Hikone Castle video

Video link: http://youtu.be/X2uMzVDwe5I

Another video hosted by English-speaking kids. Since two of them were from Hikone, I decided to make a video of Hikone Castle, which I call one of Shiga’s Top Three tourist sights. (The other two being Lake Biwa and Enryakuji temple.)

I tried to make the video as short as possible, but even so, it turned out to be 34 min. Goes to show how much there is to see at Hikone Castle. There’s quite a bit of English text which, if you read, will give you a good primer on what the castle and Hikone lords are about. Besides the castle, I cover official mascot Hiko-nyan, the adjacent Genkyuen Garden and palace, and two autumn castle festivals.

Spent quite a bit of time editing the video. Much of the time was spent reading up (in Japanese of course) on all the castle structures and lords and trying to write explanations as short and concise as possible. In the process, my knowledge of Hikone Castle has expanded.

Tenbin Yagura

Tenbin Yagura (天秤櫓)

One major discovery was a common mistranslation of a key word. Even I had misunderstood and mistranslated this word all these years. That was Tenbin Yagura (天秤櫓). This is a storehouse with two turrets on each end so it looks symmetrical like a “balance scale” as all the English pamphlets and Web pages will tell you. However, this is incorrect.

Tenbin shoulder pole carried by Omi merchant.

Tenbin, in ths case, refers to the shoulder pole for carrying luggage on both ends like this Omi merchant in the photo. It was commonly used even in modern times in rural areas for selling goldfish even.

I hope to spread the word about this longtime mistranslation. This is what happens when a Japanese word has more than one meaning. But I wonder now if the tenbin shoulder pole was actually named after the balance scale. Probably. Or vice versa?

Hikone Castle saw over 700,000 visitors in 2012. This is not the most they ever had, but it’s a good number.

Hope you enjoy my video.

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival 2013

Video link: http://youtu.be/Y6DMpluPV9k

Here’s my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (東近江大凧まつり Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri) held on Sunday, May 26, 2013 in Higashi-Omi. Another one of my ongoing video series with local kids introducing the sights in English. We took three Japanese kids from Higashi-Omi who had never seen the kite festival (neither did their parents). The video also has a few cameo appearances by other local folks.

It was a nice day, somewhat hot under the sun, but cool in the shade with good winds. There were all kinds of kites in the air, many of them quite exotic from around Japan. Didn’t get to see them all though.

They flew the giant kite several times during the morning and afternoon sessions. Watch the video to see how high it flew. The giant kite festival was held at the Fureai Undo Koen Park in Notogawa for the first time this year in 2013 (map here). Since it is closer to Lake Biwa than the old riverside site in Yokaichi, the wind supposed to be better. The former site was also getting narrower with the river widening or eroding.

The new festival site was certainly large enough, but it was still too narrow to fly the big kite. If they could run across the length of the park, it might work. But they pulled the giant kite across the park’s width because the wind was blowing that way. So each time they pulled the giant kite, it went up, but immediately went down when they stopped pulling after running out of ground.

However, compared to the old site and compared to last year’s festival when they had no wind at all, this new site is way better. Videos of the giant kite last year showed that the kite couldn’t even leave the ground. At least it well got off the ground this year.

The new site is also a lot more convenient for people coming from outside Higashi-Omi. JR Notogawa Station is convenient on the Tokaido Line and they had free shuttle buses going to the park. The park had no public parking so they provided designated parking lots some distance away from the park. Too far to walk, so free shuttle buses also ran from the parking lots.

Another major change was the name of the festival. It was formerly called the “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri” until 2011. They changed the name to “Higashi-Omi Odako Matsuri” last year in May 2012. Some people opposed the name change and I feel sorry for people in Yokaichi (central area in Higashi-Omi) for losing a namesake that they’ve known for about 30 years.

The fact is though, the kite festival has a 300-year history. And it was not originally called “Yokaichi Odako Matsuri.” The festival was started by villages in the Yokaichi area that started flying kites for Boy’s Day in May to celebrate the birth of a boy. The villages eventually competed in kite-making and the kites got larger and larger. The kite festival was named after the respective village. When villages merged and got a new municipal name, the name of the kite festival also changed accordingly. So the name of the festival actually changed a number of times. That’s the way it goes when a festival is not held by a shrine or temple.

They build a new giant kite every three years. The kite we saw was three years old and flew for the last time that day. This summer, they will build a new giant kite to be flown for the next three years until 2016. Glad we got to see this kite before it was retired. The artwork is simply awesome. And the meaning too (explained in my video). If you missed it, you can see it displayed at the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (map here) during the next three years.

Also see my video of the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum (whose name also changed) with the same three kids at a festival prelude event on May 5, 2013.


Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Museum video

Video link: http://youtu.be/N_B3H6Ym9kw

Higashi-Omi in eastern Shiga Prefecture is famous for its giant kite measuring 12 meters by 13 meters. It’s flown on the last Sunday of May at the annual Giant Kite Festival (Odako Matsuri). (Details below.)

For people who can’t see the festival, they should visit the Higashi-Omi Giant KIte Museum (東近江大凧会館 formerly Yokaichi Giant Kite Museum) not far from Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station (map here). It displays the previous giant kite along with hundreds of kites from all over Japan and the world.

I made this video of the kite museum with three English-speaking local kids as the reporters. We went to the museum on May 5, 2013, Children’s Day, when the kite museum held an event for kids to paste stickers written with their wishes or dreams on the giant kite. They also attended a kite-making session.

We are gearing up to see the giant kite festival on May 26, 2013 to be held at Fureai Undo Park west of JR Notogawa Station. Free shuttle buses will run from Notogawa Station. They are holding the festival at a different riverside park now, closer to Lake Biwa where the winds are stronger. The old riverside festival site was getting narrower due to the river getting wider. Winds were also weaker. Also note that they changed the name of festival from Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival to Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival.

After a ceremony at 9:20 am, the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival 2013 (東近江大凧まつり 2013) will start from 10:15 am with a kite flying contest. They will fly the giant kite twice, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 2:30 pm to 3 pm when the festival will end. There will be some stage entertainment like taiko drumming, display of the giant kite on the ground, and an area to fly kites. They’ll have food and souvenir booths.

Free shuttle buses from JR Notogawa Station (from 8 am), the Odako Kaikan kite museum, and designated parking lots will run to the festival site at Fureai Undo Koen park.

*We had a great day at the kite festival. Video here: http://youtu.be/Y6DMpluPV9k

Hikone Byobu National Treasure folding screen

The Hikone Castle Museum exhibits the Hikone Byobu folding screen (彦根屏風), a National Treasure, on a regular basis every year. When I saw it in spring 2013, it was being exhibited until May 7, 2013. Shiga Prefecture has only four paintings that are National Treasures, and this is one of them and the only non-religious one. The others are all religious paintings owned by temples like Miidera. (Japan has 158 paintings designated as National Treasures as of this writing.) The byobu shows a pleasure quarters scene in Kyoto. It’s painted on a gold-leaf paper background.

The six-panel byobu is dated to be from the Edo Period’s Kan’ei era (1624-44). It measures 271 cm wide and 94 cm high. Since it was kept by the Ii clan (lord of Hikone Castle) for generations, the screen is nicknamed “Hikone Byobu” even though the painting is not related to Hikone. The byobu’s official name is a mouthful: Shihon Kinjichaku-shoku Fuzoku-zu (紙本金地著色風俗図). The city of Hikone now owns the byobu (since 1997). The Hikone Byobu underwent meticulous repairs for two years and it is exhibited for a few weeks every spring during this time.

The byobu’s National Treasure acclaim is due to the highly skilled and meticulous painting style and the myriad of people, fashion, and objects depicted from that era. Extremely fine lines and dots are painted for the hair, kimono patterns, etc. You’ll need a magnifying glass to see all that intricate detail (although you won’t be able to get that close to the painting). The painted scene is an outstanding snapshot of the people and customs of that time. Thus, it is called a fuzoku-zu (風俗図). With so many little details pictured, you would have to be well-versed in the arts, fashion, customs, and history of that period to fully appreciate what is depicted.

On the left of the byobu, you can see a folding screen with a Chinese-style painting. This is the only prop we see in the background and it indicates that the scene on the left half of the screen is indoors where everyone is sitting close together. The right half of the screen looks like it’s outdoors since the people are standing and one woman is walking her little dog (imported from Europe) even. We see no boundary between the indoors and outdoors, but it is obviously implied.

On the screen’s left half showing the indoor scene, three people are playing the samisen and three people are playing Japanese backgammon called sugoroku (双六). There is also a long tobacco pipe below the backgammon player dressed in black. Tobacco pipes were imported from Spain and Portugal at the time and were very popular in Japan. Their length eventually got shorter in later years.

On the lower right in the indoor scene is a girl writing a love letter with ink and brush. The samisen players, sugoroku players, letter writer, and background folding screen all refer to the Chinese-originated cultural concept of kinkishoga (琴棋書画), meaning stringed instrument (koto), traditional board game, calligraphy, and painting. Being skilled at these four traditional arts was considered a prerequisite of a cultured person. It was common for paintings to depict kinkishoga.

Above the letter writer is a middle-age woman leaning on an arm rest. She is thought to be a Buddhist layman of great knowledge, making her the de facto supervisor there.

The pleasure quarters was for people of taste and culture. It was a leading edge for fashion and we can see various fashion statements in the painting. The people wear a variety of hairstyles. For example, the karawa-mage style (唐輪髷) with the hair stacked up was favored by the courtesans of that day. We also see short-sleeve casual kimono called kosode (小袖) and they also have gold leaf embedded in the material.

On the right side of the byobu, the woman second from the right edge is wearing a kimono with a basho (banana plant) design. It reminds one of a Noh song titled, Basho. (Famous haiku poet Basho named himself after the banana plant.)

When the Hikone Byobu was made in the early Edo Period, it wasn’t for the masses to see. Only the cultural elite would be able to see it and the artist knew this. The artist therefore included little details that only the cultural elite would appreciate and understand. They would have been well-versed in Chinese-style painting, religious paintings, Noh plays, etc.

The painting was designed to be viewed not as a flat painting, but on a folding screen with its characteristic zig-zag panels facing inward or outward. The people were painted to match the respective panel’s angle. If you look closely, you can see that the way the people are facing are indeed enhanced or emphasized by the angle of the panel. Since the painting was not signed, the artist is unknown. However, experts say that the painter likely belonged to the Kano school of Japanese painting. It’s astonishing that the artist did not sign such a masterpiece. I wonder if the artist didn’t sign it because the work was still unfinished (the background looks too empty to me) or maybe there were multiple artists. There are still things about the painting that experts do not know about.

I went to see this byobu a year ago during Golden Week. I went without reading up about it, so I was unable to fully appreciate the byobu’s artistic and cultural value when I saw it. It was only after I did some reading when I was able to appreciate this rare National Treasure. I’m happy to now share with you what I’ve learned about this fascinating byobu. You should appreciate it for what it’s really worth. A little knowledge (and language) goes a long way.

The Hikone Castle Museum is next to the ticket booth to enter Hikone Castle, a short walk from JR Hikone Station. Open 8:30 am to 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm). Admission is 500 yen for adults (cheaper if you also buy a ticket to enter Hikone Castle).

Related posts at shiga-ken.com:

Hikone Castle photos – Over 280 photos of Hikone castle.


About Hikone – Overview of the city of Hikone.

Goggle map of Hikone – Main sights listed.


Hikone Castle video – Comprehensive 34-min. video about the castle, its history, Genkyuen Garden, and autumn castle festivals.

Water Lilies song by Yoshida Chiaki

Video link: http://youtu.be/bfGs7GSdrXE

My friend in Niigata recently posted this video of a choir singing Hitsuji-gusa or Water Lilies. What’s significant about this obscure song from 1915 is that its melody was used in the much more famous song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous and beloved song (read about it here).

The university rowing club boys in Kyoto who wrote Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1917 found that Hitsuji-gusa’s melody matched their lyrics well, and the rest is history.

When you watch this video, you will notice that the melody sounds very similar to Biwako Shuko no Uta. (Or should I say that Biwako Shuko no Uta sounds very similar to Hitsuji-gusa.) Hitsuji-gusa was composed by a very talented young man named Yoshida Chiaki (吉田 千秋 1895-1919) from Niigata Prefecture. The lyrics are his Japanese translation of an old British children’s song called Water Lilies. He then composed a melody to match his Japanese lyrics. The song is about holding firm in times of adversity, just like the water lilies can even in a rainstorm. Chiaki composed the song while he was battling tuberculosis. He later died of the disease at age 24 in 1919.

For many years, no one knew who composed the melody for Biwako Shuko no Uta. When Kato Tokiko scored a national hit with Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1971, people started to wonder who composed the melody. It was known that the lyrics were written in 1917 by Oguchi Taro and his fellow university rowing club buddies in Kyoto. Many people assumed that Oguchi also composed the melody. Every 5 or 10 years or so after 1971, researchers found out a little more about the composer of the music. First they found out which song the melody came from. A few years later around 1980, they found the name of the composer, but didn’t know who he was.

Finally in 1993, after over 20 years of digging, the composer’s identity was brought to light. Chiaki turned out to be the second son of a famous geographer (Yoshida Togo). Chiaki was also found to be a brilliant young man who took interest in many things like astronomy, zoology, botany, and foreign languages. He had a good command of English and several other languages. If he hadn’t died so young, he likely would have become one of Japan’s leading scientists or professors. (Read my article about Chiaki here.)

The video above was taken at a memorial gathering on the anniversary of Chiaki’s death in Feb. 2013 at Chiaki’s birth home in Niigata city. A choir called Koai Gassho no Kai (小合合唱の会) sang a few songs including Hitsuji-gusa and Biwako Shuko no Uta. Chiaki’s home is now occupied by his niece, the daughter of Chiaki’s younger brother. I visited the house in 2007 and the niece showed me the room where Chiaki spent his final days. (Photos here.)

In 2001, an organization named Chiaki no Kai (「ちあき」の会) was formed to perpetuate, preserve, and honor Yoshida Chiaki’s numerous works and legacy.

Here are the lyrics of the original British children’s song followed by Chiaki’s song. There are three verses.

Water Lilies, by E.R.B. (Education & Resettlement Bureau)

Misty moonlight, faintly falling
O’er the lake at eventide,
Shows a thousand gleaming lilies
On the rippling waters wide.

White as snow, the circling petals
Cluster round each golden star,
Rising, falling with the waters,
Moving, yet at rest they are.

Winds may blow, and skies may darken,
Rain may pour, and waves may swell;
Deep beneath the changeful eddies
Lily roots fastened well.

Hitsuji-gusa (ひつじぐさ), by Yoshida Chiaki

おぼろ月夜の 月明かり
かすかに池の 面に落ち
波間に浮かぶ 数知らぬ
ひつじ草をぞ 照らすなる
1 (Romanized)
Oboro tsukiyo no, tsuki akari
Kasuka ni ike no, omo ni ochi
Nami ma ni ukabu, kazu shiranu
Hitsuji-gusa o zo, terasu naru
雪かとまがふ 花びらは
黄金の蘂を 取り巻きつ
波のまにまに 揺るげども
花の心は 波立たず
2 (Romanized)
Yuki ka tomagafu, hanabira wa
Kogane no shibe o, tori makitsu
Nami no ma ni ma ni, yuruge domo
Hana no kokoro wa, nami datazu
風吹かば吹け 空曇れ
雨降れ波立たて さりながら
徒波の下 底深く
萌えいでたりぬ ひつじ草
3 (Romanized)
Kaze fukaba fuke, sora kumore
Ame fure nami tate, sari nagara
Adanami no shita, soko fukaku
Moe idetarinu, hitsuji-gusa

The video below is the same choir singing Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Listen and compare.

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