Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo

Video link: http://youtu.be/U6vSoyvD2Sw

This is my video of the Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri (八日市聖徳まつり) festival in Higashi-Omi, Shiga Prefecture on the evening of July 27, 2013. It’s an annual bon dance held for the 44th time on the Ekimae road perpendicular to Yokaichi Station. A bon dance is a Buddhist tradition to welcome ancestral spirits visiting in summer. It was my first time to see one of Shiga’s biggest bon dances.

The evening started with the Saturday Night Market (本町土曜夜市) at the Honmachi shopping arcade from 5 pm to 9 pm. The arcade was crowded with games, food, and knickknacks. It got quite hot in there being a covered arcade with little ventilation.

The Shotoku Matsuri started at 7 pm with a mascot character show in front of the yagura tower. Followed by a Yokai costume parade of goblins, ogres, and demons led by Gao, a local ogre mascot who visits homes and scares bad kids to become good. This event plays upon the place name of “Yokaichi.” Although the kanji characters for Yokaichi (八日市) means “8th Day Market,” it can also be written with different kanji characters (妖怪地) meaning “Land of Yokai.” Yokai, haunted house attractions, and ghost/horror stories are the traditional staple of summer in Japan. It’s supposed send cold chills down your spine to cool you off in the hot weather.

The main event, called Goshu Ondo So-Odori (江州音頭総おどり), was held from 7:50 pm to 8:40 pm. About 750 dancers (including hula dancers) from 26 groups formed a long, oblong circle around a yagura tower where top-notch singers and musicians performed Goshu Ondo folk songs. The dance groups were local organizations and companies. There was one group where anybody could join in and dance, but it was difficult to spot and quite crowded. A typical bon dance is usually 2 hours long held for two nights or so, but the Goshu Ondo was less than an hour held on only one evening. The festival ended with a short fireworks display above Yokaichi Station. About 6,000 spectators attended.

The Shotoku Matsuri is named after Prince Shotoku Taishi, the founder of Yokaichi and one of Japan’s most revered and historical figures. He is credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan during the 7th century and establishing many Buddhist temples including Hyakusaiji.

The Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri was worthy of a video because it features Goshu Ondo (江州音頭) folk songs native to Shiga. You won’t hear typical bon dance songs like Tanko-bushi here. Goshu is another name for Omi, Shiga’s old provincial name. The Goshu Ondo originated in Yokaichi and nearby Toyosato. It has a distinctly different rhythm compared to other bon dance songs. Goshu Ondo songs are a mixture of Buddhist prayers and narrative singing. Its present form originated in the late 19th century.

The person who created the Goshu Ondo was Nishizawa Torakichi (西沢寅吉) in the latter 19th century. He also collaborated with another Yokaichi resident, Okumura Kuzaemon (奥村久衛左門). Torakichi was a master of composing and reciting prayer songs (祭文語り) that had centuries-old roots in propagational prayers composed by mountain ascetic priests. Elements of those old prayer songs remain in the Goshu Ondo. Torakichi modified it to integrate narrative singing which became a form of entertainment for the masses (before they had TV, movies, etc.).

Fujino Shirobe’e (二代目藤野四郎兵衛), a prosperous Omi merchant in Toyosato, rebuilt a neighborhood Buddhist temple called Senjuji temple (千樹寺) after it was destroyed in a fire. Shirobe’e wanted a new prayer song to dedicate the new temple in July 1846. Shirobe’e invited the renown Torakichi to Toyosato to compose a new prayer song. The song was performed and danced to at Senjuji temple. The villagers liked the song and danced to it at the temple. They used folding fans and umbrellas as props for the dance as they did for previous prayer songs. The new-style song came to be called “Goshu Ondo.” Senjuji temple still stands near Toyosato Station. It has a stone monument for the Goshu Ondo. A park in Yokaichi also has a Goshu Ondo stone monument. I noticed a slight disagreement regarding the exact origin of the Goshu Ondo (Yokaichi vs. Toyosato), but it’s safe to say that it originated in both Yokaichi and Toyosato.

There are now many different Goshu Ondo songs. The lyrics include prayers (for good harvests, etc.) and drama-filled storytelling. They also have the same returning chorus  (kakegoe) starting with “Sorya” or “Kora” (in Toyosato) as follows:

Sorya yoito yoiya maka dokkoisa no se!
ソリャ ヨイト ヨイヤ マカ ドッコイサーノッセ!

If you hear this, you know it’s the Goshu Ondo. (Watch the video to hear it. It’s quite infectious.) Also, even though different Goshu Ondo songs have different lyrics, the dance motions are basically the same. Dancers from Toyosato traditionally dance with an umbrella or folding fan. Dancers from Yokaichi don’t use such props. But they might wear a mask. In recent years, jazz, funk, and reggae versions of the Goshu Ondo have been created to attract more young people.

Many of the dance groups are from local companies. Not surprising when you think that the Goshu Ondo has Omi merchant roots. The Omi merchants who sold cloth, laquerware, medicines, etc., all around Japan helped to spread the Goshu Ondo as side entertainment for customers. Quite a few Omi merchants were also lead singers of Goshu Ondo. Even the dance depicts the Omi merchant, as you will learn in the video. One place outside Shiga where the Goshu Ondo took root was in Yao, Osaka where it morphed into the famous Kawachi Ondo which sounds quite different from the Goshu Ondo. The dance is also different.

For this video, three local Yokaichi kids did some hands-on reporting, with a few cameo appearances by other folks. Before making this video, I couldn’t find any decent videos showing the Shotoku Matsuri’s Goshu Ondo dance. I only found videos of the mascot character show which is such a minor event. Although there are lots of Goshu Ondo videos shot elsewhere, I found none of the Yokaichi Shotoku Matsuri. So now the world finally has a decent (and informative) video of the Shotoku Matsuri Goshu Ondo dance at their fingertips.

Old Toyosato Elementary School burglarized

Old Toyosato School burglarized.

A bit of disappointing news for anime fans, especially those who love the late-night anime program called “K-ON!” (けいおん!) which started to air in April 2010. The school depicted in K-ON! is modeled after the old Toyosato Elementary School in Toyosato which has subsequently drawn many fans to visit the school.

At around 1:15 am on Nov. 17, 2010, the security alarm in the old Toyosato Elementary School’s former library (Shutoku Ki’nenkan 舎酬徳記念館) sounded. The Hikone Police responded and found 22 figurines based on the K-ON anime stolen along with a portable cash safe containing almost 300,000 yen and three guitars modeled after those used in the anime series. A glass window in the north side of the building was found broken and multiple culprits were involved.

The good news is that some of the stolen goods were recovered in a rice paddy near the school two days later on Nov. 19. Footprints of multiple culprits were left at where the stolen goods were found. The three stolen guitars were recovered, but the portable cash safe was empty. The burglars are still at large.

Shiga History 2009

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s news bits for January-December 2009. Compiled by Philbert Ono.

Toyosato Elementary School

Former Toyosato Elementary School renovated.

March 1, 2009: Hikone Prince Hotel is renamed Hikone View Hotel (彦根ビューホテル) upon the change of the hotel ownership from Prince Hotels to a Tokyo-based company called Study, Co., Ltd. The hotel is now part of the Itoen Hotel Group.

March 2009: The six northern Shiga towns of Torahime, Kohoku, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Nishi-Azai (虎姫、湖北、高月、木之本、余呉、西浅井) took steps to merge with the city of Nagahama on Jan. 1, 2010. The proposed merger was approved by the prefectural government.

Mar. 4, 2009: Caffee (キャッフィー), the mascot character used for Sports Recreation Shiga 2008, was sworn in by Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko as one of Shiga’s official mascots, especially for sports events.
March: The construction of the new Maibara Station is pretty much complete with the opening of the east-west corridor on Mar. 21st.

Mar. 30, 2009: The prefectural government announces that they found at least 44 suspected cases of slush funds or suspicious accounting created for illicit purposes by prefectural government departments and employees. The alleged backdoor money (called uragane 裏金) totaled at least 6.9 million yen.

Mar. 31, 2009: In a rare turnabout of policy, the Construction and Transport Ministry announced that it would freeze construction of Daidogawa Dam (大戸川ダム) in Otsu. The decision was made in consideration of opposition to the dam by the governors of Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka and Mie prefectures. The ministry had stated that the dam was needed to prevent any great flood that may occur. The affected municipalities (Otsu and Uji in Kyoto) and residents, however, were in favor of the dam.

April 2009: The Shiga Lakestars pro basketball team in the bj-league ends their debut season in 5th place with a record of 19 wins and 33 losses.

May 4, 2009: The Nyu Chawan Matsuri festival is held in Yogo for the first time in six years.

May 20, 2009: Shiga’s first case of swine flu (H1N1) is confirmed. A 23-year-old male student at the Biwako-Kusatsu campus of Ritsumeikan University is the first patient in Shiga. His symptoms are not serious and he was hospitalized. The news hits the local tourism industry very hard as school trips to Shiga are canceled. By late Sept. 2009, well over 2,000 people, mainly children, are infected in Shiga.

May 30, 2009: At a total cost of 650 million yen, the old Toyosato Elementary School is completely renovated and reopened to the public with an exhibition room, local public library, children’s room, and offices of the local board of education. The old building was repainted, reinforced against earthquakes, installed with an elevator, and preserved as much as possible. The second floor with classrooms is preserved as it was originally.

June 7, 2009: Hikone’s official mascot, Hiko-nyan, takes his first overseas trip to Hawai’i to appear in the Pan-Pacific Festival parade held along Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki.

July 1, 2009: Smoking is banned in and around all major train stations in Otsu.

Aug. 24, 2009: Twelve-year-old Murakami Koji (村川康嗣) dies due to injuries from judo practice at Hatasho Junior High School in Aisho on July 29. Although the judo instructor was found to be at fault, he was not held personally liable for the death of the boy. The boy’s mother unsuccessfully sought damages from the instructor, although the town was held liable and was ordered to pay damage by the court.

Sept. 7, 2009: Kato Tokiko, a famous singer best known for her 1971 recording of Biwako Shuko no Uta, is appointed as a Shiga Hometown Ambassador (Shiga Furusato Taishi) by Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko.

Sept. 12, 2009: The movie, Katen no Shiro (Castle of the Fire God 火天の城) is released to theaters nationwide. The movie is about Okabe Mataemon, a Nagoya (Atsuta)-based master carpenter who in 1576 was ordered by Japan’s leading warlord Oda Nobunaga to build Azuchi Castle on Mt. Azuchi fronting Lake Biwa.

Sept. 19-20, 2009: The first Inazuma Rock Fes is held at Karasuma Peninsula by Shiga-native Nishikawa Takanori, a famous musician known as T.M.Revolution.

Oct. 23-25, 2009: The 2nd Yuru-Kyara (Mascot Character) Matsuri is held on Yume-Kyobashi Castle Road in Hikone. Well over 100 PR mascots adorned the road and posed for pictures. On the first day, most of the mascots appeared on stage at the Hikone Bunka Plaza where singer Hashi Yukio sang the Yuru-chara ondo song.

Click here for Shiga History 2010

William Merrell Vories exhibition in Omi-Hachiman

Former Hachiman YMCA, the first building designed by Vories.

Former Hachiman YMCA, the first building designed by Vories.

The William Merrell Vories exhibition is being held in Omi-Hachiman until Nov. 3, 2009. For 1,000 yen, you can enter a few of the Vories-designed buildings in Omi-Hachiman normally closed to the public.

It’s an on-your-own walking tour of Vories buildings starting at Hakuunkan, a Western-style (but not designed by Vories) building across the torii near Hachimanbori. Go inside Hakuunkan and pay 1,000 yen to receive a few tickets to enter the other buildings. You also receive a map of the walking tour. The 2nd floor of the Hakuunkan also has an exhibition on Vories. However, everything is in Japanese. Exhibition hours is 9 am to 4:30 pm (enter by 4 pm). Hakuunkan is an 8-min. bus ride from JR Omi-Hachiman Station’s north exit. Go to bus stop 6 and board the bus going to Chomeiji. You can get off at Shinmachi (新町) or Osugicho (大杉町).

The walking tour map is pretty easy to follow, and the route has arrows pointing the way to the next building. Everything is within walking distance, it should take only a few hours to see everything. The buildings you can enter are the old Hachiman Post Office, Omi Brotherhood Schools’ Hyde Memorial Building which was a former kindergarten run by Vories’ wife Makiko, the former residence of Vories and Makiko, and the former Hachiman YMCA. The former Vories residence’s living room is still full of books and pictures. The house also has a Japanese-style room attached.

The former Hachiman YMCA, now the Andrews Memorial building, was the first building Vories designed. You can also enter this building. There are panel exhibitions in all the buildings you can enter. Other buildings are not open to the public, so you just have to admire them from outside.

I enjoyed the tour and was finally able to enter these buildings. Unfortunately, nothing is in English (which is strange since Vories was from America) and photography inside the buildings is not allowed. This is puzzling because photography is allowed inside all the other Vories buildings in Shiga open to the public. Official Web site: http://vories.jp/

See more Vories in Omi-Hachiman photos here.

Former Toyosato Elementary School now renovated.

On the same day, I also went to Toyosato to visit the old Toyosato Elementary School which reopened in May 2009 after major renovations. The old  building now looks very impressive with a new coat of white paint. They spent ¥650 million to make the building earthquake resistant as well. The school was built in the 1930s and designed by Vories. If you’re interested in architecture, this is another building I highly recommend visiting.

The old school consists of three buildings. The main building, auditorium, and old library, all open to the public. The main building now has a public library occupying a few former classrooms, offices of the local board of education, a children’s playroom, and an exhibition room. The second floor has two classrooms renovated to look like as they were in the old days. The auditorium is also impressive, as well as the old library which is now used as a local tourist information office and event space. The school is within walking distance from Toyosato Station on the Omi Railway Line. Free admission.

Rabbit and turtle sculpture (Aesops fable) on stairway railing inside old Toyosato Elementary School.

Rabbit and turtle sculpture (Aesop’s fable) on stairway railing inside old Toyosato Elementary School.

See more photos of Toyosato Elementary School here.

Old Toyosato Elementary School reborn

Renovation of the old Toyosato Elementary School (豊郷小学校), housed in a building designed by William Merrell Vories in 1937, has been completed and a ceremony was held on May 30, 2009 to mark its completion.

At a total cost of 650 million yen, the old building was repainted, reinforced against earthquakes, installed with an elevator, and preserved as much as possible.

The three-story building’s first floor has a public library and small play area for infants. The second floor with classrooms is preserved as it was originally. The old library next to the main building will be used a gallery.

During 1999-2002, Toyosato gained national attention when this old elementary school building was going to be torn down by the mayor in opposition to activists who wanted to preserve the building.

See my photos of the renovated school. | Google Map

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