YUtour, tour guide extraordinaire in Shiga Prefecture

Tour guide Seita Mori (right) amid terraced rice paddies in Hata, Takashima.

by Philbert Ono, photos courtesy of Seita Mori and selected by Philbert Ono

It’s about time I introduce YUtour (悠ツアー), a licensed tour guide service for foreign tourists in Shiga Prefecture run by my friend MORI Seita (森 聖太) in Otsu. YUtour is a one-man operation with Seita-san as YUtour’s one and only English-speaking guide. All indicators (such as TripAdvisor comments) show that he is doing an outstanding job. And after having a long lunch with him the other day in Otsu, I believe it.

YUtour’s guided tours in English focus on the rural areas, ecotourism and nature, and traditional crafts of Shiga. He takes guests mainly to Otsu (Mt. Hiei, Sakamoto, Ogi, and Katata), Takashima (Harie and Hata), Shigaraki (pottery and Miho Museum), and Omi-Hachiman (Okishima island and traditional boat rides). If you look at the YUtour website, you can see “Ready-made tours” with a set itinerary and pricing, and “Tailor-made tours” to other areas in Shiga upon request. Most of the tours are day trips from Kyoto, and Seita usually meets his guests at Kyoto Station at the tour’s start. He takes mostly individuals, couples, or small groups, but can also handle larger groups.

Seita (in front) in Nakajima, Harie.

Why take a guided tour instead of touring by yourself?
When touring rural areas where public transportation is limited, English information is scarce, and where people don’t speak English, a guided tour in English makes it much easier.

The guide can introduce you to local people (farmers, potters, craftsmen, etc.) so you can talk to them and ask questions. It makes your visit more enjoyable and educational. When it comes to outside visitors, rural folks always appreciate some kind of introduction. Just a simple introduction by someone they know is all it takes for them to open up their world, culture, and lifestyle to you. With the right connections, people in Shiga can be very friendly to foreigners. And Seita is that connection.

Pottery lesson in Shigaraki.

Calligraphy brush makers in Takashima.

Kabata water basin is used to wash or chill fruits and vegetables. Carp also eat food scraps from washed dishes.

YUtour’s most popular destinations are Harie (homes with “kabata” kitchen basins spewing natural spring water), Hata (farming community with terraced rice paddies), Shigaraki pottery centers, and Miho Museum. YUtour uses public transportation as much as possible so visitors can also experience what locals do. But if necessary, they will use a taxi or mini bus (for large groups). About 40 percent of YUtour customers are from the U.S., followed by Australians and Europeans. English-speaking tourists from Asia also take his tours.

Since YUtour is a small operation, Seita makes the tours a lot more personal, personable, and flexible than with large tour operators. He tells me that he never gets tired of taking people to the same places and explaining the same things over and over. It’s because his guests are all different and they all have different interests, questions, and opinions and he enjoys talking to them. Seita learns a lot from them as well. So it’s a very interactive tour and not just a one-way lecture about this and that. I asked him what was the most common comment he gets from his visitors to Shiga: “So peaceful here!” Yep, laid-back Shiga is definitely a refreshing and relaxing break from the craziness and crowds of Kyoto.

Cycling through rice paddies in Adogawa, Takashima.

Hand paddling a boat through reeds in Lake Nishinoko, Omi-Hachiman.

Old reeds around the lake are burned in early March to make way for new buds.

Seita started YUtour in 2012 as part of his noble mission to help revitalize rural communities. Bringing foreign tourists was one way to do it. The “YU” (悠) in YUtour means “leisurely” in Japanese. I believe YUtour was the first professional tour guide service to start up in Shiga exclusively for foreigners. When I first heard about it, I didn’t think it would be so viable since Shiga is so little known overseas.

Indeed, Seita did struggle to get customers during his first year in business. But he stuck with it and over the years, YUtour gradually became a very active and in-demand service. It has gained more customers as word spread, and it’s now on track for further growth. The increasing number of inbound tourists to Japan has also helped, and Seita is also seeing repeat customers. He is most busy in spring and fall when he can be booked for at least half the month. Least busy are the winter months.

He has also been spotlighted in local Japanese newspapers and NHK Otsu TV news in 2017. I’m so glad to see him come this far to establish a niche for himself in Shiga. It takes a lot of dedication and determination and he loves what he’s doing. Seita also works part-time as a research assistant at Kobe University, so he does have a side job to fall back on when YUtour is not so busy.

Seita (left) helps to clean waterways in Harie.

I met Seita-san for the first time about a year ago when I invited him to one of my events. We didn’t have time to talk then, so we finally met up again over lunch in Otsu earlier this month.

I could quickly tell that he was a dedicated, upright professional and very community-oriented and knowledgeable about Shiga. He is a licensed tour guide for foreigners (通訳案内士) which means he passed a difficult national exam for testing one’s English ability and knowledge of Japan. It’s surprising to hear that he has never studied or worked abroad, so his English was mostly self-taught. To get up to that level without living abroad (or being married to a native English speaker) is pretty amazing for a Japanese person. (Japan’s English education program in public schools has largely been a failure for decades, with the vast majority of students still unable to converse in English even at college age. Japan’s low-quality English found everywhere in tourism brochures, official websites, signs, etc., also does not help.)

He also has a Ph.D degree, so we had very intelligent conversations (in Japanese). Besides me interviewing him, we also discussed tourism issues in Shiga and Otsu.

On NHK TV in July 2017, Enryakuji spokesman commented on their English weakness.

One thing we talked about was Enryakuji Temple. Enryakuji recently admitted on NHK TV that they were not good at English PR. I told Seita that Enryakuji should just ask its overseas Tendai Buddhist temples to help produce English materials. I’m sure they would gladly help their headquarters temple produce the English for PR brochures, official website, and directional signs. They are native English speakers who know the religion and terminology, so they are very qualified to do it. When it comes to English PR, Enryakuji is way behind Koya-san in Wakayama Prefecture. Seita showed me the excellent English website for Kumano Kodo. Something that Enryakuji, Otsu, and Shiga could learn from.

Seita and I also agreed that Otsu’s push to develop Chuo-Odori road between Otsu Station and Lake Biwa for tourists is not so promising since there’s nothing at the end of the road (except for a hotel). Yes, there’s Lake Biwa, but there are other more convenient roads leading to the lake.

Otsu recently made a snazzy, eye-catching video just to promote that it’s only “9 minutes by train from Kyoto.” This should’ve been “Only 9 minutes TO Kyoto” instead. Have tourists stay in Otsu to visit Kyoto, rather than tourists staying in Kyoto to visit Otsu. People who lodge in Otsu drop more money than people who just visit Otsu, right? Otsu often serves as backup accommodations for people who can’t find hotel rooms in Kyoto anyway. So a “9 minutes TO Kyoto” campaign would have been more practical. Vice versa is a lot harder—getting tourists staying in Kyoto to visit central Otsu.

Theoretically, being so close to Kyoto might sound good, but it can also be disadvantageous. Tourists who want to get away from Kyoto may think Otsu is too close and prefer to venture further away. This may explain why Harie and Shigaraki (both taking at least an hour from Kyoto) are more popular to visit from Kyoto.

Well, I still give credit to Otsu for at least trying and coming up with ideas. But as I told Seita, I think Otsu is stuck in a hard place. It doesn’t have a trademark attraction like Hikone Castle in Hikone. Yes, there’s Enryakuji (World Heritage Site), but it’s almost part of Kyoto and most people go there from Kyoto. Otsu has other important Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but people who want to see temples/shrines might as well stay in Kyoto. There’s Lake Biwa and lake cruises, but the lake is not unique to Otsu. Otsu has a lot of things, but nothing stands out. So it lacks a strong and unique identity attractive to tourists.

Pottery kiln in Shigaraki.

And Shigaraki (in Koka), despite its fame and popularity with foreigners, still has no official tourism website in English. (Google Translate doesn’t count.) Selling their wares to foreigners should really help (especially with the Tokyo Olympics coming up). The Shigaraki pottery association should create an English website. Shigaraki hardly has info in English except for Miho Museum and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.

Too many people working in Shiga tourism still don’t understand the power and worldwide reach of the Internet and how a little language can go a long way. It’s hard to believe that there are still volunteer tour guides (mostly retirees) in Shiga who do not even use the Internet. (No emailing, no messaging, and no Web browsing.)

Anyway, I had a good discussion with Seita-san and we’ll be keeping in touch. YUtour provides a very valuable and rare service in Shiga. I think Seita represents Shiga very well as a grassroots cultural ambassador spreading the word about Shiga. I find him to be very friendly and affable. He is another example of how even one person can make a big difference in Shiga. It’s not snazzy videos nor slick brochures. It’s the word of mouth that counts the most and Seita Mori is on the front line for that.

To book a tour, go directly to the YUtour website. As of this writing, YUtour is not available for booking at travel sites like Expedia.

Website: http://www.yutour.net/
For more photos of his tours, see the Facebook page: https://ja-jp.facebook.com/yutour.net/

Miho Museum.

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
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