Videos of 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, May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day.

It is prime time for matsuri festivals in Japan and Shiga has a load of them. There are so many matsuri in Shiga 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.

Here is a collection of my video clips (in varying quality) of Golden Week festivals I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure.


Video link: https://youtu.be/xYQujzeDO8o

April 29: Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-buri Procession (坂田神明宮の蹴り奴振り) in Maibara reenacts the procession of Lord Ii Naonobu from Hikone when he came to worship at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine (坂田神明宮) in 1733 in Maibara. The men walk with a stylized, kicking action. It starts with a Shinto ceremony which includes dancing by shrine maidens. Starts at 2 pm at Sakata Shinmeigu Shrine near JR Sakata Station (Hokuriku Line). Photos | Website | Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/CzLvxfAJkQc

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri (草津宿場まつり) 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 11:45 am (from city hall) to 3:40 pm (Kusatsu Station East Exit). Near JR Kusatsu Station. Photos | Official site | Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/86wY3dOgLEw

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri (海津力士まつり) 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 (or lit-up smartphone) so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/S5CG04vUdMA

May 3: Hino Matsuri (日野祭) 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. They also hold a festival eve on the evening of May 2. 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. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/59UfQMWjkZY

May 3: Kenketo Odori (ケンケト踊り) 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. Starting in the early afternoon at the shrine, 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. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/isdfpgLUa54

May 3: The Kenketo Festival (ケンケト祭り) 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. Photos | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/JW0sE2IXIQM

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri (七川祭) 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. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/110DRdk9c5s

May 4: Omizo Matsuri (大溝祭) 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. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/r_FYQwW_l-4

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri (伊庭の坂下し祭) 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. Photos | Website | Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

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

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi (篠田の花火) 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. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/lSjPZkbGhS4

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival (御崎神社 火まつり) 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. Photos | WebsiteGoogle Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/XqVS_P7Nccg


Video link: https://youtu.be/OtzUyyFVTdc

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri (兵主祭) 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. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/0_4CjYXHCls

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri (すし切りまつり) 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. From Moriyama Station, take the bus and get off at  Shimoniikawa Jinja. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/1-Ti5JQTt_o

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri (長刀踊り まつり) at Ozu Jinja Shrine (小津神社) 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. Photos | Website | Google Map


Video link: https://youtu.be/PU7an9F3GdQ

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival (苗村神社 節句祭) 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. Photos | Website | Google Map

Buddhist altars made in Shiga Prefecture

Butsudan woodcarver Mori Tesso in Maibara.

Butsudan woodcarver Mori Tesso in Maibara.

Updated: May 7, 2017

Shiga Prefecture has three handicrafts officially designated as a “Traditional Craft” by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (経済産業大臣指定伝統的工芸品). “Traditional crafts” as defined by the Japanese government are handicrafts used in everyday life that are largely handmade using traditional techniques and traditional materials. And they are made in a specific area.

Shiga’s three designated traditional crafts are Omi jofu hemp cloth (近江上布), Shigaraki pottery (信楽焼), and Hikone butsudan (彦根仏壇) or household Buddhist altars made in Hikone.

Japan has over thirty cities and areas that produce household Buddhist altars (“butsudan” in Japanese). Fifteen of them are officially designated as a “Traditional Craft Production Area” (伝統的工芸品産地指定) by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. These areas include the cities of Yamagata, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Niigata, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima, and Hikone. They all have been making butsudan since the Edo Period. In 1975, Hikone butsudan became Japan’s first butsudan to be officially designated as a “traditional craft.”

Hikone butsudan is thus one of Shiga’s signature products. However, Shiga actually has two traditional butsudan manufacturing areas. Besides Hikone butsudan made in Hikone and MaibaraHama butsudan (浜仏壇), commonly called “Hama-dan” (浜壇) which is short for “Nagahama butsudan,” is made in Nagahama, Maibara, and Hikone. Although Hikone butsudan is more famous nationally due to its official designation, Hama-dan is not inferior in any way. Interesting how the Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan production bases are right next to each other, but they have different origins, histories, and designs. Since there is virtually zero English information about Hama-dan, this article will also shed some light on Hama-dan.

butsudan

Hikone butsudan and certified craftsman.

butsudan

Hama-dan Buddhist altar in Mori Tesso’s home. Guess how much it cost? (Read below.)

Chube'e

Buddhist altar room in Itoh Chube’e Memorial House in Toyosato.

Traditional butsudan are like miniature Buddhist temples in Japanese homes. They are more common in rural (old) Japanese-style homes (with tatami mats) than in urban condominiums/apartments. A Japanese-style home may even have a Buddhist altar room called butsuma (仏間) designed for a large butsudan to fit into an alcove.

Japanese families keep a butsudan to memorialize and pray to deceased family members and ancestors. Photos of the recently deceased or small vertical tablets (ihai) inscribed with their names may adorn or complement the butsudan along with various Buddhist implements (candle holders, rice offering holders, incense burner, bell, etc.). They all direct attention to the butsudan’s central figure that is usually a Buddha statue or scroll. While praying in front of the butsudan, a family member might even “talk” or “report” to the deceased about their lives and achievements.

During the obon season in mid-August and on the anniversary of a family member’s passing, the family may hire a Buddhist priest to conduct a memorial service in front of their household Buddhist altar. The butsudan thereby unifies and bonds living family members as it reminds them of their common ancestors. And it’s much more convenient than going to the gravesite to pray to the deceased.

The practice of keeping a Buddhist altar at home is unique to Japan. They don’t do it in other Buddhist countries like Thailand. It supposedly began in the Kamakura Period (1185–1333), but it didn’t spread until the Edo Period in the 17th century. When Christians were being persecuted in Japan, butsudan is said to have spread among families who wanted to show that they were not Christian. However, fewer and fewer modern homes in Japan today are designed to have a butsudan, so fewer and fewer families buy and keep a butsudan.

Butsudan is not to be confused with kami-dana (神棚) which are household Shinto altars (miniature Shinto shrines). Keeping a household altar is a common practice in both Buddhism and Shinto. But butsudan and kami-dana altars look totally different and serve different functions.

Kami

Kami-dana household Shinto altar in a Hino merchant’s home.

dana

Kami-dana for sale.

The household Shinto altar is generally less ornate (mostly bare wood) and smaller than butsudan and are mounted high on a shelf toward the ceiling. It is usually dedicated to a local Shinto god or the god of one’s profession. Household members commonly pray to kami-dana for family safety, good health, and business prosperity. Kami-dana is quite common among business owners.

In a nutshell, butsudan are dedicated to the deceased, while kami-dana are dedicated to the living. Also, you don’t have to be Buddhist to keep a butsudan nor a Shinto believer to have a kami-dana. A home may even have both, as many Japanese worship or respect both Buddhism and Shinto. Families commonly hold both Shinto weddings and Buddhist funerals even though Shinto funerals and Buddhist weddings are perfectly fine. Even professional sumo wrestlers commonly have Buddhist funerals (sumo is a Shinto sport). When it comes to religion in Japan, things are not so black and white.

Besides serving spiritual and family functions, the traditional butsudan is a major assemblage of intricate, elaborate, and ornate artwork. It provides the livelihoods of highly-skilled traditional craftsmen and artisans required to make a butsudan. There are at least seven types of traditional craftsmen involved in making a butsudan: Cabinet maker (kiji-shi 木地師) who makes the wooden exterior cabinet, inner altar builder (kuden-shi 宮殿師) who makes the butsudan’s inner sanctum complete with a temple-like roof, woodcarver (chokoku-shi 彫刻師) who carves the transoms and Buddha statue, lacquer painter (nuri-shi 漆塗り師) who lacquers the cabinet, gold leaf gilder (kinpaku-oshi-shi 金箔押し師), metallic ornament maker (kazari-kanagu-shi 錺金具師) who makes metallic fittings and ornaments, and maki-e artist (makie-shi 蒔絵師) who creates lacquer decorations with sprinkled gold powder. The butsudan parts are then assembled by the butsudan shop that received the customer’s order. The best traditional craftsmen can also be certified with the official title of “Traditional Craftsman” (伝統工芸士) from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Installing a metallic fitting on Hikone butsudan.

Attaching a metallic hinge on Hikone butsudan door.

butsudan

Hikone butsudan is very gold.

Hikone butsudan is classified as a kin-butsudan (gold Buddhist altar 金仏壇) in reference to the abundant use of gold leaf (made of 95%+ pure gold). Like Kanazawa butsudan in Ishikawa Prefecture (famous for gold leaf) and Kyoto butsudan, Hikone butsudan looks very gold and is regarded as a high-end butsudan. The lacquer is glossy and the wood is usually hinoki cypress, zelkova (keyaki), or Japanese cedar.

Hikone butsudan originated in the mid-Edo Period (17th-18th centuries). Traditional craftsmen such as cabinet makers, lacquerware artists, and metallic ornament makers who had produced samurai swords, helmets, armor, etc., switched to making Buddhist altars as a peaceful pursuit during the peaceful Edo Period. It started with a lacquerware merchant who made a butsudan after learning from Kyoto butsudan sometime during 1624-44. As household Buddhist altars became more common, the Hikone daimyo (Ii Clan) officially sanctioned and protected the butsudan makers’ livelihoods. Many of these craftsmen lived in the Nanamagari area (七曲がり) of Hikone where a number of butsudan craftsmen and shops still remain while other craftsmen are scattered about in Hikone. In Nanamagari, you can visit butsudan shops and perhaps see an artisan at work or take a workshop in one of the butsudan crafts. In autumn, they hold the Nanamagari Festa (七曲がりフェスタ) with butsudan craftsmen demonstrating their art and offering hands-on lessons for the public.

With the backing of the local daimyo, Hikone’s butsudan industry developed into an efficient production system and became one of Hikone’s major traditional industries. After World War II, Hikone butsudan makers established their own guild and product inspection system to improve and assure the quality of their products. Traditional butsudan are usually signed and dated by the maker or artisan.

Hikiyama

Nagahama Hikiyama festival float (Shojo-maru).

chidori

Hama-dan has a top-edge, bare wood transom and inner roof with three triangular chidori-hafu. The roof’s center is similar to the roof of Nagahama Hikiyama Festival floats.

Meanwhile, Hama-dan Buddhist altars have kind of a confusing history since there was the original Izumi-dan (和泉壇) which has since been grouped together with Hama-dan. Technically, Izumi-dan and Hama-dan have separate lineages and both still exist, but I’m told Izumi-dan is quite rare now due to its high price range and it has since been commonly called Hama-dan. Izumi-dan has a unique kind of sculpture or style that a butsudan expert can distinguish from a Hama-dan. Izumi-dan is named after a prominent Nagahama carpenter and woodcarver named Fujioka Izumi (藤岡 和泉 1617–1705) who specialized in carving lotuses and clouds. He gained fame after creating highly-rated woodcarvings for Izumi Shrine in Nagahama. He made butsudan as well.

Izumi favored making butsudan with less gold leaf and more bare wood than Hikone butsudan and Kyoto butsudan. For example, the wood-carved transom (sama) on the altar’s top edge is bare wood and not gold like on Hikone butsudan. He used zelkova (an expensive and durable wood) for the transom and hinoki cypress for the cabinet and included much maki-e lacquer art.

Another distinctive feature is the Hama-dan’s inner altar roof. It looks a like castle roof with multiple ridges and decorative triangular gables called chidori-hafu (千鳥破風). They make the butsudan look very dignified.

Izumi’s descendants/associates also made the first hikiyama floats for the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri in the 18th century when kabuki became popular. The design of the hikiyama floats was modeled after the Izumi-dan Buddhist altars. In the photos above, you can how the roof design of the hikiyama float and butsudan are similar. Hikone butsudan has a different type of inner roof.

The Fujioka family helped to build and maintain the ornate Nagahama hikiyama floats. However today, the Fujioka family is no longer in this business and the floats are maintained by butsudan craftsmen.

Despite the different designs of Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan, both types can be configured to suit any Japanese Buddhist sect. Although the Jodo Shinshu Sect favors gold butsudan (like Hikone/Kyoto butsudan), a Jodo Shinshu family can still use a Hama-dan instead. I’m told that most Jodo Shinshu families in Nagahama and Maibara have a Hama-dan. (The butsudan in my home in Shiga is a Hama-dan as well.) Hama-dan is also reputed to be bigger than Hikone butsudan. Although I’m sure a (rich) customer can custom order a Hikone butsudan in any large size. I’m told that Hikone butsudan has a nationwide market base, while Hama-dan customers are mainly limited to northern Shiga.

Even though they are neighbors, it’s nice that Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan have retained their unique characteristics all these centuries. They also share some of the craftsmen who make butsudan parts for both Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan.

Mori Tesso in his workshop.

Mori Tesso in his workshop.

Mori Tesso and a dragon.

Mori Tesso and a dragon.

In September 2015, we visited one such craftsman, a very accomplished and versatile 70-year-old woodcarver (and painter) named Mori Tesso (森 哲荘) who lives and works in Kami-nyu (上丹生) in the city of Maibara. Out of the seven traditional butsudan craftsmen, I was most interested in the woodcarvers. After all, they make the Buddha statues that become the focal point of the butsudan. An online search led me to Mori Tesso at Mori Chokokusho (森彫刻所), a modest woodcarving studio next to his house. He has been a woodcarver in Kami-nyu for 55 years since age 15, right after junior high school. I got an exclusive interview and tour of their studio.

Kami-nyu is a small, rural enclave of butsudan craftsmen in a quiet, mountainous neighborhood in the Samegai area (on the way to the trout farm). There are cabinet makers, woodcarvers, gold leaf gilders, lacquer painters, etc. To have all these traditional craftsman in one place is quite rare in Japan. They make butsudan parts for both Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan, although such work has decreased dramatically.

Kami-nyu’s history goes back to the Tempyo Period (729–749) when a clan related to the Imperial Court lived in this area. Through their connections, they were exposed to cultural information and techniques from Korea and China. Kami-nyu thereby developed as a center of highly refined culture. In the early 19th century, two Kami-nyu teenage lads, 14-year-old Ueda Yusuke (上田勇助), who was the son of a shrine/temple carpenter, and friend Kawaguchi Shichiemon (川口七右衛門), spent 12 years in Kyoto to learn traditional woodcarving. When Yusuke came back to Kami-nyu, he worked as a woodcarver for local temples. Since the area was mountainous with little farmland, people in Kami-nyu made a living cutting trees and making woodcarvings for temples, shrines, and festival floats.

In the late 19th century (mid-Meiji Period), Yusuke’s son and successor (Yusuke II) ventured to make woodcarvings for Hama-dan, further refining his skills. Other butsudan craftsmen from different disciplines also started to settle in Kami-nyu. Kami-nyu thereby transformed from a woodcarvers’ neighborhood into a traditional crafts village that continues today. It’s a family business or cottage industry and most everything is handmade. They work separately, but as a team. There are no large, mass production factories. (Yusuke’s current descendants are no longer woodcarvers.)

Kami-nyu has a few butsudan shops (仏壇店) where you can custom order a butsudan to suit your budget and preferences. Many customers have their traditional butsudan custom-made. The shop will then mobilize and coordinate the traditional craftsmen in Kami-nyu to make the butsudan parts to be assembled by the shop.

Although the Kami-nyu craftsmen’s mainstay used to be making butsudan parts, their numbers have sadly shrunk dramatically due to a lack of work. The surviving ones now do mostly other work, any type of job that matches their skills (and fees). It could be a transom in a new house, restoration or repair work for temples, shrines, large altars, butsudan, kami-dana, and festival floats. They are highly versatile craftsmen.

Mori Tesso shows a drawing of a carving to be made for a roof part.

Mori Tesso shows a drawing of a carving to be made for a roof part.

Mori Tesso is a second-generation Kami-nyu woodcarver taking after his late father Hideo (秀男) who started the family trade. He was pretty much forced into the profession by his father who insisted that there were skills that can only be acquired at a young age. Tesso originally did not care so much for woodcarving and wanted to continue on to high school instead. However, after learning the craft from his father and older brother Nozomu, Tesso came to love woodcarving and feels fortunate to have pursued it. Look at his works and you will see that he is very good.

Hideo, born in 1900, apprenticed under a butsudan woodcarver in Kyoto after elementary school. He eventually became a master woodcarver. The post-war years were tough for him as people were too poor to buy butsudan. Old butsudan were often sold to feed the family.

As Japan recovered and people could afford to buy butsudan again, Hideo worked in Kyoto and trained many apprentices including his elder son Nozomu who started in 1951 after junior high school. Nozomu has been carving for over 60 years and lives in Kami-nyu.

Buddha

Butsudan Buddha statue carved by Mori Hideo.

Unfortunately, Hideo died at age 64, only three years after Tesso started carving. Tesso was quite saddened by his father’s passing and started dabbling in drawing and painting. But after getting married in 1973, he buckled down and pursued butsudan woodcarving seriously for a steady income. It takes at least 10 years to master the craft, and another 10 years to become a more versatile woodcarver.

He soon had two sons, Yasuichiro (靖一郎) and Tetsuo (徹雄), both of whom became woodcarvers themselves. Yasuichiro started training under his father and Uncle Nozomu at age 20 after graduating from a junior art college. Younger son Tetsuo apprenticed under his Uncle Nozomu as a woodcarver after high school. Both Yasuichiro and Tetsuo have been been carving for over 20 years now, so both are already master woodcarvers. Like his father, Yasuichiro has been certified by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry as a Traditional Craftsman for Hikone butsudan (彦根仏壇伝統工芸士). (There is no such certification for Hama-dan.) The two sons were not home during our visit so I didn’t get to meet them.

chisels

Mori Tesso and some of his many chisels.

The Moris live along the river flowing through Kami-nyu and Samegai. Their immediate neighbor is another craftsman and there is also butsudan shop right nearby. Their woodcarving studio is in a separate building next to their home. The studio is a fairly spacious room for three woodcarvers to work. They all face a window so they can look outside once in a while. Tesso carves while sitting at a low table which is actually a thick plank of wood. He sits on the floor, but his legs stretch out into a sunken pit. He has many little drawers for an arsenal of many different chisels. Kami-nyu is a quiet and relaxing place to do intricate work.

He showed us a variety of wood sculptures. He sketches the carving on the wood or paper, then makes a rough carving with a hammer and chisel. The final stages are fine carving. If there is a human face, he carves it last, as it is the most difficult part to carve. They don’t use sandpaper, etc., to smooth the surface either. It’s all smoothed with a chisel. This skill itself takes a few years to master.

Besides butsudan carvings, the Moris carve sculptures for shrines and temples (roof beams, transoms, etc.), wooden signboards for businesses, wooden picture frames, and festival floats. They can basically carve whatever the customer wants. They also repair butsudan sculptures. They do have ready-made sculptures for sale, but it seems that they mainly produce custom orders.

Tesso is a very, very versatile artist. He can carve all kinds of things. Just look at their website gallery for samples of their work. They also sell their work online via Yahoo Japan. An incredible variety. The Mori family also carved part of the impressive woodcarving mural displayed at Maibara Station’s east entrance. The mural shows Maibara’s major sights like Mt. Ibuki (top center) and Mishima Pond carved in wood.

Mural at Maibara Station by Kami-nyu woodcarvers.

Mural at Maibara Station by Kami-nyu woodcarvers.

After showing us his workshop, he brought us into his home where we saw a large Hama-dan in his Buddhist altar room (top photo). He made the butsudan with all the woodcarvings except for the Buddha statue that was carved by his father. Tesso told me that one customer saw this butsudan and immediately decided that he wanted one exactly like it. So Tesso had one made exactly like it. The cost? Ten million yen (!).

Indeed, high-end (i.e. large size and ornate), traditional butsudan can cost more than the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz luxury car (S-Class). On the other hand, there are also simplified and compact butsudan called “modern butsudan” (モダン仏壇) which cost a lot less than traditional butsudan. Modern butsudan are basically wooden cabinets sans woodcarvings and major artwork. Average size models (about 60 cm high) can cost around ¥150,000 or more, but when you throw in the standard implements (rice offering holders, candle holders, bell, etc.) and Buddha figure or scroll, it can total around ¥300,000 or more. Modern butsudan are geared for city dwellers and condos where space is limited.

Also, there is a lot of imported butsudan (or parts) from countries like China and Vietnam where labor is much cheaper than in Japan. Imported butsudan started to spread in Japan from the 1990s. They now account for about 70 percent of the butsudan sold in Japan.

Tesso tells me that these imported butsudan pose the biggest challenge or competition to the traditional craftsmen. Sadly, the number of traditional butsudan craftsmen has decreased significantly and the Moris no longer carve for butsudan that much. He says that they have been adapting and adjusting to such market conditions. Traditional craftsmen in Japan are now basically relegated to the high-end market. They are also supported by purists who still favor “Made in Japan” butsudan and other crafts, citing subtle differences in the artwork of imported models. For example, dragon sculptures on imported butsudan may look too “Chinese.” Some butsudan shops proudly indicate that their butsudan are “Made in Japan.” Otherwise, we cannot tell if it is imported or not.

Modern

Even modern butsudan are quite diverse. These are 50-60 cm tall.

During a quick tour of butsudan shops in Tokyo, I was surprised to see so many modern and imported butsudan. Even though the modern ones are more suited for urban families and Western-style homes, it’s still sad to see how the traditional butsudan are being squeezed out. The lower prices of modern/imported butsudan are no doubt very tempting for the average worshipper.

People in the market for a butsudan have a very, very wide selection. Whether it’s traditional or modern, large or small, cheap or expensive, or plain or ornate. Unlike electrical appliances, cars, and furniture, there are no corporate brands of butsudan. There are only traditional regional brands and anonymous brands (modern or imported). Hikone butsudan and Hama-dan are no doubt among Japan’s elite butsudan that can last for generations.

Even if you’re not Buddhist/religious or have no plans to buy a butsudan, I hope this article makes you appreciate the fine artwork that goes into a traditional butsudan and piques your interest to try and identify any butsudan you might sooner or later see in Shiga.

*Special thanks to Mori Tesso for showing us his workplace and sculptures and to Yasuichiro for answering my supplemental questions.

Major references for this article:

Happy 50th Anniversary Tokaido Shinkansen

Shinkansen

Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki.

Happy 50th anniversary to the Tokaido Shinkansen! The world’s first high-speed train. After about 5 years of construction and test runs, it was on Oct. 1, 1964 when the shinkansen “bullet train” started commercial service between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka Stations. It initially took 4 hours (via Hikari trains) to cover the 515 km (320 mi.) distance at a maximum speed of 210 km/hour (130 mph). By Nov. 1965, travel time was shortened to 3 hr 10 min., and now it’s 2 hr. 25 min. via Nozomi trains. Before the shinkansen, it took 6.5 hours between Tokyo and Osaka by train. A commemorative ceremony was held this morning on Oct. 1, 2014 at Tokyo Station next to the first shinkansen departing at 6 am.

Maibara

Original 0-series (1st generation) shinkansen at Maibara Station.

Shiga is fortunate to have Maibara Station as a shinkansen station. They first wanted Hikone to be the shinkansen station since it had a higher population, but construction would be more expensive and people in the Hokuriku Region (Fukui, Kanazawa, and Toyama) wanted Maibara Station since it was closer to them. After the shinkansen opened, people in the Hokuriku Region usually transferred trains at Maibara to go to Tokyo or Osaka. And those of us in northern Shiga lucked out with the shinkansen stopping at Maibara. (People in southern Shiga used Kyoto Station.) It was highly unusual to have a shinkansen station in a town (Maihara-cho) rather than a city. Of course, Maibara is now a city.

Generations of kids and adults alike are still awed whenever they see a shinkansen whizzing by. I have to say “Arigato” to the shinkansen for transporting me safely and quickly many times. Sometimes it wasn’t so comfortable when it was standing room only. For peak travel times, I wish they offered a cheaper, standing-room only ticket. I also wish they had more room for large pieces of luggage. I remember the double-decker shinkansen and dining room car on the upper deck. The first time I saw Mt. Fuji was from the shinkansen on a clear winter day. The attendant pushing the cart selling food and drinks used to look like a kitchen worker. Now they look like an airline stewardess. Lots of memories.

I’m posting photos of the original 0-series shinkansen trains. This is the original “bullet train” that was in service from 1964 to the mid-1980s on the Tokaido Shinkansen. The design of shinkansen trains has evolved dramatically since then, especially changes to the nose. Call me sentimental, but I never liked any of the latter nose designs (sometimes looking like a duckbill or platypus). Why tamper with perfection and a worldwide icon? The original bullet nose looked perfect to me.

shinkansen

First-generation Hikari shinkansen passing through Maibara Station.

The Japan Post Office is also marking the anniversary by selling a set of five die-cut postcards. One of the cards show a 300-series Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki. The set costs ¥1,100.

Tokaido Shinkansen postcard set

Tokaido Shinkansen postcard set

Upper right card shows Mt. Ibuki.

Upper right card shows Mt. Ibuki.

If you’ve never seen the original 0-series shinkansen train, you should visit a train museum such as the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya and Railway Museum in Omiya (Saitama). In spring 2016, the Kyoto Railway Museum will open as well.

Here’s a good visual history of the shinkansen (in English): http://shinkansen.the-japan-news.com/index.html

Maibara Station is also celebrating the 50th anniversary with a weekend of fun and entertainment (especially for kids) on Oct. 11-12, 2014 from 10 am to 9 pm on Sat. and 10 am to 6 pm on Sun. (weather permitting). http://poppofes.com/

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.

Sept. 2014 festivals and events in Shiga Prefecture

Here are some recommended autumn/fall events and festivals in Shiga in September 2014.

Link for video above: http://youtu.be/61q1TvodzOs

September 6, 2014
♦ Nagahama-Azai Appare Matsuri, Nagahama, 9 am – 9:00 pm
A big yosakoi dance contest and festival with about 30 teams from Shiga and elsewhere. See over 1,000 dancers performing at Azai Bunka Sports Park (浅井文化スポーツ公園). The teams will dance in the morning on two stages. Sem-finalists will dance at 1:20 pm, and the finalists will dance at 7 pm. In between, there will be other performances and activities like flag waving, mochi throwing, and singers. It will end with fireworks at 8:40 pm. In case of bad weather, will be postponed to the next day. Shuttle buses will be provided only from the Azai Branch of Nagahama City Hall (no buses from Nagahama Station). Map
長浜あざいあっぱれ祭り
http://www.appare-matsuri.com/
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_3651/?area=nagahama

September 6-21, 2014
Genkyuen Garden Insect Chirping Concert, Hikone, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Genkyuen Garden next to Hikone Castle will be open in the evenings in September. If you miss the cicadas in summer, you can still hear insects chirping in the garden that will be lit up along with Hikone Castle in the background. Matcha tea will be served at cost and free gagaku and koto performances will be held on the weekends. Admission ¥500. Near JR Hikone Station. Map
玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/mushinone

September 6-8, 2014
Ishiyama-dera Temple Autumn Moon Viewing, Otsu, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The temple grounds will be adorned with about 2,000 lanterns while the huge Ishiyama rock and National Treasure Tahoto Pagoda will be lit up. The temple also has a Moon-Viewing Pavilion. The Hondo main hall will also have stage performances. The event coincides with the Harvest Moon. The autumn moon over Ishiyama-dera was made famous by woodblock prints by Hiroshige. Admission ¥500. Near JR Ishiyama Station. Map
石山寺 秋月祭
http://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/ishiyamadera/gyouji/shugetsusai/index.html

Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle illuminated at night.

September 6 to December 7, 2014
♦ Hikone Castle Illumination, Hikone, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The tenshu castle tower, inner moat stone walls, and turrets will be lit up in the evenings.
光の祝祭 彦根城ライトアップ ひこね夢灯路

September 13-14, 2014
♦ Inazuma Rock Fes, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu, 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm (both days)
Annual outdoor rock concert hosted by pop singer T.M. Revolution Nishikawa Takanori who is from Yasu. Different artists will perform on both nights. Part of the concert proceeds will be used for Shiga’s environmental preservation.
Shuttle buses to the concert site provided for 1,100 yen roundtrip. Board at Nomura Undo Koen Park, 10-min. walk from JR Kusatsu Station. Advance concert tickets ¥9,200 per night. Map
イナズマロックフェス2014
http://inazumarock.com/

September 13-14, 2014
♦ Hachiman-bori Matsuri Festival, Omi-Hachiman, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (both days)
Hachiman-bori Canal and adjacent roads will be dotted with little candlelight lanterns. Concerts are also scheduled. Map
八幡堀まつり
http://www.azuchi-shiga.com/hatimanbori.htm

September 13 to 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

Hinade Shrine

Sumo odori dance at Hinade Shrine

September 15, 2014
♦ Hinade Shrine Sumo Odori Dance, Maibara, 1:00 pm –
Near JR Sakata Station (Hokuriku Line) is Mt. Hinodeyama with Hinode Jinja Shrine holding an annual sumo festival. It features mainly children’s sumo and a sumo jinku singing dance by about 16 men dressed in ceremonial aprons. Sumo matches are also held among the kids and men. Map | PhotosVideo
日撫神社 奉納角力・角力おどり
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_893/

Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance

Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance

September 23, 2014
Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance, Maibara, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Held only once every 5 years, Suijo Hachiman Jinja Taiko Odori is a colorful and unique rain-making and rain thanksgiving taiko drum dance held by Suijo Hachiman Shrine in Maibara. It starts with a procession slowly proceeding along 1 km to Suijo Hachiman Shrine. They include yakko-furi samurai laborers with their painted faces and bellies, yamabushi ascetic priests, flutists, and taiko drummers. Map | Photos | Video
春照八幡神社 太鼓おどり
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_13471/

September 23, 2014
♦ Buratto Gokasho Town Walk, Gokasho, Higashi-Omi, all day
Some 100 people dressed as Omi-shonin merchants will parade along central Gokasho at 1 pm. A number of festivities and entertainment will be held from the morning, A few Omi merchant homes normally closed to the public will also be open and temple and shrine treasures will be displayed in Gokasho. Gokasho is famous for the grand, old homes of wealthy Omi merchants who traveled all over Japan selling cloth, lacquerware, medicines, etc. Near Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Map
ぶらっと五個荘まちあるき
http://guide.jr-odekake.net/event/14913

Biwako Ohashi Bridge

50-year-old Biwako Ohashi Bridge

September 28, 2014
♦ Biwako Ohashi Bridge 50th Anniversary Event, Moriyama and Otsu, 9:30 am –
The great Biwako Ohashi Bridge crossing the neck of Lake Biwa’s panhandle between Moriyama and Katata (Otsu) opened 50 years ago on this day. 1964 was also when the shinkansen “bullet train” started running and when the Tokyo Olympics were held. To celebrate, they will block part of the bridge to vehicular traffic and allow pedestrians on the bridge to release balloons (I hope they won’t be harmful to the environment), form a human chain, and do radio taiso exercises. Fishing boat and lake cruises will also depart from Pieri Moriyama (defunct shopping mall) and from the Biwako Ohashi Kome Plaza Michinoeki market in Katata. Map
琵琶湖大橋「開通50周年」記念イベント
http://www.moriyamayamamori.jp/biwako50

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

Shiga festivals and events in October 2014 here.

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