Winter festivals Jan.-Feb. 2014 in Shiga

Updated: Feb. 27, 2014

After Japan’s biggest celebration called New Year’s, it’s back to work. But there’s still some fun left during this cold or freezing season. Here are some recommended winter festivals (matsuri) and events in Shiga Prefecture during January to February 2014. (Most Web sites are in Japanese only.)

This page will be updated with new events as the winter weeks go by.

January 9-11, 2014
♦ Hokoku Shrine Toka Ebisu, Nagahama
Dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, worshipped for succeeding in life and for business prosperity. It holds the Toka Ebisu festival for three days centering on Jan. 10th. Ebisu is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, representing business prosperity. During the three days, shrine maidens sell small bamboo branches with various lucky decorations. On Jan. 10, there will be a procession of kimono ladies and a float from the shrine to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Hope it doesn’t snow. On the 11th, they will throw lucky mochi. Google Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Katsube Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Very impressive fire festival, but cold while you wait for it to start. Twelve giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm after a taiko procession around the city and ceremony at 6 pm. See the video at top of this page. 勝部の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photosGoogle Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Fuke Sumiyoshi Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Six giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm. Related to the Katsube Shrine Fire Festival held at the same time. Less crowded than Katsube Shrine. 浮気の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map

January 19-December 28, 2014
♦ Kuroda Kanbee Expo (黒田官兵衛博覧会), 9 am – 5 pm, Nagahama
Yet another Taiga Drama-related “expo” in Nagahama. Held in concert with 2014’s year-long NHK Taiga Drama called Gunshi Kanbee (軍師官兵衛) airing on NHK TV. The expo will explain and show Kanbee’s connection with Shiga (Omi) while he served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. There are two venues: Nagahama Castle and a distinctive, Western-style building (formerly a Shiga Bank branch) in Kinomoto. I’ll report on it in more detail when I visit later. Admission 400 yen for Nagahama Castle History Museum and 300 yen in Kinomoto. Google Map | Website


Bonbaiten in Nagahama.

January 18-March 10, 2014
♦ Nagahama Bonbaiten 長浜盆梅展, Nagahama, Keiunkan (慶雲館), 9 am – 5 pm
This is perhaps Shiga’s most famous plum blossom bonsai exhibition, held annually since 1952. The venue is the stately Keiunkan (慶雲館), a Japanese-style former guesthouse originally built in 1887 to accommodate Emperor Meiji when he visited Nagahama. It’s near JR Nagahama Station. They have 90 bonsai trees on display and can be centuries old. Don’t touch and try to smell these prized trees. Admission: 500 yen (200 yen for high school and younger) Google Map | Website

January 10-March 10, 2014
Kamo-no-sato Bonbaiten 鴨の里盆梅展, Maibara, Green Park Santo (グリーンパーク山東), 9:30 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm)
Green Park Santo is a large recreational park in Maibara. Inside the Spark Santo hall (すぱーく山東) are about 120 bonsai plum trees raised by over 30 devoted growers. They also have an orchid show at the same time. Near JR Omi-Nagaoka Station. Admission: 400 yen (200 yen for high school and younger, free for elementary schoolers) Google Map | Website

Feb.-early March
Plum blossoms in Shiga
Shiga has a number of plum blossom gardens. See this post for a list of plum blossom gardens in Shiga.


Taga Taisha Setsubun bean throwing on Feb. 3.

February 3, 2014
♦ Taga Taisha Setsubun, Taga, 11 am and 2 pm
Shiga’s most impressive Setsubun festival with impressive ogre (called oni in Japanese) dancers from Shimane Prefecture to act as the demons to chase away during the festival. Highlighted by bean-throwing (mame-maki). They will hold two mame-maki sessions on Feb. 3, at 11 am and 2 pm. Expect a large crowd. More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map | Website

February-March 2014
♦ Hina-matsuri
dolls (雛祭りの雛人形) are being displayed at various locations in Shiga to celebrate Girl’s Day on March 3.

On the weekend of Feb. 15-16, 2014, Gokasho in Higashi-Omi is having a unique event of live hina dolls called Ningen Hina-matsuri (にんげん雛まつり). Yes, they are real girls, ten of them, dressed as Hina dolls. They will appear twice on both the 15th and 16th at 10:00 am to 11:30 am and at 1:30 pm to 3 pm at the Omi-shonin merchant home of Tonomura Shigeru (外村繁邸).

Gokasho, Higashi-Omi: Normal hina ningyo dolls are also displayed in the Omi-shonin merchant homes and museums. They are on display until March 23 (9:30 am to 4:30 pm) in the former residences of Tonomura Uhee (外村 宇兵衛), Tonomura Shigeru (外村 繁), Nakae Jungoro (中江 準五郎), and Fujii Hikoshiro (藤井 彦四郎邸). The homes are large, stately Japanese-style mansions. Must-see for architecture buffs. Buy a single 600 yen ticket and you can enter all the homes. Closest train station is Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map

Omi-Hachiman: Former Ban family residence (旧伴家住宅) until March 23, 2014 (closed Mon.). Omi merchant home which also served as a girls school and public library until 1997. Spacious room with a large display of Hina dolls. The former Nishikawa Residence (Kyu-Nishikawa-ke Jutaku 旧西川家住) also has doll display. This is a large Omi merchant home designated as an Important Cultural Property. The Kawara Roof Tile Museum and some shops in central Omi-Hachiman will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Hino: Omi Hino Merchant House (近江日野商人館) until March 9, 2014. The former home of Hino merchant Yamanaka Hyouemon was donated to the town in 1981. Now a museum exhibiting the history and artifacts of the Hino merchants. Admission 300 yen. Another place is Hino Machikado Kan-okan (日野まちかど感応館) which is a former home along Hino’s main road. It is also a tourist information office. Free admission. Some shops and homes in central Hino will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Enjoy Girl’s Day! Japanese hina-matsuri map:

Feb. 25 to March 3, 2014
♦ Shiga Prefecture Food and Craft Fair (Dai-Omiten) 琵琶湖夢街道 大近江展, Takashimaya Department Store (8th floor) in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, 10 am – 8 pm (till 6 pm on March 3)
Held annually to promote Shiga products in Tokyo, numerous food booths and crafts are displayed and sold. Hiko-nyan will also appear on March 1 and 2 at 12 noon and 2 pm on the rooftop stage.

Katsube Shrine Fire Festival video by kids

Video link:

This is my cutest video of Shiga so far. I have three Japanese kids from Shiga who appear as my English reporters in this video of Katsube Shrine Fire Festival held on Jan. 12, 2013 in Moriyama. The youngest one is age 4.

All three kids are studying English and were eager to speak English as they witnessed the festival. Although I coached their English on the spot, it’s mostly unrehearsed and they were free to say anything in English. I want the kids (and parents) to discover/rediscover and experience their hometowns and become proud and proficient enough to tell other people about it. As you will see, it’s a lot more interesting (and cute) to have ordinary local folks introduce their towns rather than foreigners (including myself) or professional reporters.

Until now, I’ve never had any narrators or reporters in my video clips of Japan. I don’t ever appear or narrate my videos either since I don’t want to divert any attention to me. The kids enjoyed it and want to do it again along with a bunch of their friends (and other parents). If you know of any kids who are studying English and willing to appear in my videos, let me know. This is a totally voluntary and non-profit project.

More photos of Katsube Shrine Fire Festival:

Google Map for Katsube Shrine

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.

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