Plum blossoms in Shiga Prefecture

Nagahama Hokoen Park plum blossoms.

Updated: Jan. 4, 2017

Plum blossoms, called ume (梅) in Japanese, have absolutely the sweetest and most pacifying fragrance of all the flowers in Japan. Whenever you see plum blossoms, put your nose right next to the flower and smell. It will sooth your soul. There are many varieties of plum blossoms, but they basically white, pink, or red and each color smells differently. The white ones have the most dainty smell, while the red ones have a stronger and more concentrated sweet smell.

Plum blossoms have been an intricate part of Japanese culture, art, and aesthetics for centuries. The term shochikubai (松竹梅), meaning pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms, is an auspicious and favorite aesthetic concept in Japan that you can find on folding screens, sliding fusuma doors, and Japanese paintings.

In most parts of Japan, plum blossoms bloom in Feb. and March. In Hokkaido, they bloom in May, at the same time as cherry blossoms. When they reach full bloom depends on how cold/warm the winter is. The colder it is, the later they bloom.

Although Shiga does not have huge plum blossom groves like in Minabe, Wakayama or Kairakuen Garden in Mito (Ibaraki Prefecture), Shiga has a few good plum groves called bairin (梅林) or plum gardens (baien 梅園) and plum blossom bonsai displays called bonbaiten (盆梅展) held from early Jan. to mid-March.

Nagahama Hokoen Park (also, “Ho Park”) 豊公園
Although Hokoen Park is most famous for cherry blossoms, it also has a decent number of plum trees. Great place to photograph them with Nagahama Castle in the background (photo above). They bloom in late Feb. to March. Near JR Nagahama Station. Google Map

Nagahama Bonbaiten

Nagahama Bonbaiten 長浜盆梅展, Until March 12, 2017. Hours: 9 am–5 pm
This is perhaps Shiga’s most famous plum blossom bonsai exhibition, held annually for 62 years 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, including one that is almost 3 meters tall or 400 years old. Don’t touch and try to smell these prized trees. Nagahama also has another bonbaiten in Azai. Admission: 500 yen (200 yen for high school and younger) Google Map

Kamo-no-sato Bonbaiten, Maibara 鴨の里盆梅展, Until March 10, 2017. Hours: 9 am–5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm)
Held in Green Park Santo (グリーンパーク山東), 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

Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (Omi-Fuji Green Acres), Yasu 近江富士花緑公園
Sandwiched between the foot of Mt. Mikami and Kibogaoka Bunka Park, Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park (also called Omi-Fuji Green Acres) is about flowers and greenery, including plum and cherry blossoms. They have a blog showing the progress of their plum blossoms blooming. Buses from JR Yasu Station go to Kibogaoka Bunka Koen Park’s Kibogaoka Nishi Gate from which you can walk to the park. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm. Google Map

Statue of Saint Shinran in front of the plum tree he planted at Homanji temple in Echigawa, Aisho.

Homanji temple, Aisho 宝満寺
This temple in Echigawa has a historically significant plum tree in front of the Hondo main hall. While traveling, Saint Shinran, founder of the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Sect, was unable to cross the Echigawa River due to flooding. So he stayed at this temple temporarily. During that time, he planted a plum tree which bloom red plum blossoms. Near Ohmi Railways Echigawa Station. Google Map

Plum blossoms at Ishiyama-dera temple. Smell the different varieties.

Ishiyama-dera, Otsu 石山寺
Ishiyama temple has an impressive 400 plum trees in three hillside plum groves. Since there is a variety of plums, there’s a good chance of seeing at least a few in full bloom in Feb. or March. They have a blog showing how much the plums are blooming. Ishiyama-dera also has an indoor plum tree ikebana (Mishogoryu School 未生御流) exhibition called Ume Tsukushi-ten (梅つくし展) until March 18, 2013 in one of their temple buildings called Myoo-in (明王院). This indoor exhibition is free if you have paid the temple admission fee. Near JR Ishiyama Station and Keihan Ishiyama-dera Station. Hours: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm (enter by 4 pm), Temple admission: 500 yen Google Map

Sakamoto Bonbaiten, Otsu 坂本盆梅展
I’ve never seen this, but it looks worthwhile. About 50 small and medium-size plum blossom bonsai trees are exhibited in the noted garden of Kyu-Chikurin-in (旧竹林院) in the temple town of Sakamoto. Near Sakamoto Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line. Peak period is from mid- to late Feb. Until March 3, 2013. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm), Admission: 310 yen (150 yen for kids) Google Map

 

Golden Week festivals in Shiga

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.

Kusatsu shukuba

April 29: Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri.

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.

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 in northern Takashima. 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

Golden Week 2010 in Shiga

We saw fine weather during Golden Week in Shiga from late April to early May 2010. I went to see a slew of festivals in Shiga during this time. I traveled to Maibara, Ryuo, Tsuchiyama (Koka), Takashima, Yasu, and Kora. I’m trying to see all the major Golden Week festivals in Shiga. The problem is, many of them are held on the same day and at the same time. It will still take me a few more years to see them all, but after this GW, I can say that I’ve see more than half of them.

Here’s what I saw during Golden Week 2010 in Shiga Prefecture (in chronological order):

Photos: Sakata Shinmeigu Yakko-buri Procession 坂田神明宮の蹴り奴振り

Photos: Yuge Fire Festival 弓削の火祭り

Photos: Kenketo Matsuri Festival and Odori Dance ケンケト祭・踊り

Photos: Omizo Matsuri Festival 2010 大溝祭

Photos: Shichikawa Matsuri Festival 2010 七川祭

Photos: Hyozu Matsuri Festival 兵主祭

Photos: Takatora Summit in Kora 2010 高虎サミットin甲良

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