Archive for Nagahama

Sept. 2014 festivals and events in Shiga Prefecture

Here are some recommended autumn/fall events and festivals in Shiga in September 2014.

Link for video above: http://youtu.be/61q1TvodzOs

September 6, 2014, 9 am – 9 pm – Nagahama-Azai Appare Matsuri, Nagahama
A big yosakoi dance contest and festival with about 30 teams from Shiga and elsewhere. See over 1,000 dancers performing at Azai Bunka Sports Park (浅井文化スポーツ公園). In case of bad weather, will be postponed to the next day. Shuttle buses will be running from JR Nagahama Station‘s west exit to the festival site. Map
長浜あざいあっぱれ祭り
http://www.appare-matsuri.com/

September 6-21, 2014
Genkyuen Garden Insect Chirping Concert, Hikone, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Genkyuen Garden next to Hikone Castle will be open in the evenings in September. If you miss the cicadas in summer, you can still hear insects chirping in the garden that will be lit up along with Hikone Castle in the background. Matcha tea will be served at cost and free gagaku and koto performances will be held on the weekends. Admission ¥500. Near JR Hikone Station. Map
玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/mushinone

September 6-8, 2014
Ishiyama-dera Temple Autumn Moon Viewing, Otsu, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The temple grounds will be adorned with about 2,000 lanterns while the huge Ishiyama rock and National Treasure Tahoto Pagoda will be lit up. The temple also has a Moon-Viewing Pavilion. The Hondo main hall will also have stage performances. The event coincides with the Harvest Moon. The autumn moon over Ishiyama-dera was made famous by woodblock prints by Hiroshige. Admission ¥500. Near JR Ishiyama Station. Map
石山寺 秋月祭
http://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/ishiyamadera/gyouji/shugetsusai/index.html

Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle illuminated at night.

September 6 to December 7, 2014
♦ Hikone Castle Illumination, Hikone, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The tenshu castle tower, inner moat stone walls, and turrets will be lit up in the evenings.
光の祝祭 彦根城ライトアップ ひこね夢灯路

September 13-14, 2014
♦ Inazuma Rock Fes, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu, 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm (both days)
Annual outdoor rock concert hosted by pop singer T.M. Revolution Nishikawa Takanori who is from Yasu. Different artists will perform on both nights. Part of the concert proceeds will be used for Shiga’s environmental preservation.
Shuttle buses to the concert site provided for 1,100 yen roundtrip. Board at Nomura Undo Koen Park, 10-min. walk from JR Kusatsu Station. Advance concert tickets ¥9,200 per night. Map
イナズマロックフェス2014
http://inazumarock.com/

September 13-14, 2014
♦ Hachiman-bori Matsuri Festival, Omi-Hachiman, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (both days)
Hachiman-bori Canal and adjacent roads will be dotted with little candlelight lanterns. Concerts are also scheduled. Map
八幡堀まつり
http://www.azuchi-shiga.com/hatimanbori.htm

September 13 to November 9, 2014 (closed Thursdays)
♦ BIWAKO Biennale 2014, Omi-Hachiman, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Held for the 6th time, the BIWAKO Biennale showcases the work of about 60 artists in Omi-Hachiman’s traditional townscape area. Art exhibitions will be in former merchant homes, traditional houses, and a sake factory. A blend of modern art and traditional Japanese buildings. Workshops for kids by the artists, and concerts in various places. Advance tickets ¥1,800 (available at Lawson) or ¥2,000 at the door.
BIWAKOビエンナーレ
http://energyfield.org/biwakobiennale/page/english

Hinade Shrine

Sumo odori dance at Hinade Shrine

September 15, 2014
♦ Hinade Shrine Sumo Odori Dance, Maibara, 1:00 pm –
Near JR Sakata Station (Hokuriku Line) is Mt. Hinodeyama with Hinode Jinja Shrine holding an annual sumo festival. It features mainly children’s sumo and a sumo jinku singing dance by about 16 men dressed in ceremonial aprons. Sumo matches are also held among the kids and men. Map | PhotosVideo
日撫神社 奉納角力・角力おどり
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_893/

Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance

Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance

September 23, 2014
Suijo Hachiman Shrine Taiko Drum Dance, Maibara, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Held only once every 5 years, Suijo Hachiman Jinja Taiko Odori is a colorful and unique rain-making and rain thanksgiving taiko drum dance held by Suijo Hachiman Shrine in Maibara. It starts with a procession slowly proceeding along 1 km to Suijo Hachiman Shrine. They include yakko-furi samurai laborers with their painted faces and bellies, yamabushi ascetic priests, flutists, and taiko drummers. Map | Photos | Video
春照八幡神社 太鼓おどり
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_13471/

September 23, 2014
♦ Buratto Gokasho Town Walk, Gokasho, Higashi-Omi, all day
Some 100 people dressed as Omi-shonin merchants will parade along central Gokasho at 1 pm. A number of festivities and entertainment will be held from the morning, A few Omi merchant homes normally closed to the public will also be open and temple and shrine treasures will be displayed in Gokasho. Gokasho is famous for the grand, old homes of wealthy Omi merchants who traveled all over Japan selling cloth, lacquerware, medicines, etc. Near Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Map
ぶらっと五個荘まちあるき
http://guide.jr-odekake.net/event/14913

Biwako Ohashi Bridge

50-year-old Biwako Ohashi Bridge

September 28, 2014
♦ Biwako Ohashi Bridge 50th Anniversary Event, Moriyama and Otsu, 9:30 am -
The great Biwako Ohashi Bridge crossing the neck of Lake Biwa’s panhandle between Moriyama and Katata (Otsu) opened 50 years ago on this day. 1964 was also when the shinkansen “bullet train” started running and when the Tokyo Olympics were held. To celebrate, they will block part of the bridge to vehicular traffic and allow pedestrians on the bridge to release balloons (I hope they won’t be harmful to the environment), form a human chain, and do radio taiso exercises. Fishing boat and lake cruises will also depart from Pieri Moriyama (defunct shopping mall) and from the Biwako Ohashi Kome Plaza Michinoeki market in Katata. Map
琵琶湖大橋「開通50周年」記念イベント
http://www.moriyamayamamori.jp/biwako50

For art and museum exhibitions in Shiga, see exhibition schedule for Shiga museums at Kansai Art Beat.

Festivals and events in October 2014 coming soon.

The Birth of Chikubushima

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

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

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

The Birth of Chikubushima
竹生島ができたお話

by Philbert Ono, based on an old folktale.

chikubushimalegend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chikubushima (Click on image to see more photos.)

Chikubushima and Mt. Ibuki

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

Mt. Kanakuso and Mt. Ibuki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pharrell Williams HAPPY – From Lake Biwa

Video link: http://youtu.be/FKchoOLG2TY

Pharrell Williams scored a huge hit with his song Happy last autumn. It has since become a worldwide phenomenon with people in cities around the world making street dance videos with the song. Pretty amazing.

The videos show a good bit of the respective locality along with some great dancers. The vids were inspired by Pharrell’s own music video which is the world’s first 24-hour music video with Happy played repeatedly for 24 hours. Fortunately, we can pause and resume the video at will.

I’m not one who usually gets on a faddish bandwagon, but I immediately recognized Happy’s PR potential for local destinations. So I hopped aboard by making this Shiga matsuri version of Happy. (Video embedded above or click on the video link.) Matsuri is Japan’s most common and colorful way to express happiness in public. Many matsuri also includes dancing and happy motions. A great match for the Happy song.

I’ve always wanted to make a compilation of my Shiga matsuri videos and this is a great way to do it. Shiga has so many matsuri that I ended up making the video with the song repeated four times. Even then, I still couldn’t fit all my Shiga matsuri videos. A few are missing. Most of the footage have already appeared in my other videos already on online, but a few clips are online for the first time like the Otsu Matsuri shot in Oct. 2013.

After watching this video, you may want to see the full version of the video clips in HAPPY from Lake Biwa, Japan. I provide the video links below in the order of appearance in the video:

  1. Lake Biwa Museum aquarium
  2. Yuru-kyara Mascot Character Festival
  3. Hiko-nyan mascot
  4. Lake Biwa Museum workshop for kids
  5. Ayu sweetfish at Shiga Food and Craft Fair
  6. Yokozuna Hakuho in Maibara
  7. New Year’s at Taga Taisha Shrine
  8. Katsube Shrine Fire Festival
  9. Taga Taisha Setsubun Festival
  10. Sagicho Matsuri
  11. Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession
  12. Sanno-sai
  13. Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri
  14. Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri
  15. Inside Hikone Castle (“very cool”)
  1. Yanana at Yuru-kyara Mascot Character Festival
  2. Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri
  3. Hachiman Matsuri
  4. Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-furi
  5. Aburahi Matsuri Yakko-furi
  6. Kenketo Matsuri Dance, Koka
  7. Kenketo Matsuri, Ryuo
  8. Hino Matsuri
  9. Niu Chawan Matsuri
  10. Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri
  11. Shichikawa Matsuri
  12. Painting “yorokobu” (喜) kanji meaning “happy” on Yokaichi giant kite.
  1. Naginata Odori
  2. Omizo Matsuri
  3. Hyozu Matsuri
  4. Sushi-Cutting Festival
  5. Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival
  6. Yuki Saiden Rice-Planting Festival
  7. Biwako Shuko no Uta song monument
  8. Rowing on Lake Biwa, Imazu
  9. Rowing on Lake Biwa, Hikone
  10. Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri
  11. Taga Taisha Lantern Festival
  12. Otsu Summer Festival Fireworks
  13. Imazu Jr. High Rowing Club on Lake Biwa
  14. Kyoto University Rowing Club on Lake Biwa
  15. Hinade Shrine Sumo Odori
  1. Suijo Hachiman Taiko Odori
  2. Ibuki-yama Taiko Odori
  3. Asahi Honen Taiko Odori (Coming soon)
  4. Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri
  5. Otsu Matsuri (Coming soon)
  6. Yuru-kyara Mascot Gathering with singer Hashi Yukio (No other video)
  7. Hikone Castle Festival
  8. Omi Jingu Yabusame Horseback Archery (Video coming soon)
  9. Koka Ninja House
  10. Koka Ninja Village
  11. Takatora Summit in Kora
  12. Hikone Castle Tourist Ambassador
  13. Hikone Castle
  14. Otsu Tourist Ambassador
  15. Maibara Hikiyama Matsuri

Top 20 train stations in Shiga Prefecture

Notogawa Station

JR Notogawa Station shaped like a waterwheel.

〜心に残る滋賀の駅舎〜

The train station is a gateway to the local area. First-time visitors may get their first impressions from the train station. It’s like the genkan (foyer) of your house where you might keep a vase of flowers or a painting to please visitors. Although I don’t judge a place by its train station, I do take note of how nice the train station is.

After seeing most of Shiga’s train stations (totaling about 120), I’ve picked and ranked Shiga’s Top 20 train stations. My selections and ranking are based on architectural and aesthetic design, incorporation of the local flavor/character/community, and uniqueness.

Quite a few train stations in Shiga have been rebuilt in the last 10-15 years. Most of them have incorporated the local flavor quite well. Ohmi Railways have Shiga’s oldest train stations which seem to take you back to the prewar days. Due to their look and feel, they retain a historic charm in this modern age.

Very appropriate calligraphy art in JR Maibara Station saying “Welcome home” and “I’m home.” By the Ibuki High School Calligraphy Club for Golden Week 2013.

On the other hand, too many train stations are quite boring. Major stations like Otsu, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and Maibara are functional but nothing special. Even though Maibara Station is Shiga’s sole shinkansen station renovated in 2009, it is bland even though it’s roomy and practical. Well-known painter and Maibara native Hiro Yamagata was also supposed to paint the walls inside the station, but it didn’t pan out due to budgetary reasons. They instead have local artists decorating a few walls, which is fine.

Train stations on the JR Kosei Line are mostly faceless and featureless in gray concrete as they are built under elevated train tracks. They all look the same. Takashima Station, though, has a giant statue of Gulliver right outside. And Ogoto Onsen Station recently got a nice touch with a free hot-spring foot bath nearby.

So this is Shiga’s Top 20 most memorable and interesting train stations as I see it. (Click on the photo to see more photos of the train station and click on the station name for a map of its location.)

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station terrace.

1. Nagahama Station (長浜駅), JR Hokuriku Line, Nagahama
At No. 1 is Nagahama Station. The station building, rebuilt from the ground up in Oct. 2006, is modeled after the station’s first and original building from 1882. They did a great job combining the old and the new. To fully appreciate the new station building, you have to see the original 19th-century station building which is preserved a short distance away at Nagahama Railroad Square, a train station museum with a few retired trains. The resemblance is impressive.

Nagahama Station is airy, attractive, and functional. A great improvement over the old and boring train station built in 1955. Near the ticket wicket is a nice, air-conditioned waiting room that also houses the tourist information desk. The waiting rooms on the train platforms are also convenient, but somewhat small. When you go down the exit escalator on the Heiwado side, you see a beautiful stained glass mural of Hikiyama Festival kabuki actors.

The new station was built on land adjacent to the old train station that was torn down. The location of the old train station is now occupied by a monstrous wedding hall dwarfing the new train station building right next to it. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, it almost totally cancels out the station building. It’s a real shame.

Notogawa

JR Notogawa Station, east side.

2. Notogawa Station (能登川駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line, Higashi-Omi
Another one of my all-time favorite train stations. Rebuilt in 2003, the Notogawa Station building is shaped like a giant waterwheel, the symbol of Notogawa town before it merged with Higashi-Omi in 2006. Notogawa has a giant waterwheel at a local park. The waterwheel design is on both the east and west sides of the train station. It’s so distinctive and very impressive. I loudly applaud the people who planned and designed the building. The building’s waterwheel structure houses an escalator on one end and stairs on the other. The west side of the station has other waterwheel-themed objects, not to mention a local shopping center also bearing waterwheel designs. Although there are train stations in Japan with a real waterwheel next to it, it seems Notogawa Station is the only one that is shaped like a waterwheel. Higashi-Omi’s sole JR train station.

Ninja painting fused with a bench in JR Koka Station, Koka.

3. Koka Station (甲賀駅), JR Kusatsu Line, Koka
One of Japan’s most uniquely localized train stations. JR Koka Station opened its new station building in Nov. 2005. It resembles a farmer’s kura storehouse on the outside. But the inside has a number of visual surprises with ingenious, interactive ninja wall paintings.

Koka is famous for Koka/Koga ninja, and the station plays this up with ninja motifs and playful 3D ninja paintings. Thanks to some very clever optical illusions called “trick art,” you can join in the virtual ninja world by posing inside the painting. (Get your camera ready.) The seven ninja wall paintings were painted by Hattori Masashi (服部 正志), a noted artist. They should rename the station, “Ninja Station.” That would attract more attention and tourists (it would also cost a good bit of money). Koka’s authentic Ninja House and Ninja Village amusement park are popular attractions.

The station building’s first floor has display cases of medicines produced by Koka drug companies. The abundant herbs in the area gave rise to many druggists in Koka. The ninja were also expert with drugs and chemicals. The name “Koka” is often mispronounced as “Koga” (as in Koga ninja) by Japanese and foreigners alike. The proper pronunciation is “Koka.” FYI, there’s another ninja train station at Ueno-shi Station in Iga, Mie, famous for Iga ninja.

Enryakuji Station

Enryakuji Station atop Mt. Hiei.

4. Cable Enryakuji Station (ケーブル延暦寺駅), Hiezan Railway, Otsu
Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji temple (World Heritage Site and National Treasure) are accessible via cable railway from Cable Sakamoto Station in Sakamoto at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga. At the top, you get off at Cable Enryakuji Station. This is the original building that has been used since the cable railway opened between Sakamoto and Mt. Hiei in 1927. It was Japan’s longest cable car route (2,025 meters) at the time. The first floor is the station, while the 2nd floor used to be a VIP room. The 2nd floor is now an exhibition room open to the public. It also has a nice lookout deck. The distinguished-looking building is a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財).

Shin-Yokaichi

Shin-Yokaichi Station platform.

5. Shin-Yokaichi Station (新八日市駅), Omi Railways Yokaichi LineHigashi-Omi
Shiga’s oldest train station buildings are on the Ohmi Railways, and Shin-Yokaichi Station is one of them. It’s a Western-style, two-story wooden building built in 1913. The second floor is closed to the public due to old age. It originally housed the Konan Railway company’s head office (湖南鉄道). Konan Railway originally operated the railway between Yokaichi and Omi-Hachiman before it merged with another company that later merged with Ohmi Railways. Tourists don’t normally get off at this station since most attractions are at the next stop, Yokaichi Station.

Hikone-guchi

Hikone-guchi Station’s long bench.

6. Hikone-guchi Station (彦根口駅), Omi Railways Main LineHikone
Unless you live near here, it’s unlikely that you would ever get off here and see this nostalgic and homely train station. When you enter the station building, which has a surprisingly large floor space like a dance hall, it’s like you’re back in the 1930s. The simple wicket, long wooden benches, and the whole feel of the place had me imagining what it was like in the old days. Moviemakers can use it as a movie set. Perhaps of a scene of young local men boarding a train to go off to a senseless war as their mothers and siblings tearfully bid them goodbye amid cheers of “Banzai!” After belching a loud whistle, the black steam locomotive then slowly pulls away…

Although it almost looks like a condemned building, I hope they keep it for as long as possible. I like it. But there doesn’t seem to be any toilets in the station. The front wall even has a sign saying, “No urinating” (for men). The toilets were removed some time ago due to old age.

Toriimoto

Toriimoto Station platform and building.

7. Toriimoto Station (鳥居本駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hikone
Another example of a prewar Western-style train station building. It has been here since the station first opened in 1931. It has a red mansard roof, perhaps unique in Shiga. The compact interior also reeks of the good old days. If its walls could talk, I can only imagine what stories they could tell. It looks kind of lonely, but beloved by local residents since it was originally built upon request by the local government and residents. Most of the construction cost was therefore borne by the locals. There’s no train station staff so it’s really empty when there are no trains. Toriimoto was the sixty-third shukuba post town on the Nakasendo Road. It has a nice section of traditional shukuba buildings.

Shigaraki Station

8. Shigaraki Station (信楽駅), Shigaraki Kogen Railway, Koka
Shigaraki Station’s little, modern building is nothing special, but it’s embellished with tanuki (raccoon dog) statues, including a giant tanuki right outside to greet visitors. It’s one example of how to make a plain train station into a special one: Decorate it local-style. The tanuki is a symbol of Shigaraki/Shiga and a common sight in Japan with shops and restaurants displaying a tanuki outside the entrance. It has various symbolic meanings.

The Shigaraki Kogen Railway is currently closed as it undergoes repairs of the substantial damage wrought by Typhoon Man-yi in Sept. 2013. It should reopen within 2014.

Riding on Shigaraki Kogen Railway always reminds me of that terrible tragedy on May 14, 1991 when a Shigaraki Kogen Railway train collided head-on with a JR train near Shigarakigushi Station. The trains were packed with people attending the World Ceramic Festival being held at the newly opened Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. Sadly, 42 people died and 628 were injured. Many of the victims were young students and it is one of Japan’s worst train accidents.

The train station has a small exhibit about the accident. When you read about how it happened, it’s hard to believe how negligent the train operators were. It was a horrific scene and I was shocked because I had visited the World Ceramic Festival via the railway only 10 days before the accident. Years later, I visited and prayed at the prayer monument near where the accident occurred. A memorial service is held there annually on May 14 attended by railway officials and relatives of the victims.

Echigawa Station

9. Echigawa Station (愛知川駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Aisho
Opened in March 2000, Echigawa Station’s building is a well-designed and well thought-out building that serves not only as a train station, but also as a local crafts museum featuring temari balls. There’s also a tourist information desk. The train station building is well integrated and alive with people, unlike many of the other newer Ohmi Railways train station buildings which have the community space but hardly any people using it. The adjacent and award-winning Echigawa Public Library also draws people. The station exterior resembles a traditional building in the old post town of Echigawa nearby on the Nakasendo Road.

JR Aburahi Station

10. Aburahi Station (油日駅), JR Kusatsu LineKoka
Rebuilt in March 2002, Aburahi Station has a striking exterior design and a warm, welcoming interior made of wood. The exterior reminds me of the top of a samurai helmet, but the building was actually designed to be a ninja house. But that can’t be right since a real ninja house looked like any other house. (Ninja didn’t advertise that they were ninja.)

Well, the round windows have a shuriken (throwing knife) design. The station also has rental bicycles. Shiga’s southernmost train station next to the prefectural border with Mie Prefecture. When my train to go home (after seeing the Aburahi Matsuri) arrived at the station, I almost felt sad to leave such a comfortable train station.

Gokasho Station

11. Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅), Omi Railways Main LineHigashi-Omi
Love the inside of Gokasho Station. The warmth of wood envelopes you completely almost like a large sauna (without the heat and steam). When I visited, it still had a woody fragrance. Nice traditional-style building inside and out. It was designed to match the Omi-shonin merchant homes in Gokasho. The building was built in 2000 and it still looks new. Adjacent to the train station building is a matching building housing the retirees’ employment office where you can rent bicycles. Note that the kanji character for “ka” in Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅) is different from the one used in the place name “Gokasho” (五個荘).

JR Kinomoto Station

JR Kinomoto Station

12. Kinomoto Station (木ノ本駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
In Oct. 2006, the JR Hokuriku Line switched to direct-current electrification between Nagahama Station and Tsuruga Station (Fukui). This enabled faster and modern Shin-kaisoku (Special Rapid) trains from Kyoto to reach train stations north of Nagahama Station directly (Torahime, Kawake, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Omi-Shiotsu Stations). Before the switch, passengers had to transfer trains at Nagahama Station to go further north. Anticipating a substantial increase in visitors, new train station buildings were built at Nagahama, Torahime, Takatsuki, and Kinomoto Stations. However, by March 2008, the passenger increase was only 0.5 percent, far below what they had hoped for.

Built slightly north of the old station building and opened in Oct. 2006, the new Kinomoto Station building is modern with a traditional look. Spacious and airy and well designed for function and aesthetics. A lot bigger than the old station building. The train station sign is also wooden like on the old train station. (“Kinomoto” means “origin of wood.”) Next to the exit on the ground floor is a large space selling local products and a tourist information counter. The old and much smaller Kinomoto Station building has been retained as a small exhibition space. Kinomoto Station is where you get off to take a bus to breathtaking and historic Mt. Shizugatake. There’s also a giant Jizo statue nearby. Visiting Kinomoto is highly recommended. Note that Kinomoto Station in Japanese (木ノ本駅) uses a different kanji from the one used for the place name Kinomoto (木之本).

Takamiya

Takamiya Station

13. Takamiya Station (高宮駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Hikone
Unique building with a high tower in the center reminiscent of ancient Shinto shrines which were elevated to be closer to the gods. It also might be a play on the name “Takamiya” which literally means “high shrine.” The station building was rebuilt in March 2002. The station is near the old Takamiya-juku, the sixty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations or shukuba post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Near the station is a large torii leading to Taga Taisha Shrine in neighboring Taga.

JR Nagahara Station

14. Nagahara Station (永原駅), JR Kosei LineNagahama
The loghouse is a common building design, but Nagahara has a good reason to use it. Before railroads were built, this area was a port town teeming with wooden maruko-bune boats plying across Lake Biwa between Otsu and this area of northern Lake Biwa. The trademark of maruko-bune was a semi-round log (maruko) along the sides of the boat. Nearby is the Maruko-bune Museum. The station building was rebuilt in April 2000. The inside was kind of dark and musty when I visited some years ago, but I liked the exterior.

Hino

Hino Station

15. Hino Station (日野駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hino
Hino Station is another old station that takes you back to the prewar years on the inside. It has a nice vintage look and feel inside. The station building is the original one built in 1900. However, outside the station building, there are just too many modern objects that clutter the vintage facade: A waiting taxi (and often a bus), phone booth, and vending machine (always the worst offender). Otherwise, I would rank this station higher. Next to the station is a small tourist information office that is always helpful especially during the Hino Matsuri float festival, blooming Shakunage Gorge, and other local festivals. Hino Station is Hino town’s sole train station and one of the main stations on Ohmi Railways.

Inside JR Torahime Station.

16. Torahime Station (虎姫駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Torahime Station rebuilt its building in March 2006. Very nice woody building inside and out. There’s a commercial space where a bakery once operated, but they have since left and finding a suitable tenant has been a problem. Outside the station, there’s a statue of the Tiger Princess (which is what “Torahime” means) and the small Torahime Shrine (popular with fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team in Osaka). Someday, I want to see the cherry blossoms at nearby Toragozen-yama.

Omi-Shiotsu

Omi-Shiotsu Station

17. Omi-Shiotsu Station (近江塩津駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Nice traditional-looking structure rebuilt in Sept. 1995 to look like a lodge. The wooden sign says “Kaido Ajikama Lodge” (海道・あぢかまの宿). It was the name of a real lodge that existed in here in Shiotsu, a former post town along the Hokkoku Kaido Road (北国街道) going from Maibara/Nagahama to Fukui and the Hokuriku Region. Inside, the arch-shaped corridor to the train platforms reminds me of an underground military bunker. Omi-Shiotsu Station is where you transfer trains between the Hokuriku Line and Kosei Line. Remember this station if plan to travel around northern Lake Biwa by train. Nothing much nearby.

Toyosato

Toyosato Station

18. Toyosato Station (豊郷駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Toyosato
Rebuilt in the late 1990s, Toyosato Station’s building looks like an Omi merchant’s home or storehouse. A testament to the many Omi merchants who once lived in the area, including Itoh Chube’e, founder of Itochu, one of Japan’s leading trading companies. His home is open to the public.

If you see an umbrella or umbrella design in the station, it refers to the Goshu Ondo song and bon dance co-founded at Senjuji temple (千樹寺) in Toyosato. These days, Toyosato’s main attraction is the Toyosato Elementary School made famous by the popular K-ON! anime/manga series in 2009-2010. The train station is in a quiet neighborhood with stone statues of a tortoise and hare showing you the way to the elementary school.

JR Kusatsu Station East Entrance

19. Kusatsu Station (草津駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line and JR Kusatsu Line, Kusatsu
The station’s slanted roof lines are similar to the roof of the Kusatsu Honjin, one of Japan’s best preserved Honjin used for VIP lodging in former post towns. A traditional-looking gate (photo) and a road marker on the pedestrian deck add a nice touch.

Although it has nothing to do with the architecture, the best thing I like about Kusatsu Station is the little tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket. As soon as you give your ticket to go out, it’s right there. When staffed during the better part of the day, they are very helpful with directions to places. Local-area tourist pamphlets are also available at all times.

One of my pet peeves is that JR train stations always have tourist pamphlets in plain sight, but for a different destination. They don’t stock tourist pamphlets for the place I just arrived at. Why not have tourist pamphlets for that place? I just spent a good amount of money to get there, and now they want me to go somewhere else?? They should also care about inbound people, not just outbound. When a tourist gets off the train, the first thing he/she wants is a map of the place of arrival. Instead, you have to search for the map signboard or tourist info office if there is one. But Kusatsu Station is the rare exception where the tourist info booth and local brochures are right there. A few train stations in Shiga have a tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket only during major festivals.

Kusatsu Station is Shiga’s busiest train station with the highest daily average of boarding passengers exceeding 27,000 in 2012. The second busiest is neighboring Minami-Kusatsu Station with over 24,000 passengers daily. In comparison, Otsu Station sees over 17,000 passengers daily and Kyoto Station has over 185,000 passengers. These numbers do not include the number of people getting off the train.

Taga Taisha-mae

Taga Taisha-mae Station

20. Taga Taisha-mae Station (多賀大社前駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Taga
The building is shaped like a shrine building, to match Taga Taisha Shrine and the large torii right outside. An exhibition space (waiting room) is integrated with the station building rebuilt in 2002. The quality of the exhibitions is good when there are exhibitions. A large showcase displays ema prayer tablets from many shrines. The station is the end terminal of the Taga Line. Taga Taisha Shrine is a short walk away.

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station before the wedding hall was built.

Incorporating the train station with local elements certainly boosts visitors’ impressions and the local folks’ pride and morale.

People are starting to realize that the train station itself can be a tourist attraction. Just look at the magnificently reconstructed Tokyo Station and the nyan-nyan Kishi Station in Wakayama. People in Otsu should take note when they think about how to revitalize the Otsu Station area. To attract more people, make the train station the attraction. How about filling the station building with B-kyu (B-grade) gourmet food stands? Cheap but delicious local food always attracts people. Great if we could eat B-kyu food year-round in Otsu instead only once a year. Right now, most of the restaurants in and around Otsu Station are nothing special. The Otsu Station area needs to have something special that Hama-Otsu doesn’t have and preferably found nowhere else in Japan.

After March 2014, the city of Otsu quit managing the Otsu Station building that it has been sub-leasing to tourist offices, shops, and restaurants. It has been paying JR, the building’s owner, 16 million yen annually to lease the building. They cite the old air conditioning that will cost 200 million yen to renovate. The city and JR will discuss what to do with the building. It’s a golden opportunity for them to think out of box and be more imaginative and bold to revitalize ho-hum Otsu Station.

Shinkansen

Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki.

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without trains. Japan’s first railway opened between Yokohama and Shimbashi (Tokyo) in 1872. Shiga laid its first railway 12 years later in 1884 between Nagahama and Tsuruga (Fukui). In 1889, the Tokaido Line was completed. In 1900, Ohmi Railway opened a train line between Hikone and Kibukawa. The Keihan Line in Otsu started running between Hama-Otsu and Ishiyama-dera in 1914. The defunct Kojaku Railway Line (江若鉄道) opened between Miidera Station and Eizan Station (now Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station) in 1921. It was the predecessor of the JR Kosei Line that took over in 1974. All these railways gradually extended their lines to what they are today. In Oct. 1964, the shinkansen started stopping at Maibara.

If there’s one thing that has improved in Japan, it’s rail transportation. Trains have gotten faster, cutting travel times significantly. Train/subway lines have also increased or been extended, mainly in urban areas. Trains are also more comfortable with non-smoking cars and Western-style toilets.

Can you imagine that until the 1980s, smoking was allowed in most train cars, train stations, and platforms? Older folks may remember seeing cigarette butts all over the train platform and an ash tray in front of all the train seats. Most of the shinkansen cars also allowed smoking. It wasn’t until the 1990s when non-smokers’ rights gained traction and most or all train cars and stations started to prohibit smoking. Thank goodness. This trend has spread to other public places such as restaurants and even city streets and beaches. Excellent.

Of course, many train station buildings have also much improved with brighter, cleaner, and more spacious interiors. Restrooms also tend to have toilet paper and sometimes even soap as an added bonus. Major stations also have escalators and elevators. I remember Tokyo Station had a small army of hardy men called “Akabo” (Red Caps 赤帽) who were red-capped porters earning tips by carrying your heavy luggage up or down the stairs. They made a decent living when suitcases still didn’t have casters and there were no escalators. Akabo at Tokyo Station became extinct in March 2001. I wish I took a picture of them.

Another major improvement and development is the employment of women as train conductors and drivers. Once upon a time, we never ever saw women train conductors and drivers. Now they are quite common.

Sorry that this blog post turned out to be longer than I expected. Often one topic leads to another story or tidbit. I’m not really a train fan except for the shinkansen, but trains are a fact of life in Japan and a great convenience.

Essential Japanese Train Station Vocabulary (by Philbert Ono)

  • tetsudo 鉄道 – railway
  • eki 駅 – railway station (train, subway, or street car)
  • ekisha 駅舎 – railway station building
  • eki konai 駅構内 – inside or within the train station.
  • kippu uriba きっぷうりば – place to buy tickets
  • kenbaiki 券売機 – ticket vending machine
  • Midori no Madoguchi みどりの窓口 – Manned ticket counter or office at major train stations to buy reserved seat tickets (and rail passes). Colored in green and usually open from 5:30 am to 10 pm.
  • joshaken 乗車券 – regular-fare train ticket
  • tokkyuken 特急券 – express-fare train ticket
  • jiyuseki 自由席 – non-reserved seating
  • shiteiseki 指定席 – reserved seating, extra charge required.
  • machiai-shitsu 待合室 - Waiting room in the train station. A room to keep warm in winter or cool in summer while waiting for your train. Most train stations have a small waiting room on the platform.
  • te-arai 手洗い – restrooms (toilet)
  • kaisatsu 改札 – Ticket wicket/gate where you present your ticket or tap card.
  • ICOCA – IC smart card issued in the Kansai area as a rechargeable tap card to pay the train fare through an automated wicket equipped with a card reader. Prounounced “Ikoka” which means “Shall we go?”
  • ressha 列車 – train
  • Futsu 普通 – Local train stopping at every station. Also called Futsu-ressha 普通列車.
  • kaku-eki 各駅 – Stops at every station.
  • Kaisoku 快速 – Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Futsu. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Shin-kaisoku 新快速 – Special Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Kaisoku trains. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Tokkyu 特急 – Limited Express long-distance trains stopping only at major train stations. Extra charge required.
  • Green-sha グリーン車 – First-class car requiring extra charge.
  • shinkansen 新幹線 – Bullet train. Nozomi only stops at the major stations (doesn’t stop at Maibara). Hikari trains stop at a few more stations (sometimes Maibara) and Kodama trains stop at all shinkansen stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
  • daiya ダイヤ or jikokuhyo 時刻表 – Train schedule
  • yukisaki 行先 – train destination
  • unkyu 運休 – canceled train
  • okure 遅れ – Delayed train. Usually preceded by the number of minutes the train is delayed.
  • yusen-seki 優先席 – Courtesy seat for elderly, handicapped, etc. Formerly called “silver seat” シルバーシート.
  • rosen 路線 – train line (Biwako Line, Kusatsu Line, etc.)
  • senro – 線路 – Railroad/train tracks. If you drop something on the tracks, alert the station staff.
  • homu ホーム – Station platform where you board the train.
  • Roku-ryo-hensei 6両編成 – Six-car train. If it’s a 10-car train, it’s called Ju-ryo hensei.
  • nanban-sen 何番線 – Which platform No.?
  • shasho 車掌 – On-board train conductor who may check your express train ticket (on tokkyu and shinkansen). He/she also sells train tickets if your boarding train station does not have a ticket machine or manned ticket window.
  • deguchi 出口 – exit (Nishi-guchi 西口 West exit, Higashi-guchi 東口 East exit, Kita-guchi 北口 North exit, Minami-guchi 南口 South exit)
  • shuten 終点 – Last stop on the train line.
  • coin locker コインロッカー – Coin-operated lockers for luggage. Only the larger train stations have it.
  • kanko annaisho 観光案内所 – tourist information desk
  • renta-saikuru レンタサイクル – Bicycle rentals. Or just say “jintensha karitai.”
  • basu noriba バスのりば – bus stop
  • taxi noriba タクシーのりば – taxi stand

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.