Setsubun Festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Ogre dancers at Taga Taisha Setsubun.

February 3 is the Setsubun Festival at many temples and shrines in Japan. It marks the beginning of spring (Feb. 4) according to the lunar calendar. They hold a religious ceremony and then throw fuku-mame lucky beans (dry soybeans) for worshippers to catch. They may also throw beans at ogre (oni) to chase away evil and bad luck (symbolized by the oni) and bring in good fortune (fuku). They usually shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Out with bad luck! In with good fortune!). The bean-throwing is called mame-maki. Like giving New Year’s prayers, Setsubun is a popular event because many people want to eliminate misfortune and invite good fortune to come in the new year.

In Shiga Prefecture, you can see the Setsubun festival on February 3 at the following temples and shrines. There may be slight variations in how they conduct the Setsubun festival. You don’t have to be Buddhist to see or participate in Setsubun (or any other Buddhist events in Japan). Just make sure to dress warmly and enjoy one of Japan’s major traditions.

Catching lucky beans at Taga Taisha.

♦ Taga Taisha Shrine Setsubun-sai (多賀大社 節分祭), Taga, Feb. 3, 11:00 am and 2:00 pm
Shiga’s biggest Setsubun festival is in Taga. They have impressive ogre (oni) dancers from Shimane Prefecture to act as the evil demons to be chased away. They will hold two bean-throwing (mame-maki) sessions. Expect a large crowd.

It starts with a religious ceremony in the shrine’s worship hall. The shrine’s outdoor stage will then show a dramatic performance by the ogres as they are chased away by priests throwing beans at them. The main event is when over 300 people born under the current year’s Oriental zodiac begin to throw soybeans and mochi to the crowd.

The soybeans are thrown in little paper bags, so they won’t get dirty if they fall to the ground. But the mochi are hard as a rock, so watch out. The bean-throwing is fun, but potentially dangerous with beans or mochi hitting your face/head and people shoving you around. Better to not pick up beans/mochi on the ground amid the jostling. Taking pictures is pretty risky as well. One mochi even hit my camera lens. Fortunately, no damage. You should always look up and see where the mochi and beans are flying.

Directions: Taga Taisha is a short walk from Ohmi Railways Taga Taisha-mae Station on the Taga Line.
Map | PhotosVideo | Taga Taisha website

Throwing beans at Zensuiji Setsubun-e.

♦ Zensuiji Setsubun-e (善水寺 節分会星祭), Konan, Feb. 3, 1:30 pm
Belonging to the Tendai Buddhist sect, Zensuiji temple is a National Treasure and one of the Konan Sanzan Temple Trio worth visiting at any time of the year. Their Setsubun festival is somewhat unique since it is held entirely inside the temple. It starts at 1:30 pm with priests chanting and the Goma fire ritual (護摩供奉修) with a small fire inside the temple burning worshippers’ wooden prayer sticks (write your wishes on the stick, ¥500 per stick).

After the hour-long fire ritual, the Three Ogres of Poison (三毒鬼) in different colors enter the temple. Each ogre represents one of the three Mahayana Buddhist poisons. The priest introduces the ogres and explains that the blue ogre (holding a rake to gather desired objects) is greed/desire (貪), red ogre is hate/anger (瞋), and yellow ogre is ignorance/delusion (痴). (This is also when babies in the audience frightened by the scary ogres start to cry.)

Instead of chasing away the ogres, the priest uses the power of Buddha to neutralize their poison hearts. Each of the three poisons have an antidote, such as knowledge to quell ignorance. All the ogres acquiesce and are thereby converted into “good” ogres.

At around 3 pm, the good ogres, priests, and other folks throw beans while shouting, “Fuku wa uchi! Oni mo uchi!” (福は内! 鬼も内! In with good fortune! In with ogres!). This is another unusual thing about Zensuiji’s Setsubun festival, they also welcome the ogres. But they are now good ogres. At the end of the festival, worshippers can have one of the three ogres eliminate their respective poison. The ogre taps the person to cleanse his/her poison. Very interesting Setsubun festival. Photography is permitted.

Directions: From JR Kosei Station on the JR Kusatsu Line, catch a bus bound for Shimoda (下田) and get off at Iwane (岩根). From there, walk up the hill, and follow the signs (if you can read Japanese). A small temple admission is charged.
Photos courtesy of Konan Tourism Association (湖南市観光協会).
Map | Zensuiji photos | VideoZensuiji website | Konan video

Good ogres cleanse worshippers’ poisons at Zensuiji’s Setsubun.

♦ Tachiki Jinja Shrine Setsubun Taisai (立木神社 節分大祭), Kusatsu, Feb. 3 at 3 pm, 5 pm, and 7 pm
Men and women born under the current year’s zodiac animal will throw beans three times on this day. Free ama-zake (sweet sake) and locally brewed sacred sake will be served to visitors. The shrine’s mikuji paper fortunes (sold for ¥200) will also be used in a drawing for many prizes.

Directions: 15-min. walk from JR Kusatsu Station‘s east exit (or take the Mame bus and get off at Tachiki Jinja-mae).
Map | Tachiki Shrine website

Minakuchi

Minakuchi Shrine

♦ Minakuchi Jinja Shrine Setsubun-sai (水口神社 節分祭), Koka, Feb. 3, 7 pm
Minakuchi Shrine’s Setsubun festival is mainly held in the evening from 7 pm when they hold a religious ceremony, perform a lion dance, chase away ogres, and throw lucky beans and mochi. From 3 pm to 7 pm, udon noodles and red bean soup (zenzai) will be available to warm you up. The shrine is most famous for the Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri in April.

Directions: 5-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station. | Map

Wishing everyone good fortune this new year!

Pharrell Williams HAPPY – From Lake Biwa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter festivals Jan.-Feb. 2014 in Shiga

Updated: Feb. 27, 2014

After Japan’s biggest celebration called New Year’s, it’s back to work. But there’s still some fun left during this cold or freezing season. Here are some recommended winter festivals (matsuri) and events in Shiga Prefecture during January to February 2014. (Most Web sites are in Japanese only.)

This page will be updated with new events as the winter weeks go by.

January 9-11, 2014
♦ Hokoku Shrine Toka Ebisu, Nagahama
Dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, worshipped for succeeding in life and for business prosperity. It holds the Toka Ebisu festival for three days centering on Jan. 10th. Ebisu is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, representing business prosperity. During the three days, shrine maidens sell small bamboo branches with various lucky decorations. On Jan. 10, there will be a procession of kimono ladies and a float from the shrine to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Hope it doesn’t snow. On the 11th, they will throw lucky mochi. Google Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Katsube Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Very impressive fire festival, but cold while you wait for it to start. Twelve giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm after a taiko procession around the city and ceremony at 6 pm. See the video at top of this page. 勝部の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photosGoogle Map

January 11, 2014
♦ Fuke Sumiyoshi Shrine Fire Festival, Moriyama, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Six giant straw torches are lit up in the shrine grounds at around 8:30 pm. Related to the Katsube Shrine Fire Festival held at the same time. Less crowded than Katsube Shrine. 浮気の火祭り
More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map

January 19-December 28, 2014
♦ Kuroda Kanbee Expo (黒田官兵衛博覧会), 9 am – 5 pm, Nagahama
Yet another Taiga Drama-related “expo” in Nagahama. Held in concert with 2014’s year-long NHK Taiga Drama called Gunshi Kanbee (軍師官兵衛) airing on NHK TV. The expo will explain and show Kanbee’s connection with Shiga (Omi) while he served under Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century. There are two venues: Nagahama Castle and a distinctive, Western-style building (formerly a Shiga Bank branch) in Kinomoto. I’ll report on it in more detail when I visit later. Admission 400 yen for Nagahama Castle History Museum and 300 yen in Kinomoto. Google Map | Website

bonbaiten

Bonbaiten in Nagahama.

January 18-March 10, 2014
♦ Nagahama Bonbaiten 長浜盆梅展, Nagahama, Keiunkan (慶雲館), 9 am – 5 pm
This is perhaps Shiga’s most famous plum blossom bonsai exhibition, held annually since 1952. The venue is the stately Keiunkan (慶雲館), a Japanese-style former guesthouse originally built in 1887 to accommodate Emperor Meiji when he visited Nagahama. It’s near JR Nagahama Station. They have 90 bonsai trees on display and can be centuries old. Don’t touch and try to smell these prized trees. Admission: 500 yen (200 yen for high school and younger) Google Map | Website

January 10-March 10, 2014
Kamo-no-sato Bonbaiten 鴨の里盆梅展, Maibara, Green Park Santo (グリーンパーク山東), 9:30 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm)
Green Park Santo is a large recreational park in Maibara. Inside the Spark Santo hall (すぱーく山東) are about 120 bonsai plum trees raised by over 30 devoted growers. They also have an orchid show at the same time. Near JR Omi-Nagaoka Station. Admission: 400 yen (200 yen for high school and younger, free for elementary schoolers) Google Map | Website

Feb.-early March
Plum blossoms in Shiga
Shiga has a number of plum blossom gardens. See this post for a list of plum blossom gardens in Shiga.

setsubun

Taga Taisha Setsubun bean throwing on Feb. 3.

February 3, 2014
♦ Taga Taisha Setsubun, Taga, 11 am and 2 pm
Shiga’s most impressive Setsubun festival with impressive ogre (called oni in Japanese) dancers from Shimane Prefecture to act as the demons to chase away during the festival. Highlighted by bean-throwing (mame-maki). They will hold two mame-maki sessions on Feb. 3, at 11 am and 2 pm. Expect a large crowd. More about this festival here. | Video | More photos | Google Map | Website

February-March 2014
♦ Hina-matsuri
dolls (雛祭りの雛人形) are being displayed at various locations in Shiga to celebrate Girl’s Day on March 3.

On the weekend of Feb. 15-16, 2014, Gokasho in Higashi-Omi is having a unique event of live hina dolls called Ningen Hina-matsuri (にんげん雛まつり). Yes, they are real girls, ten of them, dressed as Hina dolls. They will appear twice on both the 15th and 16th at 10:00 am to 11:30 am and at 1:30 pm to 3 pm at the Omi-shonin merchant home of Tonomura Shigeru (外村繁邸).

Gokasho, Higashi-Omi: Normal hina ningyo dolls are also displayed in the Omi-shonin merchant homes and museums. They are on display until March 23 (9:30 am to 4:30 pm) in the former residences of Tonomura Uhee (外村 宇兵衛), Tonomura Shigeru (外村 繁), Nakae Jungoro (中江 準五郎), and Fujii Hikoshiro (藤井 彦四郎邸). The homes are large, stately Japanese-style mansions. Must-see for architecture buffs. Buy a single 600 yen ticket and you can enter all the homes. Closest train station is Ohmi Railways Gokasho Station. Google Map

Omi-Hachiman: Former Ban family residence (旧伴家住宅) until March 23, 2014 (closed Mon.). Omi merchant home which also served as a girls school and public library until 1997. Spacious room with a large display of Hina dolls. The former Nishikawa Residence (Kyu-Nishikawa-ke Jutaku 旧西川家住) also has doll display. This is a large Omi merchant home designated as an Important Cultural Property. The Kawara Roof Tile Museum and some shops in central Omi-Hachiman will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Hino: Omi Hino Merchant House (近江日野商人館) until March 9, 2014. The former home of Hino merchant Yamanaka Hyouemon was donated to the town in 1981. Now a museum exhibiting the history and artifacts of the Hino merchants. Admission 300 yen. Another place is Hino Machikado Kan-okan (日野まちかど感応館) which is a former home along Hino’s main road. It is also a tourist information office. Free admission. Some shops and homes in central Hino will also have hina doll displays. Google Map

Enjoy Girl’s Day! Japanese hina-matsuri map: http://www.omi-syonin.com/htm01/book2014.htm

Feb. 25 to March 3, 2014
♦ Shiga Prefecture Food and Craft Fair (Dai-Omiten) 琵琶湖夢街道 大近江展, Takashimaya Department Store (8th floor) in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, 10 am – 8 pm (till 6 pm on March 3)
Held annually to promote Shiga products in Tokyo, numerous food booths and crafts are displayed and sold. Hiko-nyan will also appear on March 1 and 2 at 12 noon and 2 pm on the rooftop stage.

New Year’s Day 2014 at Taga Taisha


Video link: http://youtu.be/A-m4MmvLVsg

Today on Jan. 1, 2014, I visited Taga Taisha Shrine to photograph the crowds and film the sacred dances. It was my second time at Taga Taisha on New Year’s Day. The first time was way back in 2005.

The shrine was a lot more crowded today than in 2005. The line to pray in front of the shrine was twice as long as what I photographed in 2005. They said that it takes 1 hour to get to the main shrine to pray. (Update: The shrine announced that 490,000 people visited the shrine during the first three days of 2014. This is a lot more than the 400,000 that visited in 2005.)

Since I usually visit a shrine in other prefectures (Ise Jingu last year) on New Year’s Day, it’s been several years since the last time I visited a shrine in Shiga for New Year’s.

Video camera technology and quality have improved a lot since 2005. I wanted to record the sacred dances in Full HD. My old low-res video of Taga Taisha’s sacred dance from 2005 became a surprising hit among viewers. So I thought I’d better make a better version (posted above).

More Taga Taisha New Year’s photos here.

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