Archive for Nagahama

Nagahama Kannon exhibition in Tokyo

kannon

A rare and magnificent exhibition of eighteen Kannon statues from Nagahama is being held at The University Art Museum (東京藝術大学美術館), Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) from March 21 to April 13, 2014 near Ueno Station in Tokyo. Kannon is called the Goddess of Mercy.

The show is titled, Life and Prayer, Kannon Sculptures from Nagahama (観音の里の祈りとくらし展-びわ湖・長浜のホトケたち). Organized by the Tokyo University of the Arts and the city of Nagahama.

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Good crowd seeing the exhibition.

Although the National Treasure 11-face Kannon statue from Doganji (Kogenji) in Takatsuki is not in the show, three of the eighteen Kannon statues are Important Cultural Properties. Most of the statues date from the 12th century, and three are from the 9th century or earlier. There is a wide variety of Kannon statues: Large, small, black, wood grained, standing, sitting, grinning, multi-faced, and ones with many arms. Fabulous collection, all displayed in one room. A good crowd of people have been going to the exhibition even on weekdays.

Each statue has a Japanese description (no English). Interesting to read about how statues were buried by villagers to protect it from being destroyed by warlord Oda Nobunaga who purged warrior monks and temples in Shiga. Two wooden statues that were buried now look very worn out from the burial. But somehow they still retain their beauty and dignity. Many of the statues have survived over the centuries thanks to the efforts of the local people. I was upset to learn that one temple was burglarized twice and so it now has fewer statues. Temple burglaries is a problem, especially in Shiga where there are so many temples and treasures. A temple in Koka is missing two of its Buddhist statues which are Important Cultural Properties, believed to have been stolen and sold on the black market.

Shiga has Japan’s highest number of Kannon statues designated as Important Cultural Properties (including a National Treasure). There are 37 Kannon statues in Nagahama. It is not known for certain why northern Nagahama has so many beautiful Kannon statues. One theory says that it may be largely due to Mt. Kodakami-yama (己高山, 923 m) in Kinomoto that could be seen far and wide and became an object of worship (山岳信仰). Kodakami-yama’s main temple was a Kannon temple. Written records show that there were many temples dedicated to Kodakami-yama, and Kannon statues were made for them.

When you enter the exhibition room, they give you a very nice plastic file folder with a Kannon statue design. It feels thick like an exhibition pamphlet, but it only contains Nagahama tourist pamphlets. Nice that it included a free ticket (worth ¥500) to the Kurobe Kanbee Expo currently held in Nagahama. I plan to see the expo so this show turned out to be a good deal for me.

They also sell a small exhibition catalog/book for ¥1,500. The museum gift shop is also selling a bunch of books about Nagahama Kannon statues published by local publishers in Shiga. Nothing in English though.

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The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts

Museum admission is 500 yen for adults, ¥300 for high school and college students, and free for younger kids. Museum hours 10 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm). The museum is a 15-min. walk from Ueno Station. Just walk through Ueno Park (Map). Tokyo University of the Arts (nicknamed Geidai) is one of Japan’s most venerated art universities. Website

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Museum lobby.

video room

Short video on Nagahama’s Kannon also shown.

Movie review: Idai Naru, Shurarabon

Shurarabon-posterLake Biwa and Hikone are getting a PR boost from this movie called, Idai Naru, Shurarabon (偉大なる、しゅららぼん The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom) currently playing in theaters. (Movie trailer in English at the bottom of this article.)

The movie title is making everyone ask, “What the heck is Shurarabon??” It’s not a normal Japanese word, but knowing that the movie was filmed almost entirely in Shiga Prefecture was enough for me to see the movie (and read the manga) to find out.

Overall, I thought the movie was good and worth seeing especially if you know Shiga. The story, casting, special effects, and Shiga scenery came together well enough. For us Shiga people, it’s a movie to gleefully exclaim, “I know where that is!” or “I’ve been there!” Indeed, many familiar places appear in the film unlike last year’s Time Scoop Hunter (about Azuchi Castle) that showed few recognizable places in Shiga.

The cast and crew spent one month in Shiga in spring 2013 filming the movie. Much of it was filmed in and around Hikone Castle. Another major spot was Chikubushima (pronounced correctly most of the time, except once when it was pronounced “Chikubujima”). We also see the inside of Daitsuji temple in Nagahama, Himure Hachimangu Shrine and Omi Kyodaisha Gakuen in Omi-Hachiman, Omi Shonin-tei restaurant in Aisho, Maiami-hama beach in Yasu, and stately Rokkaen in Kuwana, Mie Pref. It was all on-location and they didn’t shoot in any movie studio. This movie review doesn’t have any plot spoilers so you can still read on even if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Based on the novel by Osaka-born Makime Manabu (万城目学), Idai Naru, Shurarabon is a modern-day fantasy story centering on two feuding Lake Biwa (Biwako) lakeside clans, the Hinode Clan (日出家) and Natsume Clan (棗家). Key members of both clans have supernatural powers gained and retained from the divine water of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake and greatest “power spot.” If they move away from Lake Biwa, they lose their powers. Once upon a time, other lakeside clans (called Lake People) at other lakes in Japan existed, but those lakes lost their power and so their Lake People also lost their powers.

The Hinode Clan’s main family is Japan’s only family to live in a castle. They live in the fictitious Iwabashiri Castle in the fictitious city of Iwabashiri (石走) in eastern Lake Biwa. The castle and city are actually Hikone. Even JR Hikone Station is shown as “Iwabashiri Station” in the movie. The Hinode Clan, led by clan head Hinode Tankuro (日出 淡九郎), has the power to enter a person’s heart and mind and control it. This mind control enabled Tankuro to become a local business tycoon by making his disagreeing opponents agree with him. Many businesses in Iwabashiri bear the Hinode name.

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Tanjuro, Kiyoko, and Ryosuke enter the castle (Tenbin Yagura).

Meanwhile, the Natsume Clan is in decline. Most of its branch family members have been purged from Lake Biwa by Tankuro. Only the main Natsume family is left in Iwabashiri. Clan head Natsume Nagami (棗 永海) runs a martial arts dojo. The Natsume Clan has the power to control a person’s physical actions and can also manipulate time. So they are good at stopping fist fights, etc.

One big drawback is, whenever a supernatural Hinode clan member uses his/her power, supernatural Natsume clan members will hear a great big noise (SHU RA RA RA!!). And vice versa. Whenever a supernatural Natsume clan member uses his power, supernatural Hinode clan members will hear a thunderous noise (BO-BO-BON!!). Another reason why they don’t like each other.

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Ryosuke hearing the dreaded noise as Natsume Hiromi uses his power.

Shortly after birth, Lake People babies undergo a religious ceremony at Chikubushima to determine whether he or she has supernatural powers (chikara). If the baby has the power, it is given a first name that includes no more than one kanji character having the sanzui radical for “water” such as 涼介 (Ryosuke), 淡十郎 (Tanjuro), 清子 (Kiyoko), and 広海 (Hiromi). In the movie, those with supernatural powers also bear a birthmark in the shape of Lake Biwa. This power also cannot be revealed to common folks, making it a childhood burden.

The movie begins with 15-year-old Hinode Ryosuke, the main character (played by Okada Masaki), arriving at Iwabashiri Castle for a home stay to hone his supernatural powers under the main Hinode family. Ryosuke is from a branch family of the Hinode living on the opposite side of the lake on the western shore. Hinode Clan tradition stipulates that all supernatural Hinode Clan members spend their three high school years at the main family’s residence (Iwabashiri Castle) to train. Ryosuke arrived in April (cherry blossom season), the day before the start of high school. While attending high school (named Iwabashiri Gakuen), Ryosuke is trained at the castle.

The main Hinode family’s heir is another 15-year-old, Tanjuro, the son of clan head and business tycoon Tankuro (Sano Shiro). Tanjuro is an eccentric, spoiled brat, and treated like a lord and living legend with exceptional powers. Although he is depicted as short and chubby in the novel, he is quite slim in the movie played by Hamada Gaku.

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Ryosuke and Tanjuro commute to school driven by boat man Genjiro.

Ryosuke is Tanjuro’s distant cousin and a normal teenager except for his powers. He becomes a slave-like attendant to Tanjuro. Ryosuke and Tanjuro commute to their high school (filmed at the gate of Shiga University and the classroom and grounds of Omi Kyodaisha Gakuen) via moat boat in hilarious red school uniforms. Red is Tanjuro’s favorite color, but I saw it as a salute to the Ii Clan’s trademark red samurai armor. The school uniform for boys was actually black.

For 1,300 years, the Hinode and Natsume clans have been rivals feuding over their supernatural powers. Hinode heir Tanjuro wants to forfeit his inherited powers and end the feud. He arranges a meeting with Natsume Hiromi (Dai Watanabe), his classmate and heir to the Natsume Clan. Tanjuro, Ryosuke, and Hiromi are all in the same high school class. They meet at the Natsume Clan’s dojo (filmed at Omi Shonin-tei in Aisho) and Tanjuro proposes that he and Hiromi both leave Lake Biwa to pursue their personal interests. Since they will both lose their powers, the feud would stop. Although the manga mentions that Tanjuro would go to France to pursue art and Hiromi should go to Italy to study fashion, the places they would move to is not mentioned in the movie.

Of course, both their families fiercely opposed this proposal. However, a third force with overwhelming powers comes into play, bringing together the two heirs and Ryosuke to fight off the third force. There are some good special visual effects here.

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Classmates Natsume Hiromi, Hinode Tanjuro, and Hinode Ryosuke team up (Hikone Castle Museum).

At the very end of the movie (after the credit roll), Tanjuro reveals what “Shurarabon” really means. (Surprising and a little disgusting.)

The story has quite a few supporting characters, but the movie is too short to fully develop and explore all of them. There’s Kiyoko, Tanjuro’s tough older sister who got stressed out by the noise of people’s thoughts and confined herself to the castle. She’s supposed to be chubby, but actress Fukada Kyoko is slim. High school delinquent Kasai (Koyanagi Yu) was funny and Natsume Clan head Nagami (Takada Nobuhiko) had excellent on-screen presence. Wish we could’ve seen more of them in the movie.

The Hinode clan’s boat man, Genjiro, was cast well with Sasano Takashi. Fujimiya Toko (Kanjiya Shihori) is Ryosuke’s busybody power trainer with only one memorable scene using a rubber ducky. Another major supporting role was high school principal Hayase Yoshiharu (Murakami Hiroaki). Wish we heard more about his background as a member of the Hayase Clan who originally lived in the castle until they sold it to the Hinode family. And Ryosuke’s brother Kosuke doesn’t appear at all in the film.

The movie omits or abbreviates many scenes and elements from the original story. Even the manga introduces quite a few Shiga things like the Lake Biwa Giant Catfish and the board game Carrom (カロム), popular in eastern Shiga (Hikone). But we hardly see it in the movie. Too bad they can’t make movies longer than 2 hours. Since the film pretty much whipped through the storyline, it would be worth reading the novel too. But it’s still entertaining for us to see Shiga on the silver screen.

The Shiga Location Office’s blog has a good collection of photos and anecdotes about the filming locations. It says that the moat boat scene with Tanjuro and Ryosuke commuting to school amid cherry blossoms was filmed in the early morning before the arrival of the hordes of tourists coming to see the cherries. The extras used in the high school scenes were students from Hikone Higashi High School next to Hikone Castle and near Shiga University. The school’s interior scenes were shot at Omi Kyodaisha High School over three days.

When they shot the Natsume dojo scene at Omi Shonin-tei restaurant, the classy restaurant treated them to a sumptuous lunch of Lake Biwa carp. For the special effects scene with the horse running through the lake, they set up a huge green screen in Moriyama. Not only that, they brought over live Lake Biwa carp fish (koi and funa) to wiggle around in the scene. (At first I thought the fish were computer graphics.) For the scene showing Chikubushima’s underwater cliff, they filmed the face of a huge stone quarry in Koka.

I don’t think I’ll have time to read the long Japanese novel, but there is an English version of the novel which I plan to read and review here.

Movie Stars’ Impressions of Shiga
At the theater, I bought the colorful movie program (¥700). The three main stars are interviewed and they each give their impressions of Shiga:

Hamada Gaku (Hinode Tanjuro): “It was my first time to visit Shiga and Lake Biwa. When I first saw Lake Biwa, it looked so big that I thought it was the ocean. I was so surprised. And Hiko-nyan was awfully cute. Honestly, I thought it was only about Lake Biwa. But there were areas with a castle town atmosphere and we filmed at most of the famous sights. We also went on special sightseeing tours like seeing inside Hikone Castle, so it was great.”

Okada Masaki (Hinode Ryosuke): “The local people cooperated with us really well, so I was very grateful. While we were filming at Hikone Castle, they gave us many little gifts (i.e. snacks and food) and many volunteers turned out so I was so happy. And Hiko-nyan was our rival! How can he be so cute (laughs)! Real cute. He kind of waddles while walking so it was hard for him to go up the stone steps. But after he went up the steps, I saw his happy and relieved face. That was cute too, darn it (laughs)! From the first day of filming, I saw him as a rival, that cat! But now, it’s so nostalgic.”

“It was my first time to see Lake Biwa. I heard that it was Japan’s largest lake, but I didn’t know it was that big! I felt power from Lake Biwa at Chikubushima. That place was mystical and we can’t go there that often. It was wonderful to throw the small clay dish at the shrine torii too, even though mine just nosedived.”

Fukada Kyoko (Hinode Kiyoko aka The Great Kiyoko): “We filmed a lot at Hikone Castle, so whenever I saw Hiko-nyan passing by, it made me so happy. I always looked for him. When the timing was right, I was able to see him. I looked forward to seeing him every day. Also, the image I had of Lake Biwa was different from what I saw. It was like an emerald-blue ocean. When we filmed on the beach of Lake Biwa (Maiami-hama in Yasu), it was so windy, making it difficult. But it was so beautiful. When I saw that scene in the movie, I was awestruck and thought, ‘Wow, how beautiful!’”

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The Great Kiyoko at Maiami-hama beach.

Makime Manabu, author of Idai Naru, Shurarabon
Makime was born in 1976 in Osaka where he grew up. He graduated from Kyoto University. He has written a slew of novels set in the Kansai Region. At least one novel each for Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. Now it was Shiga’s turn with Idai Naru, Shurarabon. His stories are an interesting mixture of fantasy and local history in a modern-day setting. His previous novel, Princess Toyotomi, set in Osaka, was also made into a movie. Two of the actors in Princess Toyotomi also appear in Idai Naru, Shurarabon.

Makime published Idai Naru, Shurarabon in monthly installments from May 2010 to April 2011 in Shosetsu Subaru (小説すばる), a literary magazine published by Shueisha. The installments were then published as a novel. Makime loved eastern Shiga and visited Hikone and Chikubushima many times to research the novel.

The concept of people receiving superpowers from the lake’s divine water is an amusing exaggeration of our dependence on Lake Biwa. And the idea of Lake Biwa being Japan’s greatest “power spot” is a good one. I hope this movie will prompt people to visit Lake Biwa to seek or recharge their “power.” It certainly has worked for me.

Shiga-only movie ticket with Hiko-nyan.

Shiga-only movie ticket with Hiko-nyan.

*Japanese personal names above follow the Japanese custom of the surname coming before the given name.

Now Playing
Idai Naru, Shurarabon (偉大なる、しゅららぼん) is currently playing in Shiga Prefecture at the following theaters:

United Cinemas Otsu
Alex Cinemas Otsu
Hikone Viva City Cinema
Aeon Cinema Omi-Hachiman
Aeon Cinema Kusatsu
Minakuchi Alex Cinemas (Koka)
Theaters outside Shiga: Click here

Admission
Adults: ¥1,800
High school and college students: ¥1,500
Elementary and Jr. High students: ¥1,000
Ladies day (every Wed.): ¥1,000 (ladies only)
Late show (8 pm or later): ¥1,200
First day of the month: ¥1,000
Age 60 and above: ¥1,000
Married couples with a spouse age 50 or older: ¥2,000 per couple

*Movie ticket collectors should note that Shiga-only movie tickets with Hiko-nyan pictured with Tanjuro and Ryosuke are being sold at selected vendors in Shiga. They include Hikone Castle and Museum ticket offices and tourist information offices in Hikone and Nagahama. These tickets are good for admission at all theaters in Japan showing the movie.

Trailer with English subtitles (Video link: http://vimeo.com/82622019):

Official Website

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

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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.

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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: http://www.omi-syonin.com/htm01/book2014.htm

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.

Sugatani Onsen hot spring in Nagahama

Sugatani Spa outdoor hot spring bath.

To temporarily escape this winter cold, I went to Sugatani Onsen Spa (須賀谷温泉) in Nagahama. Although I haven’t been to all of Shiga’s hot springs, I can say that this one would be a personal favorite.

It’s off the beaten path in a quiet area at the foot of low mountains near Mt. Odani. It’s not touristy like Ogoto Onsen Spa in Otsu and not crowded (at least on weekdays). Perfect place to warm up, relax, and think about new projects for this new year.

For only 1,000 yen (500 yen for kids), I could bathe in natural hot spring waters in two indoor baths and one outdoor bath (rotenburo) with a view of the sky and trees on the mountain. I brought my own towel so I didn’t need to rent a towel for 200 yen.

The outstanding thing is that the hot spring water is brown due to the high amount of iron mineral (siderite). It adds to the authenticity of the hot spring. The water supposed to be good for a variety ailments such as sore muscles, stiff shoulders, digestive problems, and eczema. The water temperature was also perfect, not too hot at all.

The brown hot spring water is famous for being a favorite of Ichi (Oichi), wife of Lord Azai Nagamasa and younger sister of famous warlord Oda Nobunaga. Ichi (1547–1583) and Nagamasa (1545-1573) lived in nearby Odani Castle in the 16th century. She had a turbulent life in turbulent times of warring warlords. Her three daughters, Chacha, Hatsu, and Go went on to marry very prominent samurai. Samurai retainers from Odani Castle also bathed in the water to heal their war wounds.

The hot spring facilities and guest rooms (room rates start at around 16,000 yen per person) are very nice and still look quite new. The building was newly constructed in fall 2004 to replace the old one (now closed) which still stands further behind the new building. I’ve been to the old onsen building and bath and this new facility is totally different and a great improvement. The lobby is spacious and inviting. There’s also a small gift shop, massage chairs, banquet room, and restaurant. I chatted with the reception desk clerk and he told me about the declining population of Sugatani. He even encouraged me to move to Sugatani. One benefit of that would be daily access to this healing water.

For non-guests, bathing hours are 11 am to 9 pm (日帰り入浴). Shampoo and soap are provided in the bathing area. Note that on weekends and holidays after 3 pm, priority is given to guests staying at the onsen so day-trip visitors might have to wait to get in the bath.

If you don’t have a car, you can go to JR Kawake Station (two stops north of Nagahama Station on the JR Hokuriku Line) and give them a call (0749-74-2235) to pick you up. You can also call them from the foot of Mt. Odani (after visiting Odani Castle) to pick you up. Note that they don’t speak English.

Google Map | Website in Japanese: http://www.sugatani.co.jp

Sugatani Onsen

Two indoor baths. One is lukewarm to cool off.

Changing room, bright and clean.

More Sugatani Onsen photos here.

Tundra Swans on Lake Biwa


On the third day of this new year, I drove up to northern Nagahama’s Kohoku-cho shore along the lakeside road. I went looking for migratory Tundra Swans (kohakucho コハクチョウ) on the lake since I had never photographed them on the lake.

Every autumn around late October, we always hear about the first arrival of Tundra Swans from Siberia. It’s a harbinger of winter for Shiga and those birds are beloved in Shiga. I’m not really a birdwatcher nor a wildlife photographer, but I decided that I’d better get some swan shots.

Fortunately, I spotted a few of them (top photo). A small family of swans among Taiga bean geese, also a migratory bird. Tundra Swans from northern Siberia have been wintering on Lake Biwa since 1971. They arrive in families. Swan couples fly together with their young born last May-June. The juvenile birds are grayish instead of white. They stick together as a family the whole time. Several hundred Tundra Swans winter on Lake Biwa, and over 600 came over last winter. Most of them can be seen in northern Nagahama such as the Kohoku-cho area.

Meanwhile, Taiga bean geese (オオヒシクイ) also spend winter on Lake Biwa, arriving from around late September. They come from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and fly over Sakhalin before arriving along the Japan Sea coast. A few thousand of them winter in Japan and a few hundred come to Lake Biwa. Lake Biwa is the southernmost area of Japan where they winter.

Kohoku Mizudori Station

Also visited the Kohoku Mizudori Station, a great place to stop for a bite to eat or to pick up local products and souvenirs. In Japanese, it’s a michi-no-eki, which is a roadside rest stop with a store and eatery. Michi-no-eki are geared for tourists traveling by car. They are conveniently located along a major road (usually far from any train station). Most of Shiga’s cities and towns have at least one michi-no-eki. I’ve included all of them in my Google Maps of Shiga.

Next to Kohoku Mizudori Station is the Kohoku Wildbird Center for birdwatching, which was unfortunately closed for the New Year’s holidays. It’s too bad because there were a lot of people at the Kohoku Mizudori Station and I’m sure they would have also visited the center. Anyway, mission accomplished. Tundra Swan images added to my collection.

Shopping at Kohoku Mizudori Station.

Kohoku Mizudori Station’s ko-ayu sweetfish tempura food stand was very popular. This lady was busy as heck on Jan. 3.

One of the best simple pleasures in Shiga is ko-ayu sweetfish tempura just out of the hot oil. 380 yen.

Autumn festivals and foliage November 2013 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals, events, exhibitions, and autumn leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November 2013. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.) Compiled by Philbert Ono.

20131027-8443

Kunimasu trout at Lake Biwa Museum.

Oct. 26 – November 24, 2013
♦ Kunimasu Trout Special Exhibit, Lake Biwa Museum, Kusatsu, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
A special and rare exhibit (the first in western Japan) of live kunimasu trout (Oncorhynchus kawamurae or black kokanee), previously thought to have gone extinct in the 1940s. Kunimasu was an endemic fish found only in Lake Tazawa in Akita Prefecture, but became extinct (along with most other fish species in the lake) in the 1940s when the water became too acidic. The acidic water came from nearby Tamagawa hot springs. In 1940, they allowed the hot spring’s highly acidic water to flow into the lake for a hydroelectric power plant and for diluting the hot spring’s acidity. The war effort was Japan’s top priority at the time, and they didn’t care about the environment and some fish becoming extinct. A far cry from today. The lake still has not fully recovered from its acidic water.

In 1930, kunimasu fish eggs were sent to a number of lakes in Nagano, Yamanashi, and Toyama Prefectures as an experiment to see if they could be hatched and bred artificially. Sending fish eggs to other places was done to increase stocks of food fish. In 1935, the eggs were sent to Lake Saiko and Lake Motosu near Mt. Fuji and even to Shiga Prefecture’s Samegai Trout Farm in Maibara. The hatching experiment was deemed to have failed since no kunimasu were ever caught outside Lake Tazawa. In 1997-98, the Lake Tazawa Tourist Association offered a 5 million yen cash reward for any kunimasu caught in Japan. But no luck.

Then in 2010, Kyoto University professor Nakabo Tetsuji (中坊 徹次) requested a fish fanatic celebrity and illustrator, nicknamed Sakana-kun, to draw an illustration of a kunimasu. To help him draw this “extinct” fish, Sakana-kun had people send him specimens of himemasu (Oncorhynchus nerka or kokanee) which is a close relative of kunimasu. Then one fish sent from Lake Saiko in Yamanashi Prefecture caught Sakana-kun’s attention since it looked like kunimasu. He sent it to Professor Nakabo who examined and checked the DNA. He and his research team confirmed it to be kunimasu in mid-December 2010. They announced the find to the press and it was Japan’s fish story of the century.

It turned out that fishermen at Lake Saiko had been catching kunimasu all along, but called it kuromasu because it turned black (kuro means “black”) before spawning. It was relatively common to catch even among sport fishermen. People who dared to eat the black fish found it to be very delicious. Lake Saiko now retricts fishing in areas where the deep-water kunimasu is thought to dwell. And Lake Tazawa is working to cleanse its acidic water to allow kunimasu back to its original home.

Five artificially-hatched kunimasu are displayed in the Lake Biwa Museum aquarium’s special exhibition room. Museum admission for adults is 750 yen (kids free), but it will be free for all on Nov. 16-17 as part of Kansai Culture Day when most museums in Shiga and neighboring prefectures will be free.

By train, get off at JR Kusatsu Station on the Tokaido/Biwako Line. Get out the Nishi-guchi west exit and wait at bus stop 2. Take the bus going to Karasuma Hanto (peninsula) and get off at Biwako Hakubutsukan (琵琶湖博物館). About 25 min. Buses run about twice an hour on weekends and once an hour on weekdays. Bus fare 420 yen. Bus schedule hereGoogle Map
琵琶湖博物館 よみがえった魚 クニマス
http://www.lbm.go.jp/tenji/ex_suizoku/s_topic_131026_kunimasu.html

dotaku2013

Japan’s largest dotaku bell in Yasu.

October 5-Nov. 24, 2013
♦ Homecoming Exhibition for Japan’s Largest Bronze Bell and Yayoi no Mori Foliage Illumination, Dotaku Bronze Bell Museum (Yasu Folk History Museum) (Yasu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan 銅鐸博物館 野洲市歴史民俗博物館), Yasu, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (till 9 pm on Nov. 16-17), closed Oct. 15 and Nov. 5
Yayoi no Mori Foliage Illumination on Nov. 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 at 5:45 pm – 9 pm (enter by 8:30 pm).
A very special and rare exhibit of Japan’s largest ancient bronze bell (called dotaku) found near the museum in Yasu. The bell, designated as an Important Cultural Property, is owned by the Tokyo National Museum where it is normally exhibited. This is the first time this bell will be exhibited in its hometown of Yasu since it was unearthed in 1881. A smaller dotaku on loan from the Tokyo National Museum and numerous replica dotaku bells are also on display.

On Aug. 20, 1881, two young lads were playing on nearby Mt. Oiwa when they stumbled across three dotaku bells partially exposed in the ground. The next day, eleven more dotaku were discovered in the same area. The bells are dated from around 100 BC to 300 AD (Japan’s Yayoi Period). The bells were not really used as bells. They were more for decorative and religious purposes. Two of the dotaku were acquired by the Tokyo National Museum. The remaining dotaku were scattered among various people. Their whereabouts were unknown until an investigation found 12 of them at temples and Japanese and overseas museums. It’s frustrating that none of the original dotaku discovered in Yasu are in Yasu. Another case of bungling and ineptness by local officials who couldn’t recognize a good thing when they saw it. Near the museum, there’s a monument where the large bell was found. Yasu’s official mascot, Dotaku-kun, is modeled after this bell.

Also, the museum has Yayoi no Mori, an outdoor display of Yayoi-Period grass shacks and garden of autumn foliage that will be illuminated in the evening on the days listed above. The museum will also be open till 9 pm on Nov. 16-17. Museum admission 200 yen for adults. Free admission for Yasu residents and free for all on Nov. 16-17 for Kansai Culture Day.

From JR Yasu Station’s South exit (Minami-guchi), take a bus going to Karyoku Koen (花緑公園) or Murata Seisakusho (via Nishi Gate 西ゲート経由 村田製作所行き) and get off at Dotaku Hakubutsukan-mae (銅鐸博物館前). Bus ride is only a few minutes. From bus stop, cross the road to get to the museum. The bus stop to go back to Yasu Station is up the slope on the other side of the road where you got off. You can ask the museum about the bus times to go back. Buses run infrequently. Bus schedule for weekdaysSat. and Sun. here. Or 10 min. by taxi. Google Map

銅鐸-日本最大銅鐸の里帰り-
http://www.city.yasu.lg.jp/doc/kyouikubu/hakubutukan/2013doutaku.html

Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2013
♦ Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade, Hikone Castle, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Very elaborate costume parade of mainly kids dressed as samurai and Edo-Period ladies. Highlights include the Hikone Gun Battalion giving a matchlock gun demo (in front of Horse Stable), Ii Naosuke played by an actor on horseback, fireman acrobatics, and Sarugaku dancers. The parade route starts from Joto Elementary School and proceeds along the road to the castle and passes in front of the Umaya Horse Stable. Video here. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Google Map
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
http://www.city.hikone.shiga.jp/kanko/event/event111103.html

November 3, 2013
♦ Omi Jingu Shrine Yabusame Horseback Archery, Otsu, 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
One of Shiga’s largest shrines, Omi Jingu will hold horseback archery on this national holiday known as Culture Day. The festival starts with a ceremony at 12:30 pm and the archery begins at 1 pm along the main path. Reserved seating is also available for 500 yen. Call the shrine at 077-522-3725 to make reservations. Otherwise, get there early to get a good spot. The shrine is also famous for clocks and karuta tournaments. Near Omi Jingu-mae Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line. Google Map
近江神宮流鏑馬神事
http://oumijingu.org/publics/index/134/

November 9, 2013
♦ Traditional Fireworks Summit in Koka, Koka-shi Minakuchi Sports No Mori (soccer field), 5:00 pm
Awesome display of ground fireworks from masters all over Japan. If seeing fireworks in summer is too hot for you, this would be good. Free admission.
20-min. walk from Minakuchi Jonan Station on the Ohmi Railways. Or from Kibukawa Station, take the Heart bus and get off at Sports no Mori. Google Map
第14回全国伝統花火サミットin甲賀
http://www.koka-kanko.org/res/?evid=325

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 10-December 1, 2013
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine Maple Festival Light-up, Otsu
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hie in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture is the head shrine for all Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno Shrines in Japan (around 2,000). The spacious grounds includes two shrines that are National Treasures and 3,000 maple trees lit up at night 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm during this period. Even the green leaves look great against the dark sky. Highly recommended if you’re in that part of the city. Near Hiezan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line and Keihan Line’s Sakamoto Station. Google Map
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Kongorinji

Kongorinji

November 16-December 1, 2013
♦ Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage, Kora, Aisho, and Higashi-Omi
Koto Sanzan (湖東三山) is a trio of large Tendai Buddhist temples in eastern Shiga: Saimyoji (西明寺) in Kora, Kongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi. They are famous for autumn leaves and structures that are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Each temple also has its own unique characteristics. Saimyoji has a National Treasure Hondo worship hall and National Treasure pagoda that you can enter. It’s also deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Kongorinji has many little Jizo statues and a National Treasure Hondo main hall housing an 11-faced Kannon statue and 13 other statues that are Important Cultural Properties. Hyakusaiji is famous for giant straw sandals on a gate and a Japanese garden. Established by Shotoku Taishi in 609, Hyakusaiji is Shiga Prefecture’s oldest temple and one of Japan’s oldest. The Hondo temple hall has an 11-faced Kannon statue carved by Shotoku Taishi, a prince credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan.

During this period, convenient shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between these three temples and a few train stations. The shuttle buses run most frequently from north to south, that is, from Saimyoji to Kongorinji and then to Hyakusaiji. Board the shuttle bus at JR Kawase Station or Ohmi Railways Amago Station. The bus will stop at Saimyoji first. Check the bus stop for bus departure times. After touring Saimyoji, catch another shuttle bus to the next temple, Kongorinji, and then Hyakusaiji. Shuttle buses also run from Hyakusaiji to Eigenji (listed below), another temple famous for foliage. From Hyakusaiji and Eigenji, buses go to Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. Buses depart once or twice an hour from 9:10 am at Kawase Station and 9:20 am at Amago Station. From Hyakusaiji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:35 pm for Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station arriving at 5 pm. Or you can catch the 5 pm shuttle bus for Amago Station (arrive 5:46 pm) or Kawase Station (arrive 5:56 pm).

If you want to go from south to north, catch the shuttle bus at Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station at 9:35 am and get off at Hyakusaiji. From Saimyoji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 5:33 pm for Ohmi Railways Amago Station and JR Kawase Station. Buses also run between Ohmi Railways Taga Taisha-mae Station and Saimyoji. See the bus schedule here (in Japanese).
Bus fare is 200 yen per ride which is only 10-20 min. They also offer a day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for 1,650 yen. This day pass includes passage on all Koto Sanzan shuttle buses and all Ohmi Railways trains. A good deal if you plan to ride on Ohmi Railways. Each temple also charges admission of 500 yen. Note that if you like to take your time, you might not be able to see all three temples in one day.
Saimyoji Map | Kongorinji Map | Hyakusaiji Map
秋の湖東三山
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/bus/event/2013/kotoushuttle/images/kouyou.pdf
Official sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Eigenji

Eigenji in autumn. Hondo on right.

November 9-30, 2013
Eigenji Temple Autumn Foliage and Light-up, Higashi-Omi, 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm for light-up
Although this temple is not one of the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio, it’s also famous for autumn leaves with 3,000 maple trees. Along with Saimyoji, Eigenji is also one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Established in 1361, Eigenji belongs to the Zen Rinzai Buddhist Sect (Eigenji School). Since it’s a different sect, Eigenji is not a member of the Koto Sanzan trio of Tendai Sect temples. Impressive during the day, but also beautiful at night when the leaves are illuminated along with the walking paths. Admission 500 yen.

From Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus going to Eigenji Shako (永源寺車庫) and get off at Eigenji-mae (永源寺前). Takes about 35 min. Bus schedule from Yokaichi Station on weekdays | Saturday | Sunday. Note that from Eigenji-mae, the last bus for Yokaichi Station leaves at 7:26 pm on Sat./Sun. and 8:27 pm on weekdays. Shuttle buses from Hyakusaiji also run to Eigenji during Nov. 16-Dec. 1. Google Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
http://eigenji-t.jp

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha Shrine in autumn.

November 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 2013
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:45 pm – 9:00 pm
Established in 717 (Nara Period), Hyozu Taisha Shrine has a noted Japanese garden with a pond ringed by small rolling hills and autumn leaves. The fall leaves certainly look colorful and impressive when illuminated in the evenings and reflected in the pond. Mini concerts will be held during the foliage illumination in the evenings.

A short bus ride from JR Yasu Station’s North Exit (Kita-guchi). Take the Yoshikawa Line (going to Nishi Kawahara 2-chome 西河原2丁目 or Ayame-hama あやめ浜) and get off at Hyozu Taisha 兵主大社. Buses are infrequent (schedule here). The last bus leaving Hyozu Taisha for Yasu Station leaves at 9:02 pm on weekdays and 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Google Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 15-December 1, 2013
Genkyuen Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Hikone, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Adjacent to Hikone Castle, Genkyuen was built as a castle garden in 1677 by Ii Naooki, the fourth lord of Hikone Castle. I would call this Shiga’s best place to view autumn foliage illumination. The pond’s reflection of the colorful autumn leaves at night doubles the impact. Hikone Castle in the background is also lit up for a perfect night scene. Reminds me of a master painter using a black canvas. Admission 500 yen. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Google Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/

Chojuji in autumn.

November 16-December 1, 2013
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio Tour, Konan, all day
Not to be confused with Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan is a trio of Tendai Buddhist temples in the city of Konan. A small city like Konan is lucky to have as many as four National-Treasure structures at the three Konan Sanzan temples. Like Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan temples are also noted for autumn leaves. During this period, a convenient shuttle bus plies between the temples and train stations.

The temples are Jorakuji 常楽寺, Chojuji 長寿寺, and Zensuiji 善水時. Jorakuji has not one, but two buildings that are National Treasures: the Hondo main hall and three-story pagoda. Chojuji means, “Long Life Temple,” and its small, but distinctive Hondo hall is a National Treasure. Zensuiji has the largest and most impressive Hondo hall (National Treasure) bearing elegant roof lines. Not to be missed by architectural buffs. The three temples are all in quiet, rural neighborhoods.

One thing you have to understand is that two of the temples (Jorakuji and Chojuji) are on one side of the train tracks and the third temple (Zensuiji) is farther away on the other side of the tracks. So there are two separate bus routes going to the three temples and there’s a train ride between Jorakuji/Chojuji and Zensuiji.

The Konan Community bus called Meguri-kun runs from JR Ishibe Station (JR Kusatsu Line) to Jorakuji and Chojuji once an hour from 8:24 am to 3:45 pm. From Jorakuji, you can take the bus to Chojuji. From Chojuji, take the bus back to JR Ishibe Station and catch the train to JR Kosei Station one stop away. From JR Kosei Station, take the bus to Zensuiji. The last bus leaves Zensuiji at 5:17 pm for JR Kosei Station. You can also tour the temples in reverse order, starting with Zensuiji. In the morning, buses leave JR Kosei Station (north exit kita-guchi) for Zensuiji at 8:28 am, 9:20 am, 9:30 am, 10:15 am, and 11:25 am. Bus schedule here. Google Map
湖南三山めぐり
http://www.burari-konan.jp/konan3zan/

November 16-December 8, 2013
♦ Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Beautiful Japanese garden designed by Kobori Enshu. Part of a temple at the foot of Mt. Kinugasa. Autumn foliage at night is reputed to be most beautiful. Of course, you can also go during the day. Tripods/monopods not allowed. The garden is usually open only on weekends and holidays, but it will be open every day during Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Admission 500 yen. From JR Azuchi Station, take a taxi for 10-min. ride. Google Map
石の寺 教林坊 紅葉ライトアップ
http://www.d1.dion.ne.jp/~marche/kyourinbou/

December 1, 2013
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show, Lute Plaza, Nagahama, 1:30 pm
The famous Tonda puppet troupe will perform three acts. Admission 1,200 yen at the door.
At JR Nagahama Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus at 12:27 pm going to Nagahama Shiyakusho Azai-shisho-mae (長浜市役所浅井支所前) and get off at Biwa Shisho-mae (びわ支所前). Takes about 20 min. Only three buses go there on Sunday. Or take a taxi if you’re rich or going with friends. Google Map
人形浄瑠璃「冨田人形」
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_7133/?month=2013/12&area=nagahama

December 1, 2013
♦ Tarobogu Shrine Fire Festival, Higashi-Omi, Noon – 4:00 pm
Held annually on the first Sunday of December, the Tarobo Shrine Fire Festival burns a big pile of 100,000 wooden prayer tablets called goma (護摩) collected from believers all over Japan. The tablet is written with the believer’s name, address, and prayer wish. The fire burns as a prayer for family health and safety. After the fire settles down, barefoot priests walk over the hot ashes. Very dramatic festival (photo here).
Short walk from Ohmi Railways Tarobogu-mae Station. Google Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~tarobo/

Autumn festivals Oct. 2013 in Shiga Prefecture

Oct.-Nov. is another prime time for festivals and events in Japan. Here are some recommended autumn/fall festivals (matsuri) and events in Shiga in October 2013. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.)

October 1-20, 2013
♦ Shigaraki Art Festival 2013, Koka, 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
Pottery exhibitions (especially tanuki raccoon dog) and noborigama kiln demonstration. Three venues in central Shigaraki, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, and Shigaraki Traditional Craft Center. Held for the second time this year. On Oct. 12-14, the Shigaraki Pottery Festival will also be held mainly at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. The outdoor pottery fair near Shigaraki Station will be scaled back this year because of the railway closure. http://www.shigaraki-matsuri.com/
Note that the Shigaraki Kogen Railway is out of service and buses are running instead between Kibukawa and Shigaraki Stations. Buses from JR Ishiyama Stationi in Otsu is also out of service due to road damage as of this writing. Google Map
信楽まちなか芸術祭
http://shigaraki-fes.com/2013/english

October 5-6, 2013
♦ Art in Nagahama, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (till 4 pm on 6th)
Art works by a few hundred artists from all over Japan will be displayed in central Nagahama. Paintings, pottery, sculptures, etc. Artists will be at booths along the streets in the neighborhood of Kurokabe Square and the Hikiyama Museum. Artist performances (live painting, etc.) will also be held. Art will be for sale. Venue map here. Near JR Nagahama Station. Google Map
アートインナガハマ2013
http://www.art-in-nagahama.com

dotaku2013

Japan’s largest dotaku bell in Yasu.

October 5-Nov. 24, 2013
♦ Homecoming Exhibition for Japan’s Largest Bronze Bell, Dotaku Bronze Bell Museum (Yasu Folk History Museum) (Yasu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan 銅鐸博物館 野洲市歴史民俗博物館), Yasu, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, closed Oct. 15 and Nov. 5
A very special and rare exhibit of Japan’s largest ancient bronze bell (called dotaku) found near the museum in Yasu. The bell, designated as an Important Cultural Property, is owned by the Tokyo National Museum where it is normally exhibited. This is the first time this bell will be exhibited in its hometown of Yasu since it was unearthed in 1881. A smaller dotaku on loan from the Tokyo National Museum and numerous replica dotaku bells are also on display.

On Aug. 20, 1881, two young lads were playing on nearby Mt. Oiwa when they stumbled across three dotaku bells partially exposed in the ground. The next day, eleven more dotaku were discovered in the same area. The bells are dated from around 100 BC to 300 AD (Japan’s Yayoi Period). The bells were not really used as bells. They were more for decorative and religious purposes. Two of the dotaku were acquired by the Tokyo National Museum. The remaining dotaku were scattered among various people. Their whereabouts were unknown until an investigation found 12 of them at temples and Japanese and overseas museums. It’s frustrating that none of the original dotaku discovered in Yasu are in Yasu. Another case of bungling and ineptness by local officials who couldn’t recognize a good thing when they saw it. Near the museum, there’s a monument where the large bell was found. Yasu’s official mascot, Dotaku-kun, is modeled after this bell.

Museum admission 200 yen for adults. Free admission for Yasu residents and free for all on Nov. 16-17.
From JR Yasu Station’s South exit (Minami-guchi), take a bus going to Karyoku Koen (花緑公園) or Murata Seisakusho (via Nishi Gate 西ゲート経由 村田製作所行き) and get off at Dotaku Hakubutsukan-mae (銅鐸博物館前). Bus ride is only a few minutes. From bus stop, cross the road to get to the museum. The bus stop to go back to Yasu Station is up the slope on the other side of the road where you got off. You can ask the museum about the bus times to go back. Buses run infrequently. Bus schedule for weekdaysSat. and Sun. here. Or 10 min. by taxi. Google Map

銅鐸-日本最大銅鐸の里帰り-
http://www.city.yasu.lg.jp/doc/kyouikubu/hakubutukan/2013doutaku.html

October 6, 2013
♦ Odani Castle Furusato Matsuri, Odani Castle Park, Nagahama, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Local hometown festival honoring the Azai Clan who lived in Odani Castle. They include the famous Azai sisters (Chacha, Go, Hatsu). The festival includes a samurai costume parade, stage entertainment, taiko drummers, yosakoi dancers, and mochi tossing. Lots of games and stuff for kids. A shuttle bus going up to Odani Castle will also run from 9:45 am to 2:15 pm (500 yen roundtrip). Lot easier/faster than walking up the mountain. From JR Kawake Station, take a bus for Odani-jo Atoguchi (小谷城址口) taking 10 min. Google Map
小谷城ふるさと祭り
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_980/

Otsu Matsuri

October 12-13, 2013
Otsu Matsuri Festival, streets north of JR Otsu Station, sunset till 9 pm on 12th, 9:00 am-5:30 pm on 13th
One of Shiga’s major festivals with thirteen ornate floats displayed and paraded around central Otsu over two days. The first day of the festival has the floats parked and displayed on the streets and lit up in the evening (Yoimiya). The second day is the festival climax with a procession of all the floats highlighted by occasional performances of karakuri mechanical puppets on the floats. Held by Tenson Shrine in Otsu. At Otsu Station, there should be a festival information counter where you can pick up maps of the parade route. Parade route is within walking distance from Otsu Station. Google Map
大津祭
http://www.otsu-matsuri.jp/festival/

October 12, 2013
♦ Nagahama Kimono Garden Party (Kimono Enyu-kai), Hokoen Park water fountain and central Nagahama, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Central Nagahama will be a colorful sight with 1,000 women age 18-40 walking around dressed in kimono from 10 am. At 2:30 pm, they will all gather at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine for a grand prize drawing. (It’s usually held at Daitsuji temple, but they are doing renovation work this year.) Prizes include overseas trips (to Hawaii and South Korea) and expensive kimono. A few hundred other prizes from local merchants and gift certificates will also be given away. You have to register here to participate in the drawing. People (including men and kids) not registered can also join in the fun by wearing a kimono and receive a gift certificate worth 1,000 yen by signing up at Hokoen Park’s water fountain. All within walking distance from JR Nagahama Station. Google Map
長浜きもの大園遊会
http://kitabiwako.jp/syusse/enyu/index.html

October 12, 2013
♦ Matchlock Gun Demonstration (Hinawaju Taikai), in front of Nagahama Castle, 11:00 am and 1:00 pm
Matchlock gun battalions from Kunitomo (Nagahama) and Tanegashima (Kagoshima Pref.) will dramatically demonstrate the firing of matchlock guns used during the 16th century. The Kunitomo neighborhood of Nagahama and Tanegashima island in Kagoshima Prefecture were famous for gunsmiths who made the guns soon after they were introduced to Japan in 1544. The guns make a big bang so it’s not for little kids or people afraid of large noises. They will perform twice for about 30 min. It will be on the same day as “Kimono Day” (see event above) so you’ll see many kimono ladies around too. Google Map
火縄銃大会
http://kitabiwako.jp/syusse/hinawa.html

Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri

October 12-14, 2013
Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri Festival, near JR Maibara Station, afternoon and evening
Held annually by Yutani Shrine, festival with three ornate floats pulled around the streets mainly on the east side of JR Maibara Station. Like the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, the floats have young boys performing kabuki. There are three floats and most years only two floats appear, but this year all three floats will appear (lucky you!). Each float will be paraded and parked at certain spots for kabuki performances. If you go from around noon to around 9 or 10 pm, you’ll see one or more of the floats sooner or later. Exact show times in Japanese. Google Map
米原曳山祭
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hozonkai/index.htm

October 13, 2013
♦ Daidogei (Street Performance) Festa in Toragozen, Nagahama (Torahime Ikigai Center 虎姫生きがいセンター), 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Several top-notch street performers will perform on stage, including a Chinese acrobat. The venue will also have food stalls and other entertainment. Performance schedule here. Free admission. The venue is a 10-min. walk from JR Torahime Station. Google Map
大道芸フェスタin虎御前
http://www.torass.com

October 13, 2013
♦ Hoko Matsuri, 12:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Procession of people and kids dressed in samurai costume marching from Hokoku Shrine (豊国神社) to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine and back. They impersonate Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his “Seven Spears” samurai who won the Battle of Shizugatake in 1583. It’s a not grand procession, but if you happen to be there that day, it’s worth seeing. Google Map
豊公まつり
http://kitabiwako.jp/syusse/houkou.html

Mascot Character Expo in Hikone

October 19-20, 2013
Yuru-kyara Expo in Hikone 2013 (Gotochi Kyara-haku in Hikone), Yume Kyobashi Castle Road and Yonbancho Square, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
Large gathering of 237 lovable mascots called “yuru-kyara” from Shiga and 40 other prefectures. The mascot star will be Hiko-nyan. There will be booths to show off whatever they are showing off. Mainly tourist destinations and products. Besides posing with the mascots for pictures, there will be stage entertainment. Note that Hiko-nyan will be untouchable. You can’t take pictures with him. They changed the name of this event from Yuru-kyara Matsuri in Hikone. To be held for the 5th time in 2013. Some 80,000 visitors are expected during the two days. Google Map
ご当地キャラ博in彦根 2013
http://yuru-chara.jp/hikone2013

October 19, 2013
♦ Konan City Local Gourmet (Konan-shi B-kyu Gourmet Taikai), Ameyama Cultural Sports Park (Shukuba no Sato), Konan, 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
A contest of local gourmet chefs with food booths. They don’t have much other info even in Japanese. It must be successful because it will be the third time this year. They will also hold the Ishibe-juku Matsuri Festival at the same time/place. From JR Ishibe Station, buses to the venue take 5 min. Google Map
湖南市B級グルメ大会
http://www.burari-konan.jp/contents/special/b.html

October 19, 2013
♦ Seta Karahashi Bridge East-West Tug of War, Otsu, 1:40 pm – 2:45 pm
A hundred people on the east end (in red samurai armor T-shirts) and a hundred on the west end  (in blue samurai armor T-shirts) will pull a 200-meter, red-and-white rope on the famous Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge that was recently repainted. Fringe events include food/souvenir stalls and stage entertainment near the bridge starting at 10 am. Also, free boat rides on the Seta River. Google Map
勢多唐橋東西大綱引合戦 (Seta Karahashi Tozai Tsunahiki Gassen)
http://www.seta-karahashi.com/#tsunahiki

Festivals and events in November 2013 here.

Summer 2013 festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Biwako Otsu Tourist Ambassadors in yukata.

Here are some of the many events and festivals in Shiga in summer 2013 (Web sites are in Japanese). If you want to see the fireworks schedule instead, click here.

July 5 – Sept. 1, 2013, 9 am-5 pm – Biwako Hakodate-yama Lily Garden, Imazu, Takashima びわこ箱館山ゆり園
Lilies galore high up on Mt. Hakodate with views of Lake Biwa in Imazu, Takashima. From JR Omi-Imazu Station (Kosei Line), take a bus to the Hakodate-yama gondola station (15 min.). In winter, the place is a ski ground. The 1,800 yen fare includes the gondola (round trip) fare and admission to the lily garden.
http://www.yuri-hakodateyama.com

July 21, 2013 (Sun.), 8 am-5 pm – Higashi-Omi Dragon Canoe Race 東近江市ドラゴンカヌー大会
Held at Higashi-Omi’s Notogawa Waterwheel and Canoe Land waterfront park (能登川水車とカヌーランド), over 80 dragon boat teams (including women teams) will race on a 300-meter course. If it’s rained out, it will be postponed to July 28. Be sure to also check out the giant waterwheel, symbol of Notogawa.
http://www.city.higashiomi.shiga.jp/0000004099.html

July 25-27, 2013, evening – Tamura Shrine Mantosai Lantern Festival, Koka 田村神社万灯祭
Some 9,000 donated lanterns will festoon this shrine in Tsuchiyama. On the 26th are festival ceremonies and stage entertainment from 6 pm. From Ohmi Railways Kibukawa Station north exit, take the Aikuru bus and get off at Tamura Shrine (about 40-min. ride).
http://www.koka-kanko.org/res/?evid=241

July 27, 2013 (Sat.), 7 pm-8:40 pm – Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri, Higashi-Omi 八日市聖徳まつり
Folk dance festival in front of Omi Railways Yokaichi Station. Hundreds of people will dance the Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) which is a bon dance and folk song native to Shiga. First there will be a parade of mascot characters from 7 pm to 7:40 pm, followed by the folk dancers from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm.
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

July 27, 2013 (Sat.), 3 pm – Shigaraki Fire Festival, Koka しがらき火まつり
Impressive procession of 700 torches following a 2.2 km route from the Shigaraki Chiiki Shimin Center (甲賀市信楽地域市民センター) to the Atago area starting at 7:45 pm. The procession is 50 min. long. Followed by fireworks until 10 pm.
http://www.shigaraki.or.jp/fire_fes/index.htm

IMG_7487

Birdman Rally, Hikone

July 27-28, 2013 (Sat. from 8 am, Sun. from 6 am), Japan International Birdman Rally, Hikone 鳥人間コンテスト
Held annually since 1977, contestants from all over Japan compete to see who can fly the furthest over Lake Biwa in their handmade and human-powered flying contraptions. On Sat., they will hold time trials for propeller planes and the glider contest. On Sun., human-powered propeller planes will compete for distance. The event is held on Matsubara Beach in Hikone, right near the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. Note that the event schedule/holding is subject to weather conditions. If it’s too windy (typhoon), it can be canceled or postponed. Sponsored by Yomiuri TV who will broadcast the contest on a later date. http://www.ytv.co.jp/birdman/index.html

Mizunomori Lotus Pond and Mt. Mikami

July 27-28, 2013, Mizunomori Lotus Festival, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu みずの森 ハス祭り
Karasuma Peninsula includes Lake Biwa Museum and a huge lotus field that blooms from mid-July to early Aug. The weekend festival from 7 am to 5 pm is scheduled to have some musical entertainment (taisho koto and yoshibue reed flutes). Buses run from JR Kusatsu Station.
http://www.seibu-la.co.jp/mizunomori/

Aug. 3, 2013 (Sat.), 3 pm – 9 pm - Furusato Ryuo Natsu (Summer) Festival, Ryuo ふるさと竜王夏まつり
Held at Imose-no-Sato (妹背の里), this summer festival is packed with entertainment, games for the kids, candle floating, Goshu Ondo dancing, and fireworks.
http://www.town.ryuoh.shiga.jp/event/natu.html

Taga Taisha Mantosai lantern festival.

Aug. 3-5, 2013 (Fri.-Sun.), 7 pm – 9:30 pm - Taga Taisha Mantosai Lantern Festival, Taga 多賀大社万燈祭
Held at Taga Taisha Shrine in Taga, the Mantosai or 10,000-Lantern Festival is a beautiful night festival when over 10,000 paper lanterns are lit within the shrine grounds from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. The donated lanterns are for the repose of ancestral spirits. Sarugaku dance by the Taga-za troupe will be performed on the evening of Aug. 4. Other entertainment is also held each day of the weekend festival.
http://www.tagataisya.or.jp/info/mantou/index.html

Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle

Aug. 3-4, 2013 (Sat.-Sun.), 1 pm-9 pm – Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle, Otsu 滋賀B級グルメバトル
B-kyu gourmet is B-rated food (like a B-movie) that is cheap and aimed at the working class. It also includes good ‘ol home cooking. The Hama-Otsu lakefront (near Hama-Otsu Station on the Keihan Line) will have 31 of the most popular food booths from the first (2011) and second (2012) B-kyu festivals. They will serve cheap food (priced from 200 to 500 yen) using homegrown ingredient(s) from Shiga such as Omi-gyu beef, red konyaku (devil’s tongue), and fish from Lake Biwa. It is a “battle” or contest where the food booths receive popular votes (via disposable chopsticks) from customers. A jazz festival will also be held and fireworks on both nights at 8:50 pm. Note that the food booths require tickets instead of cash. You can buy 1,000-yen ticket books having ten 100 yen tickets. The food festival was held for the first time in July 2011 and turned out to be wildly popular with a total of 120,000 people attending over the two-day period. It was so crowded and many booths ran out of food quickly. Best to go early. I want to go again, but I dread the summer heat, standing in long lines in front of the popular booths. Read my report for event in 2011 here.
http://www.b-shiga.com/

Aug. 4, 2013 (Sun.), 9 am-5 pm – Kannon Furusato Matsuri Festival, Takatsuki, Nagahama 観音の里ふるさとまつり
On this day, you can go on a free or 1,500 yen bus tour to see various Kannon statues at temples in Takatsuki, including the National Treasure 11-face Kannon statue at Doganji temple. You can see statues which normally require an appointment for viewing. If you like sculpture or Buddhist art, don’t miss seeing the National Treasure. The tour starts at Doganji temple, a 5-min. walk from JR Takatsuki Station.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1015/

Aug. 8, 2013 (Wed.), 7:15 pm-8:30 pm – Hikone Tanabata and Music and Dance Contest (Hikone-bayashi So-Odori Taikai) 彦根七夕・ばやし総おどり大会
Lively festival music and dance parade along Hikone’s main shopping streets centering in Ginza. The street will also be festooned with Tanabata streamers (during Aug. 4-8).
http://www.hikoneshi.com/media/download/2013_summer.pdf

Aug. 14-15, 2013 - Hifuri Torch Festival, Hino 火ふり祭
Held for two evenings during the obon season. Participants light their torches at Gosha Shrine and tap the torches on the road as they proceed to Hibarino park where the torches are thrown up to a large pine tree. The more torches get stuck on the tree, the better the next harvest will be. Near Hino Station (Ohmi Railways).
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hino-to/005.html

Takebe Taisha boat procession on Seta River. Click to see more images.

Aug. 17, 2013 (Sat.), 5:45 pm (boats depart), 8 pm-9 pm (fireworks) - Takebe Taisha Senko-sai Festival, Seta River, Otsu 船幸祭・瀬田川花火大会
One of Otsu’s Big Three Festivals, the Senko-sai is a portable shrine procession on boats going down Setagawa River from Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge to Nango sluice and back. Held annually by Takebe Taisha Shrine (worships legendary warrior Yamato Takeru) near the bridge. The festival starts at 5 pm when the portable shrines leave the shrine, and climaxes with fireworks on Seta River after the boats return at about 8:00 pm. The festival attracts few spectators (unlike the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka), but large crowds start to gather in the evening for the riverside fireworks starting after the festival boats arrive back at 8 pm. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line.
http://takebetaisha.jp/event/senkousai/

Imazu Regatta with Chikubushima in the background.

Aug. 18, 2013 (Sun.), 9:30 am – 2 pm – Imazu Regatta, Takashima 今津レガッタ
The Imazu Regatta was originally held annually during 1927-36 by the rowing club of the local high school in Imazu (the present Takashima High School). However, the war forced the annual regatta’s cancellation. In Aug. 2006, a local NPO called the Takashima-Imazu Rowing Club restarted the Imazu Regatta with the support of the rowing clubs from Imazu Junior High School and Takashima High School. They use a variety of rowing boats (including a replica of a fixed-seat boat from the early 20th century) to race on a 500-meter course. Anyone can sign up to race/row. Beach is near Omi-Imazu Station. More photos here.
http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~t-imazurowing/

Samegai

Samegai Jizo-bon Matsuri

Aug. 23-24, 2013 (Fri.-Sat.), 6 pm – 8 pm – Samegai Jizo Matsuri Festival, Maibara 醒井地蔵まつり
This evening festival is a good excuse to wear a yukata and stroll along the crystal-clear river. The river is highlighted by a variety of handmade dolls or dioramas created by local school kids. Also see food booths and a local shrine to pray for the deceased. Samegai was a post town on the Nakasendo Road. Near JR Samegai Station in Maibara. During July 20 – Aug. 4, 2013, the tiny baikamo flowers (miniature plum blossoms) in the river will be lit up in the evening during 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_840/?month=2013/08

Aug. 24, 2013 (Sat.), 8:30 pm – Makino Highland Reed Torch Festival, Makino, Takashima マキノ高原ヨシたいまつ祭り
The festivities start at noon climaxing at 8:30 pm with the lighting of numerous reed torches dotting the grassy highland area and ending with fireworks.  The festival event schedule is yet to be determined as of this writing. From JR Makino Station (Kosei Line), take the “town bus” and get off at Makino Kogen Onsen Sarasa (マキノ高原温泉さらさ). Buses leave Makino Station once an hour until 6 pm (schedule here).
http://www.makinokougen.co.jp/publics/index/90/

Sept. 1-30, 2013, 6:30 pm-9 pm – Genkyuen Insect-Chirping Evening, Hikone 玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
Benches are provided in the lit-up garden to listen to insect chirping accompanying classical Japanese music or reed flutes. One friend told me that he enjoyed it more than expected. Garden admission charged. Near Hikone Station.
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/mushinone

Also see the 2013 summer fireworks schedule here.

Looks like we’re in for a very hot and humid summer. Right after the rainy season ended earlier than usual (though it did start earlier than usual), bam, we got hit with a heatwave. The people most vulnerable to heat illness, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke (all called netchusho 熱中症) are those who have never experienced it.

The scary thing about heat illnesses is that it can come on very suddenly with no warning. One minute you’re feeling okay, and the next minute you feel like passing out on the spot. It’s a really scary feeling when you feel like you are losing consciousness because it seems like you’re gonna die. It’s different from falling asleep. It’s like your power switch is being switched off. Your nervous system shuts down. When it occurs to you, it’s hard to tell if it’s serious or not. If the victim is unable to talk back to you, it might be serious and an ambulance needs to be called. People can and do literally drop dead from heatstroke (called nesshabyo 熱射病).

If you see someone suffering from heat illness, lay the person down in the shade or air-conditioned room, elevate the legs to facilitate blood flow to the head. Place something cool (like a bottle of water) on the neck, underarm, or loin area. Give water while making sure the person doesn’t choke. Fan the person too.

Even a minor bout (not life threatening) of heat illness (sometimes called natsubate 夏ばて) can be quite debilitating and can take you weeks to recover. It can also lead to other ailments like dizziness, a feeling of being in a constant daze, or prolonged lightheadedness.

Play it safe and don’t stay out in the heat for too long, even at home. Take a break often in an air-conditioned room. Drink water every hour and consume some salty food. Also consume protein like milk and bananas so that your body can produce more blood. Avoid alcohol which will dehydrate you. (I’ll never figure out why beer gardens are so popular when people should be hydrating themselves instead.)

When you perspire, better not to keep wiping it off. Letting your perspiration evaporate will cool the body. Of course, one problem is that the humidity can be so high that your perspiration is unable to evaporate. That’s when you should seek refuge in an air-conditioned place. Another wise thing to do is to take a dark umbrella for shade and an ice pack/towel for your neck. It really helps.

Stay cool y’all in Japan.

Summer 2013 fireworks in Shiga Prefecture

Here’s the fireworks (hanabi) schedule for Shiga Prefecture in summer 2013 listed by date. If you want to see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri) instead, click here.

Essential vocabulary
Hanabi (花火) – fireworks
Hanabi Taikai (花火大会) – fireworks (sometimes a contest)
Natsu Matsuri (夏まつり) – Summer festival
Noryo (納涼) – Enjoying the cool of a summer evening (at a river, park, etc.)

July 13, 2013
♦ Takamiya Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Takamiya, Hikone, 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Near the Inugami River Muchinbashi Bridge. 10-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Takamiya Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 14.
高宮納涼花火大会
More info: 高宮商工繁栄会 TEL:0749-22-2075
http://takamiya.ciao.jp/?cat=11

♦ Yasu River Hanabi Taikai in Ritto, 7:45 pm – 8:25 pm
Along the Yasu River. 20-min. walk from JR Moriyama Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 15.
野洲川花火大会
More info: 栗東市観光物産協会 TEL:077-551-0126
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/rittou.html

July 20, 2013
♦ Echigawa Gion Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Aisho, 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
At two locations along the Echigawa River bank near Miyukibashi Bridge. 15-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 21. About 40,000 people are expected.
愛知川祇園納涼祭花火大会
More info: 愛荘町秦荘観光協会/愛荘町愛知川観光協会 TEL:0749-37-8051
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/echigawa.html

July 27, 2013
♦ Otsu Shiga Hanabi Taikai fireworks, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Watch the fireworks over the lake from the famous Omi-Maiko beach. Near JR Omi-Maiko Station (Kosei Line) in western Otsu. If rained out, to be postponed to July 28.
大津志賀花火大会
More info: 大津志賀花火大会実行委員会 TEL:077-592-0378
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/otsushiga.html

♦ Koka Natsu Matsuri fireworks in Minakuchi, Koka, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Koka’s biggest fireworks display held along Yasu River. Part of a local festival of stage entertainment, games, and food stalls. Near Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station.
甲賀夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 TEL:0748-60-2690
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/koka.html

Aug. 1, 2013
♦ Hikone Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Matsubara Beach, Hikone, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
35-min. walk from Hikone Station. Shuttle buses provided from Hikone Station to a sports ground from which it’s a 15-min. walk to the beach. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2.
彦根大花火大会
More info: (社)彦根観光協会 Phone: 0749-23-0001
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/hikone.html

♦ Ogoto Onsen Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Ogoto Port, 8 pm – 8:30 pm
20-min. walk from Ogoto Onsen Station. Fireworks can be seen from most onsen (hot spring) ryokan and outdoor baths in Ogoto. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2.
おごと温泉納涼花火大会
More info: おごと温泉観光協会 Phone: 077-578-1650
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ogoto.html

♦ Omi-Imazu Furusato Natsu Matsuri, 9:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Climax of Imazu’s summer festival starting from 1 pm.
近江今津ふるさと夏祭り やっさ!今津!!2013
More info: 近江今津ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会事務局 Phone: 0740-22-2108

Aug. 3, 2013
♦ Makino Summer Carnival at Makino Sunny Beach in Takashima
マキノサマーカーニバル2013
More info: 四季遊園マキノ交流促進協議会事務局 Phone: 0740-28-8002
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/makino.html

♦ Ujisato Matsuri Summer Gathering in Hino, 3:30 pm – 9 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (bon dance, etc.) held in the northern parking lot of Hino Town Hall.
氏郷まつり「夏の陣」2013
More info: 日野町イベント実行委員会 Phone: 0748-52-6562
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ujisato.html

♦ Kotonarie Summer Festa in Higashi-Omi’s Hibari Park
Part of an illumination andmusic festival. 20-min. by bus from Yokaichi Station. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
コトナリエサマーフェスタ2013
More info: 東近江市湖東商工会 Phone: 0749-45-2571
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/kotonarie.html

♦ Konan Natsu Matsuri in Konan, 8:20 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (Goshu Ondo bon dance, stage entertainment, etc.) held at the Yasugawa River Shinzui Koen park (野洲川親水公園).
湖南市夏まつり
More info: 湖南市観光協会 Phone: 0748-71-2157
http://www.burari-konan.jp/contents/special/post-32.html

Aug. 4, 2013
♦ Hachiman Tenbin Matsuri in Omi-Hachman, 7:30 pm
Includes bon dancing. At Kitanoshosawa area. Shuttle buses provided from Omi-Hachiman Station.
八幡てんびんまつり
More info: 八幡てんびんまつり事務局 Phone: 0748-32-6654
http://www.azuchi-shiga.com/tenbin.htm

Aug. 5, 2013
♦ Nagahama Kita-Biwako Hanabi Taikai at Nagahama Port, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
10-min. walk from Nagahama Station. Very crowded so go early to save a spot or pay for special seating. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
長浜・北びわ湖大花火大会
More info: 長浜市観光振興課 Phone: 0749-65-6521
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/nagahamakitabiwako.html

Biwako hanabi

Hama-Otsu on Biwako fireworks day. Tall walls block your view.

Aug. 8, 2013
♦ Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Hama-Otsu and Nagisa Park, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
This is the big one, but a steep admission (around 4,300 yen, even for children above age 3) is charged in prime viewing areas along Hama-Otsu. Hama-Otsu Port will be totally walled off so you cannot see the fireworks from the street. Farther away is the free area along Nagisa Park which is terribly crowded with people reserving viewing spots from noon. Spectacular show, but have fun trying to get home via the tiny nearby train stations or gridlocked roads afterward. Foul weather will postpone it to Aug. 12. (If the weather is questionable, call 0180-99-3339 to find out if the fireworks will be held or not.)
びわ湖大花火大会
More info: びわ湖大花火大会実行委員会 TEL:077-511-1530
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/biwako.html

Aug. 9, 2013
♦ Ishiyama-dera Sennichikai and Setagawa River fireworks, 8:15 pm – 8:45 pm
Fireworks along the Seta River near Ishiyama-dera temple. 10-min. walk from Ishiyama-dera Station on the Keihan Line.
石山寺千日会と瀬田川に煌く炎のページェント
More info: (社)石山観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ishiyamadera.html

Aug. 16, 2013
♦ Somagawa Natsu Matsuri near Kibukawa Station, Koka
Fireworks are part of the summer festival with taiko drummers and lantern floating on the river.
杣川夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 Phone: 0748-65-0708

Aug. 17, 2013
♦ Setagawa River Hanabi Taikai at Seta River in Otsu, 7:50 pm – 9 pm
Near Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge. Short walk from Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line. Fireworks will climax the waterborne Takebe Taisha Senkosai festival on boats.
瀬田川花火大会
More info: 瀬田川流域観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/takebe.html

Aug. 25, 2013
♦ Kinomoto Jizo Dai-ennichi fireworks near JR Kinomoto Station
Climax of a local festival with food stalls and games held during Aug. 22-25.
木之本地蔵大縁日 8月22日(日)~25日(水)(花火は25日のみ)
More info: ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会 Phone: 0749-82-5902
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1031/?month=2013/08

Also see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri).

Shiga’s Top 10 festivals in April-May

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, April 15

April is a great month. Soon after the onslaught of cherry blossoms, we have an onslaught of festivals (matsuri). This is the time to go out and celebrate the coming of spring, pray for good harvests, and see the traditional splendor of Shiga. The highest number of matsuri are held during these two months, especially during the string of national holidays in late April and early May called Golden Week. During the Golden Week holidays, Shiga has multiple festivals on the same day.

To make it easier to decide which ones to see, I’ve picked Shiga Prefecture’s Top 10 Festivals for April-May. I ranked them based on scale (number of participants, length of festival, etc.), grandioseness, cultural importance/significance, cultural perpetuation and practice for younger generations, uniqueness, and enjoyment by spectators.

1. Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, Nagahama Hachiman Shrine, Nagahama, April 15
Deciding Shiga’s No. 1 spring festival was a toss-up between the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri and Sanno-sai (No. 2 below). But I gave the edge to the Hikiyama Matsuri because it centers on passing on a traditional art to kids. Young boys undergo months-long rigorous training in voice and acting to put on a kabuki play during the festival. The festival has four ornate floats (hikiyama) with a small stage for authentic kabuki plays performed by grade school boys. Even if you cannot understand what they are saying, just looking at their makeup, costumes, and acting will delight. The kabuki performances start at the shrine at 10 am. Then the floats are pulled to other spots in central Nagahama where the boys perform again. By the evening, all the floats gather at the Otabisho across town for more revelry until 9:30 pm when it ends. Although it gets crowded in front of the float, you can usually see the kabuki actors because they are elevated on the float. My video | Google Map

Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha

2. Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Otsu, April 12-15
Held by Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in western Otsu at the foot of Mt. Hiei. This is perhaps Shiga Prefecture’s largest festival in terms of participants and the number of events. Held over a few days, you can see diverse events and rituals like an evening torch procession, thunderous rocking of portable shrines, and even a boat procession on the lake. One thing I like is the joint cooperation of Shinto and Buddhist priests in the ceremonies. You can see and hear both Shinto priests and Tendai Buddhist priests from Enryakuji temple praying or chanting at the same ceremony during the festival. So it’s not entirely a Shinto festival. Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was historically affiliated with Enryakuji temple until the state required that Shinto and Buddhism be separate organizations. It’s up to you to decide which day and what time to see the festival. Click on the link above to see my photos of the festival (taken on April 13-15) to decide what you want to see. I saw and photographed all the major festival events except on the first day when they brought down the portable shrine from a low mountain. If it’s one festival that wore me out after three days, it’s this one. My video | Google Map

3. Niu Chawan Matsuri, Niu Shrine, Yogo (Nagahama), once every several years on May 4
Another of my all-time favorite festivals. They have three wooden floats topped with lofty “balancing act” chawan bowl decorations. They also hold beautiful sacred dances by boys dressed as girls. A procession of colorful flower umbrella dancers also provides a colorful accent to the festival. It’s held deep in a mountain valley of Yogo in northern Nagahama so the whole area is lush and peaceful. The only problem is that the festival is held only once every 5-6 years. The last time it was held was in 2009. According to rumors, the festival will be held in May 2014, next year. My video | Google Map

Hino Matsuri floats at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine.

4. Hino Matsuri, Hino, May 3
Shiga has a good number of float festivals, but the grandest one in spring is the Hino Matsuri. It’s grand because they have as many as 16 ornate floats with large wooden wheels that they pull through the main streets of Hino town. Each float belongs to a specific neighborhood in Hino and they are decorated with elaborate tapestries, paper lanterns, and a homemade paper sculpture on the roof that changes every year. They also have side attractions like a portable shrine procession and ceremonies featuring a sacred dance. From the morning, the floats are pulled along the streets to gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine, the center of the action. They play festival music and show off their floats. If you have time, you should also visit Shakunage Gorge, famous for rhododendron growing in a scenic gorge. There are lovely nature walking paths. Buses run from Hino Station. My video | Google Map

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival held on the last Sun. in May.

5. Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (formerly Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival) (Odako Matsuri), Higashi-Omi, last Sun. in May
The giant kite, made of washi paper and a bamboo frame, measures about 13 meters by 12 meters (size of 100 tatami mats) and weighs 700 kg. It is a work of art with a distinct shape, cutouts, and paint job featuring a traditional design of a large kanji character and twin animals. The design is selected from entries from the public and a new giant kite with a new design is made every three years. The public is also invited to help build the new kite every three years during the summer. On the festival day, the kite is flown on a riverbank a few times. It usually doesn’t stay aloft for very long unless there are strong winds. It can even crash so they clear the whole area whenever they fly the kite. You can also sign up to pull the kite. I did it once and they run at full speed. Kind of scary because if you trip and fall, you might get trampled. From 2013, the festival site will be at the Fureai Undo Park in Notogawa. Free shuttle buses will run from Notogawa Station. After (or before) the festival, be sure to check out the Odako Kaikan Giant Kite museum. Shuttle buses run to the museum. My video | Google Map

Kenketo Matsuri in Tsuchiyama, Koka.

6. Kenketo Matsuri, Koka (Tsuchiyama), May 3
Held at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社), Kenketo Odori is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. First there’s a procession to the shrine, and the boys start dancing at the shrine at around 2 pm. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The festival has an interesting twist when the crowd rushes to the man (sometimes knocking him down) holding a flower basket to take all the flowers. To get to the shrine, get off Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways) and catch the Aikuru Bus. Get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. My video | Google Map

Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima

Shichikawa Matsuri’s yakko-furi procession.

7. Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima, May 4
The largest festival in western Shiga is held at Oarahiko Shrine. It features a yakko-furi (samurai laborers) procession, yabusame horse runs, and portable shrine procession. The shrine is nearest to Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line). If it’s too far to walk, you can rent a bicycle at the train station. My video | Google Map

Ayame girls at Hyozu Matsuri.

8. Hyozu Matsuri, Hyozu Taisha Shrine, Yasu, May 5
I call this Shiga’s best portable shrine festival. Over 35 portable srhines (mikoshi) are carried around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in a very lively and gregarious style. Two of the mikoshi are carried by all women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. They wear colorful happi coats to carry the mikoshi. The only thing is that the gravel path can kick up dust. Best to watch the festival from upwind. A few foreigners also participate. It starts in the morning and ends in mid-afternoon.  My video | Google Map

9. Hachiman Matsuri, Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Omi-Hachiman, April 14
Shiga’s biggest fire festival featuring several tall straw torches (as high as 10 meters) that are lit from 8 pm. If you have time during the day, you should come and look at the torches which are great works of art. The festival is prayer for an abundant harvest. They light the torches one by one. This festival is usually billed together with the Sagicho Matsuri another fire festival held in March. Sagicho Matsuri is still my favorite festival in Omi-Hachiman. My video | Google Map

10. Taga Matsuri, Taga Taisha Shrine, Taga, April 22
If you like horses and traditional costumes, see this festival. They have a long procession featuring Shinto priests, children in costume, women warriors, and more people on 40 horses. A total of 500 people are in the procession. There is a morning procession leaving Taga Taisha at 10:30 am for Totonomiya Shrine deep in Taga’s countryside, and an afternoon (main) procession leaving Taga Taisha at 2 pm for the Otabisho, a short distance away from Taga Taisha. My video | Google Map

For other spring festivals in Shiga, see my previous posts: April 2012 | May 2011 | May 2010 | 2009 Chawan Matsuri