Autumn festivals and foliage November 2017 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals (matsuri), events, exhibitions, and fall leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November–December 2017. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.)

Compiled by Philbert Ono. Updated: Nov. 8, 2017

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2017
♦ Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade, Hikone Castle, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Very elaborate costume parade of mainly kids dressed as samurai and Edo-Period ladies. Highlights include the Hikone Gun Battalion giving a matchlock gun demo (in front of Horse Stable), Ii Naosuke played by an actor on horseback, fireman acrobatics, and Sarugaku dancers. The parade route starts from Joto Elementary School and proceeds along the road to the castle and passes in front of the Umaya Horse Stable. Video here. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map | Video | Photos
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
English: http://www.hikoneshi.com/en/event/articles/220
Japanese: http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/parade

Saimyoji

Saimyoji

November 18th-27th, 2017
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 famous for autumn leaves in eastern Shiga. They are Saimyoji (西明寺) in Kora, Kongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi (see map below). They are also famous for structures that are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.

During the autumn foliage period, convenient shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between Hikone Station and these three temples. For more details and the shuttle bus schedule in English, click here.

Eigenji

Eigenji

November 4th-26th, 2017
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. Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
Japanese: http://eigenji-t.jp

Zensuiji

Zensuiji and maples.

November 16–December 3, 2017
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio Autumn 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 (get off at the “Iwane” stop). The last bus leaves Zensuiji (Iwane) at 5:16 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, 9:25 am, 10:15 am, 12:20 pm, 1:45 pm, 2:45 pm, 3:50 pm (except on weekends and holidays). Bus fare is ¥250 per ride for adults. ¥130 for kids.
Bus schedule in Japanese | Map
湖南三山めぐり

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 11th–26th, 2017, 5 pm–8:30 pm
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine Maple Festival Light-up, Otsu
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hie in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture is the head shrine for all Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno Shrines in Japan (around 2,000). The spacious grounds includes two shrines that are National Treasures and 3,000 maple trees lit up at night 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm during this period. Even the green leaves look great against the dark sky. Highly recommended if you’re in that part of the city. Near Hiezan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line and Keihan Line’s Sakamoto Station. Map | Photos
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Ishiyama-dera

Ishiyama-dera

November 18–December 3, 2017
Ishiyama-dera Temple Autumn Foliage Light-up
, Otsu, 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Founded in 749, Ishiyama-dera, belonging to the Shingon Buddhist Sect, is the 13th Temple of the Saigoku Pilgrimage. The temple is noted for National Treasure architecture, cherry blossoms, and fall leaves. The maples are nice even during the day, but the evenings will include LED lights. Mini-concerts on weekends at 6:30 p.m. Map
三井寺 秋のライトアップ
English:
Japanese: https://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/guide/event/atarayo

November 17th-26th, 2017
Miidera Temple Autumn Foliage Light-up
, Otsu, 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Established in the 7th century, Miidera temple, or Onjoji, is one of Otsu’s major temples and one of Japan’s four largest temples. It is the headquarters temple of the Tendai Jimon Buddhist Sect and former rival of Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei. It is a complex of numerous structures including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. The temple bell is famous for being one of the Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) depicted in ukiyoe prints. During this period, the temple’s three-story pagoda will also be open to the public. Map
三井寺 秋のライトアップ
English:
Japanese: http://miidera1200.jp/2017lightup-autumn/

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha garden

November 17th-26th, 2017
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm (until 9 pm on weekends and holidays)
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. Events and merchandise booths will be held on weekends.

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 around 9:02 pm on weekdays and around 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ
Japanese: http://www.yasu-kankou.com/event/2017/10/post-35.html

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 18–December 3, 2017
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 ¥700 (¥350 for jr high and younger). Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
English: http://www.hikoneshi.com/en/event/articles/221
Japanese: http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/kinshu

November 18–December 10, 2017, 5:30 pm–8 pm (enter by 7:30 pm)
Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman
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 and food are not allowed. No photography inside the buildings. 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 (200 yen for jr high and younger). 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/

Toyosato

Toyosato Elementary School (Image: toyosato-kanko.jp)

November 25–December 27, 2017, Sunset–10 pm
♦ Former Toyosato Elementary School Evening Illumination, Toyosato
Pretty outdoor and building illumination in the evening. Christmas illumination during Dec. 16th–27th. Designed by William Merrell Vories the school has become nationally famous as the backdrop for the popular K-ON! anime/manga series. For groups of four or more, guided tours of the old school are provided for a fee.
Japanese: http://toyosato-kanko.jp/event/illumi2017/
豊郷小学校旧校舎群ライトアップ&イルミネーション

Shaka-do

Shaka-do

October 1–December 10, 2017, 9 am–4 pm (until 3:30 pm in Dec.)
Enryakuji Shaka-do Hall Hidden Buddha Display, Otsu
In the Saito complex of Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei, the Shaka-do main temple hall will open its doors to reveal its principal object of worship, a seated Buddha (Shaka Nyorai). The Buddha revealed to the public only once every 33 years. Visitors can also see the hall’s naijin altar area.
Japanese: http://www.hieizan.or.jp/archives/2556

December 2nd–3rd, 2017, 6:30 am
Hot Air Balloon Over Lake Biwa, Takashima, early morning
Dramatic sight of hot-air balloons crossing Lake Biwa. They start off very early in the morning at Omi-Shirahama Beach so you would have stay near this beach in Takashima. The balloons aim to land in Notogawa in Higashi-Omi across the lake. Note that weather conditions can cancel the event.
熱気球琵琶湖横断
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/new/20171123_1704.html

Date and venue to be confirmed. 
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show, 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」

December 3, 2017
♦ 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. Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www.tarobo.sakura.ne.jp/gyouzi.html

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

Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th Anniversary

Rowing on Lake Biwa with Mt. Ibuki and Chikubushima in the background. (June 26, 2017)

June 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌 aka Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous song and one of Japan’s best hometown songs.

To mark this milestone, a series of events were held in late June 2017 in Shiga. They included a four-day rowing excursion around Lake Biwa during June 24–27, a choir contest in Imazu on June 25, the unveiling of a new song monument in Nagahama on June 25, and a major concert at Biwako Hall in Otsu on June 30. I didn’t see everything, but I did get a glimpse of the major events.

The rowing excursion was named Nazori Shuko (なぞり周航) which means “Tracer Rowing Excursion.” It traces the rowing route the Kyoto college boys took in 1917 around Lake Biwa, going clockwise from Otsu and on to Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Nagahama, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and back to Otsu. The rowers lodged in Omi-Maiko, Imazu, and Hikone. The rowing excursion was largely organized by Kyoto University Rowing Club’s alumni association (Noseikai 濃青会) with the cooperation of water sports organizations and fishing cooperatives in Shiga. About 120 rowing club alumni took turns rowing on three modern boats designed for long-distance rowing.

For four days, they rowed from around 5 a.m. until early afternoon. This is when the lake waters are most calm and air temperatures are cooler. The rowing excursion also had the participation of local people (住民参加). At times, the rowers were escorted by yachts, canoes/kayaks, and even standup paddleboarders. And at each major stop, the rowers were greeted by local folks including taiko drummers, dancers, and other well-wishers. The rowers also sang the song at each song monument around the lake.

The four-day rowing excursion started at Otsu on June 24, 2017. The rowers started out at the Kyoto Univ. Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River at 5 a.m. and stopped by here at Mihogasaki, in front of the rowing club’s original boathouse in 1917. They left Mihogasaki at around 7 a.m. as people cheered.

At Mihogasaki, Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi (center) and former Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada (event committee chairperson) saw the rowers off. The man with the flag is an alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (university) (第三高等学校) that merged with Kyoto University. The old school’s logo with a cherry blossom and three stripes is on the flag and old boathouse.

Rowers pass by Ukimido Floating Temple in Katata, Otsu.

Taiko drummers greet rowers at Omi-Maiko.

Rowers sing “Biwako Shuko no Uta” on the white-sand beach at Omi-Maiko. This is where they lodged the first night.

Official T-shirts were also sold to the public. They came in white, dark blue, and green. Orange T-shirts were reserved only for the rowers. The back says “Ware wa Uminoko” (We’re children of the lake) and the front had a small 100th anniversary logo (insert).

On June 25, the second day, rowers leave Omi-Maiko and head for Imazu up north.

Rowers pay their respects at Shirahige Shrine in Takashima, famous for the torii in the water.

Rowers receive a warm welcome as they arrive at Imazu, the song’s birthplace. The large banner on shore reads, “Welcome to Imazu!” (ようこそ!今津へ)

Imazu’s annual Biwako Shuko no Uta choir contest was also held on June 25. After arriving at Imazu, the rowers went to the concert hall (Takashima Shimin Kaikan) and went on stage with singer Kato Tokiko and Kada Yukiko (in green) to sing the song as guest singers.

Kada Yukiko and singer Kato Tokiko at the center of the singing rowers swaying on stage.

Also attending the choir contest were these three alumni from the old No. 3 High School which merged with Kyoto University in 1949.

After singing at the choir contest, the rowers walked to Imazu Port and sang in front of the song monument. A busy day, but it wasn’t over yet.

Biwako Shuko no Uta song museum (琵琶湖周航の歌資料館) in Imazu had special exhibits about songwriter Oguchi Taro and composer Yoshida Chiaki. The museum sells CDs of the song (including the English version) and the museum staff is very friendly.

Very nice to see yoshibue reed flute players from Takashima greeting visitors at Omi-Imazu Station during June 24–25, 2017. They continuously played only the rowing song. Their flutes are made of Lake Biwa reeds grown in Harie, Takashima. 針江よし笛


New song monument for Biwako Shuko no Uta Verse 3 unveiled in Nagahama on June 25, 2017. (長浜歌碑・除幕式)

Also on June 25, a new song monument in Nagahama was unveiled in Hokoen Park near the lake shore near Nagahama Castle (map here). In summer 2016, a  group of Nagahama residents formed a nonprofit (長濱歌碑でつなぐ会) to plan, design, finance, and build this new monument. They solicited donations to help foot the cost of about ¥8 million. Although they weren’t able to get more than ¥4 million in public donations, they somehow managed to pay for the new monument in full.

Since Nagahama is a noted glass maker, they decided to make the new monument out of glass made in Nagahama. The new monument also functions as a park bench where you can sit and watch the sunset over the lake. It is perhaps Japan’s most expensive park bench. Seating four people, the glass bench is engraved with Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta where it mentions Nagahama. (“Today is Imazu or, Nagahama, huh.”)

The opening ceremony was held at around 5:30 p.m. for sunset, but it was too cloudy. The ceremony was attended by a substantial crowd who came to see singer Kato Tokiko, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko, Nagahama Mayor Fujii Yuji, and local singers Kitagawa Akihiro and Matsuura Yoko help unveil the new monument.

Earlier in the day in Nagahama, they held stage entertainment and boat cruises with local singers. (Couldn’t see any of it because I was in Imazu.)

June 25 (Sun.) was the busiest day because it was the closest weekend to the actual 100th anniversary on June 28. That night, I went back to Imazu and stayed at a hotel near the station.

While holding a copy of the concert program, singer Kato Tokiko gave a few words and mentioned the 1st Biwako Ongakusai music festival to be held on June 30 in Otsu. Holding the PR poster is Kitagawa Akihiro, ~Lefa~ vocalist.

Kitagawa Akihiro and Kato Tokiko sing behind the new song monument and later everyone released balloons.

Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta is engraved on the center segment of the glass bench. Bolted down in concrete and made of solid glass, it is a park bench shaped like a boat. The top is wavy like water, inspired by nami-makura (rolling with the waves) in the song.


The rowers prepare to depart Imazu at around 5 a.m.

On June 26, the third day of the rowing excursion, I checked out of my hotel near Omi-Imazu Station at 4:30 a.m. and joined the Kyoto University Rowing Club’s official photographers on a fishing boat. We followed the rowers from Imazu to Osaki, Chikubushima, Nagahama, and Hikone and kept our cameras busy.

Alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (第三高等学校) at Imazu to see off the rowers at around 5 a.m. He was also at Otsu. At the center of the cherry blossom is the kanji for “san” (three).

They first rowed from Imazu to Osaki where they would change rowers.

This boat is named “Uminoko” (Child of the Lake). The other two boats are named “Tomari-bi” (Light/Fire on Shore) and “Sazanami” (Lake Ripples). They are named after a key word or phrase found in the song.

The three boats they used belong to the Kyoto University Rowing Club. Thanks to donations from rowing club alumni, they were built in Shiga several years ago and designed especially for long-distance rowing around the lake. The boats have sliding seats and are quite stable in the water. They can also expel water automatically. It’s a far cry from the wooden, fixed-seat boats they used 100 years ago.

The boats are normally used by freshmen members of the Kyoto University Rowing Club to row around the lake every summer.

Rowing toward Chikubushima on a sparkling lake. Luckily, the weather was good during the four days.

On sacred Chikubushima island, non-rowing alumni sing the song in front of the Verse 4 monument while the three boats solemnly look on. This was around 8 a.m. I wish more people could have witnessed this most interesting and unusual scene, but it was well before the arrival time of tourist boats. Besides myself, only a handful of official and press photographers were here to see this. The Mainichi Shimbun reporter hired his own boat just to photograph this.

Mt. Ibuki in view as they row toward Nagahama.

Our friendly boat captain knew well about lake currents and conditions. The waves got a little rough off Nagahama and slightly flooded the boats. Also on our fishing boat was the BBC (Biwako Broadcasting Co.) cameraman. The NHK TV crew also hired a fishing boat to film the rowers. In July, both BBC and NHK aired special TV programs about the rowing trip.

After reaching Nagahama at around 11 a.m., the rowers sing the song next to the new Verse 3 monument at Hokoen Park near Nagahama Castle. Nagahama was also a lunch break.

The song leader (大杉耕一) directs the singing, backed by many local dancers (日本3B体操協会 滋賀支部). The new park bench song monument is behind him.

Rowers pass by Hikone Castle.

In front of the Verse 5 monument at Hikone Port, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko (event committee chairperson) asserted that the “old castle” mentioned in the song must be Sawayama Castle (Ishida Mitsunari’s castle) instead of Hikone Castle since the latter was never attacked (“sharp arrows buried deeply”). She’s got a valid point, but I’ve always assumed that it included all the old castles in eastern Shiga (Hikone, Nagahama, Sawayama, and Azuchi). This is another thing I love about the song. We can all have our own interpretations of it.

After reaching Hikone Port in the early afternoon, the rowers sang in front of the Verse 5 song monument. They sang here again in the early evening with a local school band and lodged in Hikone.

I had fun following and photographing/filming the rowers on the lake, but I declined to follow them again on the next (last) day. (Too much sunburn.)

On June 27, the fourth and last day of rowing from Hikone to Otsu, they took a break at Omi-Hachiman (near the song monument at Horikiri Port) and even danced the Goshu Ondo (folk dance native to Shiga).

Rowers finally return to the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River in Otsu at around 5 p.m. It was a long haul taking about 12 hours. They changed rowers four times.

In front of the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse (Seta Karahashi Bridge in the background), rowers sing the song after a safe and successful four-day rowing excursion. Congratulations to all!
*Thanks to Tetsuo Oshiro for providing some of the photos on this page.

Major newspapers like Chunichi Shimbun covered the 100th anniversary events. (Click on image to enlarge.)


The rowing excursion was soon followed by the 1st Biwako Ongakusai (Music Festival) held on June 30, 2017 at Biwako Hall in Otsu. It was organized by a committee led by former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko and produced by singer Kato Tokiko who made Biwako Shuko no Uta a national hit in 1971. Headlining the concert were top artists Miyazawa Kazufumi (Shima Uta was fantastic), Gospellers, the Tokiko Band (great musicians), and ~Lefa~ from Nagahama. The first half had local youth groups and choirs from Shiga, Kyoto, and Osaka. The second half featured the headlining artists and Kato Tokiko herself.

This is the first Biwako Music Festival and they plan to hold this concert annually around Lake Biwa in the places mentioned in the song. So next year in 2018, it will be held in Omi-Maiko at Biwako Seikei Sport College whose president is former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko. Then in Imazu in 2019. Kato Tokiko will be the producer of the annual concerts. It will take several years before the concert is held in each place mentioned in the song.

One major objective of the Biwako Music Festival is to perpetuate Biwako Shuko no Uta to the younger generations since it is not really taught in schools in Shiga. That’s why you will see local youths performing as well.

At the 1st Biwako Ongakusai Music Festival, a short film about the rowing excursion was shown while concert goers entered the concert hall. It also mentioned the English version of the song and showed footage of our mini concert held in Imazu in April. The short film was shot and edited by Biwako Broadcasting Co.

The 45-page Ongakusai program booklet included this two-page article I wrote about Lake Biwa Rowing Song. I was honored to explain why and how I created the English version. (Click image to enlarge. Sorry, I don’t have it in English yet.)

The concert was held in Biwako Hall’s beautiful Large Hall seating about 1,800. This is ~Lefa~ performing in the audience area for their first number.

~Lefa~ vocalist Kitagawa Akihiro (北川 陽大) also sang “Lake Biwa Rowing Song” in English. His partner Kono Hiroyuki (河野 弘行) played keyboard. Performing at Biwako Hall was their biggest venue so far, a dream come true.

At the end for the finale, all the performers got on stage and sang Biwako Shuko no Uta. So nice to see so many young people singing the song. The audience also stood up and sang.

At the center are the former and current Shiga governors, Kato Tokiko, and other headlining artists all singing Biwako Shuko no Uta.

It was a wonderful concert showcasing a wide variety of music and artists, both amateur and famous. We look forward to the next concert next year in Omi-Maiko.

Otsukaresama and thank you to Kada Yukiko, Kato Tokiko, Kyoto University Rowing Club and their alumni association (濃青会), and everyone else who worked so hard to plan, coordinate, and execute these memorable events like never before. It got many local people involved and I was honored and happy to take part.

This hometown song must definitely be perpetuated to current and future generations. It’s an important part of Shiga’s history and cultural heritage and should be designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property (重要無形文化財). I hope that local educators and parents will come around and realize how precious this song really is to Shiga. Showcasing not only pretty scenes in Shiga, but also life itself. And the melody is classic and timeless. The story behind the song and its creators is also most fascinating. At the same time, the song retains an aura of mystery and intrigue.


On April 16, 2017, we at shiga-ken.com also celebrated the song’s 100th anniversary by holding a Lake Biwa Rowing Song mini concert in English in Imazu. Jamie and Megan Thompson visited Shiga for this occasion and we also had Kikui Satoru and Kondo Yumiko play yoshibue reed flutes as a duo named “Lake Reed.” Here are two videos of our event:


Video link: https://youtu.be/9G94IppUiiE


Video link: https://youtu.be/PjnY67sIcqE

Commemorative events in Shiga are largely over, but not in Kyoto. Kyoto University will be celebrating the song’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, 2017 with the unveiling of a song monument plaque on campus and a lecture (by song researcher Iida Tadayoshi) and concert during their autumn school festival. I will be attending as well and looking forward to meeting guests from Okaya, Nagano (songwriter Oguchi Taro‘s hometown) and Niigata (melody composer Yoshida Chiaki‘s hometown).

PR flyer for Kyoto University’s 100th anniversary song event on Nov. 25, 2017.

The Japan Post Office issued a sheet of stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Available while they last at post offices in Shiga.

Related links:

Renovated Otsu Station building reopens

20161126-0409

After a few years of uncertainty and about a year of major renovations, a new lease on life has been bestowed on the JR Otsu Station building that reopened on Oct. 1, 2016. I dropped by in late Nov. 2016 to check it out.

The train station platforms look the same, but when you get to the turnstiles at the north exit, the place looks cleaner and more spiffy, including the restroom. After passing through the turnstile, you see a new 7-Eleven on the left. To explore the new Otsu Station building, you now have to go outside. Walk outside the building to see the new 1st floor restaurants or enter The Calendar entrance to go upstairs to the 2nd floor. The long corridor and stairways that were inside the building are now gone.

Ground floor restaurants

See ground floor restaurants from outside the building.

On the outside, the two-story station building has a new paint job and looks basically the same structurally, but the interior has been totally gutted and replaced mainly with restaurants on both the 1st and 2nd floors. Besides 7-Eleven, the 1st/ground floor now has Starbucks, Japanese bank ATMs (Sumitomo-Mitsui and Resona), Otsu Tourist Information Center (rental bicycles), and three Shiga-original restaurants: Okaki for Omi beef, Chanpontei for ramen, and Konkian for soba noodles. The renovations have also made the building more earthquake-resistant.

The station building is now named “Vierra Otsu” (ビエラ大津). According to the building’s developer, JR West Real Estate & Development Co., the word “Vierra” was created with the Spanish words “vida” (life) and “tierra” (land or earth), so it supposed to mean “a place for convenient, everyday living.” But why Spanish? There’s nothing Spanish in the building. It’s not even a real Spanish word so no one will understand what it means. In English, we only know “Vierra” as a surname.

Calendar

Ground floor with ATMs on the left and the entrance to The Calendar.

Stairs

Stairs to The Calendar on the 2nd floor. No elevators.

The building’s biggest and most dramatic change is upstairs on the 2nd floor. It’s where they have “The Calendar,” a unique combination of different and almost seamless spaces for a restaurant, cafe, bar, open-air rooftop terrace (barbecue and beer garden), bookshelves selling books, 60-bed capsule hotel, and even a ping-pong table. The open-air terrace was built on an existing rooftop, covering one-third of the station building.

before renovation

Before: Otsu Station building’s 2nd floor in Oct. 2013 before renovations, where The Calendar is now.

restaurant

After: The Calendar restaurant on the 2nd floor.

Indoors, the 2nd floor now looks to be one large room with various spaces. It replaces the old restaurants and offices on the 2nd floor. Very dramatic change if you know what the 2nd floor looked like before (photo above) with a long corridor in the middle of the partitioned restaurants and offices.

capsule

In this corner, the door to the capsule hotel. Phone: 077-526-9080

The capsule hotel, named Calendar Hotel, is on the east end of the building and accessible through an obscure door in a corner of the restaurant. Only hotel guests can enter the small door to the capsule hotel. They don’t allow people to tour the capsule hotel, so I can’t review it unless I stay there. The hotel has separate quarters for men and women with 36 capsules for men and 24 for women, starting at ¥3,000/night. There’s also free Wi-Fi. Not all capsules are equipped with a TV which costs extra. Capsule rates also vary depending on the day of the week (most expensive on Sat. nights). You can also request breakfast and/or dinner. The hotel supposed to be geared for foreign tourists so they should have information in English and other languages.

Compared to the old station building, Vierra Otsu offers a much better choice for dining and hanging out. Good to see restaurants that originated in Shiga. After seeing the Otsu Station building shuttered and almost abandoned for a significant period before the renovations started in Nov. 2015, it was a welcome sight to see it finally reopen. Next we have to wait for the new supermarket (and condominium) slated to replace the AL Plaza mall now being torn down next to Otsu Station.

The whole idea is to revitalize the sleepy Otsu Station area, attract more people (including foreign tourists), and provide a place to dine, rest, and hang out. Attracting more tourists might be quite difficult since the Hama-Otsu area at lakeside is where the action is with a shopping mall, restaurants, cruise boat port, and hotels. There’s not much near Otsu Station except for the prefectural government office.

shuttered

Otsu Station building shuttered and in limbo in 2014. This corner space now occupied by Konkian restaurant.

Built in 1975, the Otsu Station building was originally managed by a public corporation in Otsu that contracted with JR (Japan Railways) to lease floor space to businesses. When this public corporation dissolved, the city took over the building’s management from 2010. However, the aging building was in need of major repairs, especially to the air-conditioning system which would be a major expense. After March 2014, the city of Otsu quit managing the Otsu Station building that it had been sub-leasing to tourist offices, shops, and restaurants. It had been paying JR, the building’s owner, ¥16 million annually to lease the building. They cited the old air conditioning that would cost ¥200 million to renovate. JR also told the city that the building’s commercial potential was too low to justify a reconstruction.

After a few years of discussions and negotiations, the city of Otsu and JR finally came to agreement on the building’s renovations and how much of the bill both would foot. The city agreed to bear two-thirds of the cost while expecting subsidies from the central government, and JR would pay one-third. The total cost was reported to be at least ¥700 million.

Outdoor terrace

Outdoor terrace on part of the west-end rooftop.

As soon as I entered The Calendar restaurant on the 2nd floor, a friendly young waitress greeted me and asked whether I was there to eat or just drink. I was there for lunch so she told me where I could order and pay the cashier in advance. I stood in a short line to order the daily lunch special (¥850) and paid. I was given a beeper that would alert me when my order was ready. I was told that I could sit anywhere so I spent the waiting time touring the 2nd floor looking at everything except the off-limits capsule hotel. Went outside to the terrace and sat in different chairs.

The Calendar has a wide variety of seating and spaces. First you have to decide whether to sit outdoors on the terrace or stay indoors. The weather may easily decide that for you. The outdoor terrace is very spacious, airy, and well furnished with many comfy chairs. Large groups would like the large sofas and tables. It was built on an existing rooftop covering the ground floor. Too bad there are no nice views. Only buildings.

If the neighbors don’t complain, I would like to see live entertainment on the terrace. Perhaps Otsu Matsuri musicians can perform here before the festival as a PR ploy. Or have upcoming local singers, musicians, or hula dancers (especially in summer) to perform. Great place for private parties. I hope they can find a way to use the terrace even in the colder months. It looks like they can install a tarp-like roof over the entire terrace for cold or rainy weather. That space is just too big for it not to be used in the colder months. All that furniture has to be protected from the elements too.

terrace

Chic furniture on the terrace. Train platform on the left.

lounge

Reclining lounge chairs. If we could only see the lake from here.

Indoors, you will find single seats in front of the main picture window, small tables for couples and small groups, and tables for larger groups. There’s even a sit-on-the-floor room next to the ping-pong table in the corner room. This is where I decided to have lunch. It looks like a Japanese-style room, but the floor is varnished wood instead of tatami mats and the cushions are super thick to make it comfortable even for people not used to sitting on the floor. This room seemed popular among couples and families with small kids. It also had a view of passing trains at Otsu Station. I liked this room (and the cushion) as well.

singles

For singles.

couples

Window seating for couples or small groups.

Floor

Where I had lunch. On-the-floor seating next to the ping-pong room.

Ping-pong

Ping-pong room. Close the sliding doors before playing. Paddles and balls provided.

lunch

My lunch: Daily special (hi-gawari lunch) served 11 am–2:30 pm for ¥850 includes soup, rice or bread, and the drink bar (coffee, tea, juices).

My beeper sounded and I went to get my food. The lunch special was okay, but not especially delicious. Main dish was chicken. While I had lunch, a few boys eating in front of me played ping-pong. To play ping-pong, you have to close the sliding doors so the ball doesn’t bounce out. They seemed to have fun, but I wondered how popular it would be among customers. It’s a novel idea to have a ping-pong table, but that room was about the same size as the adjacent sit-on-the-floor dining room where 10 people and I were eating. The ping-pong room is only for 2 or 4 people at the most, and it could seat at least 12 people as a dining room. If they wanted to offer something unique, I think it would be more practical and attractive to convert the ping-pong room into a kids’ playroom where parents can easily watch over their kids while dining. Instead of going to the neighborhood park to socialize with other moms and kids, they could all come here, especially in the colder months. The noisy kids wouldn’t really bother the other customers because the room is set apart from the rest of the restaurant. Great place for kids’ birthday parties too.

The Calendar restaurant is nice and I felt good vibes, but it didn’t make me feel like I was in Otsu. What was missing was localized decor. At the top of the stairs, there were modern posters on the wall, but none were apparently related to Otsu. There is some artwork on the walls here and there (even inside the restroom), but they have nothing to do with Otsu or Shiga. Even the books on the bookshelves, I couldn’t find any Otsu- or Shiga-related books or magazines. How about installing Otsu-e paintings, pictures or paintings of Otsu Matsuri, Otsu-juku, Omi Hakkei, the lake, etc? Promote Otsu. There’s lots of wall space and it needs some local flavor since there aren’t any views of the lake.

Bookshelves

Bookshelves of books for sale. Couldn’t find any books about Otsu.

Central

Central area of The Calendar restaurant. The place was abuzz even well past lunch time. Open from 7 am to 11:30 pm.

Together with the Otsu Tourist Information Center, The Calendar also holds activities such as craft making, cooking, shogi, sake brewery tours, daily exercises, etc. This is good, to have community and cultural activities. They should add foreign language classes for tourist/restaurant/hotel staff if they want to welcome foreign visitors.

One confusing thing is that they have so many different names for the spaces they have: Restaurant, cafe, bar, Japanese-style multipurpose room, Calendar Hotel, capsule hotel, Lobby & Lounge (and Lobby Lounge), Terrace Restaurant, BBQ Terrace, Beer Garden, Book Cafe, Book Store & Cafe, and ping-pong lounge. Some things like the hotel and terrace are obvious, but the restaurant, cafe, lounge, lobby, and bar all look to be in the same room. I don’t know why it was named “The Calendar” either. Couldn’t see any obvious connection nor find any answer.

The Calendar is very spacious and quite big (maybe too big), and it looks like a great place for locals and tourists to hang out. Even the restroom was very modern and chic. I think it has great appeal and potential for people who live or work near Otsu Station. It’s certainly a great improvement over the old building. But Otsu Station is still only restaurants and no shops except for 7-Eleven. It’s going to mainly cater to local residents and workers. It’s great for them, but I don’t think normal tourists would get off the train just to dine here. The simple truth is that there are no major tourist attractions near Otsu Station except during major festivals like Otsu Matsuri. Central Otsu’s attractions are mainly along the Keihan Line which is not connected to Otsu Station on the JR Tokaido Line.

tourist

Otsu Tourist Information Center on 1st floor.

Information

Inside Otsu Tourist Information Center.

After lunch, I dropped by the Otsu Tourist Information Center on the 1st floor. The location and space are great improvements over the old office on the 2nd floor (and in the temporary quarters during the renovations). They still need to have a large sign inside the train station near the turnstiles to point the way to the Center.

I entered the new Otsu Tourist Information Center and expected the usual and polite “Irasshaimase” (Welcome!) that I’m so used to in Japan. But the three women staff never even paid attention to me. Another man soon walked in, and they never said anything to him either. It was like we were invisible to them. They just continued to whisper amongst themselves with their backs facing outward. How can you work there and totally ignore walk-in visitors when you’re not even busy? It’s common sense and standard procedure to greet visitors, especially if you’re in the hospitality industry.

I walked around the room and saw some local products on sale (they need to sell more products unless 7-Eleven already has an Otsu section), a large video monitor, and tourist pamphlets. But the atmosphere was strange. The place was nice enough, but it lacked soul and warmth (人情), at least when I was there in late Nov. I didn’t feel any welcoming vibes, and it was a silent, cold space compared to the many other tourist information centers I’ve been to in Japan. Yes, you could call me a tourist information center connoisseur.

When one of the women finally faced outward, I went up to her and asked a simple question about Ogoto Onsen. She said they didn’t have the answer to my question, so she would give me the phone number for the Ogoto Onsen tourist/ryokan association for me to call them and find out for myself. I was flabbergasted.

“What?? You want me to call them?!” (For information that they should’ve known in the first place.) She said yes, and I shook my head in disbelief and walked out. I didn’t want to start an argument. Like what prevented her from making that call and asking for me?? She could’ve learned something new in the process. If they don’t know the answer, it is THEIR job to try and find out for the visitor. Perhaps if I spoke in English, they might have been more helpful. But it shouldn’t have made a difference.

They need to understand that they are representing the city of Otsu, that they are the city’s front-line ambassadors who give tourists their first impressions of the city. They give the city a human face. Their job might be mundane at times, but tourist information staff are actually very important. (More important than the largely ceremonial Miss Biwako-Otsu Tourist Ambassadors.) It seems the company (BALNIBARBI Co., Ltd.) operating The Calendar is also managing the tourist information center. The restaurant staff were good, but the tourist information staff need to receive better training in both local tourism information and customer service. Please note that I don’t criticize to embarrass people. I criticize to help them improve their product, service, attitude, knowledge, skills, effectiveness, efficiency, professionalism, etc. Because I care about them.

I’m also amused that, as of this writing, Otsu’s official tourist information website does not mention The Calendar in their list of hotels nor in their list of Otsu restaurants even though they are right next door and co-organize tourist activities with The Calendar. Japan is a land of ironies, is what I always say.

Good luck to Otsu Station. Just because the renovated station building has reopened doesn’t mean that the job is done. It’s only the beginning, a stepping stone. They still need to keep brainstorming and working on how to attract more people to the area and the city. The new station building is only a small part of it.

*For detailed restaurant hours, menus, hotel reservations, etc., see The Calendar website in English or in Japanese.

*Additional reading: Top 20 train stations in Shiga

PR posters for the reopened Otsu Station building.

Otsu-e paintings then and now

Otsu-e of an ogre at Miidera temple, Otsu.

Anyone who visits Otsu will sooner or later see an Otsu-e painting (大津絵). It can be a picture of an ogre (oni), wisteria maiden (Fuji-musume), Buddhist figure, or other surreal or whimsical human, god, or animal.

Otsu-e paintings originated as a folk art around 1624-44 and were made and sold by roadside stands in Oiwake near Otsu-juku, the last post town on the Tokaido and Nakasendo Roads before people arrived in Kyoto from Tokyo (Edo).

The earliest Otsu-e pictures during 1624-44 depicted mainly Buddhist images. People worshipped these images as an affordable alternative for expensive Buddha statues. Otsu-e paintings were unsigned by anonymous artists and initially served practical and religious functions. They did not start out as paintings for artistic appreciation. Otsu-e was cheap ephemera (as much as a bowl of noodles), not meant to last very long.

There are a few theories as to how Otsu-e came about. One theory says that an artist named Matabei started painting Otsu-e. A more plausible theory is that Buddhist painters who lost their jobs in Kyoto due to a realignment of Buddhist sects moved to Oiwake and started painting Otsu-e Buddhist images to eke out a living.

Otsu-e at Enryakuji temple

Otsu-e at Enryakuji temple.

By the early 18th century, Otsu-e became popular as cheap, local souvenirs and were no longer just for religious purposes. The paintings expanded to include ogre (oni), wisteria maidens, courtesans, gods (of Good Fortune), samurai warriors, falconers, birds, animals like monkeys, sumo wrestlers, and whatever the customer wanted.

Otsu-e were created on demand as the traveling customer waited. They were not ready-made. It took only several minutes to make Otsu-e.

Many Otsu-e were produced as a family business. The husband might create the basic outline in black, the wife colorized it, and their child added more details. They usually used woodblocks for the basic image, then painted it. The paintings were kept simple to make it easier and faster to make. Alas, Otsu-e has never received as much artistic acclaim in the art world as with works by individual artists (i.e. ukiyoe woodblock prints).

From the mid-18th century, most Otsu-e paintings depicted satirical scenes reflecting the contemporary times and moralistic or poetic paintings with writings. Proverbs like “don’t drink too much” still applies today. The most popular were still the ogre (oni) and wisteria maiden.

The oni (ogre or goblin) is shown wearing Buddhist priest robes, an umbrella on his back, a gong around his neck, and a mallet in his right hand. His left hand holds a list of temple donors (奉加帳). One of his two horns is also always bent. The oni is walking around soliciting donations. It expresses the notion that a priest without truth has the heart of an oni (devil or evil thing). It reminds priests and people to be honest.

By the late 19th century when trains became the main mode of transportation, roadside Otsu-e artists went out of business. They became extinct, but remnants of their existence have remained. Authentic Otsu-e are highly collectible and only some examples from the 17th-18th centuries remain today.

Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei.

Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei.

Tanaka Kokei.

Tanaka Kokei showing two Otsu-e folding screens fitted together.

gallery

Other works in Kokei-an gallery.

In the modern age, Otsu-e has been resurrected by a number of practitioners. I recently met two of the most established Otsu-e artists. Both have created their own approaches and versions of Otsu-e, although purists might not accept either of them as a traditional Otsu-e artist who sold paintings anonymously for cheap.

One of them is Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei (田中胡径) based in western Otsu. She gave me an exclusive interview at her gallery named Otsu-e no Yakata Kokei-an (大津絵の館 胡径庵) in July 2014. She was kind enough to bring out a whole bunch of heavy folding screens to show me, in addition to what was displayed in her gallery.

Her work is beautiful, but very high end, apparently targeting well-heeled collectors. They are not ephemera and do not come cheap. Especially when they are presented on exquisite folding screens, scrolls, or frames which are works of art in themselves. She even showed one folding screen with a washi paper backing made by the late washi artist Abe Eishiro (安部栄四郎) who was a Living National Treasure. So the picture mounting adds to the cost. Definitely not for the masses nor for the ordinary passing tourist on a budget.

But her works are outstanding. She works with her daughter Yumi in an interesting arrangement. Kokei directs how the picture is drawn or composed, but it’s Yumi who actually paints the picture and does the calligraphy. Like an art director and art technician working together. Although their Otsu-e are not signed, they can be easily identified by the innovative and unique mounting on folding screens, scrolls, and frames.

They are meticulous in all aspects of making and presenting Otsu-e. They diligently reproduce authentic Otsu-e colors by using authentic pigments, methods, paper (handmade washi only), and other top-quality materials. Their pictures are designed to last and be appreciated for a long time. Even the folding screens for mounting the Otsu-e are intricately made by highly skilled artisans. Sometimes she even argues with the folding screen artisans over the design, etc.

Rather than making Otsu-e ephemera that people might just stuff in a closet or attic, Kokei wants her work to be treasured from generation to generation as a family heirloom. Make it important enough for the owner to give it the attention it deserves. And to give it a place in the home. She’s most satisfied when her Otsu-e ends up in a home of people who can appreciate it. She believes that unless Otsu-e are presented in a more permanent and impressive way, its artistic heritage might be lost. Longevity and preservation seem to be her keywords. A far cry from 17th-century artists whose paintings were simply rolled up for carrying and used for a short time. Kokei sensei has taken Otsu-e to a much higher level.

I also asked if Kokei sensei accepts custom orders, painting according to the customer’s specifications. Although the customer may have some requests, Kokei usually ends up convincing the customer that her proposal would work better based on where the Otsu-e would be placed in the home.

Kokei is originally from Kyoto. Her family ran a picture frame/mounting business. Her father also repaired art works. Sometimes he would restore old Otsu-e. Visiting customers bringing Otsu-e would talk to her father while Kokei, still in jr. high school, would bring tea for the customer. That’s when she first saw Otsu-e. Her first impression of Otsu-e was that it was grungy, dirty, and manga-like.

After getting married and moving to Otsu, she again saw Otsu-e and was appalled by how different or untraditional modern Otsu-e was compared to traditional Otsu-e. She didn’t think the modern Otsu-e was doing the traditional art justice. Around 1984 while in her 30s, she started seriously studying Otsu-e. She wanted to know what the authentic Otsu-e was, the definitive form of Otsu-e. She studied under a number of Otsu-e teachers and eventually decided to create or resurrect Otsu-e herself.

Kokei asked her daughter Yumi to paint Otsu-e while Kokei would handle the mounting. Yumi, who was a certified art curator, said yes and quit her job at an art museum and studied how to paint Otsu-e. Evidently, she’s very good at it after about 10 years. She even does the haphazard-looking calligraphy.

When they first started out, they were prepared for a frugal life on a frugal income. Similar to when early Otsu-e painters started in the 17th century. Kokei was also brought up by a frugal family which she says was a blessing. Her family was dedicated to preserving traditional culture and Kokei and daughter Yumi are continuing this family mission.

Kokei-an

Entrance to Kokei-an gallery.

In 1994, she opened her Otsu-e no Yakata Kokei-an gallery in a quiet residential neighborhood in Shimo-Sakamoto in western Otsu. The gallery shows several tens of her pictures mounted on scrolls, in glass frames, on folding screens, etc. As of this writing, she has no website, so she might be obscure to the layman and foreigners. She has exhibited at department stores, but she’s not into mass marketing. You either know about her or you don’t.

To visit her gallery (or purchase her paintings), call to make an appointment (English not spoken). The gallery is somewhat hard to find and there is limited parking. Best to call and get directions. The closest station is Anoo Station on the Keihan Line. Map here.

Address: 2-19-20 Shimo-Sakamoto, Otsu, Shiga (〒520-0105 滋賀県大津市下阪本2丁目19-20)
Phone: (077) 579-8517

*Kokei sensei is holding an exhibition of her Otsu-e at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine’s Hiyoshi Kaikan hall during Nov. 20–28, 2015 at 9:30 am to 4:00 pm.

Takahashi Shozan

Takahashi Shozan (Shinsuke) at a Shiga crafts fair.

shozan2

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan.

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan. Notice his signature.

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan. Notice his signature/seal on the lower right of each work.

The other prominent, modern Otsu-e artist is Takahashi Shozan IV (高橋松山). His father Shozan III was also an Otsu-e artist under whom he apprenticed in the 1950s. His son Shinsuke is also an Otsu-e artist.

Unlike Kokei, Shozan is very much into mass marketing and I’ve come across his Otsu-e pictures a number of times at crafts fairs and souvenir shops in Shiga. He also has a website (partially in English) and an online shop.

His Otsu-e are available on high-end scrolls and driftwood as well as on cheaper media such as handkerchiefs, postcards, and stationary. They are nice and colorful and look traditional. He’s got all the popular Otsu-e designs such as ogres, wisteria maidens, courtesans, etc. They make for a nice decoration or gift. If you cannot afford his pricey Otsu-e paintings, you can always buy something cheap like a postcard. All his works are signed by him. They are not anonymous like the original Otsu-e were.

This is understandable in this day and age. I always believe that credit should be given or claimed where it’s due. But Otsu-e purists might say “no” and it might be disheartening, but any kind of tradition is always changing in some way.

Shozan has a shop in central Otsu. He also teaches Otsu-e classes.
Address: 3-38 Miidera-cho, Otsu, Shiga 滋賀県大津市三井寺町3-38
Phone: 077-524-5656. Also see my short video interview of Shozan.

It’s interesting to see how Otsu-e has evolved, reflecting the times, even today. In this modern age, we still have a good choice when it comes to Otsu-e, one of Shiga’s unique art forms.

*You can see original, centuries-old Otsu-e at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan) in Tokyo which has a large collection of Otsu-e that was donated by an avid collector. They also published a comprehensive and well-illustrated bilingual book (Japanese and English, ISBN 978-4885919251) about Otsu-e. You might find the book in a public library in Shiga. The Japan Times also published an article about the museum’s Otsu-e exhibition in 2005. The Otsu City Museum of History also has a few Otsu-e.

 

Autumn festivals and foliage November 2014 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals, events, exhibitions, and autumn leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November 2014. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.) Compiled by Philbert Ono. Updated: Nov. 5, 2014

Video link: http://youtu.be/ve0KVtx_u74

Omi Shrine Yabusame

Omi Shrine Yabusame

November 3, 2014
♦ 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 in the Haiden worship hall and the archery begins at 1 pm along the main path to the shrine serving as the horse track. Expert archers from the Takeda School of Mounted Archery (from Kamakura) will perform. 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 (standing room only). Good to see it this year since it’s the Year of the Horse. The shrine is also famous for clocks and karuta tournaments. Near Omi Jingu-mae Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line. Map | Video | Photos
近江神宮流鏑馬神事
http://oumijingu.org/publics/index/134/

November 3, 2014
♦ Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade, Hikone Castle, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Very elaborate costume parade of mainly kids dressed as samurai and Edo-Period ladies. Highlights include the Hikone Gun Battalion giving a matchlock gun demo (in front of Horse Stable), Ii Naosuke played by an actor on horseback, fireman acrobatics, and Sarugaku dancers. The parade route starts from Joto Elementary School and proceeds along the road to the castle and passes in front of the Umaya Horse Stable. Video here. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map | Video | Photos
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/parade

Until 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

Until November 9, 2014 (closed Oct. 20 and 27)
♦ Yellow catfish exhibit at Lake Biwa MuseumKusatsu, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
Live display of a rare yellow catfish endemic to Lake Biwa is at the museum’s aquarium. It is a medium-size species called Iwatoko-namazu (イワトコナマズ Silurus lithophilus) in Japanese. It is not the large Lake Biwa Giant Catfish which can also be yellow. This species normally live in rocky waters in northern Lake Biwa. Map
http://www.lbm.go.jp/english/
http://www.lbm.go.jp/tenji/suizoku/topic/index.html

November 8-9, 2014
♦ Shiga-Biwako Brand Fair, JR Osaka Station (Osaka Station City 1st floor), 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
This event is not in Shiga, but in Osaka. It’s a Shiga products fair where you can taste and buy stuff from Shiga. There will also be stage entertainment such as mascots from Shiga. Hiko-nyan is scheduled to appear on Nov. 8 at 11:30 am and 2 pm. Crafts people will also demonstrate the making of Omi-jofu hemp cloth and Hikone Buddhist altars.
http://www.motherlake.jp/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/burand-tirashi.pdf

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 15-30, 2014
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine Maple Festival Light-up, Otsu
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hie in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture is the head shrine for all Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno Shrines in Japan (around 2,000). The spacious grounds includes two shrines that are National Treasures and 3,000 maple trees lit up at night 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm during this period. Even the green leaves look great against the dark sky. Highly recommended if you’re in that part of the city. Near Hiezan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line and Keihan Line’s Sakamoto Station. Map | Photos
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Saimyoji

Saimyoji

November 22-30, 2014
♦ 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. It is also displaying Japan’s oldest Daikokuten statue until Nov. 30, normally hidden from view. It’s 1,200 years old. 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. If you start from the north, board the shuttle bus at Hikone Station. The bus will take you to Taga Town Hall from which you transfer to a bus bound for Saimyoji first.

From the south, board the bus at Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. The bus will stop at Hyakusaiji first. (A different bus also goes to Eigenji.) Check the bus stop for bus departure times. After touring Saimyoji (or Hyakusaiji), catch another shuttle bus to the next temple. Shuttle buses also run from Hyakusaiji to Eigenji (listed below), another temple famous for foliage. From Saimyoji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 5:23 pm for Taga Town Hall where you can catch a bus to Hikone Station (or walk to Taga Taisha-mae Station).

From Hyakusaiji and Eigenji, buses go to Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. From Hyakusaiji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:30 pm for Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station arriving at 5 pm. Note that from this year, shuttle buses will not run from Amago Station and Kawase Station.

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 1,800 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/7859/index.html/
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/file/2014syatoru_mbddzcwliqsfvpkoptqcjawmnaaowxfb.pdf
Official sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Eigenji

Eigenji

November 8-29, 2014
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. Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
http://eigenji-t.jp

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha garden

November 14-30, 2014
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:45 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 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 around 9:02 pm on weekdays and around 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 14-December 7, 2014
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. Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/

Chojuji

Chojuji

November 15-30, 2014
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio Autumn 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. Map
湖南三山めぐり
http://www.burari-konan.jp/konan3zan/

November 15-December 7, 2014
♦ Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm (enter by 7:30 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/

November 29-30, 2014
♦ Hot Air Balloon Over Lake Biwa, Takashima, early morning
Dramatic sight of hot-air balloons crossing Lake Biwa. They start off very early in the morning so you would have stay near the launching beach in Takashima. Note that weather conditions can cancel the event.
熱気球琵琶湖横断
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/new/20141010_1704.html

November 30, 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://www.city.nagahama.shiga.jp/events/index.cfm/detail.1.37576.html

 

Kinomoto

Sengoku Taiga Kinomoto-kan

Until Dec. 28, 2014
♦ Kuroda Kanbe’e Expo
Nagahama, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Yet another “expo” (an overkill name) based on another year-long NHK Taiga Drama. This is the third such expo held in Nagahama in recent years. The drama this time is Gunshi Kanbei airing on NHK-G on Sunday evenings until Dec. 2014. The subject is Kuroda Kanbe’e (also called Kanbei and Yoshitaka), a samurai daimyo and brilliant military strategist for warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi during the 16th century. Although he was from Himeji, the Kuroda clan supposedly came from Omi (Shiga). This thin connection prompted Nagahama to hold year-long, small-scale exhibitions in Kinomoto and central Nagahama.

The main exhibition is in Kinomoto. It’s in a western-style, former bank building called Sengoku Taiga Kinomoto-kan (戦国大河きのもと館). A short walk from JR Kinomoto Station. The building, nicknamed Drama-kan, has exhibits introducing the characters in the Taiga Drama. No English captions. The display layout is very similar to the last expo held there in 2012. Admission is 300 yen for adults, free for kids. Open every day. Map

Also, a 10-min. walk from Kinomoto Station is the Kuroda Clan gravesite (黒田家御廟所) for six generations of the Kuroda Clan who lived in this area for 200 years. Nearby is a resthouse. Free admission. Map

The second exhibition venue is Nagahama Castle near JR Nagahama Station. Called Rekishi-kan, it mainly explains the historical background, slanted toward Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Admission is 400 yen, and 200 yen for elementary and jr. high kids (free for infants). Open every day. Map

If you plan to visit the venues in both Kinomoto and Nagahama, it is cheaper to buy the “set ticket” costing 500 yen. Expo tickets are sold at all the venues. The “set ticket” includes a bus tour called the Oku-Biwako Omotenashi Bus leaving Kinomoto Station and Takatsuki Station on weekends. It tours northern Nagahama to the Drama-kan in Kinomoto, the Kuroda Clan gravesite, and a few Kannon temples and museum in Takatsuki. Bus departure times are on the pamphlet here (in Japanese).

A minor venue is the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum. It just has a few panel displays about Kuroda and the Taiga Drama. It’s in the lobby area and free. Pay the admission if you want to see Hikiyama Matsuri floats. Map
http://kitabiwako.jp/kanbee/

December 1, 2014
♦ 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. Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~tarobo/

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

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