London Olympic medalists from Shiga Prefecture

Big congratulations to Shiga-native and Shiga-based Olympians who won medals at the London 2012 Olympics. They include Olympians who made history as being Japan’s first Olympic medalist in their sport.

That was Otsu-native KAKIIWA Reika (垣岩 令佳), who won the silver medal along with her partner FUJII Mizuki for Badminton Women’s Doubles. This is Japan’s very first Olympic medal in badminton. Kakiiwa and Fujii made it to the final game after beating Denmark in the quarterfinal and Canada in the semi-final. The final game was against the favored China held on Aug. 5, 2012 after midnight, Japan time. I stayed up late to watch the game live. And what an exciting, fingernail-biting game it was. They rallied back and forth and kept gaining, losing, and regaining points almost forever until the sometimes panicky Chinese duo finally came out on top. Kakiiwa and Fujii fought tooth and nail for each point. The Chinese duo broke down and cried after winning their very hard-earned gold medal, while Kakiiwa and Fujii showed contented underdog faces of doing their utmost. I never knew badminton could be this exciting.

On Aug. 17, 2012, Kakiiwa Reika called on Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko in Otsu to show off her silver medal. She thanked everyone for their support and said it was because everyone’s support that she won the medal. In return, the governor presented her with the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award (県民スポーツ賞の「栄誉賞」) on behalf of the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education. The award includes a ceramic trophy in the shape of a sweetfish (ayu) made of Shigaraki-ware. Kakiiwa also visited Otsu Mayor Koshi Naomi at Otsu City Hall and was presented with the Otsu Special Sports Award (大津市体育特別賞).

Shiga’s second medalist is another Otsu native, OTA Yuki (太田 雄貴) who won a silver medal in Foil Team Fencing. This is his second silver Olympic medal as he won silver at Beijing. It was hard for me to understand fencing, but he saved his team and brought them the silver. He will also be awarded the Eiyosho Prefectural Citizen’s Sports Award from the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education for the second time (the first time was for the Beijing medal).

Women’s volleyball generated a lot of excitement in Japan as they finally won an Olympic medal for the first time since 1984 (Los Angeles). Japan was once a volleyball powerhouse and volleyball became an Olympic sport at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The Japanese women’s volleyball team gloriously won the Olympic gold medal that first year and went on to win a medal (including another gold in Montreal 1976) in the next four Olympics (excluding Moscow which was boycotted) up to 1984. A long-awaited break in this 28-year dry spell and a reminder of Japan’s past volleyball glory have brought much happiness to Japan.

The Japanese women’s volleyball team beat China in the quarterfinals, but lost all three games to Brazil in the semifinals. Then they faced Korea, who had lost to the US, for the bronze. Although there were some worrisome moments, Japan handily beat Korea in all three games. Four members of the Japanese women’s volleyball team are based in Otsu since they belong to the Toray Arrows. ARAKI Erika (荒木絵里香), KIMURA Saori (木村沙織), SAKODA Saori (迫田さおり), and NAKAMICHI Hitomi (中道瞳) all played pivotal roles in their Olympic quest. On Aug. 14, 2012, these four members returned to Toray in Otsu where they showed their bronze medals to a crowd of some 250 corporate colleagues and employees.

Whenever there are winners, there are non-winners (don’t wanna call anyone losers at the Olympics). Here’s how the other Shiga Olympians did:
INUI Yukiko, Duet synchronized swimming: She and her partner KOBAYASHI Chisa placed 5th. This is the first time Japan has not won a medal in Duet synchronized swimming (Olympic sport since 1984).
ABIKO Tomomi, Women’s pole vault: Placed 19th overall and vaulted as high as 4 m 25 cm. Failed to advance to the final round of the top 12 pole vaulters. She will aim for Rio in four years.
YAMAMOTO Ryo, Men’s marathon: Placed 40th at 2:18:34 or about 10 min. behind the winner. He placed higher than compatriot Arata Fujiwara who came in 46th. And NAKAMOTO Kentaro did better than anybody expected by placing 6th. Men’s marathon results here.

Otsukaresama and a big thank you to all these Olympians this summer.

Video at top: Today on Aug. 20, 2012 at 11 am, an unbelievable 500,000 people flooded Tokyo’s Ginza area to see Japan’s Olympic medalists in a ticker-tape parade. This is the first time Japan has ever held an Olympic parade. Japan reaped a record haul of 38 Olympic medals from over 70 medalists. Mainichi Shimbun also has this photo of Kakiiwa (right) and partner Fujii (left) at the parade.

読売テレビに滋賀のGW祭りが紹介される

関西の読売テレビの番組が私が撮った滋賀の祭りの動画を放送されることになりました。

放送されるのは守山市のすし切り祭りと甲賀市土山のケンケト祭りの動画です。

放送日:2012年5月9日(水)

時間帯:午前5:20~8:00で、滋賀の祭り企画コーナーが流れるのは午前7:00ごろ。

番組名:読売テレビ「朝生ワイドす・またん!&ZIP!」

番組の「超スゴい衝撃映像SP」というコーナーで「滋賀の超オドロキ奇祭」が紹介されます。

(緊急ニュースなどが入った場合、流れない場合もございます)

関西(大阪、京都、滋賀、奈良、兵庫、和歌山)にいる人、時間ありましたら是非見て(または録画して)ください。

http://www.ytv.co.jp/cematin/

Yomiuri TV will introduce Golden Week festivals in Shiga Prefecture on a morning TV program on May 9, 2012 (Wed.).

They will air two of my Shiga festival videos: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri held in Moriyama and the Kenketo Matsuri held in Tsuchiyama, Koka.

Broadcast date and time: May 9, 2012, around 7 am.

TV program name: 朝生ワイドす・またん!&ZIP! (The program is from 5:20 am to 8 am.)

If you’re in Osaka, Kyoto, Shiga, Nara, Hyogo, or Wakayama, hope you can watch or record the program.

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

Fire festivals in Moriyama

Video link: http://youtu.be/n-SfD9DFxOg

Katsube Shrine (勝部神社) and Sumiyoshi Shrine (住吉神社) in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture will hold their annual Hi-matsuri fire festivals (火まつり) on the evening of Jan. 14, 2012. Saturday.

The twin fire festivals are related to each other and held at the same time. You can only see one of them, but I recommend Katsube Shrine’s fire festival because they burn more torches.

The festival starts with a Shinto ceremony at the shrine at 6 pm. Then they march around the neighborhood while beating a taiko drum. You can see the giant torches made of straw at the shrine. The climax is when they light the giant torches at 8:30 pm. These half naked men then dance around in front of the fire. The torches are doused with kerosene so they light up and burn out very quickly. It gets very hot so don’t go too close.

According to one legend, 800 years ago during the Kamakura Period, Emperor Tsuchimikado (土御門天皇) fell ill and a fortune-teller said that a monster dragon-serpent (orochi 大蛇) living in a marsh in present-day Moriyama was to blame. When the dragon was finally slain and burned by hunters sent by the Emperor, the body fell on Katsube Shrine and the head fell on Sumiyoshi Shrine. The young men danced wildly around the burning dragon and the Emperor recovered. That’s how the festival supposedly started.

Unfortunately, you cannot see the festival at both shrines since they are held around the same time. Katsube Shrine’s fire festival is bigger with more torches, twelve of them. While Sumiyoshi Shrine’s fire festival is smaller with only six torches which represent the head of the slain dragon.

And remember, this is the year of the dragon, so the festival might be more special this year.

Both shrines are a short walk from JR Moriyama Station. Katsube Shrine is easy to find on the west side of the train station and Sumiyoshi Shrine is on the east side. Map here.

More photos of Katsube Shrine Fire Festival here.

Giant torches at Sumiyoshi Shrine for the Fire Festival. Click on image to see more photos.

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