Summer 2012 in Shiga Prefecture

Hino hifuri

Hino Hifuri Torch Festival.

Japan has re-entered the age of nuclear power, starting with Shiga’s backyard. Despite widespread opposition, the Japanese government has given the green light to restart the Oi nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture, Japan’s mecca of nuclear power plants. On July 1, 2012, they began firing up two Oi nuclear power plants amid protests near the power plant and many thousands of protestors in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Tokyo. The protesters have received relatively little Japanese media attention. It’s no wonder because many news media executives (including NHK) also serve (or served) in executive positions at the power companies. The power companies have a lock on both the government and news media. It’s been a cozy relationship since decades ago. Prime Minister Noda and other Cabinet ministers are also mum on their reaction to the protesters, as if the protesters didn’t exist.

The media in Kansai is instead giving much attention to the possibility of rolling blackouts (called keikaku teiden 計画停電) and how they can affect businesses and how the police are preparing to deal with powerless traffic signals. I guess it’s a ploy to make us feel better about the Oi restart.

Although the weatherman is predicting an average, hot summer, we’re all hoping for a cool summer to minimize air-conditioning. The name of the game this summer is Power Conservation. From July to early Sept., the Kansai Region is being asked to save power by 15% or by 10% after the Oi nuclear power plants reach full output later this month.

Shiga Prefecture is encouraging residents to get out of their homes (and turn off the air-conditioning) by offering free admission to its prefectural cultural facilities on weekdays from July 23 to Aug. 31. Visit The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; Lake Biwa Museum; Samegai Trout Farm;  Azuchi Castle Archaeological Museum; and Shigaraki Ceramic Park for free. To enter for free, you have to show a printout of a flyer that will appear on this page. Or show a copy of the Shiga Plus One newsletter (July-Aug. issue 滋賀プラスワン 7・8月号). The free admission is apparently directed toward Shiga residents and not tourists. But they won’t be checking whether you’re a resident or not, so take advantage of this if you haven’t been to any of these worthwhile places whether you’re a Shiga resident or not.

Shiga receives electric power from Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) which depended on nuclear power generation for almost half of its power generation before the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. KEPCO’s dependence on nuclear power was the highest in Japan compared to other power companies. Thus, the shutdown of all its nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture dealt KEPCO the most serious shortfall in power.

Although Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada and the governors of Kyoto and Osaka voiced their initial opposition to the restart, they had little choice but to go along with Prime Minister Noda’s decision in the end. All that back-and-forth talk about the central government trying to gain the consent of local residents before any nuclear restart was just a smokescreen for a final decision that had been made long before.

What’s gonna happen if there’s another nuclear accident? What will happen to nearby Lake Biwa which supplies water to millions in the Kansai Region? How and where can residents evacuate in case of a nuclear accident? These and many other questions have been left unanswered. An expert pointed out that Oi’s large power generator trucks, which supposed to serve as a backup power source for the plant’s cooling systems, are parked right below a high concrete slope which can collapse onto the trucks during a large quake.

Nuclear reactors in a disaster-prone country like Japan is obviously a bad idea and it’s frightening to think that this situation has existed for so many decades with our nearly total ignorance of the vulnerabilities and dangers of nuclear power plants right in our backyard. Not to mention the hush-hush coverups when accidents occurred.

No one can trust the power companies, government, and media anymore whenever they tell us, “it’s safe.” We’ve always been told to be prepared for earthquakes, but never for nuclear accidents. Japan already has earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, floods, and volcanic eruptions to contend with and doesn’t need another threat for mass disaster. This Japan Times editorial sums up the current situation and my feelings very well:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/ed20120617a1.html#.T-EKOo4SoTM

Meanwhile, here are some of the many events, fireworks, and festivals in Shiga this summer (Web sites are in Japanese):

July 21, 2012 (Sat.), 7 pm-8:40 pm – Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri, Higashi-Omi 八日市聖徳まつり
Folk dance festival in front of Yokaichi Station on the Omi Railways. Hundreds of people will dance the Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) which is a bon dance and folk song native to Shiga. First there will be a parade of mascot characters from 7 pm to 7:40 pm, followed by the folk dancers from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm.
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

July 28, 2012 (Sat.), 3 pm – Shigaraki Fire Festival, Koka しがらき火まつり
Impressive procession of 700 torches following a 2.2 km route from the Shigaraki Chiiki Shimin Center (甲賀市信楽地域市民センター) to the Atago area starting at 7:45 pm. The procession is 50 min. long. Followed by fireworks until 10 pm.
http://www.shigaraki.or.jp/fire_fes/index.htm

July 28-29, 2012 (Sat. from 8 am, Sun. from 6 am), Japan International Birdman Rally, Hikone 鳥人間コンテスト
Held annually since 1977, contestants from all over Japan compete to see who can fly the furthest over Lake Biwa in their handmade and human-powered flying contraptions. On Sat., they will hold time trials for propeller planes and the glider contest. On Sun., human-powered propeller planes will compete for distance. The event is held on Matsubara Beach in Hikone, right near the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. Note that the event schedule/holding is subject to weather conditions. If it’s too windy (typhoon), it can be canceled or postponed. Sponsored by Yomiuri TV who will broadcast the contest on a later date. http://www.ytv.co.jp/birdman/index.html

Mizunomori Lotus Pond. Click image to see more photos.

July 28-29, 2012, Mizunomori Lotus Festival, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu みずの森 ハス祭り
Karasuma Peninsula includes Lake Biwa Museum and a huge lotus field that blooms in July. The weekend festival is scheduled to have some musical entertainment (taisho koto and yoshibue reed flutes).
http://www.mizunomori.jp/index.php?flg=topics&sflg=798&eref=20120728

Aug. 1, 2012 (Mon.), 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm – Hikone Fireworks 彦根大花火大会
On Matsubara Beach, spectacular fireworks over the lake, including a 15-min. finale. Expect a large crowd. If canceled due to foul weather, it will be postponed to Aug. 2. Shuttle buses will be provided from JR Hikone Station taking you to the Hikone Sports Ground (県立彦根総合運動場) from where you walk to the beach for 15 min. http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/hanabi

Taga Taisha Lantern Festival. Click to see more images.

Aug. 3-5, 2012 (Fri.-Sun.), 7 pm – 9:30 pm – Taga Taisha Mantosai Lantern Festival 多賀大社万燈祭
Held at Taga Taisha Shrine in Taga, the Mantosai or 10,000-Lantern Festival is a beautiful night festival when over 10,000 paper lanterns are lit within the shrine grounds from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. The donated lanterns are for the repose of ancestral spirits. Various sacred dances and entertainment are also held nightly during the weekend festival.
http://www.tagataisya.or.jp/info/mantou/index.html

B-kyu food fair

Long lines at Shiga’s 1st B-kyu Gourmet Battle in Otsu. Click to see more images.

Aug. 4-5, 2012 (Sat.-Sun.), 11 am-9 pm – Shiga B-class Gourmet Battle, Otsu 滋賀B級グルメバトル
B-class gourmet (B-kyu in Japanese) is food that is cheap and aimed at the working class. It also includes good ‘ol home cooking. The Hama-Otsu lakefront (near Hama-Otsu Station on the Keihan Line) will have 60 food booths serving cheap food (priced from 100 to 500 yen) using homegrown ingredient(s) from Shiga such as Omi-gyu beef, red konyaku (devil’s tongue), and fish from Lake Biwa. It is a “battle” or contest where the food booths receive popular votes (via disposable chopsticks) from customers. A jazz festival will also be held and fireworks on both nights at 8:50 pm. Note that the food booths require tickets instead of cash. You can buy 1,000-yen ticket books having ten 100 yen tickets. The food festival was held for the first time last July and turned out to be wildly popular with a total of 120,000 people attending over the two-day period. It was so crowded and many booths ran out of food quickly. Best to go early. I only dread the summer heat, standing in long lines in front of the popular booths. Fortunately, even the not-so-popular food booths were good. Read my report for last year here.
http://www.b-shiga.com/

Aug. 6, 2012 (Mon.), 7:30 pm-8:30 pm – Nagahama Kita-Biwako Fireworks, 長浜・北びわ湖大花火大会
I thought last year was the last time Nagahama would hold their fireworks, but looks like they are having it again this summer. Details are sketchy as of this writing. To be held near Nagahama Port which is a god-awful, tiny place to watch it unless you reserve a space early.

Aug. 8, 2012 (Wed.), 7:15 pm-8:30 pm – Hikone Music and Dance Contest (Hikone-bayashi So-Odori Taikai) 彦根ばやし総おどり大会
Lively festival music and dance parade along Hikone’s main shopping streets centering in Ginza. The street will also be festooned with Tanabata streamers (during Aug. 4-8).
http://www.hikoneshi.com/media/download/2012_summer.pdf

Biwako hanabi

Hama-Otsu on Biwako fireworks day. Tall walls block your view.

Aug. 8, 2012 (Wed.), 7:30 pm-8:30 pm – Biwako Fireworks, Otsu びわ湖大花火大会
Big display, but a steep admission (around 4,000 yen) is charged in prime viewing areas along Hama-Otsu. Hama-Otsu Port will be totally walled off so you cannot see the fireworks from the street. Farther away is the free area along Nagisa Park which is terribly crowded with people reserving viewing spots from noon. Spectacular show, but have fun trying to get home via the tiny nearby train stations or gridlocked roads afterward. Foul weather will postpone it to Aug. 10. (If the weather is questionable, call 0180-99-3339 to find out if the fireworks will be held or not.)
http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/hanabi/

Aug. 14-15, 2012 (Tue.-Wed.) – Hifuri Torch Festival, Hino 火ふり祭
Held for two evenings during the obon season (photo at top). Participants light their torches at Gosha Shrine and tap the torches on the road as they proceed to Hibarino park where the torches are thrown up to a large pine tree. The more torches get stuck on the tree, the better the next harvest will be. Near Hino Station (Ohmi Railways).
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hino-to/099.html

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

Aug. 17, 2012 (Fri.), 5 pm (boats depart), 8 pm-9 pm (fireworks) – Takebe Taisha Senko-sai Festival, Seta River, Otsu 船幸祭・瀬田川花火大会
One of Otsu’s Big Three Festivals, the Senko-sai is a portable shrine procession on boats going down Setagawa River from Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge to Nango sluice and back. Held annually by Takebe Taisha Shrine (worships legendary warrior Yamato Takeru) near the bridge. The festival starts at 5 pm when the portable shrines leave the shrine, and climaxes with fireworks on Seta River after the boats return at about 8:00 pm. The festival attracts few spectators (unlike the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka), but large crowds start to gather in the evening for the riverside fireworks starting after the festival boats arrive back at 8 pm. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line.
http://takebetaisha.jp/event/

Aug. 18, 2012 (Sat.), 8:30 pm – Makino Highland Reed Torch Festival, Makino, Takashima マキノ高原ヨシたいまつ祭り
The festivities start at noon climaxing at 8:30 pm with the lighting of numerous reed torches dotting the grassy highland area and ending with fireworks.  The festival event schedule is yet to be determined as of this writing. From JR Makino Station (Kosei Line), take the “town bus” and get off at Makino Kogen Onsen Sarasa (マキノ高原温泉さらさ). Buses leave Makino Station once an hour until 6 pm (schedule here).
http://www.makinokougen.co.jp/yoshitaimatsu.html

And don’t forget the white sand beaches on the western shores of Lake Biwa like Omi-Maiko for swimming. Wishing you all a cool summer, in more ways than one.

Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day (set to April 30 this year since the 29th is Sun.), May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day. This year’s calendar in 2012 can make it a nine-day holiday for the working folk if they only take off on two working days (May 1 and 2).

In Shiga, it is prime time for matsuri festivals. There are so many matsuri during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see. The festivals will be extra special this year because many GW festivals were canceled or postponed last year due to the 3/11 triple disasters.

Here are some of the GW matsuri I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure. Click on the image to see more photos and information of the respective festival. Maps of the shrine locations, etc., are provided by the Map links.

Kusatsu shukuba

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri.

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Near JR Kusatsu Station.

kaizu rikishi

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri Festival in Makino, Takashima.

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station in northern Takashima. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. See my video here. Google Map

hino matsuri

Hino Matsuri at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: Hino Matsuri in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. See my video here. Google Map

Kenketo matsuri

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社).

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

Kenketo ryuo

May 3: Kenketo Festival at Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: The Kenketo Festival is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Also see my YouTube Video here. Google Map

Shichikawa matsuri

May 4: Shichikawa Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. See my video here. Google Map

Omizuo matsuri

May 4: Omizo Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: Omizo Matsuri has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

 Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri in Higashi-Omi near Notogawa Station.

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. See my video here. Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Google Map

misaki

May 4: Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho, near JR Inae Station.

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. See my video here. Google Map

Hyozu matsuri

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri in Yasu.

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. See my video here. Google Map

Sushikiri matsuri

May 5: Sushi-kiri Matsuri at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

naginata moriyama

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

Namura sekku

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival bull’s eye at Namura Shrine in Ryuo. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. See my video here. Google Map

Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri canceled

The Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri Festival is canceled for 2011.

Many festivals (matsuri) in Japan are being canceled or scaled back in consideration of the Tohoku disaster. It’s unfortunate since spring is prime time for festivals.

The Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri festival scheduled for April 23-24, 2011 has been canceled. It’s too bad since it’s a nice festival highlighted by a parade of women in kimono and men in samurai costume.

I hope cancellation of matsuri will be minimal. Of course, we all feel sad about what happened in Tohoku, but cancelling these events where we can get together and relieve stress makes it more demoralizing and somber. Look at the TV stations, they continue to broadcast comedy shows.

Omi-Hachiman’s Sagicho Matsuri was held as scheduled in March even after the Tohoku disaster, albeit with less revelry. For those who had worked meticulously for months on their sagicho floats, cancelling the festival would make it a great waste.

Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri official Web site here.

Google Maps street views of Shiga

Google Map street view of Shirahige Shrine

Google Map street view of Shirahige Shrine

Google Maps now show street views of Shiga Prefecture.

On March 11, 2010, Google has started to post photos of the streets of Shiga, mainly in Otsu, Kusatsu, and the road going around Lake Biwa. No doubt, they will keep posting street views of more roads in Shiga as they become available.

Street views are panoramic photos stitched together, showing the streets and scenery along the road. It is very convenient for people looking for a place or directions to somewhere. It’s a great reference for bicyclists wanting to cycle around Lake Biwa too. You can see the terrain and road conditions before you leave.

Just go to Google Maps and drag the standing man icon to a street highlighted in blue. You can then navigate around by clicking on directional arrows in the street view or by moving the standing man icon around on the map.

Note that the current street view images of Shiga were shot two years ago. Some scenery (buildings, etc.) might be out of date.

Breaking news: Swine flu hits Shiga, schools closed

On the morning of May 20, 2009, Shiga’s first case of swine flu has been confirmed. A 23-year-old male student at the Biwako-Kusatsu campus of Ritsumeikan University has been confirmed as the first patient. His symptoms are not serious and will be hospitalized. None of the swine flu cases in Japan have proved to be fatal. It seems to be similar to seasonal flu.

The student lives in Otsu and was visiting his parents’ home in Kobe during May 15-18. In Kobe, he worked part-time at a fast-food place where a high school student also working there was later diagnosed with swine flu.

He attended university classes in Kusatsu on the 18th. They are now contacting his classmates who had classes with him at the university.

Ritsumeikan University and most of Shiga’s public schools (especially in Shiga’s six southern cities) will be closed for seven days starting today. Many public and sports events have also been cancelled. Shiga is Japan’s third prefecture hit with swine flu.

School trips to Shiga are being canceled one after another. One school switched its trip from Shiga to Kyoto which I cannot understand. Matter of time before Kyoto gets it too.

Watch all the surgical masks sell out in Shiga from today.

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