March festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Two outstanding festivals in March in Shiga.

Sagicho

Sagicho floats’ friendly clash.

March 15-16, 2014
Sagicho Matsuri Festival, 左義長まつり, Omi-Hachiman Google Map

One of Shiga’s must-see festivals. The annual Sagicho Matsuri is a dramatic parade and clashing of 13 colorful Sagicho floats carried around the old streets of the city and in Himure Hachimangu Shrine near Hachiman-bori Canal. On the first day (Sat.), the floats are paraded along the streets near the shrine and undergo judging for best design. The floats are works of art with a motif based on the year’s Oriental zodiac. Since it is the Year of the Horse, be prepared to see all kinds of dramatic horses on the floats. What’s incredible is that the float decorations are all made of edible materials mounted on a straw and wood base. The floats are thus different every year.

Sagicho Matsuri

Sagicho Matsuri climax.

The second day (Sun.) of the Sagicho Festival is the climax. During the day, the Sagicho floats collide with each other and try to topple each other. Then at night, the floats are set afire. Sagicho is actually a fire festival. If you plan to see it at night, be sure to dress warmly. It can get quite cold.

Here’s a rough schedule of events at the Sagicho Festival this year (official festival site here):

March 15, 2014
1 pm: Gathering of 13 Sagicho floats at Himure Hachimangu Shrine. Floats are also judged here.
2 pm: A procession of Sagicho floats leave Himure Hachimangu Shrine and parade around nearby streets.
3 pm: Taiko performance at Hachiman Jr. High School.
5:30 pm: Sagicho floats return to Himure Hachimangu Shrine where an awards ceremony will be held.

March 16, 2014
10:30 am: Sagicho floats start parading around the streets.
2 pm to 5 pm: Sagicho floats gather and clash in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine.
6 pm: Children’s Sagicho floats are set afire in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine as other floats converge in front of the shrine.
8 pm to 10:40 pm: Five Sagicho floats are set afire at the same time, then the others are lit one by one in front of Himure Hachimangu Shrine.

This pdf shows the floats’ procession route. Also see more photos and my video on YouTube.

Saio princess

Saio princess amid tea fields.

March 23, 2014
Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Procession あいの土山斎王群行, Tsuchiyama, Koka

If you like kimono, you gotta see this festival. It’s a small, but very elegant and colorful matsuri in Koka’s Tsuchiyama area. The Saio princess dressed in a beautiful, juni-hitoe, 12-layer kimono will be carried in a palanquin escorted by a bevy of women in kimono. They also dance along the procession route (map below). This is actually an extension of Kyoto’s famous Aoi Matsuri.

The Saio princess was an unmarried, young Imperial princess, often the Emperor’s daughter, who was appointed (by divination) to be the High Priestess of Ise Grand Shrines in Mie Prefecture from the 7th to 14th centuries. For about 660 years, over 60 Saio princesses served at Ise Grand Shrines. The new Saio princess traveled from Kyoto to her Saiku palace near the Ise Shrine. The journey took 5 nights and 6 days, and passed through Tsuchiyama in Shiga Prefecture. Held on the last Sunday in March, this festival reenacts the Saio Gunko procession in Tsuchiyama to Tarumi Tongu which was one of the five palaces where the Saio lodged along the way. The Saio princess is selected among volunteer women from Koka.

Saio princess

Dance performance

The festival starts at 11:30 am with the Saio princess carried on a palanquin arriving at a small park called Yume no Ogawa next to Ono Elementary School. She purifies herself at a small stream in the park. Then they gather inside the school gym for the Departure ceremony.

The procession will depart the school at 1:30 pm and proceed on foot on the old Tokaido Road to Tarumi Tongu (垂水頓宮). Tongu means temporary palace. There were five of them for the Saio princess between Kyoto and the Saiku palace in Ise. The one in Tsuchyama is a National Historic Site, although nothing remains of the palace. From 886 to 1264 (378 years), a total of 31 Saio princesses lodged at Tarumi Tongu.

The procession will stop and dance at 2 pm at Ichiba Kumin Hiroba square (市場区民広場) and at 2:40 pm at Maeno Community West Hiroba Square (前野集会所西広場). Great photo ops at these two stops. The procession will arrive Tarumi Tongu at 3:40 pm where a short ceremony will be held. The festival ends at 4 pm. YouTube video | Official Website

Getting there: Take the “Aikuru” bus from Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways). In about 30 min., get off at Ono Higashi-guchi (大野東口) and walk to Ono Primary School nearby. Buses leave at 10:05 am, 11 am, and 12:05 pm. Bus schedule in Japanese here.

*In the case of rain, the festival will be held inside the school gym.

Map of the procession route.

View あいの土山斎王群行 in a larger map

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

bonbaiten

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.

setsubun

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.

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 StationGoogle 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 StationGoogle 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/

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

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 weeks-long rigorous training in voice and acting to put on a kabuki play during the festival. Out of 12 kabuki floats, festival features four ornate kabuki 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 across central Nagahama (Otemon-dori shopping arcade) where the boys perform again. By the evening, all the floats gather at the Otabisho across town (near Hokoku Shrine) 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. Although April 15 is the main festival day, they also have other festival events on adjacent days (see festival schedule here) and kabuki is performed on April 13, 14, 15, and 16 as well. 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. Nyu Chawan Matsuri, Nyu 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 one of the grandest ones 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 StationMy 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. *Update: Due to a tragic kite crash in May 2015, the Odako Matsuri kite festival will be cancelled this year in May 2016.
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 shifted to 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. Walkable from Taga Taisha-mae StationMy video | Google Map

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

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