Japan Ninja Contest, Koka, 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Koka Ninja Village (Koka-no-Sato) will holds it annual ninja contest for up to 100 contestants competing in shuriken knife throwing, walking on water, castle wall climbing, etc. Contestants must be high school age or older. (The call for contestants has already ended.) The winner and runner-up get a trophy and free trip overseas (last year it was to Guam). The public is invited to watch the contestants. Admission is ¥1,030 for adults (cheaper for kids). A free shuttle bus will run from JR Koka Station‘s North exit. Map
全日本忍者選手権大会
http://koka.ninpou.jp/contest/taikai.html

Mascot Character Expo in Hikone

October 18-19, 2014
♦ Local Mascot Character Expo in Hikone (Gotochi Kyara-haku in Hikone 2014), Hikone, Yume Kyobashi Castle Road and Yonbancho Square, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Large gathering of many lovable mascots called “yuru-kyara” (now called gotochi-kyara due to trademark infringement problems) from Shiga and most other prefectures. The mascot star will be Hiko-nyan. There will be booths to show off whatever they are showing off. Mainly tourist destinations and products. Besides posing with the mascots for pictures, there will be stage entertainment. Note that Hiko-nyan will be untouchable. You can’t take pictures with him. They changed the name of this event from Yuru-kyara Matsuri in Hikone. Some 80,000 visitors are expected during the two days. Map | Video | Photos
ご当地キャラ博in彦根 2014
http://gotouchi-chara.jp/hikone2014/

October 18, 2014
♦ Nagahama Kimono Garden Party (Kimono Enyu-kai), Nagahama, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Central Nagahama will be a colorful sight with 1,000 women age 18-40 walking around dressed in kimono from 10 am. At 2:30 pm, they will all gather at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine for a grand prize drawing. Prizes include overseas trips and expensive kimono. A few hundred other prizes from local merchants and gift certificates will also be given away. You have to register here by Oct. 6 to participate in the drawing (and wear a kimono on the party day). Participants will receive a gift certificate worth 1,000 yen by signing in at Nagahama City Hall (main building) during 10 am – 11 am. All within walking distance from JR Nagahama StationMap
長浜きもの大園遊会
http://kitabiwako.jp/syusse/enyu/index.html

Yahei super hot chili peppers

Yahei super hot chili peppers. Image courtesy of fmcraic.com.

October 18, 2014
♦ Yahei Spicy-Hot Food Summit 2014 (Yahei Gekikara Summit), Ameyama Cultural Sports Park (Shukuba no Sato), Konan, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
This new event replaces the Konan City Local B-kyu Gourmet event held until 2013. A contest of spicy foods made with yahei chili peppers and sold by food booths in the park. The winner will receive a cash award and a free, year-long PR by the city of Konan. “Yahei” is the name of the man in Konan who brought over yahei hot chili peppers from Korea about 100 years ago. These orange yahei chili peppers are super hot. They will also hold the Ishibe-juku Matsuri Festival at the same time/place. From JR Ishibe Station, community buses leave about once an hour (bus schedule here). Get off at Ishibe Chugakko 5 min. later and walk a bit to the park. Map
弥平激辛サミット2014
http://www.burari-konan.jp/contents/special/post-65.html

October 18-19, 2014
♦ Hino History Walk and Autumn Saijiki Window Art, Hino, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
Central Hino will be colorful and buzzing with art and entertainment during this weekend. While the town’s main road (from Okubo to Murai) is accented with saijiki windows decorated with a red cloth, you will find musical performances, rickshaw rides, games for kids, art exhibits, and more. One of the Hino Matsuri floats will also be on display. See the Website for photos of last year’s event. Map
日野まちなか歴史散策と秋の桟敷窓アート
http://sajikimado.gozaru.jp/link3.html

October 19, 2014
♦ Seta Karahashi Bridge East-West Tug of War (Seta Karahashi Tozai Tsunahiki Gassen), Otsu, 2 pm
A hundred people on the east end (in red samurai armor T-shirts) and a hundred on the west end  (in blue samurai armor T-shirts) will pull a 200-meter, red-and-white rope on the famous Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge that was recently repainted. A raucous spectacle first held in Oct. 2013. Fringe events include food/souvenir stalls and stage entertainment near the bridge starting at 10 am. Also, free boat rides on the Seta River. Map | Video
勢多唐橋東西大綱引合戦
http://www.seta-karahashi.com/#tsunahiki

Until November 9, 2014 (closed Thursdays)
♦ BIWAKO Biennale 2014, Omi-Hachiman, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Held for the 6th time, the BIWAKO Biennale showcases the work of about 60 artists in Omi-Hachiman’s traditional townscape area. Art exhibitions will be in former merchant homes, traditional houses, and a sake factory. A blend of modern art and traditional Japanese buildings. Workshops for kids by the artists, and concerts in various places. Advance tickets ¥1,800 (available at Lawson) or ¥2,000 at the door.
BIWAKOビエンナーレ
http://energyfield.org/biwakobiennale/page/english

Until November 9, 2014 (closed Oct. 20 and 27)
♦ Yellow catfish exhibit at Lake Biwa MuseumKusatsu, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
Live display of a rare yellow catfish endemic to Lake Biwa is at the museum’s aquarium. It is a medium-size species called Iwatoko-namazu (イワトコナマズ Silurus lithophilus) in Japanese. It is not the large Lake Biwa Giant Catfish which can also be yellow. This species normally live in rocky waters in northern Lake Biwa. Map
http://www.lbm.go.jp/english/
http://www.lbm.go.jp/tenji/suizoku/topic/index.html

Kinomoto

Sengoku Taiga Kinomoto-kan

Until Dec. 28, 2014
♦ Kuroda Kanbe’e Expo
Nagahama, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Yet another “expo” (an overkill name) based on another year-long NHK Taiga Drama. This is the third such expo held in Nagahama in recent years. The drama this time is Gunshi Kanbei airing on NHK-G on Sunday evenings until Dec. 2014. The subject is Kuroda Kanbe’e (also called Kanbei and Yoshitaka), a samurai daimyo and brilliant military strategist for warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the 16th century. Although he was from Himeji, the Kuroda clan supposedly came from Omi (Shiga). This thin connection prompted Nagahama to hold year-long, small-scale exhibitions in Kinomoto and central Nagahama.

The main exhibition is in Kinomoto. It’s in a western-style, former bank building called Sengoku Taiga Kinomoto-kan (戦国大河きのもと館). A short walk from JR Kinomoto Station. The building, nicknamed Drama-kan, has exhibits introducing the characters in the Taiga Drama. No English captions. The display layout is very similar to the last expo held there in 2012. Admission is 300 yen for adults, free for kids. Open every day. Map

Also, a 10-min. walk from Kinomoto Station is the Kuroda Clan gravesite (黒田家御廟所) for six generations of the Kuroda Clan who lived in this area for 200 years. Nearby is a resthouse. Free admission. Map

The second exhibition venue is Nagahama Castle near JR Nagahama Station. Called Rekishi-kan, it mainly explains the historical background, slanted toward Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Admission is 400 yen, and 200 yen for elementary and jr. high kids (free for infants). Open every day. Map

If you plan to visit the venues in both Kinomoto and Nagahama, it is cheaper to buy the “set ticket” costing 500 yen. Expo tickets are sold at all the venues. The “set ticket” includes a bus tour called the Oku-Biwako Omotenashi Bus leaving Kinomoto Station and Takatsuki Station on weekends. It tours northern Nagahama to the Drama-kan in Kinomoto, the Kuroda Clan gravesite, and a few Kannon temples and museum in Takatsuki. Bus departure times are on the pamphlet here (in Japanese).

A minor venue is the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum. It just has a few panel displays about Kuroda and the Taiga Drama. It’s in the lobby area and free. Pay the admission if you want to see Hikiyama Matsuri floats. Map
http://kitabiwako.jp/kanbee/

For art and museum exhibitions in Shiga, see Kansai Art Beat’s exhibition schedule for Shiga museums.

Festivals, events, and autumn foliage in November 2014 coming soon.

Pharrell Williams HAPPY – From Lake Biwa

Video link: http://youtu.be/FKchoOLG2TY

Pharrell Williams scored a huge hit with his song Happy last autumn. It has since become a worldwide phenomenon with people in cities around the world making street dance videos with the song. Pretty amazing.

The videos show a good bit of the respective locality along with some great dancers. The vids were inspired by Pharrell’s own music video which is the world’s first 24-hour music video with Happy played repeatedly for 24 hours. Fortunately, we can pause and resume the video at will.

I’m not one who usually gets on a faddish bandwagon, but I immediately recognized Happy’s PR potential for local destinations. So I hopped aboard by making this Shiga matsuri version of Happy. (Video embedded above or click on the video link.) Matsuri is Japan’s most common and colorful way to express happiness in public. Many matsuri also includes dancing and happy motions. A great match for the Happy song.

I’ve always wanted to make a compilation of my Shiga matsuri videos and this is a great way to do it. Shiga has so many matsuri that I ended up making the video with the song repeated four times. Even then, I still couldn’t fit all my Shiga matsuri videos. A few are missing. Most of the footage have already appeared in my other videos already on online, but a few clips are online for the first time like the Otsu Matsuri shot in Oct. 2013.

After watching this video, you may want to see the full version of the video clips in HAPPY from Lake Biwa, Japan. I provide the video links below in the order of appearance in the video:

  1. Lake Biwa Museum aquarium
  2. Yuru-kyara Mascot Character Festival
  3. Hiko-nyan mascot
  4. Lake Biwa Museum workshop for kids
  5. Ayu sweetfish at Shiga Food and Craft Fair
  6. Yokozuna Hakuho in Maibara
  7. New Year’s at Taga Taisha Shrine
  8. Katsube Shrine Fire Festival
  9. Taga Taisha Setsubun Festival
  10. Sagicho Matsuri
  11. Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession
  12. Sanno-sai
  13. Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri
  14. Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri
  15. Inside Hikone Castle (“very cool”)
  1. Yanana at Yuru-kyara Mascot Character Festival
  2. Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri
  3. Hachiman Matsuri
  4. Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-furi
  5. Aburahi Matsuri Yakko-furi
  6. Kenketo Matsuri Dance, Koka
  7. Kenketo Matsuri, Ryuo
  8. Hino Matsuri
  9. Nyu Chawan Matsuri
  10. Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri
  11. Shichikawa Matsuri
  12. Painting “yorokobu” (喜) kanji meaning “happy” on Yokaichi giant kite.
  1. Naginata Odori
  2. Omizo Matsuri
  3. Hyozu Matsuri
  4. Sushi-Cutting Festival
  5. Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival
  6. Yuki Saiden Rice-Planting Festival
  7. Biwako Shuko no Uta song monument
  8. Rowing on Lake Biwa, Imazu
  9. Rowing on Lake Biwa, Hikone
  10. Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri
  11. Taga Taisha Lantern Festival
  12. Otsu Summer Festival Fireworks
  13. Imazu Jr. High Rowing Club on Lake Biwa
  14. Kyoto University Rowing Club on Lake Biwa
  15. Hinade Shrine Sumo Odori
  1. Suijo Hachiman Taiko Odori
  2. Ibuki-yama Taiko Odori
  3. Asahi Honen Taiko Odori (Coming soon)
  4. Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri
  5. Otsu Matsuri (Coming soon)
  6. Yuru-kyara Mascot Gathering with singer Hashi Yukio (No other video)
  7. Hikone Castle Festival
  8. Omi Jingu Yabusame Horseback Archery (Video coming soon)
  9. Koka Ninja House
  10. Koka Ninja Village
  11. Takatora Summit in Kora
  12. Hikone Castle Tourist Ambassador
  13. Hikone Castle
  14. Otsu Tourist Ambassador
  15. Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri

Top 20 train stations in Shiga Prefecture

Notogawa Station

JR Notogawa Station shaped like a waterwheel.

Updated: Oct. 11, 2017

滋賀県の一番美しい駅舎
〜心に残る駅舎〜

The train station is a gateway to the local area. First-time visitors may get their first impressions of a city or town from the train station. It’s like the genkan (foyer) of your house where you might keep a vase of flowers or a painting to impress visitors. Although I don’t judge a place by its train station, I do take note of how nice the train station is.

After seeing most of Shiga’s train stations (totaling about 120), I’ve picked and ranked Shiga’s Top 20 train stations. My selections and ranking are based on architectural and aesthetic design, incorporation of the local flavor/character/community, and uniqueness.

Quite a few train stations in Shiga have been rebuilt in the last 10-15 years. Most of them have incorporated the local flavor quite well. Ohmi Railways have Shiga’s oldest train stations which seem to take you back to the prewar days. Due to their look and feel, they retain a historic charm in this modern age.

Very appropriate calligraphy art in JR Maibara Station saying “Welcome home” and “I’m home.” By the Ibuki High School Calligraphy Club for Golden Week 2013.

On the other hand, too many train stations are quite boring. Major stations like Otsu*, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and Maibara are functional but nothing special. Even though Maibara Station is Shiga’s sole shinkansen station renovated in 2009, it is bland even though it’s roomy and practical. Well-known painter and Maibara native Hiro Yamagata was also supposed to paint the walls inside the station, but it didn’t pan out due to budgetary reasons. They instead have local artists decorating a few walls, which is fine. (*Otsu Station was finally renovated and reopened on Oct. 1, 2016.)

Train stations on the JR Kosei Line along western Shiga are mostly faceless and featureless in gray concrete as they are built under elevated train tracks. They all look the same. Takashima Station, though, has a giant statue of Gulliver right outside. And Ogoto Onsen Station recently got a nice touch with a free hot-spring foot bath nearby.

So this is Shiga’s Top 20 most memorable and interesting train stations as I see it. (Click on the photo to see more photos of the train station and click on the station name for a map of its location.)

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station terrace.

1. Nagahama Station (長浜駅), JR Hokuriku Line, Nagahama
At No. 1 is Nagahama Station. The station building, rebuilt from the ground up in Oct. 2006, is modeled after the station’s first and original building from 1882. They did a great job combining the old and the new. To fully appreciate the new station building, you have to see the original 19th-century station building which is preserved a short distance away at Nagahama Railroad Square, a train station museum with a few retired trains. The resemblance is impressive.

Nagahama Station is airy, attractive, and functional. A great improvement over the old and boring train station built in 1955. Near the turnstile is a nice, air-conditioned waiting room that also houses the tourist information desk. The waiting rooms on the train platforms are also convenient, but somewhat small. When you go down the exit escalator on the Heiwado side, you see a beautiful stained glass mural of Hikiyama Festival kabuki actors.

The new station was built on land adjacent to the old train station that was torn down. The location of the old train station is now occupied by a monstrous wedding hall dwarfing the new train station building right next to it. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, it almost totally cancels out the station building. It’s a real shame.

On the other hand, the new low-rise Heiwado shopping mall called Mondecool is nicely connected to the train station without overwhelming it.

Notogawa

JR Notogawa Station, east side.

2. Notogawa Station (能登川駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line, Higashi-Omi
Another one of my all-time favorite train stations. Rebuilt in 2003, the Notogawa Station building is shaped like a giant waterwheel, the symbol of Notogawa town before it merged with Higashi-Omi in 2006. Notogawa has a giant waterwheel at a local park. The waterwheel design is on both the east and west sides of the train station. It’s so distinctive and very impressive. I loudly applaud the people who planned and designed the building. The building’s waterwheel structure houses an escalator on one end and stairs on the other. The west side of the station has other waterwheel-themed objects, not to mention a local shopping center also bearing waterwheel designs. Although there are train stations in Japan with a real waterwheel next to it, it seems Notogawa Station is the only one that is shaped like a waterwheel. Higashi-Omi’s sole JR train station.

Ninja painting fused with a bench in JR Koka Station, Koka.

3. Koka Station (甲賀駅), JR Kusatsu Line, Koka
One of Japan’s most uniquely localized train stations. JR Koka Station opened its new station building in Nov. 2005. It resembles a farmer’s kura storehouse on the outside. But the inside has a number of visual surprises with ingenious, interactive ninja wall paintings.

Koka is famous for Koka/Koga ninja, and the station plays this up with ninja motifs and playful 3D ninja paintings. Thanks to some very clever optical illusions called “trick art,” you can join in the virtual ninja world by posing inside the painting. (Get your camera ready.) The seven ninja wall paintings were painted by Hattori Masashi (服部 正志), a noted artist. They should rename the station, “Ninja Station.” That would attract more attention and tourists (it would also cost a good bit of money). Koka’s authentic Ninja House and Ninja Village amusement park are popular attractions.

The station building’s first floor has display cases of medicines produced by Koka drug companies. The abundant herbs in the area gave rise to many druggists in Koka. The ninja were also expert with drugs and chemicals. The name “Koka” is often mispronounced as “Koga” (as in Koga ninja) by Japanese and foreigners alike. The proper pronunciation is “Koka.” FYI, there’s another ninja train station at Ueno-shi Station in Iga, Mie, famous for Iga ninja.

Enryakuji Station

Enryakuji Station atop Mt. Hiei.

4. Cable Enryakuji Station (ケーブル延暦寺駅), Hiezan Railway, Otsu
Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji temple (World Heritage Site and National Treasure) are accessible via cable railway from Cable Sakamoto Station in Sakamoto at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga. At the top, you get off at Cable Enryakuji Station. This is the original building that has been used since the cable railway opened between Sakamoto and Mt. Hiei in 1927. It was Japan’s longest cable car route (2,025 meters) at the time. The first floor is the station, while the 2nd floor used to be a VIP room. The 2nd floor is now an exhibition room open to the public. It also has a nice lookout deck. The distinguished-looking building is a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財).

Shin-Yokaichi

Shin-Yokaichi Station platform.

5. Shin-Yokaichi Station (新八日市駅), Omi Railways Yokaichi LineHigashi-Omi
Shiga’s oldest train station buildings are on the Ohmi Railways, and Shin-Yokaichi Station is one of them. It’s a Western-style, two-story wooden building built in 1913. The second floor is closed to the public due to old age. It originally housed the Konan Railway company’s head office (湖南鉄道). Konan Railway originally operated the railway between Yokaichi and Omi-Hachiman before it merged with another company that later merged with Ohmi Railways. Tourists don’t normally get off at this station since most attractions are at the next stop, Yokaichi Station.

Hikone-guchi

Hikone-guchi Station’s long bench.

6. Hikone-guchi Station (彦根口駅), Omi Railways Main LineHikone
Unless you live near here, it’s unlikely that you would ever get off here and see this nostalgic and homely train station. When you enter the station building, which has a surprisingly large floor space like a dance hall, it’s like you’re back in the 1930s. The simple turnstile, long wooden benches, and the whole feel of the place had me imagining what it was like in the old days. Moviemakers can use it as a movie set. Perhaps of a scene of young local men boarding a train to go off to a senseless war as their mothers and siblings tearfully bid them goodbye amid cheers of “Banzai!” After belching a loud whistle, the black steam locomotive then slowly pulls away…

Although it almost looks like a condemned building, I hope they keep it for as long as possible. I like it. But there doesn’t seem to be any toilets in the station. The front wall even has a sign saying, “No urinating” (for men). The toilets were removed some time ago due to old age.
Update: Sadly, this train station building was torn down in Aug. 2014. It’s no longer there. No replacement building either.

Toriimoto

Toriimoto Station platform and building.

7. Toriimoto Station (鳥居本駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hikone
Another example of a prewar Western-style train station building. It has been here since the station first opened in 1931. It has a red mansard roof, perhaps unique in Shiga. The compact interior also reeks of the good old days. If its walls could talk, I can only imagine what stories they could tell. It looks kind of lonely, but beloved by local residents since it was originally built upon request by the local government and residents. Most of the construction cost was therefore borne by the locals. There’s no train station staff so it’s really empty and quiet when there are no trains. Toriimoto was the sixty-third shukuba post town on the Nakasendo Road. It has a nice section of traditional shukuba buildings.

Shigaraki Station

8. Shigaraki Station (信楽駅), Shigaraki Kogen Railway, Koka
Shigaraki Station’s little, modern building is nothing special, but it’s embellished with tanuki (raccoon dog) statues, including a giant tanuki right outside to greet visitors. It’s one example of how to make a plain train station into a special one: Decorate it local-style. The tanuki is a symbol of Shigaraki/Shiga and a common sight in Japan with shops and restaurants displaying a tanuki outside the entrance. It has various symbolic meanings.

The Shigaraki Kogen Railway closed for a time as it underwent repairs of the substantial damage wrought by Typhoon Man-yi in Sept. 2013.

Riding on Shigaraki Kogen Railway always reminds me of that terrible tragedy on May 14, 1991 when a Shigaraki Kogen Railway train collided head-on with a JR train near Shigarakigushi Station. The trains were packed with people attending the World Ceramic Festival being held at the newly opened Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. Sadly, 42 people died and 628 were injured. Many of the victims were young students and it is one of Japan’s worst train accidents.

The train station has a small exhibit about the accident. When you read about how it happened, it’s hard to believe how negligent the train operators were. It was a horrific scene and I was shocked because I had visited the World Ceramic Festival via the railway only 10 days before the accident. Years later, I visited and prayed at the prayer monument near where the accident occurred. A memorial service is held there annually on May 14 attended by railway officials and relatives of the victims.

Echigawa Station

9. Echigawa Station (愛知川駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Aisho
Opened in March 2000, Echigawa Station’s building is a well-designed and well thought-out building. There’s a community space with a gallery and tourist information desk. The station exterior resembles a traditional building in the old post town of Echigawa nearby on the Nakasendo Road.

JR Aburahi Station

10. Aburahi Station (油日駅), JR Kusatsu LineKoka
Rebuilt in March 2002, Aburahi Station has a striking exterior design and a warm, welcoming interior made of wood. The exterior reminds me of the top of a samurai helmet, but the building was actually designed to be a ninja house. But that can’t be right since a real ninja house looked like any other house. (Ninja didn’t advertise that they were ninja.)

Well, the round windows have a shuriken (throwing knife) design. The station also has rental bicycles. Shiga’s southernmost train station next to the prefectural border with Mie Prefecture. When my train to go home (after seeing the Aburahi Matsuri) arrived at the station, I almost felt sad to leave such a comfortable train station.

Gokasho Station

11. Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅), Omi Railways Main LineHigashi-Omi
Love the inside of Gokasho Station. The warmth of wood envelopes you completely almost like a large sauna (without the heat and steam). When I visited, it still had a woody fragrance. Nice traditional-style building inside and out. It was designed to match the Omi-shonin merchant homes in Gokasho. The building was built in 2000 and it still looks new. Adjacent to the train station building is a matching building housing the retirees’ employment office where you can rent bicycles. Note that the kanji character for “ka” in Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅) is different from the one used in the place name “Gokasho” (五個荘).

JR Kinomoto Station

JR Kinomoto Station

12. Kinomoto Station (木ノ本駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
In Oct. 2006, the JR Hokuriku Line switched to direct-current electrification between Nagahama Station and Tsuruga Station (Fukui). This enabled faster and modern Shin-kaisoku (Special Rapid) trains from Kyoto to reach train stations north of Nagahama Station directly (Torahime, Kawake, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Omi-Shiotsu Stations). Before the switch, passengers had to transfer trains at Nagahama Station to go further north. Anticipating a substantial increase in visitors, new train station buildings were built at Nagahama, Torahime, Takatsuki, and Kinomoto Stations. However, by March 2008, the passenger increase was only 0.5 percent, far below what they had hoped for.

Built slightly north of the old station building and opened in Oct. 2006, the new Kinomoto Station building is modern with a traditional look. Spacious and airy and well designed for function and aesthetics. A lot bigger than the old station building. The train station sign is also wooden like on the old train station. (“Kinomoto” means “origin of wood.”) Next to the exit on the ground floor is a large space selling local products and a tourist information counter. The old and much smaller Kinomoto Station building has been retained as a small exhibition space. Kinomoto Station is where you get off to take a bus to breathtaking and historic Mt. Shizugatake. There’s also a giant Jizo statue nearby. Visiting Kinomoto is highly recommended. Note that Kinomoto Station in Japanese (木ノ本駅) uses a different kanji from the one used for the place name Kinomoto (木之本).

Takamiya

Takamiya Station

13. Takamiya Station (高宮駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Hikone
Unique building with a high tower in the center reminiscent of ancient Shinto shrines which were elevated to be closer to the gods. It also might be a play on the name “Takamiya” which literally means “high shrine.” The station building was rebuilt in March 2002. The station is near the old Takamiya-juku, the sixty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations or shukuba post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Near the station is a large torii leading to Taga Taisha Shrine in neighboring Taga.

JR Nagahara Station

14. Nagahara Station (永原駅), JR Kosei LineNagahama
The loghouse is a common building design, but Nagahara has a good reason to use it. Before railroads were built, this area was a port town teeming with wooden maruko-bune boats plying across Lake Biwa between Otsu and this area of northern Lake Biwa. The trademark of maruko-bune was a semi-round log (maruko) along the sides of the boat. Nearby is the Maruko-bune Museum. The station building was rebuilt in April 2000. The inside was kind of dark and musty when I visited some years ago, but I liked the exterior.

Hino

Hino Station

15. Hino Station (日野駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hino
Hino Station is another old station that takes you back to the prewar years on the inside. It has a nice vintage look and feel inside. The station building is the original one built in 1916. However, outside the station building, there are just too many modern objects that clutter the vintage facade: A waiting taxi (and often a bus), phone booth, and vending machine (always the worst offender). Otherwise, I would rank this station higher. In late Dec. 2016, plans to renovate the station were announced and donations are being solicited to cover the cost. Next to the station is a small tourist information office that is always helpful especially during the Hino Matsuri float festival, blooming Shakunage Gorge, and other local festivals. Hino Station is Hino town’s sole train station and one of the main stations on Ohmi Railways.
Update: Hino Station completed major renovations on Oct. 1, 2017 when a ceremony was held. Although the building’s shape has been basically retained, it looks brand new inside and out with a new paint job, etc. The exterior is now dark brown. I shall miss the old Hino Station.

Inside JR Torahime Station.

16. Torahime Station (虎姫駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Torahime Station rebuilt its building in March 2006. Very nice woody building inside and out. There’s a commercial space where a bakery once operated, but they have since left and finding a suitable tenant has been a problem. Outside the station, there’s a statue of the Tiger Princess (which is what “Torahime” means) and the small Torahime Shrine (popular with fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team in Osaka). Someday, I want to see the cherry blossoms at nearby Toragozen-yama.

Omi-Shiotsu

Omi-Shiotsu Station

17. Omi-Shiotsu Station (近江塩津駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Nice traditional-looking structure rebuilt in Sept. 1995 to look like a lodge. The wooden sign says “Kaido Ajikama Lodge” (海道・あぢかまの宿). It was the name of a real lodge that existed in here in Shiotsu, a former post town along the Hokkoku Kaido Road (北国街道) going from Maibara/Nagahama to Fukui and the Hokuriku Region. Inside, the arch-shaped corridor to the train platforms reminds me of an underground military bunker. Omi-Shiotsu Station is where you transfer trains between the Hokuriku Line and Kosei Line. Remember this station if plan to travel around northern Lake Biwa by train. Nothing much nearby.

Toyosato

Toyosato Station

18. Toyosato Station (豊郷駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Toyosato
Rebuilt in the late 1990s, Toyosato Station’s building looks like an Omi merchant’s home or storehouse. A testament to the many Omi merchants who once lived in the area, including Itoh Chube’e, founder of Itochu, one of Japan’s leading trading companies. His home is open to the public.

If you see an umbrella or umbrella design in the station, it refers to the Goshu Ondo song and bon dance co-founded at Senjuji temple (千樹寺) in Toyosato. These days, Toyosato’s main attraction is the Toyosato Elementary School made famous by the popular K-ON! anime/manga series in 2009-2010. The train station is in a quiet neighborhood with stone statues of a tortoise and hare showing you the way to the elementary school.

JR Kusatsu Station East Entrance

19. Kusatsu Station (草津駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line and JR Kusatsu Line, Kusatsu
The station’s slanted roof lines are similar to the roof of the Kusatsu Honjin, one of Japan’s best preserved Honjin used for VIP lodging in former post towns. A traditional-looking gate (photo) and a road marker on the pedestrian deck add a nice touch.

Although it has nothing to do with the architecture, the best thing I like about Kusatsu Station is the little tourist information booth right outside the turnstile. As soon as you give your ticket to go out, it’s right there. When staffed during the better part of the day, they are very helpful with directions to places. Local-area tourist pamphlets are also available at all times.

One of my pet peeves is that JR train stations always have tourist pamphlets in plain sight, but for a different destination. They don’t stock tourist pamphlets for the place I just arrived at. Why not have tourist pamphlets for that place? I just spent a good amount of money to get there, and now they want me to go somewhere else?? They should also care about inbound people, not just outbound. When a tourist gets off the train, the first thing he/she wants is a map of the place of arrival. Instead, you have to search for the map signboard or tourist info office if there is one. But Kusatsu Station is the rare exception where the tourist info booth and local brochures are right there. A few train stations in Shiga have a tourist information booth right outside the turnstile only during major festivals.

Kusatsu Station is Shiga’s busiest train station with the highest daily average of boarding passengers exceeding 27,000 in 2012. The second busiest is neighboring Minami-Kusatsu Station with over 24,000 passengers daily. In comparison, Otsu Station sees over 17,000 passengers daily and Kyoto Station has over 185,000 passengers. These numbers do not include the number of people getting off the train.

Taga Taisha-mae

Taga Taisha-mae Station

20. Taga Taisha-mae Station (多賀大社前駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Taga
The building is shaped like a shrine building, to match Taga Taisha Shrine and the large torii right outside. An exhibition space (waiting room) is integrated with the station building rebuilt in 2002. The quality of the exhibitions is good when there are exhibitions. A large showcase displays ema prayer tablets from many shrines. The station is the end terminal of the Taga Line. Taga Taisha Shrine is a short walk away.

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station before the wedding hall was built.

Incorporating the train station with local elements certainly boosts visitors’ impressions and the local folks’ pride and morale.

People are starting to realize that the train station itself can be a tourist attraction. Just look at the magnificently reconstructed Tokyo Station and the nyan-nyan Kishi Station in Wakayama. People in Otsu should take note when they think about how to revitalize the Otsu Station area. To attract more people, make the train station the attraction. How about filling the station building with B-kyu (B-grade) gourmet food stands? Cheap but delicious local food always attracts people. Great if we could eat B-kyu food year-round in Otsu instead only once a year. Right now, most of the restaurants in and around Otsu Station are nothing special. The Otsu Station area needs to have something special that Hama-Otsu doesn’t have and preferably found nowhere else in Japan.
Update: After major renovations, the Otsu Station building reopened on Oct. 1, 2016 with a 60-bed capsule hotel (geared for foreign tourists), multilingual tourist information center, free rental bicycles, five restaurants, and an outdoor terrace and event space.

Shinkansen

Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki.

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without trains. Japan’s first railway opened between Yokohama and Shimbashi (Tokyo) in 1872. Shiga laid its first railway 12 years later in 1884 between Nagahama and Tsuruga (Fukui). In 1889, the Tokaido Line was completed. In 1900, Ohmi Railway opened a train line between Hikone and Kibukawa. The Keihan Line in Otsu started running between Hama-Otsu and Ishiyama-dera in 1914. The defunct Kojaku Railway Line (江若鉄道) opened between Miidera Station and Eizan Station (now Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station) in 1921. It was the predecessor of the JR Kosei Line that took over in 1974. All these railways gradually extended their lines to what they are today. In Oct. 1964, the shinkansen started stopping at Maibara.

If there’s one thing that has improved in Japan, it’s rail transportation. Trains have gotten faster, cutting travel times significantly. Train/subway lines have also increased or been extended, mainly in urban areas. Trains are also more comfortable with non-smoking cars and Western-style toilets.

Can you imagine that until the 1980s, smoking was allowed in most train cars, train stations, and platforms? Older folks may remember seeing cigarette butts all over the train platform and an ash tray in front of all the train seats. Most of the shinkansen cars also allowed smoking. It wasn’t until the 1990s when non-smokers’ rights gained traction and most or all train cars and stations started to prohibit smoking. Thank goodness. This trend has spread to other public places such as restaurants and even city streets and beaches. Excellent.

Of course, many train station buildings have also much improved with brighter, cleaner, and more spacious interiors. Restrooms also tend to have toilet paper and sometimes even soap as an added bonus. Major stations also have escalators and elevators. I remember Tokyo Station had a small army of hardy men called “Akabo” (Red Caps 赤帽) who were red-capped porters earning tips by carrying your heavy luggage up or down the stairs. They made a decent living when suitcases still didn’t have casters and there were no escalators. Akabo at Tokyo Station became extinct in March 2001. I wish I took a picture of them.

Another major improvement and development is the employment of women as train conductors and drivers. Once upon a time, we never ever saw women train conductors and drivers. Now they are quite common.

Sorry that this blog post turned out to be longer than I expected. Often one topic leads to another story or tidbit. I’m not really a train fan except for the shinkansen, but trains are a fact of life in Japan and a great convenience.

Essential Japanese Train Station Vocabulary (by Philbert Ono)

  • tetsudo 鉄道 – railway
  • eki 駅 – railway station (train, subway, or street car)
  • ekisha 駅舎 – railway station building
  • eki konai 駅構内 – inside or within the train station.
  • kippu uriba きっぷうりば – place to buy tickets
  • kenbaiki 券売機 – ticket vending machine
  • Midori no Madoguchi みどりの窓口 – Manned ticket counter or office at major train stations to buy reserved seat tickets (and rail passes). Colored in green and usually open from 5:30 am to 10 pm.
  • joshaken 乗車券 – regular-fare train ticket
  • tokkyuken 特急券 – express-fare train ticket
  • jiyuseki 自由席 – non-reserved seating
  • shiteiseki 指定席 – reserved seating, extra charge required.
  • machiai-shitsu 待合室 – Waiting room in the train station. A room to keep warm in winter or cool in summer while waiting for your train. Most train stations have a small waiting room on the platform.
  • te-arai 手洗い – restrooms (toilet)
  • kaisatsu 改札 – Turnstile or gate where you present your ticket or tap card.
  • ICOCA – IC smart card issued in the Kansai area as a rechargeable tap card to pay the train fare through an automated turnstile equipped with a card reader. Prounounced “Ikoka” which means “Shall we go?”
  • ressha 列車 – train
  • Futsu 普通 – Local train stopping at every station. Also called Futsu-ressha 普通列車.
  • kaku-eki 各駅 – Stops at every station.
  • Kaisoku 快速 – Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Futsu. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Shin-kaisoku 新快速 – Special Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Kaisoku trains. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Tokkyu 特急 – Limited Express long-distance trains stopping only at major train stations. Extra charge required.
  • Green-sha グリーン車 – First-class car requiring extra charge.
  • shinkansen 新幹線 – Bullet train. Nozomi only stops at the major stations (doesn’t stop at Maibara). Hikari trains stop at a few more stations (sometimes Maibara) and Kodama trains stop at all shinkansen stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
  • daiya ダイヤ or jikokuhyo 時刻表 – Train schedule
  • yukisaki 行先 – train destination
  • unkyu 運休 – canceled train
  • okure 遅れ – Delayed train. Usually preceded by the number of minutes the train is delayed.
  • yusen-seki 優先席 – Courtesy seat for elderly, handicapped, etc. Formerly called “silver seat” シルバーシート.
  • rosen 路線 – train line (Biwako Line, Kusatsu Line, etc.)
  • senro – 線路 – Railroad/train tracks. If you drop something on the tracks, alert the station staff.
  • homu ホーム – Station platform where you board the train.
  • Roku-ryo-hensei 6両編成 – Six-car train. If it’s a 10-car train, it’s called Ju-ryo hensei.
  • nanban-sen 何番線 – Which platform No.?
  • shasho 車掌 – On-board train conductor who may check your express train ticket (on tokkyu and shinkansen). He/she also sells train tickets if your boarding train station does not have a ticket machine or manned ticket window.
  • deguchi 出口 – exit (Nishi-guchi 西口 West exit, Higashi-guchi 東口 East exit, Kita-guchi 北口 North exit, Minami-guchi 南口 South exit)
  • shuten 終点 – Last stop on the train line.
  • coin locker コインロッカー – Coin-operated lockers for luggage. Only the larger train stations have it.
  • kanko annaisho 観光案内所 – tourist information desk
  • renta-saikuru レンタサイクル – Bicycle rentals. Or just say “jintensha karitai.”
  • basu noriba バスのりば – bus stop
  • taxi noriba タクシーのりば – taxi stand

March festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Two outstanding festivals in March in Shiga.

Sagicho

Sagicho floats’ friendly clash.

March 15-16, 2014
Sagicho Matsuri Festival, 左義長まつり, Omi-Hachiman Google Map

One of Shiga’s must-see festivals. The annual Sagicho Matsuri is a dramatic parade and clashing of 13 colorful Sagicho floats carried around the old streets of the city and in Himure Hachimangu Shrine near Hachiman-bori Canal. On the first day (Sat.), the floats are paraded along the streets near the shrine and undergo judging for best design. The floats are works of art with a motif based on the year’s Oriental zodiac. Since it is the Year of the Horse, be prepared to see all kinds of dramatic horses on the floats. What’s incredible is that the float decorations are all made of edible materials mounted on a straw and wood base. The floats are thus different every year.

Sagicho Matsuri

Sagicho Matsuri climax.

The second day (Sun.) of the Sagicho Festival is the climax. During the day, the Sagicho floats collide with each other and try to topple each other. Then at night, the floats are set afire. Sagicho is actually a fire festival. If you plan to see it at night, be sure to dress warmly. It can get quite cold.

Here’s a rough schedule of events at the Sagicho Festival this year (official festival site here):

March 15, 2014
1 pm: Gathering of 13 Sagicho floats at Himure Hachimangu Shrine. Floats are also judged here.
2 pm: A procession of Sagicho floats leave Himure Hachimangu Shrine and parade around nearby streets.
3 pm: Taiko performance at Hachiman Jr. High School.
5:30 pm: Sagicho floats return to Himure Hachimangu Shrine where an awards ceremony will be held.

March 16, 2014
10:30 am: Sagicho floats start parading around the streets.
2 pm to 5 pm: Sagicho floats gather and clash in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine.
6 pm: Children’s Sagicho floats are set afire in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine as other floats converge in front of the shrine.
8 pm to 10:40 pm: Five Sagicho floats are set afire at the same time, then the others are lit one by one in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine.

This pdf shows the floats’ procession route. Also see more photos and my video on YouTube.

Saio princess

Saio princess amid tea fields.

March 23, 2014
Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession あいの土山斎王群行, Tsuchiyama, Koka

If you like kimono, you gotta see this festival. It’s a small, but very elegant and colorful matsuri in Koka’s Tsuchiyama area. The Saio princess dressed in a beautiful, juni-hitoe, 12-layer kimono will be carried in a palanquin escorted by a bevy of women in kimono. They also dance along the procession route (map below). This is actually an extension of Kyoto’s famous Aoi Matsuri.

The Saio princess was an unmarried, young Imperial princess, often the Emperor’s daughter, who was appointed (by divination) to be the High Priestess of Ise Grand Shrines in Mie Prefecture from the 7th to 14th centuries. For about 660 years, over 60 Saio princesses served at Ise Grand Shrines. The new Saio princess traveled from Kyoto to her Saiku palace near the Ise Shrine. The journey took 5 nights and 6 days, and passed through Tsuchiyama in Shiga Prefecture. Held on the last Sunday in March, this festival reenacts the Saio Gunko procession in Tsuchiyama to Tarumi Tongu which was one of the five palaces where the Saio lodged along the way. The Saio princess is selected among volunteer women from Koka.

Saio princess

Dance performance

The festival starts at 11:30 am with the Saio princess carried on a palanquin arriving at a small park called Yume no Ogawa next to Ono Elementary School. She purifies herself at a small stream in the park. Then they gather inside the school gym for the Departure ceremony.

The procession will depart the school at 1:30 pm and proceed on foot on the old Tokaido Road to Tarumi Tongu (垂水頓宮). Tongu means temporary palace. There were five of them for the Saio princess between Kyoto and the Saiku palace in Ise. The one in Tsuchyama is a National Historic Site, although nothing remains of the palace. From 886 to 1264 (378 years), a total of 31 Saio princesses lodged at Tarumi Tongu.

The procession will stop and dance at 2 pm at Ichiba Kumin Hiroba square (市場区民広場) and at 2:40 pm at Maeno Community West Hiroba Square (前野集会所西広場). Great photo ops at these two stops. The procession will arrive Tarumi Tongu at 3:40 pm where a short ceremony will be held. The festival ends at 4 pm. YouTube video | Official Website

Getting there: Take the “Aikuru” bus from Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways). In about 30 min., get off at Ono Higashi-guchi (大野東口) and walk to Ono Primary School nearby. Buses leave at 10:05 am, 11 am, and 12:05 pm. Bus schedule in Japanese here.

*In the case of rain, the festival will be held inside the school gym.

Map of the procession route.

View あいの土山斎王群行 in a larger map

Official Website

1 2 3 7