Archive for Takashima

Skiing in Shiga Prefecture

Mt. Ibuki

Skiing on Mt. Ibuki in the good old days.

Every winter, I’ve always contemplated writing about skiing in Shiga Prefecture. I never did it until now because I just don’t think the quality of snow in Shiga is up to snuff. I also haven’t skied on all of Shiga’s slopes so I can’t comment on any of them except Mt. Ibuki which has since closed.

Shiga is hardly a place I would recommend or brag about for skiing. I once spent an entire winter in Hokkaido where I went skiing every weekend. Once you experience such pristine snow, anywhere else in Japan (except maybe Tohoku) just doesn’t compare. But I understand that Shiga’s slopes are convenient for many people in Osaka/Kyoto coming to Shiga to ski. It’s better than nothing, and good for kids and beginners who don’t mind slushy snow.

Nakayama Saijiro

Statue of Nakayama Saijiro on Mt. Ibuki’s 3rd station.

But there is actually something to brag about skiing in Shiga. It so happens that Mt. Ibuki in Maibara is one of the first places where skiing started in the Kansai region. Mt. Ibuki was also where people first began skiing in Shiga. All thanks to Nakayama Saijiro (中山再次郎 1867-1963), principal of a high school in Kyoto (forerunner of Toba High School 鳥羽高校) who was a pioneer in spreading the sport of skiing in the Kansai region.

He started bringing his students annually to Mt. Ibuki for skiing from around 1913-14, a century ago. They hiked up to the 3rd station (san-gome) and skied around the 3rd and 4th stations. It must’ve been quite an exercise without ski lifts.

In 1920, the first Mt. Ibuki skiing competition (第1回伊吹山雪艇大会) was held under the supervision of Principal Saijiro Nakayama. And in 1937, the 5th national skiing competition (第5回全国スキー大会) was held on Mt. Ibuki.

Nakayama sensei had learned how to ski from an Austrian. His bronze statue can be found on Mt. Ibuki’s 3rd station. Nakayama sensei also happens to be my grandfather’s high school principal in Kyoto. However, I’m told that my grandfather wasn’t into skiing so he might not have been one of the students who went to Ibuki to learn to ski.

It wasn’t until Dec. 1956 when the Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds (伊吹スキー場) opened for business at the 1st to 3rd stations by Ohmi Railways. Ski lifts were finally built by Aug. 1958 up to the 3rd station. More modern ski lifts were constructed in the late 1960s and mid-1980s. In Jan. 1989, a gondola lift going from the foot of the mountain all the way to the 3rd station opened. The gondola cabins could carry six people.

Mt. Ibuki

Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds at 3rd station.

Due to a chronic lack of snow, fewer skiers in Japan, and the more popular Oku-Ibuki Ski Grounds (opened in 1970) further north, the original Ibuki Ski Grounds closed in Oct. 2005 after 48 years in business. A Tokyo-based company bought and took over the ski facilities, but it closed the ski grounds in 2008 citing the lack of snow and skiers. The gondola kept operating only during the summer hiking season, but it too was shut down in 2011. Today, Oku-Ibuki with better snow, better runs, and convenient roads is the ski area of choice in Shiga. The old Mt. Ibuki Ski Grounds now sees paragliders and campers instead.

Makino

Makino Highland Ski Grounds in spring.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the lake in Makino village (now part of Takashima), another skiing pioneer named Hiroi Shinnosuke (広井親之助) found that skiing was feasible at Makino. Hiroi was a physical education teacher at Imazu High School (forerunner of Takashima High School). Inspired by Nakayama Saijiro, he started developing skiing in Makino from Jan. 1917 and called it Makino Ski Grounds (牧野スキー場).

In 1925, Hiroi sensei held a skiing contest sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Osaka. Most of the contestants were local elementary to high school kids. Since Makino was still quite isolated transportation-wise, few people from afar participated.

Thus, Mt. Ibuki and Makino Highland are among the oldest ski grounds in Kansai along with Hyogo Prefecture’s Kannabe Highland and Hyonosen  (神鍋山、氷の山).

In Dec. 1929, Makino Ski Grounds was renamed in katakana (マキノスキー場) when it turned commercial as a joint venture by Keihan Railways and the Lake Biwa cruise company named Taiko Kisen (太湖汽船). Since “Makino” in katakana became widely known in the Kansai region because of the ski grounds, it was adopted in 1955 as the newly-formed town’s name when Makino village merged with three neighboring villages. The town of Makino-cho (マキノ町) thereby became Japan’s first municipality to have a katakana name. (Makino is now part of the city of Takashima.)

Makino

Makino became Japan’s first municipality to have a katakana name, thanks to skiing. JR Makino Station is also in katakana.

Modern skiing was first introduced to Japan in 1911 in Takada (Joetsu), Niigata Prefecture by an Austrian who used it for military training. Skiing soon spread and developed as a recreational sport beginning with northern Japan. In the early years, popular ski grounds in Japan were usually in onsen hot-spring areas. Local ryokan inns, etc., catered to the skiers and made investments to expand skiing facilities. By the 1930s, Japan had a ski boom as the masses got turned on to skiing. Japan National Railways operated extra “ski trains” to Mt. Ibuki. From 1930, Keihan Railways operated direct trains from Osaka/Kyoto to Hama-Otsu Port where skiers would transfer to Taiko Kisen’s “ski boats” (スキー船) for Kaizu Port near Makino.

Skiers from Kyoto/Osaka would take an evening train to Hama-Otsu and board the ski boat at Hama-Otsu Port. The boat departed at 12 midnight and the skiers slept overnight onboard. When the boat arrived at Kaizu Port in the early morning around 5 am, the skiers walked or took a bus for Makino Ski Grounds. After skiing during the day, the skiers would return and board the boat departing Kaizu Port at 5 pm for Hama-Otsu. The ski boat proved to be popular with day-trip skiers from Kyoto and Osaka on the weekends. These ski trains and boats made Makino Ski Grounds viable since Makino was way out in the boondocks and had no onsen or other attractions to fall back on. Keep in mind that they still didn’t have ski lifts. Something unimaginable today.

Then in 1931, the Kojaku Railway (forerunner of the JR Kosei Line) from Hama-Otsu Station was extended to Imazu Station close to Makino. This brought even more skiers to Makino. By the early 1960s, the road to Makino improved enough for ski buses to carry skiers directly from the Kansai region to Makino, replacing the ski boats and eliminating the troublesome transfers between trains and boats.

A ski lift finally opened in Makino in 1956, and another was added in 1964 funded by the town and Kojaku Railway.

However, Makino suffered a drastic drop in skiers after Hira Ski Grounds opened in 1961 (closed in 2004), Hakodateyama in Imazu opened in 1962, and Biwako Valley (originally named Sankei Valley) opened in 1965. Since these new ski areas were closer, skiers from Kyoto/Osaka flocked to them.

Although you can still ski at Makino Kogen Highland, its low altitude, slushy snow, gentle slopes, and lack of variation in ski runs relegate it to mainly beginners and sled-toting kids. However, Makino still attracts hikers and nature lovers in the warmer seasons. It even has a hot-spring facility.

Japan’s skiing population has dropped dramatically since the turn of this century. Fewer people are willing to take the time, trouble, and expense to go skiing. I’m sure everyone thinks it’s a lot of trouble before they go out the door. But once you’re on the slopes with skis on and feeling the rush, you think that it was all worth it. And at the end of the day when you soak in an onsen, it makes winter worthwhile and memorable.

  • Whenever you write about skiing in Shiga, be sure to say “Shiga Prefecture” instead of just “Shiga.” It’s to avoid confusion with Shiga Kogen Highlands (志賀高原) in Nagano Prefecture which is another ski area and the much more famous “Shiga.”
  • More info on Shiga’s ski areas in English: http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/prefecture/shiga

Major sources for this article:

  • びわ湖検定実行委員会「琵琶湖検定公式問題解説集」2008年
  • 野間晴雄「マキノ町扇状地群の開発と土地利用」、1987年

台風18号による滋賀の観光施設・文化財の被害

更新日:2013年9月30日

台風18号で沈んだ屋形船。大津市瀬田川沿にて。9月20日。撮影/Unose Masaki

台風18号で沈んだ屋形船。大津市瀬田川沿にて。9月20日。撮影/Unose Masaki
A yakata-bune boat sunk by Typhoon Man-Yi in Otsu. Only the roof can be seen.

2013年9月15日〜16日に気象庁が初めて「特別警報」を出した滋賀県は台風18号による豪雨で大きな被害が相次いだ。特にひどかったのは高島市、甲賀市、大津市。

滋賀県内の観光施設や文化財への主な被害をまとめてみました。なお、この他の被害もあるかもしれませんので出かける前に状況を確認してください。特に登山。(22日に比良山系で男性登山者の死亡も出ています。ご冥福を祈りします。)

This is a list of tourist sights and major cultural properties in Shiga which were damaged or affected by Typhoon Man-Yi (No. 18) on September 15-16, 2013. English version of this post is provided on my Twitter feed. It is for the safety and welfare of our visitors. Compiled by Philbert Ono.

滋賀県内の交通機関の運休状況

  • 信楽高原鐵道(貴生川駅〜信楽駅間) – 全線運休。川に架かる鉄橋の一部が橋脚ごと流され、運転再開のめどが立っていません。代行バスあり。のりばの地図最新の情報はこちら
  • JR石山駅発の信楽・ミホミュージアム行きの帝産バスは運休。(最新の情報はこちら
  • ミホミュージアム~信楽線の帝産バスも運休。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 京阪電車の京津線(御陵駅~浜大津駅間) – 運転を見合わせ、振替輸送およびバス代行あり。(9月30日より復旧)(最新の情報はこちら
  • 高島市内のバスと乗合タクシーの運休や折返しは多数。詳細はこちら

道路の状況

観光名所・文化財の状況

  • 大津市の石山寺の境内は複数の場所で土砂崩れのため、一部が通行止め。紫式部銅像など見れません。建造物および人的な被害はなし。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 大津市の三井寺の国宝の金堂で、「亀腹」と呼ばれる基礎部分の漆喰(しっくい)がはがれたり亀裂が生じた。写真
  • 大津市の国史跡「近江国府跡・国庁跡」は、遺跡北側ののり面が崩れ、隣接する市道に土砂が流出。
  • 大津市の立木観音の寺の石段が崩れたと報道されたが、参拝できそうです。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 大津市の国史跡の堂ノ上遺跡で、史跡北端の私有地ののり面が幅六メートル、高さ三メートルにわたって崩落。
  • 甲賀市のミホミュージアムは9月24日まで臨時休館。開館後、周辺道路が復旧するまで一部縮小して営業中。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 彦根市の佐和山ハイキングコースが一時閉鎖。地盤が弱くなっているため。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 国宝彦根城西の丸三重櫓は、矢を放つために設けられた狭間(さま)から雨が吹き込み、土壁の一部がはがれ落ちた。
  • 近江八幡市の安土城は土砂崩れのため、一部が通行不可。二王門南口の郭から山道側へ幅10メートル、高さ20メートルにわたり土砂が崩落して樹木が倒れ、一部で通行不能に。石垣も数カ所で崩れている。
  • 近江八幡市の重要文化財の旧西川家住宅では主要施設の軒裏の二カ所計〇・三平方メートルがはがれ落ちた。そして郷土史料館の屋根瓦が十枚程度落下した。
  • 高島市の海津大崎は通行止め。
  • 高島市の「八ツ淵の滝」登山道は通行止め。ガリバー青少年旅行村から「八ッ淵の滝」に向かう登山道が、当分の間通行止め。ガリバー青少年旅行村までの車道は通行可能。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 多賀町の河内の風穴への道は通行止めのため、河内の風穴は休業中。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 信楽町神山地先にある「鶏鳴の滝」につながる道路が崩落し、通行禁止。(最新の情報はこちら
  • 栗東市の金勝の里キャンプ場は壊滅状態。
  • 竜王町の観光ブドウ園は壊滅状態。
  • 野洲市の宗泉寺の「木造薬師如来座像」など重文の仏像5体を市歴史民俗博物館へ移した。安置されていた薬師堂の手前まで土砂が迫ったため。
  • 栗東市の阿弥陀寺の重文「木造薬師如来座像」は、寄託先の栗東歴史民俗博物館で、収蔵庫の雨漏りが発生。仏像の左手やひざ部分で、水滴によるしみが発生。
  • 琵琶湖の湖岸の所々には流木やゴミが残っている。注意を。写真

この他の情報が入る次第にこのページを更新します。

関連の記事:
http://sankei.jp.msn.com/region/news/130921/shg13092102200000-n1.htm
http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20130922-00000520-san-soci

Summer 2013 festivals in Shiga Prefecture

Biwako Otsu Tourist Ambassadors in yukata.

Here are some of the many events and festivals in Shiga in summer 2013 (Web sites are in Japanese). If you want to see the fireworks schedule instead, click here.

July 5 – Sept. 1, 2013, 9 am-5 pm – Biwako Hakodate-yama Lily Garden, Imazu, Takashima びわこ箱館山ゆり園
Lilies galore high up on Mt. Hakodate with views of Lake Biwa in Imazu, Takashima. From JR Omi-Imazu Station (Kosei Line), take a bus to the Hakodate-yama gondola station (15 min.). In winter, the place is a ski ground. The 1,800 yen fare includes the gondola (round trip) fare and admission to the lily garden.
http://www.yuri-hakodateyama.com

July 21, 2013 (Sun.), 8 am-5 pm – Higashi-Omi Dragon Canoe Race 東近江市ドラゴンカヌー大会
Held at Higashi-Omi’s Notogawa Waterwheel and Canoe Land waterfront park (能登川水車とカヌーランド), over 80 dragon boat teams (including women teams) will race on a 300-meter course. If it’s rained out, it will be postponed to July 28. Be sure to also check out the giant waterwheel, symbol of Notogawa.
http://www.city.higashiomi.shiga.jp/0000004099.html

July 25-27, 2013, evening – Tamura Shrine Mantosai Lantern Festival, Koka 田村神社万灯祭
Some 9,000 donated lanterns will festoon this shrine in Tsuchiyama. On the 26th are festival ceremonies and stage entertainment from 6 pm. From Ohmi Railways Kibukawa Station north exit, take the Aikuru bus and get off at Tamura Shrine (about 40-min. ride).
http://www.koka-kanko.org/res/?evid=241

July 27, 2013 (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 Omi Railways Yokaichi Station. 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.
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

July 27, 2013 (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.
http://www.shigaraki.or.jp/fire_fes/index.htm

IMG_7487

Birdman Rally, Hikone

July 27-28, 2013 (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. http://www.ytv.co.jp/birdman/index.html

Mizunomori Lotus Pond and Mt. Mikami

July 27-28, 2013, 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 from mid-July to early Aug. The weekend festival from 7 am to 5 pm is scheduled to have some musical entertainment (taisho koto and yoshibue reed flutes). Buses run from JR Kusatsu Station.
http://www.seibu-la.co.jp/mizunomori/

Aug. 3, 2013 (Sat.), 3 pm – 9 pm - Furusato Ryuo Natsu (Summer) Festival, Ryuo ふるさと竜王夏まつり
Held at Imose-no-Sato (妹背の里), this summer festival is packed with entertainment, games for the kids, candle floating, Goshu Ondo dancing, and fireworks.
http://www.town.ryuoh.shiga.jp/event/natu.html

Taga Taisha Mantosai lantern festival.

Aug. 3-5, 2013 (Fri.-Sun.), 7 pm – 9:30 pm - Taga Taisha Mantosai Lantern Festival, Taga 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. Sarugaku dance by the Taga-za troupe will be performed on the evening of Aug. 4. Other entertainment is also held each day of the weekend festival.
http://www.tagataisya.or.jp/info/mantou/index.html

Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle

Aug. 3-4, 2013 (Sat.-Sun.), 1 pm-9 pm – Shiga B-kyu Gourmet Battle, Otsu 滋賀B級グルメバトル
B-kyu gourmet is B-rated food (like a B-movie) 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 31 of the most popular food booths from the first (2011) and second (2012) B-kyu festivals. They will serve cheap food (priced from 200 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 in July 2011 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 want to go again, but I dread the summer heat, standing in long lines in front of the popular booths. Read my report for event in 2011 here.
http://www.b-shiga.com/

Aug. 4, 2013 (Sun.), 9 am-5 pm – Kannon Furusato Matsuri Festival, Takatsuki, Nagahama 観音の里ふるさとまつり
On this day, you can go on a free or 1,500 yen bus tour to see various Kannon statues at temples in Takatsuki, including the National Treasure 11-face Kannon statue at Doganji temple. You can see statues which normally require an appointment for viewing. If you like sculpture or Buddhist art, don’t miss seeing the National Treasure. The tour starts at Doganji temple, a 5-min. walk from JR Takatsuki Station.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1015/

Aug. 8, 2013 (Wed.), 7:15 pm-8:30 pm – Hikone Tanabata and Music and Dance Contest (Hikone-bayashi So-Odori Taikai) 彦根七夕・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).
http://www.hikoneshi.com/media/download/2013_summer.pdf

Aug. 14-15, 2013 - Hifuri Torch Festival, Hino 火ふり祭
Held for two evenings during the obon season. 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).
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hino-to/005.html

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

Aug. 17, 2013 (Sat.), 5:45 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.
http://takebetaisha.jp/event/senkousai/

Imazu Regatta with Chikubushima in the background.

Aug. 18, 2013 (Sun.), 9:30 am – 2 pm – Imazu Regatta, Takashima 今津レガッタ
The Imazu Regatta was originally held annually during 1927-36 by the rowing club of the local high school in Imazu (the present Takashima High School). However, the war forced the annual regatta’s cancellation. In Aug. 2006, a local NPO called the Takashima-Imazu Rowing Club restarted the Imazu Regatta with the support of the rowing clubs from Imazu Junior High School and Takashima High School. They use a variety of rowing boats (including a replica of a fixed-seat boat from the early 20th century) to race on a 500-meter course. Anyone can sign up to race/row. Beach is near Omi-Imazu Station. More photos here.
http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~t-imazurowing/

Samegai

Samegai Jizo-bon Matsuri

Aug. 23-24, 2013 (Fri.-Sat.), 6 pm – 8 pm – Samegai Jizo Matsuri Festival, Maibara 醒井地蔵まつり
This evening festival is a good excuse to wear a yukata and stroll along the crystal-clear river. The river is highlighted by a variety of handmade dolls or dioramas created by local school kids. Also see food booths and a local shrine to pray for the deceased. Samegai was a post town on the Nakasendo Road. Near JR Samegai Station in Maibara. During July 20 – Aug. 4, 2013, the tiny baikamo flowers (miniature plum blossoms) in the river will be lit up in the evening during 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm.
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_840/?month=2013/08

Aug. 24, 2013 (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).
http://www.makinokougen.co.jp/publics/index/90/

Sept. 1-30, 2013, 6:30 pm-9 pm – Genkyuen Insect-Chirping Evening, Hikone 玄宮園で虫の音を聞く会
Benches are provided in the lit-up garden to listen to insect chirping accompanying classical Japanese music or reed flutes. One friend told me that he enjoyed it more than expected. Garden admission charged. Near Hikone Station.
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/mushinone

Also see the 2013 summer fireworks schedule here.

Looks like we’re in for a very hot and humid summer. Right after the rainy season ended earlier than usual (though it did start earlier than usual), bam, we got hit with a heatwave. The people most vulnerable to heat illness, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke (all called netchusho 熱中症) are those who have never experienced it.

The scary thing about heat illnesses is that it can come on very suddenly with no warning. One minute you’re feeling okay, and the next minute you feel like passing out on the spot. It’s a really scary feeling when you feel like you are losing consciousness because it seems like you’re gonna die. It’s different from falling asleep. It’s like your power switch is being switched off. Your nervous system shuts down. When it occurs to you, it’s hard to tell if it’s serious or not. If the victim is unable to talk back to you, it might be serious and an ambulance needs to be called. People can and do literally drop dead from heatstroke (called nesshabyo 熱射病).

If you see someone suffering from heat illness, lay the person down in the shade or air-conditioned room, elevate the legs to facilitate blood flow to the head. Place something cool (like a bottle of water) on the neck, underarm, or loin area. Give water while making sure the person doesn’t choke. Fan the person too.

Even a minor bout (not life threatening) of heat illness (sometimes called natsubate 夏ばて) can be quite debilitating and can take you weeks to recover. It can also lead to other ailments like dizziness, a feeling of being in a constant daze, or prolonged lightheadedness.

Play it safe and don’t stay out in the heat for too long, even at home. Take a break often in an air-conditioned room. Drink water every hour and consume some salty food. Also consume protein like milk and bananas so that your body can produce more blood. Avoid alcohol which will dehydrate you. (I’ll never figure out why beer gardens are so popular when people should be hydrating themselves instead.)

When you perspire, better not to keep wiping it off. Letting your perspiration evaporate will cool the body. Of course, one problem is that the humidity can be so high that your perspiration is unable to evaporate. That’s when you should seek refuge in an air-conditioned place. Another wise thing to do is to take a dark umbrella for shade and an ice pack/towel for your neck. It really helps.

Stay cool y’all in Japan.

Summer 2013 fireworks in Shiga Prefecture

Here’s the fireworks (hanabi) schedule for Shiga Prefecture in summer 2013 listed by date. If you want to see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri) instead, click here.

Essential vocabulary
Hanabi (花火) – fireworks
Hanabi Taikai (花火大会) – fireworks (sometimes a contest)
Natsu Matsuri (夏まつり) – Summer festival
Noryo (納涼) – Enjoying the cool of a summer evening (at a river, park, etc.)

July 13, 2013
♦ Takamiya Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Takamiya, Hikone, 8:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Near the Inugami River Muchinbashi Bridge. 10-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Takamiya Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 14.
高宮納涼花火大会
More info: 高宮商工繁栄会 TEL:0749-22-2075
http://takamiya.ciao.jp/?cat=11

♦ Yasu River Hanabi Taikai in Ritto, 7:45 pm – 8:25 pm
Along the Yasu River. 20-min. walk from JR Moriyama Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 15.
野洲川花火大会
More info: 栗東市観光物産協会 TEL:077-551-0126
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/rittou.html

July 20, 2013
♦ Echigawa Gion Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Aisho, 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
At two locations along the Echigawa River bank near Miyukibashi Bridge. 15-min. walk from Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station. If rained out, to be postponed to July 21. About 40,000 people are expected.
愛知川祇園納涼祭花火大会
More info: 愛荘町秦荘観光協会/愛荘町愛知川観光協会 TEL:0749-37-8051
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/echigawa.html

July 27, 2013
♦ Otsu Shiga Hanabi Taikai fireworks, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Watch the fireworks over the lake from the famous Omi-Maiko beach. Near JR Omi-Maiko Station (Kosei Line) in western Otsu. If rained out, to be postponed to July 28.
大津志賀花火大会
More info: 大津志賀花火大会実行委員会 TEL:077-592-0378
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/otsushiga.html

♦ Koka Natsu Matsuri fireworks in Minakuchi, Koka, 7:45 pm – 8:30 pm
Koka’s biggest fireworks display held along Yasu River. Part of a local festival of stage entertainment, games, and food stalls. Near Ohmi Railways Minakuchi Jonan Station.
甲賀夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 TEL:0748-60-2690
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/koka.html

Aug. 1, 2013
♦ Hikone Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Matsubara Beach, Hikone, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
35-min. walk from Hikone Station. Shuttle buses provided from Hikone Station to a sports ground from which it’s a 15-min. walk to the beach. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2.
彦根大花火大会
More info: (社)彦根観光協会 Phone: 0749-23-0001
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/hikone.html

♦ Ogoto Onsen Noryo Hanabi Taikai in Ogoto Port, 8 pm – 8:30 pm
20-min. walk from Ogoto Onsen Station. Fireworks can be seen from most onsen (hot spring) ryokan and outdoor baths in Ogoto. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 2.
おごと温泉納涼花火大会
More info: おごと温泉観光協会 Phone: 077-578-1650
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ogoto.html

♦ Omi-Imazu Furusato Natsu Matsuri, 9:00 pm – 9:30 pm
Climax of Imazu’s summer festival starting from 1 pm.
近江今津ふるさと夏祭り やっさ!今津!!2013
More info: 近江今津ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会事務局 Phone: 0740-22-2108

Aug. 3, 2013
♦ Makino Summer Carnival at Makino Sunny Beach in Takashima
マキノサマーカーニバル2013
More info: 四季遊園マキノ交流促進協議会事務局 Phone: 0740-28-8002
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/makino.html

♦ Ujisato Matsuri Summer Gathering in Hino, 3:30 pm – 9 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (bon dance, etc.) held in the northern parking lot of Hino Town Hall.
氏郷まつり「夏の陣」2013
More info: 日野町イベント実行委員会 Phone: 0748-52-6562
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ujisato.html

♦ Kotonarie Summer Festa in Higashi-Omi’s Hibari Park
Part of an illumination andmusic festival. 20-min. by bus from Yokaichi Station. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
コトナリエサマーフェスタ2013
More info: 東近江市湖東商工会 Phone: 0749-45-2571
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/kotonarie.html

♦ Konan Natsu Matsuri in Konan, 8:20 pm
Fireworks is the climax of this summer festival (Goshu Ondo bon dance, stage entertainment, etc.) held at the Yasugawa River Shinzui Koen park (野洲川親水公園).
湖南市夏まつり
More info: 湖南市観光協会 Phone: 0748-71-2157
http://www.burari-konan.jp/contents/special/post-32.html

Aug. 4, 2013
♦ Hachiman Tenbin Matsuri in Omi-Hachman, 7:30 pm
Includes bon dancing. At Kitanoshosawa area. Shuttle buses provided from Omi-Hachiman Station.
八幡てんびんまつり
More info: 八幡てんびんまつり事務局 Phone: 0748-32-6654
http://www.azuchi-shiga.com/tenbin.htm

Aug. 5, 2013
♦ Nagahama Kita-Biwako Hanabi Taikai at Nagahama Port, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
10-min. walk from Nagahama Station. Very crowded so go early to save a spot or pay for special seating. If rained out, to be postponed to Aug. 6.
長浜・北びわ湖大花火大会
More info: 長浜市観光振興課 Phone: 0749-65-6521
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/nagahamakitabiwako.html

Biwako hanabi

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

Aug. 8, 2013
♦ Biwako Dai-Hanabi Taikai at Hama-Otsu and Nagisa Park, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
This is the big one, but a steep admission (around 4,300 yen, even for children above age 3) is charged in prime viewing areas along Hama-Otsu. Hama-Otsu Port will be totally walled off so you cannot see the fireworks from the street. Farther away is the free area along Nagisa Park which is terribly crowded with people reserving viewing spots from noon. Spectacular show, but have fun trying to get home via the tiny nearby train stations or gridlocked roads afterward. Foul weather will postpone it to Aug. 12. (If the weather is questionable, call 0180-99-3339 to find out if the fireworks will be held or not.)
びわ湖大花火大会
More info: びわ湖大花火大会実行委員会 TEL:077-511-1530
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/biwako.html

Aug. 9, 2013
♦ Ishiyama-dera Sennichikai and Setagawa River fireworks, 8:15 pm – 8:45 pm
Fireworks along the Seta River near Ishiyama-dera temple. 10-min. walk from Ishiyama-dera Station on the Keihan Line.
石山寺千日会と瀬田川に煌く炎のページェント
More info: (社)石山観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/ishiyamadera.html

Aug. 16, 2013
♦ Somagawa Natsu Matsuri near Kibukawa Station, Koka
Fireworks are part of the summer festival with taiko drummers and lantern floating on the river.
杣川夏まつり
More info: 甲賀市観光協会 Phone: 0748-65-0708

Aug. 17, 2013
♦ Setagawa River Hanabi Taikai at Seta River in Otsu, 7:50 pm – 9 pm
Near Seta-no-Karahashi Bridge. Short walk from Karahashi-mae Station on the Keihan Line. Fireworks will climax the waterborne Takebe Taisha Senkosai festival on boats.
瀬田川花火大会
More info: 瀬田川流域観光協会 Phone: 077-537-1105
http://kansai.pia.co.jp/special/hanabi2013/kyoto_shiga/takebe.html

Aug. 25, 2013
♦ Kinomoto Jizo Dai-ennichi fireworks near JR Kinomoto Station
Climax of a local festival with food stalls and games held during Aug. 22-25.
木之本地蔵大縁日 8月22日(日)~25日(水)(花火は25日のみ)
More info: ふるさと夏まつり実行委員会 Phone: 0749-82-5902
http://kitabiwako.jp/event/event_1031/?month=2013/08

Also see the schedule for 2013 summer festivals (matsuri).

Shiga’s Top 10 festivals in April-May

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, April 15

April is a great month. Soon after the onslaught of cherry blossoms, we have an onslaught of festivals (matsuri). This is the time to go out and celebrate the coming of spring, pray for good harvests, and see the traditional splendor of Shiga. The highest number of matsuri are held during these two months, especially during the string of national holidays in late April and early May called Golden Week. During the Golden Week holidays, Shiga has multiple festivals on the same day.

To make it easier to decide which ones to see, I’ve picked Shiga Prefecture’s Top 10 Festivals for April-May. I ranked them based on scale (number of participants, length of festival, etc.), grandioseness, cultural importance/significance, cultural perpetuation and practice for younger generations, uniqueness, and enjoyment by spectators.

1. Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri, Nagahama Hachiman Shrine, Nagahama, April 15
Deciding Shiga’s No. 1 spring festival was a toss-up between the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri and Sanno-sai (No. 2 below). But I gave the edge to the Hikiyama Matsuri because it centers on passing on a traditional art to kids. Young boys undergo months-long rigorous training in voice and acting to put on a kabuki play during the festival. The festival has four ornate floats (hikiyama) with a small stage for authentic kabuki plays performed by grade school boys. Even if you cannot understand what they are saying, just looking at their makeup, costumes, and acting will delight. The kabuki performances start at the shrine at 10 am. Then the floats are pulled to other spots in central Nagahama where the boys perform again. By the evening, all the floats gather at the Otabisho across town for more revelry until 9:30 pm when it ends. Although it gets crowded in front of the float, you can usually see the kabuki actors because they are elevated on the float. My video | Google Map

Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha

2. Sanno-sai Festival, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine, Otsu, April 12-15
Held by Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine in western Otsu at the foot of Mt. Hiei. This is perhaps Shiga Prefecture’s largest festival in terms of participants and the number of events. Held over a few days, you can see diverse events and rituals like an evening torch procession, thunderous rocking of portable shrines, and even a boat procession on the lake. One thing I like is the joint cooperation of Shinto and Buddhist priests in the ceremonies. You can see and hear both Shinto priests and Tendai Buddhist priests from Enryakuji temple praying or chanting at the same ceremony during the festival. So it’s not entirely a Shinto festival. Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine was historically affiliated with Enryakuji temple until the state required that Shinto and Buddhism be separate organizations. It’s up to you to decide which day and what time to see the festival. Click on the link above to see my photos of the festival (taken on April 13-15) to decide what you want to see. I saw and photographed all the major festival events except on the first day when they brought down the portable shrine from a low mountain. If it’s one festival that wore me out after three days, it’s this one. My video | Google Map

3. Niu Chawan Matsuri, Niu Shrine, Yogo (Nagahama), once every several years on May 4
Another of my all-time favorite festivals. They have three wooden floats topped with lofty “balancing act” chawan bowl decorations. They also hold beautiful sacred dances by boys dressed as girls. A procession of colorful flower umbrella dancers also provides a colorful accent to the festival. It’s held deep in a mountain valley of Yogo in northern Nagahama so the whole area is lush and peaceful. The only problem is that the festival is held only once every 5-6 years. The last time it was held was in 2009. According to rumors, the festival will be held in May 2014, next year. My video | Google Map

Hino Matsuri floats at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine.

4. Hino Matsuri, Hino, May 3
Shiga has a good number of float festivals, but the grandest one in spring is the Hino Matsuri. It’s grand because they have as many as 16 ornate floats with large wooden wheels that they pull through the main streets of Hino town. Each float belongs to a specific neighborhood in Hino and they are decorated with elaborate tapestries, paper lanterns, and a homemade paper sculpture on the roof that changes every year. They also have side attractions like a portable shrine procession and ceremonies featuring a sacred dance. From the morning, the floats are pulled along the streets to gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine, the center of the action. They play festival music and show off their floats. If you have time, you should also visit Shakunage Gorge, famous for rhododendron growing in a scenic gorge. There are lovely nature walking paths. Buses run from Hino Station. My video | Google Map

Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival held on the last Sun. in May.

5. Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival (formerly Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival) (Odako Matsuri), Higashi-Omi, last Sun. in May
The giant kite, made of washi paper and a bamboo frame, measures about 13 meters by 12 meters (size of 100 tatami mats) and weighs 700 kg. It is a work of art with a distinct shape, cutouts, and paint job featuring a traditional design of a large kanji character and twin animals. The design is selected from entries from the public and a new giant kite with a new design is made every three years. The public is also invited to help build the new kite every three years during the summer. On the festival day, the kite is flown on a riverbank a few times. It usually doesn’t stay aloft for very long unless there are strong winds. It can even crash so they clear the whole area whenever they fly the kite. You can also sign up to pull the kite. I did it once and they run at full speed. Kind of scary because if you trip and fall, you might get trampled. From 2013, the festival site will be at the Fureai Undo Park in Notogawa. Free shuttle buses will run from Notogawa Station. After (or before) the festival, be sure to check out the Odako Kaikan Giant Kite museum. Shuttle buses run to the museum. My video | Google Map

Kenketo Matsuri in Tsuchiyama, Koka.

6. Kenketo Matsuri, Koka (Tsuchiyama), May 3
Held at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社), Kenketo Odori is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. First there’s a procession to the shrine, and the boys start dancing at the shrine at around 2 pm. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The festival has an interesting twist when the crowd rushes to the man (sometimes knocking him down) holding a flower basket to take all the flowers. To get to the shrine, get off Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways) and catch the Aikuru Bus. Get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. My video | Google Map

Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima

Shichikawa Matsuri’s yakko-furi procession.

7. Shichikawa Matsuri, Takashima, May 4
The largest festival in western Shiga is held at Oarahiko Shrine. It features a yakko-furi (samurai laborers) procession, yabusame horse runs, and portable shrine procession. The shrine is nearest to Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line). If it’s too far to walk, you can rent a bicycle at the train station. My video | Google Map

Ayame girls at Hyozu Matsuri.

8. Hyozu Matsuri, Hyozu Taisha Shrine, Yasu, May 5
I call this Shiga’s best portable shrine festival. Over 35 portable srhines (mikoshi) are carried around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in a very lively and gregarious style. Two of the mikoshi are carried by all women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. They wear colorful happi coats to carry the mikoshi. The only thing is that the gravel path can kick up dust. Best to watch the festival from upwind. A few foreigners also participate. It starts in the morning and ends in mid-afternoon.  My video | Google Map

9. Hachiman Matsuri, Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Omi-Hachiman, April 14
Shiga’s biggest fire festival featuring several tall straw torches (as high as 10 meters) that are lit from 8 pm. If you have time during the day, you should come and look at the torches which are great works of art. The festival is prayer for an abundant harvest. They light the torches one by one. This festival is usually billed together with the Sagicho Matsuri another fire festival held in March. Sagicho Matsuri is still my favorite festival in Omi-Hachiman. My video | Google Map

10. Taga Matsuri, Taga Taisha Shrine, Taga, April 22
If you like horses and traditional costumes, see this festival. They have a long procession featuring Shinto priests, children in costume, women warriors, and more people on 40 horses. A total of 500 people are in the procession. There is a morning procession leaving Taga Taisha at 10:30 am for Totonomiya Shrine deep in Taga’s countryside, and an afternoon (main) procession leaving Taga Taisha at 2 pm for the Otabisho, a short distance away from Taga Taisha. My video | Google Map

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

Shiga’s Top 5 cherry blossom spots

Hikone Castle, Shiga’s No. 1 cherry blossom spot.

Cherry blossoms are blooming earlier than usual this year. We’ve been having warm days during the first half of March. According to the cherry blossom forecast, the flowers should be in full bloom in Shiga during the second week of April. Note that they bloom later in northern Shiga (Takashima and Nagahama) than in southern Shiga (Otsu). This year I’ve decided to rank Shiga’s top cherry blossom spots. Here are my Top 5 favorite sakura spots in Shiga (click on the links or image to see more photos):

1. Hikone Castle – Coming at No. 1 is Hikone Castle. Although Hikone Castle is not one of the 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots of Japan (according to the Japan Cherry Blossom Association, I think it’s Shiga’s prettiest and most photogenic. It has an awful lot of cherry blossom trees almost everywhere amid the dramatic backdrop of the castle, white walls, and moats. I found so many varied views and great camera angles for shooting cherry blossoms here. You can see cherries on the big stone walls, along the moats, and next to the main castle tower. Culturally and historically, cherry blossoms best match a castle (especially one that is a National Treasure, another reason why I rank it No. 1), a symbol of the samurai whose life was as fleeting as the sakura. Hikone Castle is easily accessible from Hikone Station. Google map.

Kaizu-Osaki is nice but watch out for the cars.

2. Kaizu-Osaki, Takashima - Kaizu-Osaki has cherry trees lining the northern shore of Lake Biwa for a few kilometers. The blue lake water and Chikubushima island provide a very Shiga-esque backdrop for the cherries. It’s one of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots, and I would rank it as Shiga’s No. 1 sakura spot if it weren’t for the hazardous viewing conditions. Kaizu-Osaki has a narrow and hazardous lakeshore road (with no sidewalk) right next to the shoreline trees. During the peak period, there are just too many cars passing by, squeezing out pedestrians and polluting the air. There is a short pedestrian path and small park at the beginning if you go from Makino Station, but it doesn’t go to the main part of the trees. Since there is no sidewalk and you are walking on the road, you always have to be on guard for cars. Not recommended for families with young kids, especially on weekends. Also, the tunnels are dark and very narrow (no sidewalks). Bring a flashlight so the cars can see you walking or riding your bicycle inside the tunnel. If you have a car, note that there is very little parking. Shuttle buses run infrequently from train stations (most people walk from Makino Station). I recommend renting a bicycle at Makino Station (at the tourist info office) and cycling to Kaizu-Osaki. If you have the time and energy, bicycling from Makino Station to Nagahara Station (or vice versa) along the lake would be very scenic. You can return the bicycle at either station. And oh, beware of wild monkeys. Best not to carry a plastic bag, etc., that the monkeys may think contains food. Google Map

View from top of Nagahama Castle.

3. Nagahama Castle and Hokoen Park
Another photogenic backdrop with a huge cluster of cherry blossoms. Be sure to go up to the castle tower’s lookout deck (admission charged to enter the castle museum) to see the cherry blossoms surrounding the castle. Breathtaking. One of Japan’s 100 Famous Cherry Blossom Spots (there’s a monument saying so) and a major spot for hanami flower-viewing picnics. They have areas for picnicking as well as areas to just stroll under the cherries. Nagahama Castle is in the lakeside Hokoen Park near Nagahama Station. Google Map

Miidera’s Kondo main hall (National Treasure) and sakura.

4. Miidera temple and Biwako Canal, Otsu
There’s a great synergy between Biwako (Lake Biwa) Canal and Miidera temple during cherry blossom season. Biwako Canal supplies water from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. From Miidera Station (Keihan Line), you can’t miss it. It’s lined with many cherry trees, but it’s fenced off so it’s see but don’t touch. You’d think that they should allow rowboating in the canal when the flowers are in bloom. But if you look closely, you will notice a pretty fast current which would be dangerous for rowers. In the old days about a century ago after the canal was built, they had boats going all the way through canal to Kyoto. After walking along the canal, turn right and walk to the sprawling Miidera temple. They have cherry trees here and there providing a great accent to the old temple buildings (including a few National Treasures). There’s also a great lookout point on a hill giving great views of Otsu (concrete jungle) and the lake. They also light up the trees at night as they do at Biwako Canal (6:30 pm-9:30 pm). Beautiful and serene. Google Map

Hachiman-bori canal.

5. Hachiman-bori, Omi-Hachiman – Hachiman-bori canal has a long canopy of sakura trees along this scenic moat. The moat and white-walled traditional buildings make it photogenic, fit for shooting a samurai movie. It’s not so crowded either so you can enjoy a laid-back atmosphere while walking on a nice sidewalk or path along the moat. There are also moat boat rides starting near the Kawara Tile Museum. After seeing the flowers, you have the option to see numerous other nearby sights such as Hachiman-yama (via ropeway), Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Kawara Roof Tile Museum, Hakuunkan, Omi-shonin merchant homes on Shinmachi-dori, and buildings by William Merrell Vories. There is much more than just cherry blossoms which is my reason to include Hachiman-bori among the Top Five. Google Map

So, the places above are where I would show a first-time visitor wanting to see cherry blossoms in Shiga. I selected them based on Shiga’s unique beauty or scenery, easy accessibility, and sightseeing value.

To see the current blooming condition, see the Weather News Sakura page for Shiga. Starting with brown that indicates buds, the markers show warmer colors until red (full bloom) indicating how far the flowers have bloomed right now.

This is off-topic, but if you really love cherry blossoms, I highly recommend visiting the Tohoku region (Fukushima, Yamagata, Miyagi, Iwate, etc.). The cherry trees there are huge and look very distinguished, like giant bonsai. The tree trunks are really thick and they make the skinny cherry trees in Tokyo, Shiga, Kyoto, etc., look like baby trees.

Enjoy the spring.

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.
  • shichibu-zaki 七分咲き – Cherry blossoms in 70% bloom which is right before they reach full bloom. News reports consider 80% bloom to be full bloom (mankai).
  • 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.

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:
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/ed20120617a1.html#.T-EKOo4SoTM

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.
http://www.odakocci.jp/pickup/matsuri.html

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.
http://www.shigaraki.or.jp/fire_fes/index.htm

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. http://www.ytv.co.jp/birdman/index.html

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).
http://www.mizunomori.jp/index.php?flg=topics&sflg=798&eref=20120728

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. http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/hanabi

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.
http://www.tagataisya.or.jp/info/mantou/index.html

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.
http://www.b-shiga.com/

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).
http://www.hikoneshi.com/media/download/2012_summer.pdf

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.)
http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/hanabi/

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).
http://www.biwa.ne.jp/~hino-to/099.html

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.
http://takebetaisha.jp/event/

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).
http://www.makinokougen.co.jp/yoshitaimatsu.html

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.

Golden Week festivals in Shiga

Kusatsu shukuba

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri celebrates Kusatsu’s history as a stage town on the Nakasendo and Tokaido Roads. Numerous events and activities are held such as flea markets, street & stage performances, and Japanese dances. The main highlight is the Kusatsu Jidai Gyoretsu procession of people dressed in historical costumes from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Near JR Kusatsu Station.

Golden Week is Japan’s spring vacation from late April to early May with a string of national holidays. April 29 is Showa Day (set to April 30 this year since the 29th is Sun.), May 3 is Constitution Day, May 4 Greenery Day, and May 5 Children’s Day. This year’s calendar in 2012 can make it a nine-day holiday for the working folk if they only take off on two working days (May 1 and 2).

In Shiga, it is prime time for matsuri festivals. There are so many matsuri during this time that it took me at least 4 or 5 years to see most of them because many are held at the same time. You really have to decide which one to see. The festivals will be extra special this year because many GW festivals were canceled or postponed last year due to the 3/11 triple disasters.

Here are some of the GW matsuri I recommend seeing. A wide variety for sure. Click on the image to see more photos and information of the respective festival. Maps of the shrine locations, etc., are provided by the Map links.

kaizu rikishi

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri Festival in Makino, Takashima.

April 29: Kaizu Rikishi Matsuri features men dressed as sumo wrestlers (rikishi) carrying two mikoshi portable shrines around their respective lakeside neighborhoods near JR Makino Station. They wear kesho mawashi ceremonial aprons. They jostle the mikoshi during the day from 1 pm to 3 pm, and then from 5 pm. At around 8 pm, they proceed to Kaizuten Jinja Shrine for the festival climax with lit torches. Be aware that the festival goes on until after 10 pm which may be past your last train home. Also, if you’re walking back to Makino Station from the shrine, be careful as part of the highway has no sidewalk. Bring a flashlight so the cars (and big trucks) can see you on the road at night. Otherwise, it’s very hazardous. See my video here. Google Map

hino matsuri

Hino Matsuri at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: Hino Matsuri in Hino is the largest festival in eastern Shiga Prefecture and one of Shiga’s grandest float festivals. Sixteen ornate floats and three portable shrines are paraded through the streets and gather at Umamioka Watamuki Shrine amid festival music of flutes and taiko drums. It’s all day long from morning till late afternoon when the floats leave the shrine. The three portable shrines are taken across town to the Otabisho and back. Buses run from Hino Station to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. If you have time, I also highly recommend taking the bus from Hino Station to Shakunage Gorge (しゃくなげ渓) for a relaxing nature stroll in a gorge adorned with shakunage (rhododendron), Hino’s official flower. See my video here. Google Map

Kenketo matsuri

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社).

May 3: Kenketo Odori at Takigi Jinja Shrine (龍樹神社) in Tsuchiyama, Koka is a dance performed by eight boys aged 7 to 12. The dance was originally started to ward off calamities. The boys wear tall peacock feathers on their heads. The delightful dance is a National Intangible Folk Cultural Property. From Kibukawa Station (JR Kusatsu Line and Ohmi Railways), catch the Aikuru Bus and get off at Higashi Maeno. The shrine is a short walk toward the river. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

Kenketo ryuo

May 3: Kenketo Festival at Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 3: The Kenketo Festival is held at few Shinto shrines in Ryuo and neighboring Higashi-Omi. It is mainly a naginata (pole sword) dance and procession by boys dressed in costume. They travel to these different shrines and perform, but the main venue is Suginoki Shrine in Yamanoue, Ryuo town, Shiga. Also see my YouTube Video here. Google Map

Shichikawa matsuri

May 4: Shichikawa Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: The Shichikawa Matsuri at Oarahiko Shrine in Takashima features a procession of yakko-furi laborers carrying archery targets (photo), yabusame horse runs, and a portable shrine procession. This is the largest festival in the Kosei area (western Shiga) and the only one featuring horses in Kosei. Attracts a good crowd. The shrine is near Shin-Asahi Station (JR Kosei Line), but renting a bicycle at the station is recommended. See my video here. Google Map

Omizuo matsuri

May 4: Omizo Matsuri in Takashima. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 4: Omizo Matsuri has five ornate floats pulled around the neighborhood of JR Omi-Takashima Station (JR Kosei Line). The festival eve on May 3 has the floats festooned with paper lanterns as they are pulled around in the evening. On May 4, they pull the floats around during the day and gather at Hiyoshi Jinja Shrine. When entering the shrine, they dramatically run while pulling the float. Also see my video at YouTube. Google Map

 Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri in Higashi-Omi near Notogawa Station.

May 4: Iba-no-saka-kudashi Matsuri held by Sanposan Shrine in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture is an unusual festival with three portable shrines hauled down a steep mountain (Kinugasa-yama) for about 500 meters. It doesn’t sound that far, but it’s all steep, rocky terrain. The mikoshi bearers can easily get injured. This is also one of the hardest festivals to view. You have to climb up this steep, rocky mountain and perch on a ledge. One earthquake and you can fall. The locals have an easy time climbing up the mountain though, even with kids. See my video here. Google Map

Shinoda hanabi

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi in Omi-Hachiman. Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

May 4: Shinoda Hanabi is a super spectacular and artistic fireworks display at Shinoda Shrine in Omi-Hachiman. Torch fireworks, Niagara Falls, and panel-type fireworks provide an explosive, close-up experience. For people who cannot wait till summer to see fireworks. Beware of a forest of camera tripods and photographers in front. Get there early if you want to take good shots. Not recommended if you don’t like sudden and loud explosions. Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Walk from Omi-Hachiman Station. Google Map

misaki

May 4: Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho, near JR Inae Station.

May 4: The Misaki Shrine Fire Festival in Aisho climaxes with a towering clump of bamboo set afire to create a fire column well over 10 meters high. It starts at 7:30 pm when people carry 2-meter long torches from their homes to the shrine. A taiko drum is also carried and beaten. Very dramatic (no marshmallows). The shrine is a 20-min. walk from JR Inae Station. See my video here. Google Map

Hyozu matsuri

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri in Yasu.

May 5: Hyozu Matsuri is Shiga’s preeminent mikoshi (portable shrine) festival with 35 mikoshi paraded around Hyozu Taisha Shrine in Yasu. Two of them are carried only by spunky young women called “Ayame,” meaning iris flowers. Very colorful and lively festival as they frequently stop, yell, and hold up the mikoshi high in the air. Beware that it can be dusty on the gravel paths. Other mikoshi are carried by children and men. See my video here. Google Map

Sushikiri matsuri

May 5: Sushi-kiri Matsuri at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: The Sushi-kiri Matsuri sushi-cutting festival at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Moriyama has two young lads very stylistically and meticulously cutting funa-zushi fermented fish (crucian carp native to Lake Biwa) as an offering. All throughout, they are verbally heckled by some men. Not visually spectacular, but unusual and intriguing. The best part is at the end when they give free morsels of funa-zushi to spectators. Shiga’s best-known delicacy from Lake Biwa. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

naginata moriyama

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama.

May 5: Naginata Odori Matsuri at Ozu Jinja Shrine in Moriyama consists of colorful dances and music by children, taiko drumming, a naginata dance and acrobatics by boys using a pole sword. They conduct a roundtrip procession from Ozu Shrine to Ozu Wakamiya Shrine. A great variety of eye candy for Children’s Day. Also see my YouTube video here. Google Map

Namura sekku

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival bull’s eye at Namura Shrine in Ryuo. Click image to see more info and photos.

May 5: Sekku Matsuri Festival at Namura Shrine in Ryuo is for horse lovers. After children carry around a portable shrine, yabusame horseback archery is held in front of the shrine gate. Several horses make their runs, but only one of them shoots arrows at the targets. A good excuse to visit this shrine noted for its elegant-looking, thatched-roof main gate and Nishi Honden hall which is a National Treasure. The shrine’s architecture is from the Kamakura Period. See my video here. Google Map

Cherry blossoms in Shiga

Kaizu-osaki

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.

Yasu

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

hachiman-bori

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

zeze

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.

sakamoto

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

miidera

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.

Heavy snowfall in Shiga

Lake Yogo with deep snow.

Shiga and the Japan Sea Coast (especially Niigata Prefecture) got a heavy dump of snow during Feb. 2 and 3, 2012. Nagahama and Imazu (Takashima) in northern Shiga have gotten over 70 cm of snow. On Feb. 3, some 160 troops from the Ground Self-Defense Forces were dispatched to Imazu to help remove snow. The last time they dispatched military personnel for snow removal was 31 years ago in Jan. 1981.

On the morning of Feb. 3, people in central Nagahama, such as in Kurokabe Square, were busy shoveling snow. Maibara and Hikone also got a good amount of snow. Some 35 kindergartens and elementary and junior high schools in Nagahama and Maibara canceled classes on Feb. 3 due to hazardous roads. Meanwhile, 105 schools either delayed the start of classes or canceled afternoon classes.

Snowy and icy roads are also causing car accidents. During Feb. 2-3, about 300 accidents occurred mainly due to road slippage. Twenty-two people were injured. Higashi-Omi, Hikone, and Omi-Hachiman saw the most car accidents with 76, 63, and 50 accidents respectively.

People are also getting injured while shoveling snow off their rooftops or falling into roadside gutters hidden by the snow. Some agricultural greenhouses also collapsed under the snow, even as south as Kora town.

The snowfall’s peak is passing, but shinkansen trains are being delayed between Nagoya and Kyoto on Feb. 4.

Take extra precautions when traveling to or in Shiga. Be very careful when walking on icy surfaces. Beware of cars that cannot stop due to road slippage. And don’t forget about the Hong Kong flu that’s going around. A very high number of cases have been reported in neighboring Gifu, so take precautions especially for the kids and elderly. Stay safe this winter.