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.

The Birth of Chikubushima

Although Shiga has many local legends and folktales, only a few are nationally famous. And fewer still are in English. So I’ve started writing English versions of some of Shiga Prefecture’s legends and folktales.

One problem is that these stories usually have different sources, versions, interpretations, and adaptations in Japanese. Instead of trying to decide which is the original or better version and translating it, I’ve created my own adaptation in English based on the basic storyline.

My first Shiga folktale in English I’m putting online perhaps matches the current rainy season. Enjoy!

The Birth of Chikubushima
竹生島ができたお話

by Philbert Ono, based on an old folktale.

chikubushimalegend

Once upon a time in northern Omi, the great Mount Ibuki-yama stood high and proud. He was the god Tatamihiko (多々美比古命).

Every day, Ibuki-yama would boast, “Ha! Look at me, I am the highest mountain in all of Omi! Whichever way I look, all the other mountains are below me!”

While the other mountains were often covered with clouds and rain and beaten by the wind, Ibuki-yama stood high and clear above the clouds.

But one summer, the clouds were so thick and high that they also covered Ibuki-yama. All the mountains were hidden by dark clouds and rain.

With nothing to do, Ibuki-yama decided to sleep. He went into a deep slumber for days. “Zzzzz…”

After many long days of clouds and rain, the big, blue sky appeared once again. Ibuki-yama awoke and exclaimed, “Wonderful! It’s sunny today!”

He started to look in all directions with a big smile on his face, seeing all the mountains lower than him. In the south, there was Ryozen, a big but lower mountain. Even when he looked west, far across the lake at the Hira mountains, none were higher.

But when he looked north, “Whoa, what is that??!!” It was an unbelievable sight.

He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing correctly. But he still couldn’t believe it. There was a mountain higher than Ibuki-yama!!

He angrily called out, “Hey you there! Aren’t you Azai-dake?!!”

“Yes uncle, it’s me, Azai-dake.” Mount Azai-dake was the goddess Azai-hime (浅井比売命). Azai-dake was actually related to Ibuki-yama because they belonged to the same mountain range.

“How dare you grow taller than me while I was asleep! You must return to your original height at once!”

“What?? Are you kidding me? I can become taller if I want to!!” Azai-dake was defiant like a rebellious teenager.

No matter how Ibuki-yama looked at Azai-dake, she still looked taller than him. He kept bellowing, “Lower yourself!” or “Become shorter!” But Azai-dake only ignored him and didn’t even bother to answer.

Finally, Ibuki-yama could not stand it anymore. He drew out a large sword and yelled, “Ei OHHH!!!”

Azai-dake shrieked, “Hii-EEE!!!” Ibuki-yama swung the sword in one quick stroke and cleanly cut off Azai-dake’s head.

Her head tumbled down the west side of the mountain. All the neighboring mountains were shocked to see the rolling head, especially nearby Odani-yama and Yamamoto-yama when the head passed by. “Oh my GOD, what happened to you??!!” The Azai-dake peak kept rolling, GORO-GORO-GORO!!!

Meanwhile in Lake Biwa, all the fish were also frightened by the big rumbling sound becoming louder and louder. The King of Lake Biwa, Biwako O-namazu (ビワコオオナマズ), ordered, “Hurry everyone! Swim away toward Takashima as quickly as you can!” Takashima was on the opposite shore of the lake.

Some moments later, BA-SHAAAAN!!! ZA-BUUUN!!! Azai-dake’s head splashed into Lake Biwa. It rolled through the lake and left a muddy, brown trail in the blue water. At the same time, monster waves rippled across the entire lake and even sloshed against the white sands of Omi-Maiko. The green pine trees on the white beach almost drowned.

Azai-dake’s head finally stopped in the middle of northern Lake Biwa. The top part of the head stuck out from the water and became a small island.

Since Azai-dake’s head made bubbly sounds like Tsubu-tsubu-zubu when it went through the water, the island was named “Tsububushima” (都布夫島).

After the water became calm and clear again, King Biwako O-namazu, who was a Lake Biwa Giant Catfish, inspected Tsububushima underwater. “This is a great place for fish to live! This steep and rocky underwater habitat is perfect.” Many happy fish like funa carp, catfish, and eels then started living around Tsububushima. Bamboo also started growing on the island, making it green. The island was then renamed “Chikubushima” (竹生島), meaning “Bamboo Birth Island.” Although Azai-dake died, she brought forth new life and new habitats.

Ancient people living around Lake Biwa thousands of years ago made dugout canoes and rowed from Nagahama to Chikubushima. Even then, they must have felt something sacred and divine about the island. From the 5th century, they started to build shrines and temples on the island to worship the goddess Azai-hime and other gods. After all, the island was once Azai-dake. And Mount Ibuki lived happily ever after, knowing that he was Omi’s highest mountain without question. THE END

Chikubushima (Click on image to see more photos.)

Chikubushima and Mt. Ibuki

Chikubushima and Mt. Ibuki as seen from Imazu, Takashima.

Mt. Kanakuso and Mt. Ibuki

Mt. Kanakuso-dake and Mt. Ibuki as seen from the Hokuriku Line in winter.

Mt. Ibuki (伊吹山) is Shiga’s highest mountain in Maibara at 1,377 meters. Azai-dake is Mt. Kanakuso-dake (金糞岳) in Nagahama, northwest of Mt. Ibuki. It is Shiga’s second highest mountain at 1,317 meters and part of the Ibuki mountain range.

Chikubushima has a circumference of 2 km. If we add Chikubushima’s 197-meter height to Kanakuso-dake’s height, Kanakuso-dake would indeed be higher than Mt. Ibuki.

Chikubushima is home to Hogonji Temple first built in 724 as ordered by the emperor to worship Benzaiten, the goddess of everything that flows: Water, rivers, music, etc. Belonging to the Shingon Buddhist Sect (Buzan School), Hogonji is one of Japan’s three major spots worshipping Benzaiten (other two being Itsukushima Shrine and Enoshima Shrine). Tsukubushima Shrine also worships Benzaiten as well as the Dragon God and Azai-hime.

Many famous samurai, such as Oda Nobunaga and the Azai Clan, worshipped at Chikubushima since they believed Benzaiten had the power to destroy their enemies.

Chikubushima is easily accessible by boat operating daily from Nagahama Port, Hikone Port, and Imazu Port. Boat schedule for Nagahama and Imazu Ports here and for Hikone Port here (in Japanese).

* This English story is my adaptation of the original Japanese folktale, not an exact translation. This means certain parts of this story are figments of my own imagination. The original folktale appears in the Omi-no-Kuni Fudoki (近江国風土記) ancient chronicles of Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture).
* The drawing above was created by a close, young relative of mine.
* I welcome submissions of artwork depicting scenes from this folktale. The best ones will be posted on this page and credited to the artist.
* Major reference: 「近江の昔ものがたり」瀬川欣一、サンライズ出版1999年

*よい子のみなさん、刃物で人の首を切るまねをしないでね。叔父と姪も仲良くしましょう。
*この「竹生島ができたお話」の英語版は正確な英訳ではなく、フィルバートの改作であります。
*この「竹生島ができたお話」の絵を募集します。どのシーンでもOKです。メールで応募お願いします。面白い作品はクレジット付きでこのページに載せます。

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

Skiing in Shiga Prefecture

Mt. Ibuki

Skiing on Mt. Ibuki in the good old days.

Updated: Jan. 20, 2018

For information about current snow conditions at Shiga Prefecture’s ski slopes, see Snow Japan’s useful Shiga Prefecture ski resort page in English.

For the weather forecast at Shiga Prefecture’s ski slopes, see Weathernews (in Japanese, Adobe Flash required) for Akoyama Snow Pal | Biwako Valley | Hakodateyama | Kunizakai Kogen Snow Park | Kutsuki Snow Park | Makino Kogen | Oku-Ibuki | Yogo Kogen Resort Yap

Every winter, I’ve always contemplated writing about skiing in Shiga Prefecture. I never did it until now because I just don’t think the quality of snow in Shiga is up to snuff. I also haven’t skied on all of Shiga’s slopes so I can’t comment on any of them except Mt. Ibuki which has since closed.

Shiga is hardly a place I would recommend or brag about for skiing. I once spent an entire winter in Hokkaido where I went skiing every weekend. Once you experience such pristine snow, anywhere else in Japan (except maybe Tohoku) just doesn’t compare. But I understand that Shiga’s slopes are convenient for many people in Osaka/Kyoto coming to Shiga to ski. It’s better than nothing, and good for kids and beginners who don’t mind slushy snow.

Nakayama Saijiro

Statue of Nakayama Saijiro on Mt. Ibuki’s 3rd station.

But there is actually something to brag about skiing in Shiga. It so happens that Mt. Ibuki in Maibara is one of the first places where skiing started in the Kansai region. Mt. Ibuki was also where people first began skiing in Shiga. All thanks to Nakayama Saijiro (中山再次郎 1867-1963), principal of a high school in Kyoto (forerunner of Toba High School 鳥羽高校) who was a pioneer in spreading the sport of skiing in the Kansai region.

He started bringing his students annually to Mt. Ibuki for skiing from around 1913-14, a century ago. They hiked up to the 3rd station (san-gome) and skied around the 3rd and 4th stations. It must’ve been quite an exercise without ski lifts.

In 1920, the first Mt. Ibuki skiing competition (第1回伊吹山雪艇大会) was held under the supervision of Principal Saijiro Nakayama. And in 1937, the 5th national skiing competition (第5回全国スキー大会) was held on Mt. Ibuki.

Nakayama sensei had learned how to ski from an Austrian. His bronze statue can be found on Mt. Ibuki’s 3rd station. Nakayama sensei also happens to be my grandfather’s high school principal in Kyoto. However, I’m told that my grandfather wasn’t into skiing so he might not have been one of the students who went to Ibuki to learn to ski.

During the US Occupation of Japan after World War II, my relatives tell me that they remember seeing US military personnel from Camp Otsu coming to Ibuki (in a truck or jeeps) to ski on weekends. Since they gave out candy and cookies, they were very popular with the local kids. In those days, Japanese kids only had senbei crackers, rice crackers, and biscuits. So those sweet American cookies tasted oh so good. Meanwhile, their parents found that the Americans were quite benevolent, contrary to what they were told during the war.

It wasn’t until Dec. 1956 when the Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds (伊吹スキー場) opened for business at the 1st to 3rd stations by Ohmi Railways. Ski lifts were finally built by Aug. 1958 up to the 3rd station. More modern ski lifts were constructed in the late 1960s and mid-1980s. In Jan. 1989, a gondola lift going from the foot of the mountain all the way to the 3rd station opened. The gondola cabins could carry six people.

Mt. Ibuki

Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds at 3rd station.

Due to a chronic lack of snow, fewer skiers in Japan, and the more popular Oku-Ibuki Ski Grounds (opened in 1970) further north, the original Ibuki Ski Grounds closed in Oct. 2005 after 48 years in business. A Tokyo-based company bought and took over the ski facilities, but it closed the ski grounds in 2008 citing the lack of snow and skiers. The gondola kept operating only during the summer hiking season, but it too was shut down in 2011. Today, Oku-Ibuki with better snow, better runs, and convenient roads is the ski area of choice in Shiga. The old Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds now sees paragliders and campers instead.

Makino

Makino Highland Ski Grounds in spring.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the lake in Makino village (now part of Takashima), another skiing pioneer named Hiroi Shinnosuke (広井親之助) found that skiing was feasible at Makino. Hiroi was a physical education teacher at Imazu High School (forerunner of Takashima High School). Inspired by Nakayama Saijiro, he started developing skiing in Makino from Jan. 1917 and called it Makino Ski Grounds (牧野スキー場).

In 1925, Hiroi sensei held a skiing contest sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Osaka. Most of the contestants were local elementary to high school kids. Since Makino was still quite isolated transportation-wise, few people from afar participated.

Thus, Mt. Ibuki and Makino Highland are among the oldest ski grounds in Kansai along with Hyogo Prefecture’s Kannabe Highland and Hyonosen  (神鍋山、氷の山).

In Dec. 1929, Makino Ski Grounds was renamed in katakana (マキノスキー場) when it turned commercial as a joint venture by Keihan Railways and the Lake Biwa cruise company named Taiko Kisen (太湖汽船). Since “Makino” in katakana became widely known in the Kansai region because of the ski grounds, it was adopted in 1955 as the newly-formed town’s name when Makino village merged with three neighboring villages. The town of Makino-cho (マキノ町) thereby became Japan’s first municipality to have a katakana name. (Makino is now part of the city of Takashima.)

Makino

Makino became Japan’s first municipality to have a katakana name, thanks to skiing. JR Makino Station is also in katakana.

Modern skiing was first introduced to Japan in 1911 in Takada (Joetsu), Niigata Prefecture by an Austrian who used it for military training. Skiing soon spread and developed as a recreational sport beginning with northern Japan. In the early years, popular ski grounds in Japan were usually in onsen hot-spring areas. Local ryokan inns, etc., catered to the skiers and made investments to expand skiing facilities. By the 1930s, Japan had a ski boom as the masses got turned on to skiing. Japan National Railways operated extra “ski trains” to Mt. Ibuki. From 1930, Keihan Railways operated direct trains from Osaka/Kyoto to Hama-Otsu Port where skiers would transfer to Taiko Kisen’s “ski boats” (スキー船) for Kaizu Port near Makino.

Skiers from Kyoto/Osaka would take an evening train to Hama-Otsu and board the ski boat at Hama-Otsu Port. The boat departed at 12 midnight and the skiers slept overnight onboard. When the boat arrived at Kaizu Port in the early morning around 5 am, the skiers walked or took a bus for Makino Ski Grounds. After skiing during the day, the skiers would return and board the boat departing Kaizu Port at 5 pm for Hama-Otsu. The ski boat proved to be popular with day-trip skiers from Kyoto and Osaka on the weekends. These ski trains and boats made Makino Ski Grounds viable since Makino was way out in the boondocks and had no onsen or other attractions to fall back on. Keep in mind that they still didn’t have ski lifts. Something unimaginable today.

Then in 1931, the Kojaku Railway (forerunner of the JR Kosei Line) from Hama-Otsu Station was extended to Imazu Station close to Makino. This brought even more skiers to Makino. By the early 1960s, the road to Makino improved enough for ski buses to carry skiers directly from the Kansai region to Makino, replacing the ski boats and eliminating the troublesome transfers between trains and boats.

A ski lift finally opened in Makino in 1956, and another was added in 1964 funded by the town and Kojaku Railway.

However, Makino suffered a drastic drop in skiers after Hira Ski Grounds opened in 1961 (closed in 2004), Hakodateyama in Imazu opened in 1962, and Biwako Valley (originally named Sankei Valley) opened in 1965. Since these new ski areas were closer, skiers from Kyoto/Osaka flocked to them.

Although you can still ski at Makino Kogen Highland, its low altitude, slushy snow, gentle slopes, and lack of variation in ski runs relegate it to mainly beginners and sled-toting kids. However, Makino still attracts hikers and nature lovers in the warmer seasons. It even has a hot-spring facility.

Japan’s skiing population has dropped dramatically since the turn of this century. Fewer people are willing to take the time, trouble, and expense to go skiing. I’m sure everyone thinks it’s a lot of trouble before they go out the door. But once you’re on the slopes with skis on and feeling the rush, you think that it was all worth it. And at the end of the day when you soak in an onsen, it makes winter worthwhile and memorable.

  • Whenever you write about skiing in Shiga, be sure to say “Shiga Prefecture” instead of just “Shiga.” It’s to avoid confusion with Shiga Kogen Highlands (志賀高原) in Nagano Prefecture which is another ski area and the much more famous “Shiga.”
  • More info on Shiga’s ski areas in English: http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/prefecture/shiga

Major sources for this article:

  • びわ湖検定実行委員会「琵琶湖検定公式問題解説集」2008年
  • 野間晴雄「マキノ町扇状地群の開発と土地利用」、1987年
1 2 3 4 8