Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri Festival Schedule

Okina

Okina-zan float on April 13, 2016.

The Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri is a major float festival held in mid-April in Nagahama in northern Shiga Prefecture. The highlight is child kabuki actors performing on four ornate floats. In autumn 2016, it will be one of 33 float festivals in Japan to be inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as “Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals in Japan.” The festival is held near JR Nagahama Station on the JR Hokuriku Line.

Here is a schedule of major festival events (times are approximate):

April 13
6:00 p.m. to around 8:30 p.m.: April 13 evening performance of child kabuki plays on four floats in their respective neighborhoods. This is their first public performance in full makeup and costume. In case of rain, certain floats might seek shelter inside the shopping arcade or in the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum’s extra storehouse for their performances. (十三日番)

April 14
10 a.m. to noon: Morning performance of child kabuki plays on four floats in their respective neighborhoods. (自町狂言)
Noon: The four floats are pulled (and pushed) from their neighborhoods to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (Noboriyama 登り山).
4:00 p.m.: The Naginata float arrives at the Otabisho rest place.
7:00 p.m.: Evening procession of child kabuki actors walking from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine to Nagahama Hikiyama Museum through Otemon-dori shopping arcade. (Yu-watari 夕渡り)

April 15 (Main day)
8:30 a.m.: Arrival of child kabuki actors at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. (Asa-watari 朝渡り)
9:20 a.m.: Arrival of sword bearers at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. (Tachi-watari 太刀渡り)
9:35 a.m.: Opening ritual to mark the start of kabuki performances. (Okina-maneki 翁招き)
9:55 a.m.–10:40 a.m.: Performance of a child kabuki play on the first of four floats at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. 40 min. long. (Hono kyogen 奉納狂言)
11:10 a.m.–11:50 a.m.: Performance of child kabuki play on the second float at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine.
12:20 a.m.–1:00 p.m.: Performance of child kabuki play on the third float at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine.
1:30 p.m.–2:10 p.m.: Performance of child kabuki play on the fourth float at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine.

*The order of the floats’ performances is decided on April 13 via the Kuji-tori ceremony (籤取り式の儀) where they draw lots to see which float is No. 1, 2, 3, or 4.

After performing at the shrine, each float will move across town along Otemon-dori road (shopping arcade, Kurokabe Square, etc.) to the Otabisho rest place. Along the way, they will stop and perform kabuki three more times with the last performance at the Otabisho starting at 7:40 p.m. Each float performs the same kabuki play each time.

9:30 p.m.: At the Otabisho rest place after all the floats finish performing, the portable shrine housed at the Otabisho is taken out and carried back to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Then the four floats start to leave the Otabisho to return to their neighborhoods.

April 16
Morning to evening: After-festival kabuki performances are given by the four floats once each in the morning, afternoon, and evening in their respective neighborhoods in central Nagahama. Each float’s final performance of the festival is called senshuraku (千秋楽). Expect to see some tearful kids and parents after the last show is over. (Goen kyogen 後宴狂言)

For details in Japanese, see or download this pdf file from the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum. Also see the map below or click on this map link.

Buddhist altars made in Shiga Prefecture

Butsudan woodcarver Mori Tesso in Maibara.

Butsudan woodcarver Mori Tesso in Maibara.

Updated: May 7, 2016

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 not 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, normal people 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:

Redevelopment of Nagahama Station area

Mondecool, Nagahama Station, wedding hall.

L-R: Mondecool, JR Nagahama Station, and wedding hall.

Ever since the new Nagahama Station building was completed in Oct. 2006, the station and immediate area have undergone a remarkable redevelopment that is still ongoing. This dramatic transformation must be Shiga’s biggest urban construction project since the redevelopment of the Hama-Otsu area in the 1980s-90s.

As I now see the old Nagahama Heiwado store (built in 1969) being torn down to make way for a new multi-purpose complex, I can’t help but to have mixed feelings. Although I look forward to what will be constructed in its place, I mourn the loss of yet another childhood icon. When I visited Shiga as a kid during summer vacation, I distinctly remember that old Heiwado store in Nagahama, especially the arcade game center on the top floor where I spent an afternoon entertaining myself while waiting for relatives shopping. My uncle gave me a handful of coins and I spent it all on just about every game there was. That was fun. (Arcade games in Japan were more fun than what we had in Hawaii.) That top floor underwent many changes after that, finally ending up with Print Club machines, a few restaurants which were always empty, and a 100-yen shop. All that is now gone too.

Old Nagahama Heiwado being torn down in Jan. 2016.

Old Nagahama Heiwado being torn down in Jan. 2016.

Side view of Heiwado being torn down in Jan. 2016.

Side view of Heiwado being torn down in Jan. 2016.

Old Heiwado near Nagahama Station.

When the current Nagahama Station building was completed in 2006, it was marvelous. Modeled after the first Nagahama Station building dating from 1882, the station building was the best-looking one in Shiga in my opinion. A large stained glass mural of the Hikiyama Festival kabuki boys greets you as you go down the elevator to the street level. Very nice touch.

However, a large wedding hall was constructed a few years ago on the site of the old station building right next to the new station building. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, its large size totally overshadows the new station. It spoils the visual impact of the small station building.

Then on February 10, 2015, on the southern end of the east side of the station, the new Heiwado store named “Mondecool Nagahama” (モンデクール長浜) opened to replace the old Heiwado which closed on Feb. 7, 2015. It’s pretty big, but only two stories high so it does not overwhelm the little station building. It looks more like an old aircraft hangar. It occupies what was once a parking lot, but no loss of parking spaces because Mondecool includes a parking structure in the back. Mondecool’s first floor is dominated by the Friend Mart supermarket, and the upper floor has a shop selling local gifts and other minor shops and eateries. The upper floor is also conveniently connected to Nagahama Station. Mondecool is a welcome addition to central Nagahama since we can all use it (unlike the wedding hall).

Mondecool connected to Nagahama Station on the second floor.

Mondecool connected to Nagahama Station on the second floor.

Second floor of Mondecool.

Second floor of Mondecool.

The name “Mondecool” has clever (or should I say “cool”) meanings. “Mon” means “gate” or “gateway” in reference to Nagahama Station being a gateway to northern Shiga (Kohoku). This gateway is to be full of vitality, hustle and bustle, and “cool” (as in “Cool Japan”). “Mondecool” also refers to a common local expression, “mondekuru” which means “I’ll return home” or “I’ll return to my hometown.” Looks like we can no longer say, “Let’s meet on the Heiwado side of Nagahama Station.” It’s now “Mondecool.”

Mondecool is not the department store that the old Heiwado was. They got smart and focused on money-making businesses, mainly food. The bedding, clothing, and other department store stuff are gone. They have been relegated to another Heiwado (AL Plaza) along the major highway (Route 8) about 1.5 km away.

Joyfull restaurant

Joyfull restaurant

Joyfull food

Joyfull’s complete meal (teishoku) for around ¥500.

Joyfull table

Joyfull table

For me, the nice surprise about Mondecool was the pleasant restaurant named “Joyfull” (yes, spelled with two l’s) on the first floor. It’s right next to Nagahama Station. I had lunch there in early Jan. 2016 and it was very good. The restaurant is new so the interior is nice. The staff was courteous, the menu and food were good, and the prices were surprisingly cheap. Cheaper than a family restaurant, and a great McDonald’s alternative for school kids. It was nice to see a good number of customers there, young and old. Usually, restaurants right in front of the train station are kind of expensive. Great place to hang out or to wait for a friend, train, or bus. Great for a quick bite when I don’t have time for Noppei udon noodles. Open 24 hours too. They should open a branch at Otsu Station.

New complex on old Heiwado site.

The new complex to be built on the old Heiwado site.

After the old Heiwado is torn down, they will build a low-rise complex of about 20 shops and restaurants and an event space. One structure will have two stories, and another will have five stories. They are wisely keeping it down to two stories to avoid obstructing views of Mt. Ibuki. The complex will also have a storehouse to store the Kasugayama float used in the Hikiyama Matsuri. The float will be moved from its current storehouse. I hope the storehouse will have windows for us to see the float. The second floor will have an outdoor terrace and an elevated walkway connected to Mondecool as you can see above. The name of the new complex is yet to be announced, but it is slated to open in April 2017.

After that, the northern end of the station on the east side (site of the old Nagahama Post Office) will also see redevelopment yet to be announced. Tentative plans indicate that it might be a hotel.

Kids in Nagahama and local babies to be born soon will have a spanking new Nagahama Station area to grow up with. I hope it will become one of their childhood icons full of sweet memories.

More photos of Nagahama Station area here.

Grave of Azai sister Go

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Tomb of Go and Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada.

Back in 2011, NHK TV broadcast its yearlong Taiga Drama called Go–Himetachi no Sengoku (江〜姫たちの戦国〜) which I translate as “Go–Noble Ladies of Feudal Japan.” This series made the main character nationally famous. She was Go (1573-1626), also called Ogo or Oeyo and Sugen’in in her final years.

She was the youngest of three sisters born to Azai Nagamasa (1545-1573), Lord of Odani Castle in northern Shiga (present-day Nagahama) and wife Oichi (1547?-1583) who was the younger sister of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582). Born in Shiga’s Odani Castle, the three Azai sisters, called Azai sanshimai (浅井三姉妹), are perhaps Japan’s most famous or historical trio of sisters. Her oldest sister was Chacha, also known as Yodo, who at age 19 married Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was 51 and met a tragic end, and her other sister was Ohatsu who married Kyogoku Takatsugu.

Of the three sisters, Go became part of a lasting dynasty in Japanese history by marrying the second Tokugawa Shogun Hidetada (1579-1632) and giving birth to the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu (1604-1651). We can say that most of the Tokugawa shoguns have roots in Shiga since Go was born in Odani, Shiga.

Zojoji temple in Tokyo.

Zojoji temple in Tokyo.

In late March 2015, I visited Zojoji temple (増上寺) in Tokyo when the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. Zojoji is a Jodo-shu Buddhist temple that was the official temple of the Tokugawa shoguns. Six of the Tokugawa shoguns are buried at Zojoji, including Tokugawa Hidetada. His tomb includes Go’s ashes. They are interred together, evidence of how much Hidetada loved his wife Go.

From April 2, 2015, the Tokugawa graves became open to the public every day except on Tuesdays and Dec. 28-31. The graves were previously closed to the public. Hours are 10 am to 4 pm. You can also see the tombs of the 6th Tokugawa Shogun Ienobu (1662-1712), 7th Tokugawa (child) Shogun Ietsugu (1709-1716), 9th Tokugawa Shogun Ieshige (1712-1761), 12th Tokugawa Shogun Ieyoshi (1793-1853), and 14th Tokugawa Shogun Iemochi (1846-1866). Iemochi’s famous wife Princess Kazunomiya also has a tomb.

I paid the ¥500 admission and entered a small courtyard-like area with the tombs of the shoguns. Cherry trees accented the tombs nicely with Tokyo Tower towering in the background. Hidetada and Go’s tomb is in the right corner, below Tokyo Tower.

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Tombs of Tokugawa shoguns at Zojoji.

Tombs of Tokugawa shoguns at Zojoji.

Hidetada’s tomb was originally housed in a magnificent mausoleum structure with intricate carvings similar to the Toshogu shrine in Nikko where Ieyasu is interred. Sadly, this building was destroyed in May 1945 during the firebombing of World War II.

But the good news is that a high-precision scale model of the building, called the Taitokuin Mausoleum (台徳院殿霊廟), had been built in 1910 to be exhibited at the Japan-British Exhibition at White City, London, from May to October 1910. After the Exhibition, the model went to the Royal Collection and it has survived in the UK. In 2014, it was shipped to Zojoji to be restored and displayed to mark the 400th anniversary of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s death.

The model of Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada’s Taitokuin Mausoleum is now on display at Zojoji’s museum from April 2, 2015 (10 am – 4 pm, closed Tue., admission ¥700). The original structure was magnificent for sure, but this 1/10 scale model is also magnificent. A precious 3D record of what the structure looked like. This exhibit will be on indefinitely it seems. More info about the scale model here at the Royal Collection website. Also see the Zojoji site for photos of the exhibited model. More about Go here.

Path to the Tokugawa tombs.

Path to the Tokugawa tombs.

Shiga Prefecture at Tourism Expo Japan 2014

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ツーリズムEXPOジャパンでの滋賀県のインパクトは少々と思いました。

Updated: Sept. 30, 2014

Great fun and entertainment at the huge Tourism Expo Japan trade show held on September 27-28, 2014 for the public at Tokyo Big Sight. The expo had tourist booths from all 47 prefectures and 150 countries. A great place to pick up travel information, ask travel/sightseeing questions, see traditional Japanese crafts, and enjoy dances and entertainment from around Japan and the world. For the first time this year, they combined the domestic travel fair and the international travel showcase to create this new trade show. So it’s now one of the world’s largest travel/tourism trade shows. About 150,000 attended the expo (admission ¥1,300 for adults).

Lots of local food and entertainment too. Besides three large performance stages to showcase Japanese dances and festivals, many booths had their own mini stages for cultural entertainment like hula dancers at the Hawaii booth. I thoroughly enjoyed the expo and hope to see it every year from now on. Regretfully, I didn’t get to see everything in one day. So much stuff and so many things going on.

Shiga Prefecture had a medium-size booth and a 30-min. slot on one of the large entertainment stages.

One of the food courts also held a donburi (bowl of rice with a topping) contest where Shiga had a booth. Sixteen donburi booths sold donburi from various parts of Japan for ¥500 and we could vote for our favorite donburi. Very popular place for lunch.

Here are some photos of Shiga at Tourism Expo Japan 2014.

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Shiga Prefecture’s booth.

Shiga’s booth represented only Hikone, Maibara, and Nagahama. But I didn’t see anything related to Maibara. Even Otsu wasn’t there. No Lake Biwa, no ninja either. Very puzzling. Perhaps the other cities did not have the budget for a booth. Or maybe the cities are taking turns at this expo, which still doesn’t make sense.

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Shiga booth

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Inside Shiga’s booth.

Shiga’s booth was mainly occupied by this space, supposedly for some kind of entertainment. But there was no schedule of who or what would appear. Hiko-nyan supposed to appear, but the staff I asked couldn’t tell me any specifics. At one small corner of the booth, they gave out brochures. Caffy was there too, but only sporadically. The booth’s emphasis was on Hikone Castle billed as on the “World Heritage Site Tentative List” which is really nothing to brag about. And Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri being included in Japan’s application for inclusion in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list (to join Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri floats). This is also nothing to brag about, not until it actually makes the list. Really couldn’t understand this booth.

滋賀の出展ブースはよく分かりませんでした。ほとんどのスペースがなんかのミニステージと見えますが、なにが出るか不明でした。スタッフに聞いても詳細が分かりませんと。看板に「米原」も大きくあったけど、米原関係のものが見当たりませんでした。長浜と彦根で一色。なんで湖北だけに限定されたのか訳が分からない。大津抜きで滋賀を紹介できるの??

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Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri musicians on stage.

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Nagahama Hikiyama musicians on stage. Extreme left is the mayor of Nagahama. They all looked too serious and glum.

On September 27, 2014, Shiga had a 30-min. slot on the large Stage A from 2 pm. First the mayor of Nagahama gave a short speech, then these musicians from the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival played while the large screen above projected a video of the festival.

来場者は政治家の挨拶なんか一番聞きたくないのです(有名人や人気者は別です)。こういう時は、着物姿のミス長浜などが登場して挨拶と祭りの説明をすると効果的と思います。市長も皆さんも固い表情であまり真面目な顔していてアピール度が全然ダメでした。明るく笑顔でSMILEしましょうよ!こんな暗い顔、葬儀みたいよ。やはりプロの演出家の起用が必要かも。皆さん、明るいスマイルを!出る前に鏡の前で練習しましょう。「イイイ」とか「チーズ」言えますか?スマイル!スマイル!

Nagahama Hikiyama singer was excellent.

Nagahama Hikiyama narrator-singer was excellent.

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Nagahama Hikiyama Festival kabuki dancer.

Following the Nagahama Hikiyama musicians, this young kabuki dancer performed with live narrator-singers. He was very good. But I wish there were at least two or three of them.

この子がよく頑張りました。ご苦労さんでした。でも一人だけの大きなステージで寂し(小さ)かった。2〜3人の子がいたらもっといい存在感と印象がするでしょう。なぜ囃子の方々があんなに大勢だけど目玉の歌舞伎役者が一人だけ?ちょっとアンバランスな演出と思いました。

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Hiko-nyan’s turn on stage.

Hiko-nyan promoting mascot character festival.

Hiko-nyan promoting mascot character festival.

Following the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival introduction was Hiko-nyan’s appearance. Still a shutterbug’s darling, he only had to walk left and right on stage and pose for cell phone photos. Although Kumamon and Funasshi have overtaken Hiko-nyan in terms of fame and popularity, Hiko-nyan remains popular. Disappointed that nothing from Maibara was featured on stage. They should’ve brought Maibara’s taiko drum dancers.

こんなポスターを見せても文字が小さくて読めへんよ!ひこにゃんの顔も隠さないでください!皆は写真を撮っているから!!(上のスクリーンにご当地キャラ博の様子と開催日時を上映すればよかったのに。)こういう時も着物姿のミス彦根城大使などが登場して話をするといい。またはプロの司会者やアナウンサーが望ましい。

Shiga donburi

Shiga donburi

An eatery in Shiga had this donburi booth (left) for lunch. Unfortunately, it was right next to the super popular Kobe beef booth (right) which always had long lines. As you can see, the Shiga booth wasn’t crowded at all. It served a rice bowl with a topping of Omi beef, pork, and chicken.

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Shiga’s donburi

この「近江三大肉丼」はあまり人気ではなかったね。問題は誰も聞いたことない「三大肉丼」の名。隣の焼き肉丼は「神戸牛」の有名なキーワードで客が絶えずに殺到された。もっと大胆に「近江牛」や「赤こんにゃく」などの有名なキーワードを看板にしないと集客力が弱い。

僕はこの「近江三大肉丼」と「神戸牛の焼き肉丼」を食った。両方とも量が少なくてまずまずでした。味はいいけど、神戸牛は油っこい。

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Hikone butsudan maker

The expo had a traditional crafts area with traditional crafts people giving live demos. Shiga had two two crafts booths. One was this Hikone butsudan (Buddhist altar) maker. I had a nice talk with this master craftsman from Hikone. He builds the altar doors. The sculptured wooden parts are made in Maibara (Samegai). He makes several hundred butsudan every year. He even makes altars for Buddhist temples and repairs butsudan too. Seems very busy. He said I could visit and see him work in Hikone. Yep, I will do so. The butsudan on the left behind him showed a price tag of 1,641,600 yen.

彦根仏壇の職人さん。とても面白い話を聞かせてもらいました。丁寧に質問などを答えてくれてとてもいい人でした。彦根の工房をぜったいに訪れます。外国人の知人とね。

Omi jofu hemp cloth

Omi jofu hemp cloth 近江上布

Besides the butsudan maker, there was a booth for weaving Omi jofu (hemp cloth) from Aisho. Happy to see not one, but two crafts people from Shiga. You could try and weave the cloth yourself.

伝統的工芸品の職人さんのコーナーではなんと二件の滋賀出身の職人さんもいました。嬉しい。伝統的工芸品の職人さんは大好きですね。専門の専門で熱心に仕事をして常に自分の腕を磨きながら新しい品物を造ったり開発したりする。とてもクリエイティブな仕事。

Miss Sansa Odori from Morioka, Iwate.

Miss Sansa Odori from Morioka, Iwate.

I wasn’t too impressed with Shiga’s booth and stage presentation. They need to have better spokespersons on stage like these two Miss Sansa Odori from Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. They had bright, smiling faces and a welcome tone of voice. Not only that, they could dance too. Sansa Odori is a native dance of Morioka performed in August. The tourism expo was like a virtual tour of Japan at one place. Highly recommend it.

Sansa Odori dancers from Morioka, Iwate.

Sansa Odori dancers from Morioka, Iwate.

参考のために岩手県盛岡市のミスさんさ踊りのステージです。明るい表情と笑顔と優しい声でさんさ踊りを紹介。そして実演。太鼓の連中も笑顔です。言うまでもなくアピール度が高い。これを見て私も本当にさんさ踊りを一度見に行きたい気持ちが湧きました。

滋賀のステージで長浜の秋の祭りも紹介して欲しかった。きもの大園遊会とか。曳山祭りの4月はまだまだ先。そしてなぜステージで米原を紹介しなかったの??太鼓踊りでもやったら迫力あるよ。むしろ秋に太鼓踊りがある(あった)。

自己PRには滋賀ってどうしても下手です。イモっぽくていいんですが、まず基本的なこと、常識なことをしっかり整って欲しい。こんな国際的な場にも外国語の紹介も必要。UNESCOにもアピールしたいやろう?(機会翻訳は通じへん。)

毎回同じパターンではなく、想像力(創造力)を生かしてもっと面白い、新鮮なアイデアを生み出そう。職人さんのようにもっと熱心的になって細かいところまでこだわること。細かいことは大体重要なポイントで質と印象ががらんと変えるもの。PRの職人さんになろう(または雇おう)。

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