Archive for Shiga Prefecture

Lake Biwa Museum video

My video about Lake Biwa Museum and Lake Biwa. My longest video yet at 1 hr. 6 min. I try to make my videos as short as possible, but I had to make an exception when it came to this museum and Shiga’s most prominent natural feature. But it’s a video so you can pause and resume playback at your convenience.

Video link: (Also see links to specific segments below.)

For this video, I visited the museum three times last year. The museum’s main attraction is the large freshwater aquarium where I focused on Lake Biwa’s endemic species. I also filmed most of the museum’s main exhibits on the lake’s history and culture. I interviewed English-speaking museum curators and attended two classes held by the museum. All in the video. Keep in mind that the video does not show everything. The museum has a lot more to see.

The museum’s research wing employs about 30 researchers and scientists. I met and talked with Dr. Mark J. Grygier, Dr. Yasushi Kusuoka, and Dr. Robin J. Smith. They are specialists in micro species and small animals, something which I also wanted to show in this video. Most people know about the fish, but not the micro world. They showed me a few new species discovered in Lake Biwa such as ciliates, ostracods, and even sow bugs. They even showed me a record-breaking display of freshwater jellyfish. Lake Biwa’s fauna is very diverse, a lot more than what we can normally see.

The museum also holds many educational activities for kids and adults alike. In late July 2013, I took their funazushi-making class. Funazushi is Shiga’s most famous delicacy made with nigorobuna carp (endemic to Lake Biwa) fermented with rice. We learned how to stuff the fish with rice. The people who don’t like funazushi are those who have never tried it. I love it. If you don’t have a problem eating cheese, you shouldn’t have a problem eating funazushi.

Another segment in the video is a plankton class for 18 kids held in Oct. 2013. The kids caught plankton in Lake Biwa using a plankton net and learned to identify various exotic-looking, one-eyed plankton under a microscope. Our plankton class was unique because it was conducted in English. Most of the kids were Japanese studying English.

Plankton class for kids.

Plankton class for kids.

We also visited nearby Mizunomori, an aquatic botanical garden famous for 13 hectares of lotus flowers blooming in July-Aug. Beautiful flowers, but it was awfully hot and humid so we didn’t stay there for long.

Lake Biwa Museum opened in Oct. 1996 and it’s operated by Shiga Prefecture. The aquarium was previously housed in the old, castle-shaped Biwako Bunkakan in Otsu. Biwako Bunkakan (Lake Biwa Culture Hall) opened in 1961 as Shiga’s first public museum that included art, history, and archaeological exhibits. The old aquarium’s 3,917 living specimens of 155 species were all moved to the new aquarium in March 1996. All the aquarium curators also moved to the new museum. The new and much larger aquarium added more species and started off with 32,413 specimens of 244 species.

I remember the old aquarium to be a very cramped place with many small tanks like in a large pet shop. The largest fish tank held only 1 ton of water. One big difference between the old and new aquarium was that the old one displayed fish according to species and the new one mainly exhibits fish according to habitat such as reed beds, shorelines, rocky environments, and rivers. The Biwako Bunkakan was a landmark building in Otsu before other buildings sprang up. It evolved into a Buddhist art museum until it closed at the end of March 2008.

Lake Biwa Museum sure looks like it was planned and designed during the 1980s bubble era, complete with a roof shaped like a boat hull. It’s a very spacious, beautiful building and a few exhibits or spaces are quite extravagant for a public museum. It must cost a bundle for air conditioning and fish food alone. But it’s for the sake of public education and research. Kids and families love it too. I would say it’s money well spent for a most worthy institution. After you watch this video, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I thank the museum and curators for their cooperation for this video. And all the kids and their parents who appeared in the video. I really learned a lot from making this video and as always, want to share what I learned.

Here are direct links to specific segments of the video:

Video intro:
About Lake Biwa Museum:
About Lake Biwa:
Kunimasu trout:
Aquarium tunnel:
Lake Biwa Giant Catfish & endemics:
Unusual fish traits:
Invasive species:
River fish:
Water birds:
Lake fish outside Japan:
Ancient fish (sturgeon):
Geological history:
Lake culture:
Maruko-bune boat:
Lake environment/lifestyle:
Discovery Room (jellyfish):
Curator interviews:
Plankton workshop:
Funazushi fermented fish:
Sushi-Cutting Festival:
Mizunomori lotus:

Museum pamphlet in English | Website

Biwako Bunkakan

Biwako Bunkakan museum in Otsu, now closed.

Introducing Shiga Headlines on Twitter

Happy to announce that I’ve finally opened a Twitter account for It’s called Shiga Headlines and anybody can read my tweets (Twitter posts) without joining Twitter.

Shiga Headlines is my microblog for quick and short posts (140 characters or less) about Shiga Prefecture,, and my Shiga activities. I will be tweeting (posting) things of interest that are too short for Shiga News and things I want to post right away. It will be mainly in English, and sometimes Japanese. (I can say a lot more in Japanese since it uses fewer characters than English.)

Twitter is good for news headlines, notices, announcements, and tidbits. It will complement my Shiga News blog very well because it will fill in the need for quick and short news items. I’ve already installed a Twitter widget (box) on the home page and Shiga News blog where you can read my tweets side-by-side with Shiga News posts.

Shiga Headlines will be dedicated to short and snappy posts while Shiga News will continue to have longer and more detailed posts. Content-wise, Shiga Headlines will be quite different from Shiga News and you will end up reading both.

You can read Shiga Headlines in the following ways:

You can also access this blog post to see my tweets in the embedded box (widget) below.

For those of you new to Twitter, here are a few things to know:

  • Twitter is a free microblogging service based in San Francisco, California. It’s a microblog because the posts can only be 140 characters or less. That’s only one or two typical-length English sentences (as you can see above).
  • Posts to Twitter are called “tweets” which appear in a timeline. The most recent tweets appear at the top. The Twitter timeline can be read on the Twitter Web page or in a Twitter widget box embedded in any Web site.
  • A hashtag is a word or phrase prefixed by the # symbol. It is used to group tweets together. So in my tweets, you may see #nagahama, #hanabi, etc. When you click on or search for a hashtag, tweets having the same hashtag will appear in the results.
  • When a tweet includes a link, the link will look abbreviated or incomplete because Twitter shortens it automatically. But it is still a valid link that you can click on.
  • Although you need not open a Twitter account to read people’s public tweets, you do need a Twitter account to write a reply to tweets.
  • You don’t have to click on “Follow” to read a person’s public tweets. Anybody can access Twitter and read people’s tweets without registering. People can also read tweets in Twitter widgets embedded on Web sites.
  • Thus, you don’t need to have “followers” to have an audience for your tweets. The audience for Shiga Headlines will mainly be people who visit and Shiga News rather than Twitter followers.
  • Having followers enhances the social networking of your tweets since followers can retweet/repost your tweet in their timeline or mark tweets as a “favorite.” But the number of followers does not accurately reflect the size of your audience.
  • Twitter also enables you to easily archive all your tweets which you can save locally on your computer. This is not possible with Facebook.
  • If you don’t have a Web site where you can embed a Twitter widget or if you’re using only Twitter to deliver content, then your followers will be your main audience. But you’ll never know how many of your followers are actually reading your tweets. A lot of people are overly obsessed with their number of followers, FB friends, Likes, subscribers, etc. Don’t fall victim to this numbers game and other silliness of social networks. Be more obsessed with content quality and how useful and helpful you can be to others.

Twitter is just another viable method to deliver timely online content for everyone. You can be sure that I would never use it for pointless babble.

Shiga Prefectural government employee arrested

Shiga Prefectural Government in Otsu.

NHK TV news in Otsu and other mainstream Japanese media have reported that a Shiga Prefectural government employee has been arrested for using his camera phone to take upskirt photos of a 27-year-old woman sitting next to him on the train. The incident occurred on June 19, 2013 at around 5:45 pm while the suspect was on a JR Tokaido Line train on his way home to Kyoto’s Fushimi-ku. The train was running from Yamashina Station to Kyoto Station.

The suspect has been identified as 32-year-old HOTTA Satoru (堀田 悟), an engineer (主任技師) in the Agricultural Operation Division of Shiga Prefecture’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (農政水産部・農業経営課). According to Kyoto police, the suspect held out his smart-phone camera above the napping woman’s knees to snap a photo up her skirt. The woman awoke, saw the camera phone, and screamed. Nearby passengers took notice and apprehended the suspect. They turned him over to police upon arrival at Kyoto Station. The woman was a 27-year-old government worker living in Kyoto city. It was not reported where the woman worked (Shiga or Kyoto), but she and the suspect did not know each other.

The suspect has basically confessed, saying, “She caught me doing it so there’s nothing I can do.” (「女性に捕まったのでいまさら仕方ありません」) The prefecture’s Personnel Department commented by apologizing for the arrest that lessens the people’s trust in the prefectural government.

As of this writing, no apology or notice about this incident has been posted on the prefecture’s official Web site. Maybe the prefectural government should hold regular seminars about public morals and ethics for its workers.

Compliments to the nearby passengers who responded and apprehended the suspect. Every few years when something like this happens, the public image of the respective government, BOE, or other “lofty” organization falls down by a few notches. Whenever there’s a conviction of the culprit, the governor ends up writing a letter of apology, no doubt one of her least desirable tasks. They always say that they will do everything to prevent it from happening again, but of course, it’s almost impossible to prevent corruption and crime in government. And who knows what goes unreported in the news.

To all women and girls, beware of perverted men. They are everywhere.

Japanese mainstream news sources:

Supermarket shopping bags no longer free

Starting on April 1, 2013, over 70 percent of supermarkets in Shiga Prefecture will charge 5 yen for a plastic shopping bag. Some 150 supermarkets in Shiga, including 71 Heiwado supermarket branches (like Friend Mart), have started charging 5 yen for those ubiquitous plastic shopping bags (レジ袋) for groceries.

This measure aims to reduce waste, obviously. The money collected from shopping bag sales will be used for environmental preservation. Currently, about 50 percent of shoppers bring their own bags for groceries. The prefecture wants to raise this to 80 percent in three years.

So whenever you go grocery shopping in Shiga, the checkout clerk will ask if you want a bag or not. Just bring your own bag and say, “iranai” (no need).

I’m surprised at how late Shiga has implemented this measure. It should’ve been in place at least 20 years ago when you think of the lake where I sometimes see plastic bags polluting it. In Tokyo, they started charging for shopping bags many years ago. It also has an excellent weekly recycling system for old newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard boxes, recyclable plastic, Styrofoam trays, glass bottles, PET (plastic) bottles, and tin cans. And most supermarkets accept empty milk cartons.

The only hole in the plan is the convenience stores. They still give out plastic bags for whatever you buy. Of course, I always bring my rucksack or a used bag. Been doing so for most of my time in Japan. I also don’t accept chopsticks when I buy a bento.

Speaking of Heiwado, the AL Plaza mall right next to Otsu Station will close in December 2013 after almost 40 years in business (opened in 1974). It will be replaced by a condominium with a supermarket on the first two floors. The Heart In convenience store at Otsu Station will also close in May 2013. Most of Otsu Station’s 34,000 daily users are only commuters and the area around the station has languished in comparison to the area around Hama-Otsu Station.

Water Lilies song by Yoshida Chiaki

Video link:

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.

Governor Kada rejects Kyoto merging with Shiga

Image from Wikipedia.

One proposal for Doshusei prefectural mergers (9 states). Image from Wikipedia.

NHK TV news in Otsu reported an interesting bit of news on Feb. 26, 2013 about the governor of Kyoto stating that he was in favor of merging Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures. And that Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada rejected such a merger saying that she did not see how Shiga could benefit.

This is what Kyoto Governor Keiji Yamada stated in front of the Kyoto Prefectural Assembly on On Feb. 25, 2013:

“Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures share a lot within our living and working spheres, so merging is a practical option. If this happens, we could also think about moving Kyoto’s prefectural capital to Otsu.”

In Japanese: 「滋賀県とは生活区域や働く場所など共通点が非常に多いので合併というのも1つの現実的な対応ではないか。そうした場合、政治論からすれば、大津に府庁を持って行くことも考えられる」

Reacting to this, Governor Kada told reporters:

“Shiga has a history of 1,300 years. Since we are bound/unified by a natural lake, we are called ‘Lake country’ and ‘Omi Province.’ We’re older than Kyoto (grin)…Shiga is also governed by a tightly-knit government and people in Shiga love their hometown and retain a strong identity. I don’t really see any benefits right now in erasing Shiga or merging with Kyoto.”

In Japanese: 「滋賀県は湖でつながり、一体的に行政運営もなされ、県民の皆さんも地元を愛しているので、京都と一緒になるメリットは今のところ見えない」

This talk is in reference to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and other parties’ push for the Doshusei (道州制) system of consolidating Japan’s prefectures (except Hokkaido and Okinawa) into larger regional states. The Kyoto governor’s statement was made amid this national discussion so it’s not totally out of the blue.

If you live in Japan, you should learn and remember the word Doshusei. It literally means, “Hokkaido+states system.” It’s been kicked around for quite some time, but it has become more prominent in the past 10 years and you can be sure to hear it more often from now on, especially with the Liberal Democratic Party in power.

The Doshusei system is a major reform and realignment of Japan’s governmental jurisdictions. The word “prefecture” would disappear, replaced by “state.” It would be similar to when prefectures consolidated and replaced the old samurai domains called han (藩) in 1871. That was called haihan-chiken (廃藩置県). There are Doshusei proposals to consolidate Japan’s 47 prefectures into 9, 11, or 13 states. Hokkaido and Okinawa would remain as separate states, while the remaining 45 prefectures would be merged into regional states.

The image at the top gives you an idea of what the new united states of Japan might look like in the case of having nine states. Shiga Prefecture (white dot) would basically merge with Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, and Wakayama Prefectures (all in light green in the middle). (There is also a proposal to include Fukui Prefecture.) It combines the Kansai and Kinki regions.

The goals and benefits of the Doshusei system supposed to be the decentralization of the national government in favor of more local autonomy. Another benefit supposed to be improved fiscal and administrative efficiency which I hope means a smaller and less costly government. I guess the six governors of six merging prefectures would be replaced by only one governor right?

Kyoto Governor Yamada’s statement favoring a merger with Shiga is premature since ultimately it’s not a matter of only Kyoto and Shiga merging, but the merger of at least six prefectures. Wouldn’t it be more efficient and less costly to merge all at once instead of only Kyoto and Shiga at first, then add Osaka, etc., later? I can only dismiss Governor Yamada’s statement as just “feelers” for a reaction from Shiga which has been “no” so far (at least from Gov. Kada). I’m sure Kyoto would love to claim Shiga as its own. Lake Biwa is their (and Osaka’s) water supply and would be the most prized possession. For us in Shiga, we could say that we live in Kyoto instead of always saying, “Next to Kyoto.”

One big sticking point for the Doshusei system would be what to name the new state and how the old prefectures would be able to retain their local names, identity, and flavor. Prefectures like Kyoto and Osaka with capital cities having the same name will be able to retain their names on the map. But not Shiga, unless they figure something out. What would people call the area once known as Shiga Prefecture? Omi? Biwako area? Eastern Kinki (if the new state will be called Kinki)?

Any prefectural merger would render the name “Shiga” obsolete unless they name the new state “Shiga” (fat chance). There are many things named “Shiga,” universities, public facilities, etc. And of course, Web sites like mine. Hence, my interest in this news.

Also, sister-state relations between Shiga and Michigan will likely encompass the entire super state. Michigan will be a sister state with Kyoto, Osaka, etc., as well. Imagine that.

But a prefectural merger and/or the implementation of the Doshusei system is inevitable. The question is when and how. Will it be a super merger of all prefectures at one time or piece meal? Will it occur all over Japan at the same time or at different times? Governor Kada has set up a research group (道州制研究チーム) to study the pros and cons of the Doshusei system. It’s basically a money matter though. If there are enough financial incentives, the prefectures will merge as the cities, towns, and villages have done in recent years.

Otsu BOE in hot water over student’s suicide

I disdain mentioning the bad and corrupt side of Shiga Prefecture which no doubt has its share of corrupt, inept, incompetent, or unsavory officials, authorities, school teachers, etc.

But the latest scandal can hardly be ignored. We see it every day as the top national news on both TV and newspapers. Shiga Prefecture and the capital city of Otsu have been in national headlines for the past few weeks. The sad story and scandal is about a 13-year-old junior high school student who jumped off a building and committed suicide upon the alleged encouragement of bullies, and the school (Ojiyama Junior High School 皇子山中学校) and Otsu Board of Education trying to cover up the student’s suicide that occurred in Oct. 2011.

It’s also about the local Otsu police who ignored the deceased boy’s father’s repeated request to investigate his son’s bullying in school. The foot-dragging by the school, Otsu Board of Education, and Otsu police has snowballed into a major scandal attracting national attention. The Ministry of Education and the Shiga Prefectural Police have finally taken action to investigate, nine months after the suicide.

Needless to say, it is giving Shiga a bad image and it is causing great shame to us all. People (parents) are now realizing that the school and the Otsu Board of Education were more concerned about protecting themselves than the students. All the school teachers have denied knowing about the student’s bullying at school despite the fact that a few students know that  the deceased boy did consult a few teachers about the bullying.

The scandal has marred recently-elected Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi’s record even though the suicide occurred before her watch. She gave a tearful press conference when she expressed her regrets about the boy’s suicide.

Now the school and Shiga Prefectural Government are receiving bomb threats for being negligent. The school consequently suspended classes on July 10, a little over a week before the school year ends. I can’t imagine what the students (and their parents) are going through at Ojiyama Junior High School right now. What a raw deal they are getting.

Update: On July 31, 2012, Otsu Police arrested a high school boy from Saitama Prefecture for sending a bomb threat letter to the school. He sent a second letter confessing to his crime (and asking to be arrested) in the same handwriting he used in the bomb threat letter.)

Update: On the morning of Aug. 15, 2012, the Superintendent of the Otsu Board of Education, Kenji Sawamura (65), was attacked right in his office at Otsu City Hall by a 19-year-old college student from Saitama city. He was hit by a hammer on the head and sustained injuries while he and another colleague wrestled the attacker to the floor. Otsu education chief attacked with hammer (Mainichi)

Read more here:
Bullies allegedly pressured boy, 13, to practice committing suicide before he did so (Kyodo-Japan Times)

Slow response to bullying (Japan Times)

Bullying a crime that goes noticed, ignored (Japan Times)

Police now probe bullying in suicide (Japan Times)

Probe into schoolboy’s suicide exposes educators’ aversion to trouble (Mainichi)

School forced family of suicide victim to sign secrecy pledge over bullying survey (Mainichi)

Shiga Pref. Gov’t, school receive bomb threats over boy’s suicide (Mainichi)

School bullies need to take responsibility for their actions (Japan Times)

Summer 2012 in Shiga Prefecture

Hino hifuri

Hino Hifuri Torch Festival.

Japan has re-entered the age of nuclear power, starting with Shiga’s backyard. Despite widespread opposition, the Japanese government has given the green light to restart the Oi nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture, Japan’s mecca of nuclear power plants. On July 1, 2012, they began firing up two Oi nuclear power plants amid protests near the power plant and many thousands of protestors in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Tokyo. The protesters have received relatively little Japanese media attention. It’s no wonder because many news media executives (including NHK) also serve (or served) in executive positions at the power companies. The power companies have a lock on both the government and news media. It’s been a cozy relationship since decades ago. Prime Minister Noda and other Cabinet ministers are also mum on their reaction to the protesters, as if the protesters didn’t exist.

The media in Kansai is instead giving much attention to the possibility of rolling blackouts (called keikaku teiden 計画停電) and how they can affect businesses and how the police are preparing to deal with powerless traffic signals. I guess it’s a ploy to make us feel better about the Oi restart.

Although the weatherman is predicting an average, hot summer, we’re all hoping for a cool summer to minimize air-conditioning. The name of the game this summer is Power Conservation. From July to early Sept., the Kansai Region is being asked to save power by 15% or by 10% after the Oi nuclear power plants reach full output later this month.

Shiga Prefecture is encouraging residents to get out of their homes (and turn off the air-conditioning) by offering free admission to its prefectural cultural facilities on weekdays from July 23 to Aug. 31. Visit The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; Lake Biwa Museum; Samegai Trout Farm;  Azuchi Castle Archaeological Museum; and Shigaraki Ceramic Park for free. To enter for free, you have to show a printout of a flyer that will appear on this page. Or show a copy of the Shiga Plus One newsletter (July-Aug. issue 滋賀プラスワン 7・8月号). The free admission is apparently directed toward Shiga residents and not tourists. But they won’t be checking whether you’re a resident or not, so take advantage of this if you haven’t been to any of these worthwhile places whether you’re a Shiga resident or not.

Shiga receives electric power from Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) which depended on nuclear power generation for almost half of its power generation before the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011. KEPCO’s dependence on nuclear power was the highest in Japan compared to other power companies. Thus, the shutdown of all its nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture dealt KEPCO the most serious shortfall in power.

Although Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada and the governors of Kyoto and Osaka voiced their initial opposition to the restart, they had little choice but to go along with Prime Minister Noda’s decision in the end. All that back-and-forth talk about the central government trying to gain the consent of local residents before any nuclear restart was just a smokescreen for a final decision that had been made long before.

What’s gonna happen if there’s another nuclear accident? What will happen to nearby Lake Biwa which supplies water to millions in the Kansai Region? How and where can residents evacuate in case of a nuclear accident? These and many other questions have been left unanswered. An expert pointed out that Oi’s large power generator trucks, which supposed to serve as a backup power source for the plant’s cooling systems, are parked right below a high concrete slope which can collapse onto the trucks during a large quake.

Nuclear reactors in a disaster-prone country like Japan is obviously a bad idea and it’s frightening to think that this situation has existed for so many decades with our nearly total ignorance of the vulnerabilities and dangers of nuclear power plants right in our backyard. Not to mention the hush-hush coverups when accidents occurred.

No one can trust the power companies, government, and media anymore whenever they tell us, “it’s safe.” We’ve always been told to be prepared for earthquakes, but never for nuclear accidents. Japan already has earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, floods, and volcanic eruptions to contend with and doesn’t need another threat for mass disaster. This Japan Times editorial sums up the current situation and my feelings very well:

Meanwhile, here are some of the many events, fireworks, and festivals in Shiga this summer (Web sites are in Japanese):

July 21, 2012 (Sat.), 7 pm-8:40 pm – Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri, Higashi-Omi 八日市聖徳まつり
Folk dance festival in front of Yokaichi Station on the Omi Railways. Hundreds of people will dance the Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) which is a bon dance and folk song native to Shiga. First there will be a parade of mascot characters from 7 pm to 7:40 pm, followed by the folk dancers from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm.

July 28, 2012 (Sat.), 3 pm – Shigaraki Fire Festival, Koka しがらき火まつり
Impressive procession of 700 torches following a 2.2 km route from the Shigaraki Chiiki Shimin Center (甲賀市信楽地域市民センター) to the Atago area starting at 7:45 pm. The procession is 50 min. long. Followed by fireworks until 10 pm.

July 28-29, 2012 (Sat. from 8 am, Sun. from 6 am), Japan International Birdman Rally, Hikone 鳥人間コンテスト
Held annually since 1977, contestants from all over Japan compete to see who can fly the furthest over Lake Biwa in their handmade and human-powered flying contraptions. On Sat., they will hold time trials for propeller planes and the glider contest. On Sun., human-powered propeller planes will compete for distance. The event is held on Matsubara Beach in Hikone, right near the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. Note that the event schedule/holding is subject to weather conditions. If it’s too windy (typhoon), it can be canceled or postponed. Sponsored by Yomiuri TV who will broadcast the contest on a later date.

Mizunomori Lotus Pond. Click image to see more photos.

July 28-29, 2012, Mizunomori Lotus Festival, Karasuma Peninsula, Kusatsu みずの森 ハス祭り
Karasuma Peninsula includes Lake Biwa Museum and a huge lotus field that blooms in July. The weekend festival is scheduled to have some musical entertainment (taisho koto and yoshibue reed flutes).

Aug. 1, 2012 (Mon.), 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm – Hikone Fireworks 彦根大花火大会
On Matsubara Beach, spectacular fireworks over the lake, including a 15-min. finale. Expect a large crowd. If canceled due to foul weather, it will be postponed to Aug. 2. Shuttle buses will be provided from JR Hikone Station taking you to the Hikone Sports Ground (県立彦根総合運動場) from where you walk to the beach for 15 min.

Taga Taisha Lantern Festival. Click to see more images.

Aug. 3-5, 2012 (Fri.-Sun.), 7 pm – 9:30 pm - Taga Taisha Mantosai Lantern Festival 多賀大社万燈祭
Held at Taga Taisha Shrine in Taga, the Mantosai or 10,000-Lantern Festival is a beautiful night festival when over 10,000 paper lanterns are lit within the shrine grounds from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. The donated lanterns are for the repose of ancestral spirits. Various sacred dances and entertainment are also held nightly during the weekend festival.

B-kyu food fair

Long lines at Shiga’s 1st B-kyu Gourmet Battle in Otsu. Click to see more images.

Aug. 4-5, 2012 (Sat.-Sun.), 11 am-9 pm – Shiga B-class Gourmet Battle, Otsu 滋賀B級グルメバトル
B-class gourmet (B-kyu in Japanese) is food that is cheap and aimed at the working class. It also includes good ‘ol home cooking. The Hama-Otsu lakefront (near Hama-Otsu Station on the Keihan Line) will have 60 food booths serving cheap food (priced from 100 to 500 yen) using homegrown ingredient(s) from Shiga such as Omi-gyu beef, red konyaku (devil’s tongue), and fish from Lake Biwa. It is a “battle” or contest where the food booths receive popular votes (via disposable chopsticks) from customers. A jazz festival will also be held and fireworks on both nights at 8:50 pm. Note that the food booths require tickets instead of cash. You can buy 1,000-yen ticket books having ten 100 yen tickets. The food festival was held for the first time last July and turned out to be wildly popular with a total of 120,000 people attending over the two-day period. It was so crowded and many booths ran out of food quickly. Best to go early. I only dread the summer heat, standing in long lines in front of the popular booths. Fortunately, even the not-so-popular food booths were good. Read my report for last year here.

Aug. 6, 2012 (Mon.), 7:30 pm-8:30 pm - Nagahama Kita-Biwako Fireworks, 長浜・北びわ湖大花火大会
I thought last year was the last time Nagahama would hold their fireworks, but looks like they are having it again this summer. Details are sketchy as of this writing. To be held near Nagahama Port which is a god-awful, tiny place to watch it unless you reserve a space early.

Aug. 8, 2012 (Wed.), 7:15 pm-8:30 pm – Hikone Music and Dance Contest (Hikone-bayashi So-Odori Taikai) 彦根ばやし総おどり大会
Lively festival music and dance parade along Hikone’s main shopping streets centering in Ginza. The street will also be festooned with Tanabata streamers (during Aug. 4-8).

Biwako hanabi

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

Aug. 8, 2012 (Wed.), 7:30 pm-8:30 pm - Biwako Fireworks, Otsu びわ湖大花火大会
Big display, but a steep admission (around 4,000 yen) 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. 10. (If the weather is questionable, call 0180-99-3339 to find out if the fireworks will be held or not.)

Aug. 14-15, 2012 (Tue.-Wed.) - Hifuri Torch Festival, Hino 火ふり祭
Held for two evenings during the obon season (photo at top). Participants light their torches at Gosha Shrine and tap the torches on the road as they proceed to Hibarino park where the torches are thrown up to a large pine tree. The more torches get stuck on the tree, the better the next harvest will be. Near Hino Station (Ohmi Railways).

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

Aug. 17, 2012 (Fri.), 5 pm (boats depart), 8 pm-9 pm (fireworks) - Takebe Taisha Senko-sai Festival, Seta River, Otsu 船幸祭・瀬田川花火大会
One of Otsu’s Big Three Festivals, the Senko-sai is a portable shrine procession on boats going down Setagawa River from Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge to Nango sluice and back. Held annually by Takebe Taisha Shrine (worships legendary warrior Yamato Takeru) near the bridge. The festival starts at 5 pm when the portable shrines leave the shrine, and climaxes with fireworks on Seta River after the boats return at about 8:00 pm. The festival attracts few spectators (unlike the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka), but large crowds start to gather in the evening for the riverside fireworks starting after the festival boats arrive back at 8 pm. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line.

Aug. 18, 2012 (Sat.), 8:30 pm – Makino Highland Reed Torch Festival, Makino, Takashima マキノ高原ヨシたいまつ祭り
The festivities start at noon climaxing at 8:30 pm with the lighting of numerous reed torches dotting the grassy highland area and ending with fireworks.  The festival event schedule is yet to be determined as of this writing. From JR Makino Station (Kosei Line), take the “town bus” and get off at Makino Kogen Onsen Sarasa (マキノ高原温泉さらさ). Buses leave Makino Station once an hour until 6 pm (schedule here).

And don’t forget the white sand beaches on the western shores of Lake Biwa like Omi-Maiko for swimming. Wishing you all a cool summer, in more ways than one.

Shiga treated to annular solar eclipse

Annular solar eclipse above Tokyo. Click on image to enlarge.

A large swath of Japan was treated to an annular solar eclipse at around 7:30 am on May 21, 2012. People in southeastern Shiga Prefecture joined the masses in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka to view the rare annular eclipse over most of Japan’s Pacific Ocean side. The rest of Japan could at least see a partial eclipse. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and Earth and casts a shadow on Earth. The moon is farther away from Earth than during a total solar eclipse, so it does not cover the sun totally, exposing only a solar ring. In Japanese, an annular solar eclipse is called kinkan nisshoku (金環日食), literally “devoured sun with golden ring.”

People in the southeastern half of Shiga Prefecture could see the annular solar eclipse with the perfect ring of fire. The area from Maibara to Otsu was close to the northern boundary of the annular shadow path. Beyond that in Nagahama and Takashima, people could only see a partial solar eclipse. The annular ring could be seen for about 5 minutes at the center of the annular shadow path which went through central Tokyo. The further away you are from shadow’s center, the less time the ring appears.

In Shiga, the ring appeared for a maximum of about 3 minutes depending on the location. It was around 3 minutes in Koka and Higashi-Omi starting at 7:29 am. People in central Otsu saw it for about 2 minutes from 7:29 am. In Maibara, it was about a minute or less at 7:31 am. Nagahama and Takashima were outside the annular shadow and could only see a partial solar eclipse (a crescent sun). The last time an annular solar eclipse occurred in Shiga Prefecture was 282 years ago. Gee, I wonder how they viewed it at the time, if they even knew about it.

I was in Tokyo and photographed the eclipse about 1.5 km from the shadow’s center so I had the maximum 5 minutes to view and photograph the ring. We were lucky to have fleeting breaks in the veil of clouds during the eclipse. The clouds actually made it look more dramatic. A cloudless sky would create a totally black background in the photo. The ring appeared at 7:34 am in Tokyo. The last time this occurred in Tokyo was 173 years ago in 1839. The next annular solar eclipse in Tokyo will be three centuries from now. Too bad about Mt. Fuji being totally fogged over. People up there saw nothing. Map of the annular eclipse path:

It was also cloudy in Shiga at the time of the eclipse, but the sun did peep out of the clouds now and then and most got a chance to see the ring. Koka was the first to see the eclipse in Shiga starting at 6:17 am. Many school kids in Shiga went to school about an hour early and gathered on the school grounds to view the eclipse using solar eclipse sunglasses. Earth science students at Maibara High School used high-powered telescopes to successfully observe and photograph Baily’s beads which appear at the moment when the ring forms. Since Maibara is along the fringe of the annular shadow, it was a prime spot to view Baily’s beads. The students even appeared on national TV news that day on NHK at 7 pm.

The temperature dropped slightly by 0.6 C to 1 C in Shiga during the eclipse. The sky also became slightly darker during the peak, but it was still very bright. The photos look dark because of the dark filter on the lens. You cannot see the ring without a dark filter or solar eclipse glasses. Even at the peak of the eclipse, the sun was still a bright spot in the sky. Some people in Japan got married or engaged or gave a wedding or engagement ring to their fiance during the eclipse. To me, it looked like a heavenly angel’s halo without the angel. It certainly was worth getting up early to see it.

Cherry blossoms in Shiga


Kaizu-Osaki along the northern lake shore in Takashima. Cherry blossoms with Chikubushima island in the background. Beware of the narrow lakeshore road jammed with cars. 30-mi. walk from JR Makino Station (Kosei Line). Rental bicycles available.

Besides skiing, the best thing about winter is being able to look forward to spring. After a long and cold winter this year, we can hardly wait for the welcomed warmth of spring. Synonymous with spring is sakura, or cherry blossoms. Shiga Prefecture has many great spots for cherry blossoms, including two of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots at Kaizu-Osaki and Nagahama Castle’s Hokoen Park.

According to the cherry blossom forecast, the flowers should be in full bloom around April 15-20. Note that they bloom later in northern Shiga (Takashima and Nagahama) than in southern Shiga (Otsu). To see the current blooming condition, see the Weather News Sakura page for Shiga. The markers’ warmer colors until red (full bloom) indicate how far the flowers have bloomed.

Here are my photos of some of Shiga’s best sakura spots. Click on the photo to see more photos of the respective sakura spot.

Nagahama Castle in Hokoen Park near JR Nagahama Station (Hokuriku Line). A breath-taking number of cherry trees surround the castle. Be sure to go up the castle tower to see the sakura too.

Hikone Castle is another incredible place for sakura. I recommend going in the morning to take photos.

Mishima ike

Mishima Pond and Mt. Ibuki in Maibara. Prime spot to photograph Shiga’s highest mountain and cherry blossoms.


Weeping cherry tree in Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (also called Omi-Fuji Green Acres) next to Mt. Mikami in Yasu.


A walk along the sakura-lined Hachiman-bori Moat in Omi-Hachiman is very pleasant.


Zeze Castle Park in Otsu includes cherry blossoms planted here in memory of the college rowers from Kanazawa University who died in a rowing accident on Lake Biwa in April 1941.


One of the most beautiful weeping cherry trees at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Otsu. Near Sakamoto Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line.


Cherry blossoms lit up at night at Miidera temple in Otsu.

Essential Vocabulary

  • sakura さくら or 桜 - Cherry blossom and Japan’s national symbol and flower. By far, it is the most celebrated flower in Japan.
  • tsubomi つぼみ – Flower buds.
  • sakura zensen 桜前線 – Cherry blossom front as they bloom across Japan from Okinawa to Hokkaido.
  • kaika 開花 – Flowers started blooming. This is about a week before the tree reaches full bloom.
  • mankai 満開 – Full bloom. You will hear this on the news often.
  • hayasaki 早咲き – Early-blooming flowers. A few varieties of cherry blossoms bloom earlier than usual.
  • hanami or ohanami 花見 – Flower-viewing picnic (often with alcohol) under the cherry blossoms at a park. The most common way to celebrate spring under the flowers and commonly seen in the news. Hanami picnics are usually not allowed in shrines and temples.
  • sakura matsuri さくらまつり or 桜祭り- Cherry blossom festival. Not a religious festival, but can take the form of various events and stage entertainment.
  • Somei Yoshino 染井吉野 - The most common and coveted species of cherry blossoms whose light pink (almost white) flowers bloom in fluffy bunches on the tree.
  • yo-zakura 夜桜 – Cherry blossoms lit up at night. Some temples and parks light up the flowers at night.
  • shidare-zakura しだれ桜 or 枝垂桜 - Weeping cherry blossoms with long, hanging branches of flowers.
  • Sakura Meisho さくら名所 – Famous cherry blossom spot. It is most often a castle, public park, garden, shrine/temple, or riverside.
  • Sakura, Sakura さくら さくら- Famous folk song about cherry blossoms.
  • chiru, chitta 散る、散った – Flowers fell off the tree. Happens a few days after full bloom when the petals fall like pink snow.
  • sakura fubuki さくら吹雪 – Swirling cherry blossom petals. Occurs when the wind blows off the flower petals, creating a pink snow.