Pharrell Williams HAPPY – From Lake Biwa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 20 train stations in Shiga Prefecture

Notogawa Station

JR Notogawa Station shaped like a waterwheel.

〜心に残る滋賀の駅舎〜

The train station is a gateway to the local area. First-time visitors may get their first impressions from the train station. It’s like the genkan (foyer) of your house where you might keep a vase of flowers or a painting to please visitors. Although I don’t judge a place by its train station, I do take note of how nice the train station is.

After seeing most of Shiga’s train stations (totaling about 120), I’ve picked and ranked Shiga’s Top 20 train stations. My selections and ranking are based on architectural and aesthetic design, incorporation of the local flavor/character/community, and uniqueness.

Quite a few train stations in Shiga have been rebuilt in the last 10-15 years. Most of them have incorporated the local flavor quite well. Ohmi Railways have Shiga’s oldest train stations which seem to take you back to the prewar days. Due to their look and feel, they retain a historic charm in this modern age.

Very appropriate calligraphy art in JR Maibara Station saying “Welcome home” and “I’m home.” By the Ibuki High School Calligraphy Club for Golden Week 2013.

On the other hand, too many train stations are quite boring. Major stations like Otsu, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and Maibara are functional but nothing special. Even though Maibara Station is Shiga’s sole shinkansen station renovated in 2009, it is bland even though it’s roomy and practical. Well-known painter and Maibara native Hiro Yamagata was also supposed to paint the walls inside the station, but it didn’t pan out due to budgetary reasons. They instead have local artists decorating a few walls, which is fine.

Train stations on the JR Kosei Line are mostly faceless and featureless in gray concrete as they are built under elevated train tracks. They all look the same. Takashima Station, though, has a giant statue of Gulliver right outside. And Ogoto Onsen Station recently got a nice touch with a free hot-spring foot bath nearby.

So this is Shiga’s Top 20 most memorable and interesting train stations as I see it. (Click on the photo to see more photos of the train station and click on the station name for a map of its location.)

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station terrace.

1. Nagahama Station (長浜駅), JR Hokuriku Line, Nagahama
At No. 1 is Nagahama Station. The station building, rebuilt from the ground up in Oct. 2006, is modeled after the station’s first and original building from 1882. They did a great job combining the old and the new. To fully appreciate the new station building, you have to see the original 19th-century station building which is preserved a short distance away at Nagahama Railroad Square, a train station museum with a few retired trains. The resemblance is impressive.

Nagahama Station is airy, attractive, and functional. A great improvement over the old and boring train station built in 1955. Near the ticket wicket is a nice, air-conditioned waiting room that also houses the tourist information desk. The waiting rooms on the train platforms are also convenient, but somewhat small. When you go down the exit escalator on the Heiwado side, you see a beautiful stained glass mural of Hikiyama Festival kabuki actors.

The new station was built on land adjacent to the old train station that was torn down. The location of the old train station is now occupied by a monstrous wedding hall dwarfing the new train station building right next to it. Although the wedding hall has a similar design as the station building, it almost totally cancels out the station building. It’s a real shame.

Notogawa

JR Notogawa Station, east side.

2. Notogawa Station (能登川駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line, Higashi-Omi
Another one of my all-time favorite train stations. Rebuilt in 2003, the Notogawa Station building is shaped like a giant waterwheel, the symbol of Notogawa town before it merged with Higashi-Omi in 2006. Notogawa has a giant waterwheel at a local park. The waterwheel design is on both the east and west sides of the train station. It’s so distinctive and very impressive. I loudly applaud the people who planned and designed the building. The building’s waterwheel structure houses an escalator on one end and stairs on the other. The west side of the station has other waterwheel-themed objects, not to mention a local shopping center also bearing waterwheel designs. Although there are train stations in Japan with a real waterwheel next to it, it seems Notogawa Station is the only one that is shaped like a waterwheel. Higashi-Omi’s sole JR train station.

Ninja painting fused with a bench in JR Koka Station, Koka.

3. Koka Station (甲賀駅), JR Kusatsu Line, Koka
One of Japan’s most uniquely localized train stations. JR Koka Station opened its new station building in Nov. 2005. It resembles a farmer’s kura storehouse on the outside. But the inside has a number of visual surprises with ingenious, interactive ninja wall paintings.

Koka is famous for Koka/Koga ninja, and the station plays this up with ninja motifs and playful 3D ninja paintings. Thanks to some very clever optical illusions called “trick art,” you can join in the virtual ninja world by posing inside the painting. (Get your camera ready.) The seven ninja wall paintings were painted by Hattori Masashi (服部 正志), a noted artist. They should rename the station, “Ninja Station.” That would attract more attention and tourists (it would also cost a good bit of money). Koka’s authentic Ninja House and Ninja Village amusement park are popular attractions.

The station building’s first floor has display cases of medicines produced by Koka drug companies. The abundant herbs in the area gave rise to many druggists in Koka. The ninja were also expert with drugs and chemicals. The name “Koka” is often mispronounced as “Koga” (as in Koga ninja) by Japanese and foreigners alike. The proper pronunciation is “Koka.” FYI, there’s another ninja train station at Ueno-shi Station in Iga, Mie, famous for Iga ninja.

Enryakuji Station

Enryakuji Station atop Mt. Hiei.

4. Cable Enryakuji Station (ケーブル延暦寺駅), Hiezan Railway, Otsu
Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji temple (World Heritage Site and National Treasure) are accessible via cable railway from Cable Sakamoto Station in Sakamoto at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga. At the top, you get off at Cable Enryakuji Station. This is the original building that has been used since the cable railway opened between Sakamoto and Mt. Hiei in 1927. It was Japan’s longest cable car route (2,025 meters) at the time. The first floor is the station, while the 2nd floor used to be a VIP room. The 2nd floor is now an exhibition room open to the public. It also has a nice lookout deck. The distinguished-looking building is a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property (登録有形文化財).

Shin-Yokaichi

Shin-Yokaichi Station platform.

5. Shin-Yokaichi Station (新八日市駅), Omi Railways Yokaichi LineHigashi-Omi
Shiga’s oldest train station buildings are on the Ohmi Railways, and Shin-Yokaichi Station is one of them. It’s a Western-style, two-story wooden building built in 1913. The second floor is closed to the public due to old age. It originally housed the Konan Railway company’s head office (湖南鉄道). Konan Railway originally operated the railway between Yokaichi and Omi-Hachiman before it merged with another company that later merged with Ohmi Railways. Tourists don’t normally get off at this station since most attractions are at the next stop, Yokaichi Station.

Hikone-guchi

Hikone-guchi Station’s long bench.

6. Hikone-guchi Station (彦根口駅), Omi Railways Main LineHikone
Unless you live near here, it’s unlikely that you would ever get off here and see this nostalgic and homely train station. When you enter the station building, which has a surprisingly large floor space like a dance hall, it’s like you’re back in the 1930s. The simple wicket, long wooden benches, and the whole feel of the place had me imagining what it was like in the old days. Moviemakers can use it as a movie set. Perhaps of a scene of young local men boarding a train to go off to a senseless war as their mothers and siblings tearfully bid them goodbye amid cheers of “Banzai!” After belching a loud whistle, the black steam locomotive then slowly pulls away…

Although it almost looks like a condemned building, I hope they keep it for as long as possible. I like it. But there doesn’t seem to be any toilets in the station. The front wall even has a sign saying, “No urinating” (for men). The toilets were removed some time ago due to old age.

Toriimoto

Toriimoto Station platform and building.

7. Toriimoto Station (鳥居本駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hikone
Another example of a prewar Western-style train station building. It has been here since the station first opened in 1931. It has a red mansard roof, perhaps unique in Shiga. The compact interior also reeks of the good old days. If its walls could talk, I can only imagine what stories they could tell. It looks kind of lonely, but beloved by local residents since it was originally built upon request by the local government and residents. Most of the construction cost was therefore borne by the locals. There’s no train station staff so it’s really empty when there are no trains. Toriimoto was the sixty-third shukuba post town on the Nakasendo Road. It has a nice section of traditional shukuba buildings.

Shigaraki Station

8. Shigaraki Station (信楽駅), Shigaraki Kogen Railway, Koka
Shigaraki Station’s little, modern building is nothing special, but it’s embellished with tanuki (raccoon dog) statues, including a giant tanuki right outside to greet visitors. It’s one example of how to make a plain train station into a special one: Decorate it local-style. The tanuki is a symbol of Shigaraki/Shiga and a common sight in Japan with shops and restaurants displaying a tanuki outside the entrance. It has various symbolic meanings.

The Shigaraki Kogen Railway is currently closed as it undergoes repairs of the substantial damage wrought by Typhoon Man-yi in Sept. 2013. It should reopen within 2014.

Riding on Shigaraki Kogen Railway always reminds me of that terrible tragedy on May 14, 1991 when a Shigaraki Kogen Railway train collided head-on with a JR train near Shigarakigushi Station. The trains were packed with people attending the World Ceramic Festival being held at the newly opened Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. Sadly, 42 people died and 628 were injured. Many of the victims were young students and it is one of Japan’s worst train accidents.

The train station has a small exhibit about the accident. When you read about how it happened, it’s hard to believe how negligent the train operators were. It was a horrific scene and I was shocked because I had visited the World Ceramic Festival via the railway only 10 days before the accident. Years later, I visited and prayed at the prayer monument near where the accident occurred. A memorial service is held there annually on May 14 attended by railway officials and relatives of the victims.

Echigawa Station

9. Echigawa Station (愛知川駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Aisho
Opened in March 2000, Echigawa Station’s building is a well-designed and well thought-out building that serves not only as a train station, but also as a local crafts museum featuring temari balls. There’s also a tourist information desk. The train station building is well integrated and alive with people, unlike many of the other newer Ohmi Railways train station buildings which have the community space but hardly any people using it. The adjacent and award-winning Echigawa Public Library also draws people. The station exterior resembles a traditional building in the old post town of Echigawa nearby on the Nakasendo Road.

JR Aburahi Station

10. Aburahi Station (油日駅), JR Kusatsu LineKoka
Rebuilt in March 2002, Aburahi Station has a striking exterior design and a warm, welcoming interior made of wood. The exterior reminds me of the top of a samurai helmet, but the building was actually designed to be a ninja house. But that can’t be right since a real ninja house looked like any other house. (Ninja didn’t advertise that they were ninja.)

Well, the round windows have a shuriken (throwing knife) design. The station also has rental bicycles. Shiga’s southernmost train station next to the prefectural border with Mie Prefecture. When my train to go home (after seeing the Aburahi Matsuri) arrived at the station, I almost felt sad to leave such a comfortable train station.

Gokasho Station

11. Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅), Omi Railways Main LineHigashi-Omi
Love the inside of Gokasho Station. The warmth of wood envelopes you completely almost like a large sauna (without the heat and steam). When I visited, it still had a woody fragrance. Nice traditional-style building inside and out. It was designed to match the Omi-shonin merchant homes in Gokasho. The building was built in 2000 and it still looks new. Adjacent to the train station building is a matching building housing the retirees’ employment office where you can rent bicycles. Note that the kanji character for “ka” in Gokasho Station (五箇荘駅) is different from the one used in the place name “Gokasho” (五個荘).

JR Kinomoto Station

JR Kinomoto Station

12. Kinomoto Station (木ノ本駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
In Oct. 2006, the JR Hokuriku Line switched to direct-current electrification between Nagahama Station and Tsuruga Station (Fukui). This enabled faster and modern Shin-kaisoku (Special Rapid) trains from Kyoto to reach train stations north of Nagahama Station directly (Torahime, Kawake, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Omi-Shiotsu Stations). Before the switch, passengers had to transfer trains at Nagahama Station to go further north. Anticipating a substantial increase in visitors, new train station buildings were built at Nagahama, Torahime, Takatsuki, and Kinomoto Stations. However, by March 2008, the passenger increase was only 0.5 percent, far below what they had hoped for.

Built slightly north of the old station building and opened in Oct. 2006, the new Kinomoto Station building is modern with a traditional look. Spacious and airy and well designed for function and aesthetics. A lot bigger than the old station building. The train station sign is also wooden like on the old train station. (“Kinomoto” means “origin of wood.”) Next to the exit on the ground floor is a large space selling local products and a tourist information counter. The old and much smaller Kinomoto Station building has been retained as a small exhibition space. Kinomoto Station is where you get off to take a bus to breathtaking and historic Mt. Shizugatake. There’s also a giant Jizo statue nearby. Visiting Kinomoto is highly recommended. Note that Kinomoto Station in Japanese (木ノ本駅) uses a different kanji from the one used for the place name Kinomoto (木之本).

Takamiya

Takamiya Station

13. Takamiya Station (高宮駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Hikone
Unique building with a high tower in the center reminiscent of ancient Shinto shrines which were elevated to be closer to the gods. It also might be a play on the name “Takamiya” which literally means “high shrine.” The station building was rebuilt in March 2002. The station is near the old Takamiya-juku, the sixty-fourth of the sixty-nine stations or shukuba post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Near the station is a large torii leading to Taga Taisha Shrine in neighboring Taga.

JR Nagahara Station

14. Nagahara Station (永原駅), JR Kosei LineNagahama
The loghouse is a common building design, but Nagahara has a good reason to use it. Before railroads were built, this area was a port town teeming with wooden maruko-bune boats plying across Lake Biwa between Otsu and this area of northern Lake Biwa. The trademark of maruko-bune was a semi-round log (maruko) along the sides of the boat. Nearby is the Maruko-bune Museum. The station building was rebuilt in April 2000. The inside was kind of dark and musty when I visited some years ago, but I liked the exterior.

Hino

Hino Station

15. Hino Station (日野駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Hino
Hino Station is another old station that takes you back to the prewar years on the inside. It has a nice vintage look and feel inside. The station building is the original one built in 1900. However, outside the station building, there are just too many modern objects that clutter the vintage facade: A waiting taxi (and often a bus), phone booth, and vending machine (always the worst offender). Otherwise, I would rank this station higher. Next to the station is a small tourist information office that is always helpful especially during the Hino Matsuri float festival, blooming Shakunage Gorge, and other local festivals. Hino Station is Hino town’s sole train station and one of the main stations on Ohmi Railways.

Inside JR Torahime Station.

16. Torahime Station (虎姫駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Torahime Station rebuilt its building in March 2006. Very nice woody building inside and out. There’s a commercial space where a bakery once operated, but they have since left and finding a suitable tenant has been a problem. Outside the station, there’s a statue of the Tiger Princess (which is what “Torahime” means) and the small Torahime Shrine (popular with fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team in Osaka). Someday, I want to see the cherry blossoms at nearby Toragozen-yama.

Omi-Shiotsu

Omi-Shiotsu Station

17. Omi-Shiotsu Station (近江塩津駅), JR Hokuriku LineNagahama
Nice traditional-looking structure rebuilt in Sept. 1995 to look like a lodge. The wooden sign says “Kaido Ajikama Lodge” (海道・あぢかまの宿). It was the name of a real lodge that existed in here in Shiotsu, a former post town along the Hokkoku Kaido Road (北国街道) going from Maibara/Nagahama to Fukui and the Hokuriku Region. Inside, the arch-shaped corridor to the train platforms reminds me of an underground military bunker. Omi-Shiotsu Station is where you transfer trains between the Hokuriku Line and Kosei Line. Remember this station if plan to travel around northern Lake Biwa by train. Nothing much nearby.

Toyosato

Toyosato Station

18. Toyosato Station (豊郷駅), Omi Railways Main Line, Toyosato
Rebuilt in the late 1990s, Toyosato Station’s building looks like an Omi merchant’s home or storehouse. A testament to the many Omi merchants who once lived in the area, including Itoh Chube’e, founder of Itochu, one of Japan’s leading trading companies. His home is open to the public.

If you see an umbrella or umbrella design in the station, it refers to the Goshu Ondo song and bon dance co-founded at Senjuji temple (千樹寺) in Toyosato. These days, Toyosato’s main attraction is the Toyosato Elementary School made famous by the popular K-ON! anime/manga series in 2009-2010. The train station is in a quiet neighborhood with stone statues of a tortoise and hare showing you the way to the elementary school.

JR Kusatsu Station East Entrance

19. Kusatsu Station (草津駅), JR Tokaido/Biwako Line and JR Kusatsu Line, Kusatsu
The station’s slanted roof lines are similar to the roof of the Kusatsu Honjin, one of Japan’s best preserved Honjin used for VIP lodging in former post towns. A traditional-looking gate (photo) and a road marker on the pedestrian deck add a nice touch.

Although it has nothing to do with the architecture, the best thing I like about Kusatsu Station is the little tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket. As soon as you give your ticket to go out, it’s right there. When staffed during the better part of the day, they are very helpful with directions to places. Local-area tourist pamphlets are also available at all times.

One of my pet peeves is that JR train stations always have tourist pamphlets in plain sight, but for a different destination. They don’t stock tourist pamphlets for the place I just arrived at. Why not have tourist pamphlets for that place? I just spent a good amount of money to get there, and now they want me to go somewhere else?? They should also care about inbound people, not just outbound. When a tourist gets off the train, the first thing he/she wants is a map of the place of arrival. Instead, you have to search for the map signboard or tourist info office if there is one. But Kusatsu Station is the rare exception where the tourist info booth and local brochures are right there. A few train stations in Shiga have a tourist information booth right outside the ticket wicket only during major festivals.

Kusatsu Station is Shiga’s busiest train station with the highest daily average of boarding passengers exceeding 27,000 in 2012. The second busiest is neighboring Minami-Kusatsu Station with over 24,000 passengers daily. In comparison, Otsu Station sees over 17,000 passengers daily and Kyoto Station has over 185,000 passengers. These numbers do not include the number of people getting off the train.

Taga Taisha-mae

Taga Taisha-mae Station

20. Taga Taisha-mae Station (多賀大社前駅), Omi Railways Taga Line, Taga
The building is shaped like a shrine building, to match Taga Taisha Shrine and the large torii right outside. An exhibition space (waiting room) is integrated with the station building rebuilt in 2002. The quality of the exhibitions is good when there are exhibitions. A large showcase displays ema prayer tablets from many shrines. The station is the end terminal of the Taga Line. Taga Taisha Shrine is a short walk away.

Nagahama Station

Nagahama Station before the wedding hall was built.

Incorporating the train station with local elements certainly boosts visitors’ impressions and the local folks’ pride and morale.

People are starting to realize that the train station itself can be a tourist attraction. Just look at the magnificently reconstructed Tokyo Station and the nyan-nyan Kishi Station in Wakayama. People in Otsu should take note when they think about how to revitalize the Otsu Station area. To attract more people, make the train station the attraction. How about filling the station building with B-kyu (B-grade) gourmet food stands? Cheap but delicious local food always attracts people. Great if we could eat B-kyu food year-round in Otsu instead only once a year. Right now, most of the restaurants in and around Otsu Station are nothing special. The Otsu Station area needs to have something special that Hama-Otsu doesn’t have and preferably found nowhere else in Japan.

After March 2014, the city of Otsu quit managing the Otsu Station building that it has been sub-leasing to tourist offices, shops, and restaurants. It has been paying JR, the building’s owner, 16 million yen annually to lease the building. They cite the old air conditioning that will cost 200 million yen to renovate. The city and JR will discuss what to do with the building. It’s a golden opportunity for them to think out of box and be more imaginative and bold to revitalize ho-hum Otsu Station.

Shinkansen

Shinkansen speeding past Mt. Ibuki.

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without trains. Japan’s first railway opened between Yokohama and Shimbashi (Tokyo) in 1872. Shiga laid its first railway 12 years later in 1884 between Nagahama and Tsuruga (Fukui). In 1889, the Tokaido Line was completed. In 1900, Ohmi Railway opened a train line between Hikone and Kibukawa. The Keihan Line in Otsu started running between Hama-Otsu and Ishiyama-dera in 1914. The defunct Kojaku Railway Line (江若鉄道) opened between Miidera Station and Eizan Station (now Hiei-zan Sakamoto Station) in 1921. It was the predecessor of the JR Kosei Line that took over in 1974. All these railways gradually extended their lines to what they are today. In Oct. 1964, the shinkansen started stopping at Maibara.

If there’s one thing that has improved in Japan, it’s rail transportation. Trains have gotten faster, cutting travel times significantly. Train/subway lines have also increased or been extended, mainly in urban areas. Trains are also more comfortable with non-smoking cars and Western-style toilets.

Can you imagine that until the 1980s, smoking was allowed in most train cars, train stations, and platforms? Older folks may remember seeing cigarette butts all over the train platform and an ash tray in front of all the train seats. Most of the shinkansen cars also allowed smoking. It wasn’t until the 1990s when non-smokers’ rights gained traction and most or all train cars and stations started to prohibit smoking. Thank goodness. This trend has spread to other public places such as restaurants and even city streets and beaches. Excellent.

Of course, many train station buildings have also much improved with brighter, cleaner, and more spacious interiors. Restrooms also tend to have toilet paper and sometimes even soap as an added bonus. Major stations also have escalators and elevators. I remember Tokyo Station had a small army of hardy men called “Akabo” (Red Caps 赤帽) who were red-capped porters earning tips by carrying your heavy luggage up or down the stairs. They made a decent living when suitcases still didn’t have casters and there were no escalators. Akabo at Tokyo Station became extinct in March 2001. I wish I took a picture of them.

Another major improvement and development is the employment of women as train conductors and drivers. Once upon a time, we never ever saw women train conductors and drivers. Now they are quite common.

Sorry that this blog post turned out to be longer than I expected. Often one topic leads to another story or tidbit. I’m not really a train fan except for the shinkansen, but trains are a fact of life in Japan and a great convenience.

Essential Japanese Train Station Vocabulary (by Philbert Ono)

  • tetsudo 鉄道 – railway
  • eki 駅 – railway station (train, subway, or street car)
  • ekisha 駅舎 – railway station building
  • eki konai 駅構内 – inside or within the train station.
  • kippu uriba きっぷうりば – place to buy tickets
  • kenbaiki 券売機 – ticket vending machine
  • Midori no Madoguchi みどりの窓口 – Manned ticket counter or office at major train stations to buy reserved seat tickets (and rail passes). Colored in green and usually open from 5:30 am to 10 pm.
  • joshaken 乗車券 – regular-fare train ticket
  • tokkyuken 特急券 – express-fare train ticket
  • jiyuseki 自由席 – non-reserved seating
  • shiteiseki 指定席 – reserved seating, extra charge required.
  • machiai-shitsu 待合室 - Waiting room in the train station. A room to keep warm in winter or cool in summer while waiting for your train. Most train stations have a small waiting room on the platform.
  • te-arai 手洗い – restrooms (toilet)
  • kaisatsu 改札 – Ticket wicket/gate where you present your ticket or tap card.
  • ICOCA – IC smart card issued in the Kansai area as a rechargeable tap card to pay the train fare through an automated wicket equipped with a card reader. Prounounced “Ikoka” which means “Shall we go?”
  • ressha 列車 – train
  • Futsu 普通 – Local train stopping at every station. Also called Futsu-ressha 普通列車.
  • kaku-eki 各駅 – Stops at every station.
  • Kaisoku 快速 – Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Futsu. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Shin-kaisoku 新快速 – Special Rapid Service train stopping at fewer stations than Kaisoku trains. (Same train fare as Futsu.)
  • Tokkyu 特急 – Limited Express long-distance trains stopping only at major train stations. Extra charge required.
  • Green-sha グリーン車 – First-class car requiring extra charge.
  • shinkansen 新幹線 – Bullet train. Nozomi only stops at the major stations (doesn’t stop at Maibara). Hikari trains stop at a few more stations (sometimes Maibara) and Kodama trains stop at all shinkansen stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
  • daiya ダイヤ or jikokuhyo 時刻表 – Train schedule
  • yukisaki 行先 – train destination
  • unkyu 運休 – canceled train
  • okure 遅れ – Delayed train. Usually preceded by the number of minutes the train is delayed.
  • yusen-seki 優先席 – Courtesy seat for elderly, handicapped, etc. Formerly called “silver seat” シルバーシート.
  • rosen 路線 – train line (Biwako Line, Kusatsu Line, etc.)
  • senro – 線路 – Railroad/train tracks. If you drop something on the tracks, alert the station staff.
  • homu ホーム – Station platform where you board the train.
  • Roku-ryo-hensei 6両編成 – Six-car train. If it’s a 10-car train, it’s called Ju-ryo hensei.
  • nanban-sen 何番線 – Which platform No.?
  • shasho 車掌 – On-board train conductor who may check your express train ticket (on tokkyu and shinkansen). He/she also sells train tickets if your boarding train station does not have a ticket machine or manned ticket window.
  • deguchi 出口 – exit (Nishi-guchi 西口 West exit, Higashi-guchi 東口 East exit, Kita-guchi 北口 North exit, Minami-guchi 南口 South exit)
  • shuten 終点 – Last stop on the train line.
  • coin locker コインロッカー – Coin-operated lockers for luggage. Only the larger train stations have it.
  • kanko annaisho 観光案内所 – tourist information desk
  • renta-saikuru レンタサイクル – Bicycle rentals. Or just say “jintensha karitai.”
  • basu noriba バスのりば – bus stop
  • taxi noriba タクシーのりば – taxi stand

Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada’s reelection prospects 2014

Kada

Governor Yukiko Kada

Updated May 7, 2014

Update: Gov. Yukiko Kada announced on May 7, 2014 that she will not run for a third term as governor of Shiga Prefecture. She will instead support Mikazuki Taizo (三日月 大造) who plans to run.

There’s now only a 50-50 chance that Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada will seek reelection to a third term on July 13, 2014, election day. Despite her massive popularity among voters, it’s no longer a no-brainer decision for her to run.

We will have to wait until May 7, 2014 when she will announce whether or not she will run.

On April 29, 2014, the Yomiuri and Mainichi Shimbun newspapers reported that Governor Kada privately told her support group (対話でつなごう滋賀の会) that she would not seek reelection and was inclined to support the younger (age 42) and already-declared candidate Mikazuki Taizo (三日月 大造) from the Democratic Party of Japan. On her Facebook page, Governor Kada vehemently protested against these unconfirmed and speculative articles.

Of course, sensationalist, erroneous, or irresponsible reporting is nothing new. A fact of life for a politician and most kinds of celebrity and mysteries. If people don’t know what they want to know, they are apt to make things up or spread false or negative information or rumors. (Remember how the Tohoku disaster was sensationalized in the West and compelled the Japan Center for Michigan Universities in Hikone to needlessly evacuate their perfectly safe students back to the States?)

Governor Kada has been meeting with Mikazuki since March 2014 to coordinate their views on key policies such as nuclear power (which they both oppose), dams, and medical and social welfare. On April 26, 2014, they held a joint gathering chaired by former Shiga governor Takemura Masayoshi to evaluate Kada’s administration. Kada and Mikazuki voiced their policy views to clarify their similarities and differences.

They also announced that they would work toward a joint platform and establish a policy research group called “Team Shiga” (チームしが) on May 7, 2014. That’s when they will announce who will be their candidate for the gubernatorial election. Kada wants Mikazuki to agree to support the other if the other is the candidate. So if they decide Mikazuki should run, Kada will support him as her successor instead of running. And vice versa. If Kada decides to run, he should support her and not run. However, Mikazuki seems to be lukewarm toward this strategy. He has not clearly stated what he would do in case Kada decides to run. He will be with the governor on May 7 for the press conference and state his position after Kada states hers.

Both are worried about the prospect of the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate winning the governorship which would further extend the dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party (which favors nuclear power) currently in power in Tokyo. Kada and Mikazuki want opposition parties to retain a voice. They are wisely joining forces upon the auspices of former Shiga governor Takemura Masayoshi (also a member of the Democratic Party of Japan) who brought them together.

Born in 1971 in Kyoto and raised mainly in Otsu, Mikazuki Taizo is a National Diet House of Representatives member representing Shiga’s No. 3 electoral district. He and the Democratic Party of Japan supported Kada in 2010 for her reelection.

Governor Yukiko Kada made history in 2006 as Shiga’s first woman governor after defeating the entrenched incumbent. She ran on the Mottainai (Wasteful) slogan referring to the exorbitant expenses slated for a new shinkansen station in Ritto and Daidogawa Dam in Otsu. She successfully saved us from wasting tax money on such boondoggle projects and was reelected in 2010 garnering a resounding 420,000 votes, the most ever for a Shiga governor and twice the number of her closest opponent. In 2006, she won with 217,842 votes.

However, since she did not belong to any of the major political parties, she had many political opponents in the prefectural assembly (legislature), especially from the Liberal Democratic Party who had pushed for the public works projects (her predecessor was from Ritto and belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party). The 2011 local elections finally brought her party and allies the majority in the prefectural assembly.

Ichiro Ozawa and Governor Kada’s political marriage lasted only a month.

However, in late Nov. 2012, a sensational misstep had Governor Kada form a new political party called Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) with political kingpin Ozawa Ichiro. With the platform of abolishing nuclear power, they aimed to win many National Diet seats in the Dec. 2012 election and become a “third force” in national government. However, when Ozawa’s camp realized that Kada wouldn’t be their political puppet as the party head, they dumped her and split from the party to form a new one after only a month. Meanwhile, Kada got criticism from her opponents in Shiga for shifting her attention from Shiga to her new party.

Also, the Democratic Party of Japan, who had supported her reelection in 2010, became one of her opponent parties during her brief stint as head of the new party in late 2012. Therefore, they might not be inclined to support her again in the upcoming election in July 2014. This may be one factor behind any decision for her not to run. But most voters in Shiga view her temporary deviation as a hiccup and nothing major.

The fact is, Kada still remains very popular and admired in Shiga. Many of us affectionately call her “Kada-chan.” Mikazuki has his youth going for him, but will voters go for a relatively unknown figure compared to Kada? Then again, all the declared candidates so far are rather obscure. He may have some advantage if he receives Kada’s endorsement, but it may be an uphill battle since the Liberal Democratic Party is in power at the national level. On the other hand, Kada is a shoo-in to win. Take a chance on a not-so-popular Young Turk or stick with a super popular and proven vote getter? That is the question.

I wouldn’t call Facebook a barometer of one’s popularity, but I cannot ignore that Governor Kada has several thousand FB friends plus 3,600+ followers. Her posts elicit numerous likes and comments. Meanwhile, Mikazuki only has 493 likes on his FB page as of this writing. Also, at the gathering on April 26 and on Kada’s Facebook page, voters have expressed their opposition to Mikazuki’s candidacy and the Democratic Party of Japan. Kada will be touring Shiga during Golden Week and talking to people for their opinions. After “careful consideration,” she will make a decision and announce it after Golden Week on May 7.

I think part of Kada’s popularity is due to her down-to-earth and honest, sincere character. She’s not putting on an act (shibai). She’s very approachable and not intimidating. You can talk to her like you can talk to your grocer.

Looking forward to her announcement on May 7. (Fingers crossed.)

Related posts:

Nagahama Kannon exhibition in Tokyo

kannon

A rare and magnificent exhibition of eighteen Kannon statues from Nagahama is being held at The University Art Museum (東京藝術大学美術館), Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) from March 21 to April 13, 2014 near Ueno Station in Tokyo. Kannon is called the Goddess of Mercy.

The show is titled, Life and Prayer, Kannon Sculptures from Nagahama (観音の里の祈りとくらし展-びわ湖・長浜のホトケたち). Organized by the Tokyo University of the Arts and the city of Nagahama.

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Good crowd seeing the exhibition.

Although the National Treasure 11-face Kannon statue from Doganji (Kogenji) in Takatsuki is not in the show, three of the eighteen Kannon statues are Important Cultural Properties. Most of the statues date from the 12th century, and three are from the 9th century or earlier. There is a wide variety of Kannon statues: Large, small, black, wood grained, standing, sitting, grinning, multi-faced, and ones with many arms. Fabulous collection, all displayed in one room. A good crowd of people have been going to the exhibition even on weekdays.

Each statue has a Japanese description (no English). Interesting to read about how statues were buried by villagers to protect it from being destroyed by warlord Oda Nobunaga who purged warrior monks and temples in Shiga. Two wooden statues that were buried now look very worn out from the burial. But somehow they still retain their beauty and dignity. Many of the statues have survived over the centuries thanks to the efforts of the local people. I was upset to learn that one temple was burglarized twice and so it now has fewer statues. Temple burglaries is a problem, especially in Shiga where there are so many temples and treasures. A temple in Koka is missing two of its Buddhist statues which are Important Cultural Properties, believed to have been stolen and sold on the black market.

Shiga has Japan’s highest number of Kannon statues designated as Important Cultural Properties (including a National Treasure). There are 37 Kannon statues in Nagahama. It is not known for certain why northern Nagahama has so many beautiful Kannon statues. One theory says that it may be largely due to Mt. Kodakami-yama (己高山, 923 m) in Kinomoto that could be seen far and wide and became an object of worship (山岳信仰). Kodakami-yama’s main temple was a Kannon temple. Written records show that there were many temples dedicated to Kodakami-yama, and Kannon statues were made for them.

When you enter the exhibition room, they give you a very nice plastic file folder with a Kannon statue design. It feels thick like an exhibition pamphlet, but it only contains Nagahama tourist pamphlets. Nice that it included a free ticket (worth ¥500) to the Kurobe Kanbee Expo currently held in Nagahama. I plan to see the expo so this show turned out to be a good deal for me.

They also sell a small exhibition catalog/book for ¥1,500. The museum gift shop is also selling a bunch of books about Nagahama Kannon statues published by local publishers in Shiga. Nothing in English though.

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The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts

Museum admission is 500 yen for adults, ¥300 for high school and college students, and free for younger kids. Museum hours 10 am – 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm). The museum is a 15-min. walk from Ueno Station. Just walk through Ueno Park (Map). Tokyo University of the Arts (nicknamed Geidai) is one of Japan’s most venerated art universities. Website

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Museum lobby.

video room

Short video on Nagahama’s Kannon also shown.

Spring 2014 in Shiga

Tahoto

Sakura and Tahoto pagoda at Ishiyama-dera, Otsu.

Updated April 23, 2014

On April 1, 2014, Japan’s consumption tax increased from 5% to 8%. This means almost everything will cost slightly more, including train fares, souvenirs (some souvenirs will be priced the same as shops absorb the extra tax), food, hotel, etc. What’s going to be weird are the train fares. Pay for a train ticket in cash, and you most likely will be paying more than necessary since they will round off the amount to the nearest 10 yen. Use an “IC” smart card (tap card) like ICOCA instead. We saw a shopping frenzy during the last few weeks and days until March 31, 2014 when the tax was still 5%. We’ll get used to the 8% soon enough.

Cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. Otsu should reach full bloom by the end of this week. Cherries along the Lake Biwa Canal will be lit up from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm until April 13. Hikone started to bloom on April 2, three days later than last year. Full bloom is expected a week later. See the Weather News sakura channel for the current sakura status in Shiga. Pink means almost full bloom and red means full bloom.

I also have a Top 5 List of Shiga best cherry blossom spots. Also another photo article about sakura in Shiga here.

Minami Sanno

Minami Sanno Matsuri on April 4 at Hieda Jinja Shrine in Hino.

Following cherry blossoms are matsuri or spring festivals. See my Top 10 list of April-May festivals in Shiga Prefecture here. The festival dates are the same every year except for the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival held on the last Sunday of May. Golden Week is also full of matsuri and I have a list of Golden Week festivals in Shiga here.

Other notable Spring 2014 events:

  • Buddhist art fans should know that the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio (Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji) is now having a special display of their “hidden” Buddha statues (湖東三山本尊 特別公開). For the first time in eight years, the Kannon statues are being shown to the public from April 4 to June 1, 2014.
  • Hikone Byobu folding screen (彦根屏風), a National Treasure, is on display until May 7, 2014 at the Hikone Castle Museum is next to the ticket booth to enter Hikone Castle. Open 8:30 am to 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm). Admission is 500 yen for adults (cheaper if you also buy a ticket to enter Hikone Castle). Details about the byobu hereGoogle Map
  • If you’re in Tokyo in April, note that there is a rare Buddhist art exhibition at The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) displaying 18 Kannon statues from Nagahama. Three of the Kannon statues are Important Cultural Properties. The statues were removed from their respective temples and carefully packed and transported to Tokyo from Nagahama. The show runs until April 13, 2014. Blog post here.  Official Web site.
  • A giant balloon (photo) in the shape of Minakuchi-Okayama Castle will be mounted atop Mt. Okayama (Kojo-san 古城山) in Minakuchi, Koka for 4 days from Apr. 17, 2014 coinciding with the Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri float festival. It will be inflated from 10 am to 9 pm and lit up at night. The balloon will be 11 meters high. Minakuchi-Okayama Castle was originally built in 1585 by Nakamura Kazuuji 中村一氏, a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It fell into ruin after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 where the castle lord lost. Since there are few historical records of the castle, its exact appearance is unknown.

Have a happy spring!