Minpaku private home accommodations in Shiga

“Minpaku” (民泊) has become a buzzword in Japan since 2013. Minpaku are budget accommodations in private homes and condos, similar to bed and breakfasts except that they are not yet widely regulated in Japan. It could be a spare room in a house, a condo, or an entire house/condo for rent. Popular website Airbnb based in the U.S. is almost singlehandedly nurturing the minpaku business in Japan. Airbnb enables people to either rent out or find low-cost lodging. The minpaku phenomenon in Japan looked to be a game changer in the tourist industry until we saw at least one municipality in Tokyo starting to regulate them.

In places where there is no minpaku law, minpaku are technically illegal if money changes hands. (Not a problem if no money is made.) It is currently a strange, gray-zone situation in Japan with so many minpaku operating illegally (including in Shiga). But most minpaku operators are not getting arrested since local governments recognize the need and demand for minpaku and are taking steps to lay down the law for them. Even Shiga already has many minpaku registered at Airbnb, but I have not yet heard of any action being taken to regulate them. The national government is currently formulating minpaku regulations.

Minpaku has created problems among neighbors. Common complaints include minpaku guests not sorting garbage correctly, guests having loud parties, and too many different people coming and going in the neighborhood. There are also renters who evade taxes on minpaku income.

In Japan, to rent out a room for money, you are required to meet certain standards and be licensed according to the Ryokan-Hotel Business Law (旅館業法). After all, guests do want to make sure the accommodations meet safety and sanitation standards.

The Ryokan-Hotel Business Law has four stipulated business categories: hotels, ryokan, simple accommodations (pensions, minshuku, etc.), and boarding houses. They need to create a new category for “minpaku.” Or it can be included under “simple accommodations.”

In Ota Ward, Tokyo, they just instituted minpaku regulations from January 2016 to allow minpaku to operate legally. However, the idiotic caveat is that minpaku guests in Ota Ward must stay for a minimum of six nights. Most tourists do not stay longer than two or three nights in one location. Why do they have this ridiculous restriction? It’s due to opposition from the ryokan/hotel associations. This is a major damper and basically cancels out the practicality of having minpaku. It’s starting to look like that Japan really does not want minpaku. Such a restriction will only be another barrier for budget-minded foreign tourists and prevent the growth of a new business model/category. I hope that other local governments will not follow this example and allow short stays. When making these laws, why don’t they ask what tourists want? Hotels and ryokan offer a totally different kind of accommodations and should not hinder the growth of a new industry.

Airbnb has a good system. They have illustrated listings and a map of minpaku in Shiga. When choosing a minpaku, you want to make sure the accommodation is what you’re looking for and that the owner/renter is reputable. You can read reviews by people who stayed there and judge for yourself. Some minpaku have no reviews, and others have a few or more. I recommend choosing a reputable minpaku with good reviews. Also note that some minpaku listed at Airbnb are legitimate accommodations operating in accordance with the Ryokan-Hotel Business Law. Not all are illegal.

One thing Japan needs to do is to dispel its image of being an expensive place to visit or travel. Minpaku can be one way to achieve this.

Shiga History October–December 2015

hino

Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan.

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s most important and interesting news headlines for Oct.–Dec. 2015 (according to the year, month, day, and time posted at Japan time).

Originally posted on Twitter under Shiga Headlines by Philbert Ono. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters including spaces and links (shortened by Twitter). Dates and times below are based on GMT instead of Japan time.

2015/10/7 11:30 Shiga had Japan’s highest percentage (48.4%) of respondents who submitted the 2015 national census survey online in September.
2015/10/14 8:31 New and elegant Japanese-style restaurant opening soon in Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan in Hino. http://t.co/5wiGXG7DLV
2015/10/16 9:40 Interviewed Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei http://t.co/HMi1jEEI7c
2015/10/18 2:22 Northern Biwako and Shiga from International Space Station! https://t.co/35PzhQX9zH
2015/10/23 16:27 Oct. 23: a man phoned Nagahama City Hall for a 12 pm bomb threat. Everyone evacuated by 11:30 am and returned safely to work at 12:30 pm.
2015/10/25 17:06 51-year-old Nagahama policeman 巡査部長伴由明 arrested for taking upskirt photos of a young woman in an anime goods shop in Osaka on Oct. 24.
2015/10/27 0:43 Matsumoto Castle in Nagano has a Koka ninja (and samurai) greeting visitors. https://t.co/GKb0eXwLJc
2015/11/5 15:52 For the 1st time, ruins of a building were found underwater in Lake Biwa, 100 m from Nagahama. Stone foundation and 18th-c. wooden pillars.
2015/11/6 12:04 In the past 5 years, at least 18 road signs in Shiga fell over due to age. 5 of them hurt a passing car/human. Shiga has 84,000 road signs.
2015/11/11 2:12 The “Ore, ore” (“It’s me”) scams in 2015 have defrauded 83 people in Shiga for a record ¥370 million+ as of Oct. 31.
2015/11/11 23:37 Rare find of Edo Period ruins in Lake Biwako https://t.co/uFgps8GDj6
2015/11/13 16:33 Replacing the old Heiwado on Nagahama Station’s east side will be a new multi-purpose low-rise complex w/shops, etc., opening in April 2017.
2015/11/17 17:35 Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi announced that she will be seeking reelection. She faces 2 other independent candidates on election day next Jan. 17.
2015/11/18 8:16 Omi-Hachiman native & Living National Treasure, artist Shimura Fukumi 志村ふくみ received the Order of Culture on Nov. 3. https://t.co/tD4Jy1U8Cn
2015/11/20 2:33 40% of playground equipment in Shiga’s 600 parks are over 20 years old. In April, a girl was hurt riding a swing in Otsu that broke.
2015/11/24 9:23 Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei is having an exhibition at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine’s Hiyoshi Kaikan 9:30 am–4 pm until Nov. 28. Impressive I heard!
2015/11/24 12:41 Saimyoji’s resident priest reported yesterday that a 50-cm sword was stolen from a Buddha statue’s hands inside the Hondo main hall in Kora.
2015/11/25 10:39 Due to this year’s fatal kite crash, the giant kite will not fly at the 2016 Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival if it is held.
2015/11/25 10:43 A giant, red Xmas boot has appeared on the west side of Kusatsu Station in front of Estopia Hotel. Till Dec. 25. https://t.co/4mOCv4bY5U
2015/12/4 10:40 Resigned: Shiga policeman in his 20s for stealing his dorm’s microwave and middle-age police staff for shoplifting at an Otsu supermarket.
2015/12/4 10:48 English version video by ANA showing nice drone shots of Shiga and some local food. https://t.co/xPVgc6WleI
2015/12/15 4:37 Falsified pile construction data has been found in 4 buildings (大津商業高校、長浜の看護専門学校、栗東の川辺県営住宅、草津増圧ポンプ場) built in the last 10 years in Shiga.
2015/12/15 4:42 Japan Pile Corp. (ジャパンパイル) & Nippon Concrete Industries (日本コンクリート工業) falsified the pile construction data for the 4 buildings in Shiga.
2015/12/15 4:52 Handa Kojun (半田孝淳), the Tendai Zasu Abbot in Enryakuji, died on Dec. 14 at age 98. He was the 1st Tendai head to visit Koya-san officially.
2015/12/15 5:00 An Oregon man returned a Japanese flag that belonged to a WWII soldier from HigashiOmi who died at age 21 in the Philippines in June 1945.
2015/12/17 21:51 Otsu Station building is slated to reopen in fall 2016 with a 60-bed capsule hotel targeting foreigners, restaurants, cafe, outdoor terrace.
2015/12/17 21:53 Hikone saw its first snow of the season on Dec. 17, 4 days later than usual and 11 days later than last year. Daytime temperature was 9.9ËšC.
2015/12/18 11:51 Snow dusted the Hira mountains today for the first time this season, 29 days later than usual and 16 days later than last year.
2015/12/23 10:59 Disappointed that Japan Traditional Crafts Aoyama Square in Tokyo displays & sells nothing from Shiga. https://t.co/KvTQJSRwqO
2015/12/27 13:06 都内に滋賀のアンテナショップがないこと、とてもがっかり。交通会館にある「ゆめぷらざ滋賀」もダメですね。お土産らしきのものが置いてない。信楽焼もない。。。

Shiga History July–Sept. 2015 | Chronological History of Shiga | Shiga History Jan.–April 2016

Otsu-e paintings then and now

Otsu-e of an ogre at Miidera temple, Otsu.

Anyone who visits Otsu will sooner or later see an Otsu-e painting (大津絵). It can be a picture of an ogre (oni), wisteria maiden (Fuji-musume), Buddhist figure, or other surreal or whimsical human, god, or animal.

Otsu-e paintings originated as a folk art around 1624-44 and were made and sold by roadside stands in Oiwake near Otsu-juku, the last post town on the Tokaido and Nakasendo Roads before people arrived in Kyoto from Tokyo (Edo).

The earliest Otsu-e pictures during 1624-44 depicted mainly Buddhist images. People worshipped these images as an affordable alternative for expensive Buddha statues. Otsu-e paintings were unsigned by anonymous artists and initially served practical and religious functions. They did not start out as paintings for artistic appreciation. Otsu-e was cheap ephemera (as much as a bowl of noodles), not meant to last very long.

There are a few theories as to how Otsu-e came about. One theory says that an artist named Matabei started painting Otsu-e. A more plausible theory is that Buddhist painters who lost their jobs in Kyoto due to a realignment of Buddhist sects moved to Oiwake and started painting Otsu-e Buddhist images to eke out a living.

Otsu-e at Enryakuji temple

Otsu-e at Enryakuji temple.

By the early 18th century, Otsu-e became popular as cheap, local souvenirs and were no longer just for religious purposes. The paintings expanded to include ogre (oni), wisteria maidens, courtesans, gods (of Good Fortune), samurai warriors, falconers, birds, animals like monkeys, sumo wrestlers, and whatever the customer wanted.

Otsu-e were created on demand as the traveling customer waited. They were not ready-made. It took only several minutes to make Otsu-e.

Many Otsu-e were produced as a family business. The husband might create the basic outline in black, the wife colorized it, and their child added more details. They usually used woodblocks for the basic image, then painted it. The paintings were kept simple to make it easier and faster to make. Alas, Otsu-e has never received as much artistic acclaim in the art world as with works by individual artists (i.e. ukiyoe woodblock prints).

From the mid-18th century, most Otsu-e paintings depicted satirical scenes reflecting the contemporary times and moralistic or poetic paintings with writings. Proverbs like “don’t drink too much” still applies today. The most popular were still the ogre (oni) and wisteria maiden.

The oni (ogre or goblin) is shown wearing Buddhist priest robes, an umbrella on his back, a gong around his neck, and a mallet in his right hand. His left hand holds a list of temple donors (奉加帳). One of his two horns is also always bent. The oni is walking around soliciting donations. It expresses the notion that a priest without truth has the heart of an oni (devil or evil thing). It reminds priests and people to be honest.

By the late 19th century when trains became the main mode of transportation, roadside Otsu-e artists went out of business. They became extinct, but remnants of their existence have remained. Authentic Otsu-e are highly collectible and only some examples from the 17th-18th centuries remain today.

Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei.

Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei.

Tanaka Kokei.

Tanaka Kokei showing two Otsu-e folding screens fitted together.

gallery

Other works in Kokei-an gallery.

In the modern age, Otsu-e has been resurrected by a number of practitioners. I recently met two of the most established Otsu-e artists. Both have created their own approaches and versions of Otsu-e, although purists might not accept either of them as a traditional Otsu-e artist who sold paintings anonymously for cheap.

One of them is Otsu-e artist Tanaka Kokei (田中胡径) based in western Otsu. She gave me an exclusive interview at her gallery named Otsu-e no Yakata Kokei-an (大津絵の館 胡径庵) in July 2014. She was kind enough to bring out a whole bunch of heavy folding screens to show me, in addition to what was displayed in her gallery.

Her work is beautiful, but very high end, apparently targeting well-heeled collectors. They are not ephemera and do not come cheap. Especially when they are presented on exquisite folding screens, scrolls, or frames which are works of art in themselves. She even showed one folding screen with a washi paper backing made by the late washi artist Abe Eishiro (安部栄四郎) who was a Living National Treasure. So the picture mounting adds to the cost. Definitely not for the masses nor for the ordinary passing tourist on a budget.

But her works are outstanding. She works with her daughter Yumi in an interesting arrangement. Kokei directs how the picture is drawn or composed, but it’s Yumi who actually paints the picture and does the calligraphy. Like an art director and art technician working together. Although their Otsu-e are not signed, they can be easily identified by the innovative and unique mounting on folding screens, scrolls, and frames.

They are meticulous in all aspects of making and presenting Otsu-e. They diligently reproduce authentic Otsu-e colors by using authentic pigments, methods, paper (handmade washi only), and other top-quality materials. Their pictures are designed to last and be appreciated for a long time. Even the folding screens for mounting the Otsu-e are intricately made by highly skilled artisans. Sometimes she even argues with the folding screen artisans over the design, etc.

Rather than making Otsu-e ephemera that people might just stuff in a closet or attic, Kokei wants her work to be treasured from generation to generation as a family heirloom. Make it important enough for the owner to give it the attention it deserves. And to give it a place in the home. She’s most satisfied when her Otsu-e ends up in a home of people who can appreciate it. She believes that unless Otsu-e are presented in a more permanent and impressive way, its artistic heritage might be lost. Longevity and preservation seem to be her keywords. A far cry from 17th-century artists whose paintings were simply rolled up for carrying and used for a short time. Kokei sensei has taken Otsu-e to a much higher level.

I also asked if Kokei sensei accepts custom orders, painting according to the customer’s specifications. Although the customer may have some requests, Kokei usually ends up convincing the customer that her proposal would work better based on where the Otsu-e would be placed in the home.

Kokei is originally from Kyoto. Her family ran a picture frame/mounting business. Her father also repaired art works. Sometimes he would restore old Otsu-e. Visiting customers bringing Otsu-e would talk to her father while Kokei, still in jr. high school, would bring tea for the customer. That’s when she first saw Otsu-e. Her first impression of Otsu-e was that it was grungy, dirty, and manga-like.

After getting married and moving to Otsu, she again saw Otsu-e and was appalled by how different or untraditional modern Otsu-e was compared to traditional Otsu-e. She didn’t think the modern Otsu-e was doing the traditional art justice. Around 1984 while in her 30s, she started seriously studying Otsu-e. She wanted to know what the authentic Otsu-e was, the definitive form of Otsu-e. She studied under a number of Otsu-e teachers and eventually decided to create or resurrect Otsu-e herself.

Kokei asked her daughter Yumi to paint Otsu-e while Kokei would handle the mounting. Yumi, who was a certified art curator, said yes and quit her job at an art museum and studied how to paint Otsu-e. Evidently, she’s very good at it after about 10 years. She even does the haphazard-looking calligraphy.

When they first started out, they were prepared for a frugal life on a frugal income. Similar to when early Otsu-e painters started in the 17th century. Kokei was also brought up by a frugal family which she says was a blessing. Her family was dedicated to preserving traditional culture and Kokei and daughter Yumi are continuing this family mission.

Kokei-an

Entrance to Kokei-an gallery.

In 1994, she opened her Otsu-e no Yakata Kokei-an gallery in a quiet residential neighborhood in Shimo-Sakamoto in western Otsu. The gallery shows several tens of her pictures mounted on scrolls, in glass frames, on folding screens, etc. As of this writing, she has no website, so she might be obscure to the layman and foreigners. She has exhibited at department stores, but she’s not into mass marketing. You either know about her or you don’t.

To visit her gallery (or purchase her paintings), call to make an appointment (English not spoken). The gallery is somewhat hard to find and there is limited parking. Best to call and get directions. The closest station is Anoo Station on the Keihan Line. Map here.

Address: 2-19-20 Shimo-Sakamoto, Otsu, Shiga (〒520-0105 滋賀県大津市下阪本2丁目19-20)
Phone: (077) 579-8517

*Kokei sensei is holding an exhibition of her Otsu-e at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine’s Hiyoshi Kaikan hall during Nov. 20–28, 2015 at 9:30 am to 4:00 pm.

Takahashi Shozan

Takahashi Shozan (Shinsuke) at a Shiga crafts fair.

shozan2

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan.

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan. Notice his signature.

Otsu-e by Takahashi Shozan. Notice his signature/seal on the lower right of each work.

The other prominent, modern Otsu-e artist is Takahashi Shozan IV (高橋松山). His father Shozan III was also an Otsu-e artist under whom he apprenticed in the 1950s. His son Shinsuke is also an Otsu-e artist.

Unlike Kokei, Shozan is very much into mass marketing and I’ve come across his Otsu-e pictures a number of times at crafts fairs and souvenir shops in Shiga. He also has a website (partially in English) and an online shop.

His Otsu-e are available on high-end scrolls and driftwood as well as on cheaper media such as handkerchiefs, postcards, and stationary. They are nice and colorful and look traditional. He’s got all the popular Otsu-e designs such as ogres, wisteria maidens, courtesans, etc. They make for a nice decoration or gift. If you cannot afford his pricey Otsu-e paintings, you can always buy something cheap like a postcard. All his works are signed by him. They are not anonymous like the original Otsu-e were.

This is understandable in this day and age. I always believe that credit should be given or claimed where it’s due. But Otsu-e purists might say “no” and it might be disheartening, but any kind of tradition is always changing in some way.

Shozan has a shop in central Otsu. He also teaches Otsu-e classes.
Address: 3-38 Miidera-cho, Otsu, Shiga 滋賀県大津市三井寺町3-38
Phone: 077-524-5656. Also see my short video interview of Shozan.

It’s interesting to see how Otsu-e has evolved, reflecting the times, even today. In this modern age, we still have a good choice when it comes to Otsu-e, one of Shiga’s unique art forms.

*You can see original, centuries-old Otsu-e at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan) in Tokyo which has a large collection of Otsu-e that was donated by an avid collector. They also published a comprehensive and well-illustrated bilingual book (Japanese and English, ISBN 978-4885919251) about Otsu-e. You might find the book in a public library in Shiga. The Japan Times also published an article about the museum’s Otsu-e exhibition in 2005. The Otsu City Museum of History also has a few Otsu-e.

 

Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan

Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan

Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan entrance.

Last month in September 2015, I got a sneak peek and taste of a new Japanese dining experience that will start later this month on Oct. 20 at the Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan (近江日野商人ふるさと館) in Hino. This is the former grand residence of Hino merchant Yamanaka Shokichi (旧山中正吉邸) that has been restored to serve as a local museum and community center. It is right on the road leading to the entrance of Umamioka Watamuki Shrine.

Main house

Main house. Kami-dana Shinto altar on upper left.

Yamanaka Shokichi was a Hino merchant born in 1809. He became a sake brewer in Shizuoka Prefecture. By the 1920s, his family became one of Shizuoka’s most successful sake brewers.

Out of all the Hino merchant homes open to the public, this is one of the largest and grandest. It was purchased and restored by Hino Town (taking two years) and opened to the public on April 1, 2015. It preserves Hino’s historical and cultural artifacts and serves as a local information center. They are still installing panel displays and fixing up the place, but much of the home is open to the public. Hats off to everyone who helped with the restoration. An amazing job as far as I can tell.

The home is within a large 1,300 square-meter plot originally bestowed by the local Nishioji lord to the Yamanaka family. The home was built in the late 19th century. The floor plan of the main house follows the typical layout of a farmer’s house with four rooms shaped together in a square (四間取り). Later in the 1920s-30s, a “new” Japanese-style living/guest room, a Western-style room, and Western-style bath/shower were added to the main house. Quite a magnificent home, not to mention the intricate transoms.

Japanese-style room

Japanese-style room

Japanese-style room with garden view.

Japanese-style room with garden view. Where we had lunch.

The home’s largest room is the Japanese-style living room with 12 tatami mats. It is in the Sukiya shoin-zukuri style complete with a tokonoma (alcove) and superb view of the Japanese garden right outside the veranda. This was where we had a fabulous Japanese lunch (see photo). The room adjoins a 10-mat room so without the fusuma sliding doors, it becomes a spacious 22-mat room. And next to the 10-mat room is a 6-mat room. Very nice.

Lunch with locally grown vegetables. Dessert on the right was fig compote.

Lunch with locally grown vegetables (tempura, pickles, etc.). Maki-zushi had a flowery design. Chicken-ham had ume plum sauce. Dessert on the right was fig compote. For ¥1,500, a feast it was.

Our cooks.

Our cooks from the “Society for Continuing Traditional Cuisine.”

Our lunch was prepared by a group of local ladies calling themselves the “Society for Continuing Traditional Cuisine” (伝統料理を継続する会). They use locally grown vegetables and other ingredients made in Japan. They say that everything is “wholeheartedly handmade.” Yep, we could definitely see and taste it too. The food was served in 100+ year old lacquer bowls.

Reservations are required to have lunch here. Prices are affordable, starting at around ¥1,500. Would be an elegant place to have a luncheon or reception.

Garden

Garden outside the Japanese-style room.

Western-style room

Western-style room

Old kitchen

Old kitchen

The Omi Hino Shonin Furusato-kan is open from 9 am to 4 pm, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (open if a national holiday), the day after a national holiday, and Dec. 29–Jan. 4.

The home is right on the road going to Umamioka Watamuki Shrine. From Omi-Hachiman Station or Hino Station, take the bus bound for Kitabatake-guchi (北畑口) and get off at the Mukaimachi (向町) bus stop. Or take a taxi from Hino Station. Parking is also available behind the home.

Address: 1264 Nishioji, Hino-cho, Gamou-gun, Shiga-ken 529-1628 (滋賀県蒲生郡日野町大字西大路1264番地)
Map | Photos
Phone: 0748-52-0008
Email: hinofurusatokan@dune.ocn.ne.jp
Web: http://www.town.shiga-hino.lg.jp/contents_detail.php?frmId=3018

*Special thanks to Austin Moore for arranging our visit to Hino.

Autumn festivals and foliage November 2015 in Shiga Prefecture

Recommended festivals, events, exhibitions, and fall leaves in Shiga Prefecture in November 2015. (Most official Web sites are in Japanese only.) Compiled by Philbert Ono. Updated: Oct. 12, 2015

*From 2015, the date of the Omi Jingu Shrine Yabusame Horseback Archery has changed from Nov. 3 to the first Sunday in June (already held earlier this year).

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade

November 3, 2015
♦ Little Edo Hikone Castle Festival Parade, Hikone Castle, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Very elaborate costume parade of mainly kids dressed as samurai and Edo-Period ladies. Highlights include the Hikone Gun Battalion giving a matchlock gun demo (in front of Horse Stable), Ii Naosuke played by an actor on horseback, fireman acrobatics, and Sarugaku dancers. The parade route starts from Joto Elementary School and proceeds along the road to the castle and passes in front of the Umaya Horse Stable. Video here. Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map | Video | Photos
小江戸彦根の城まつりパレード
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/parade

Hiyoshi Taisha torii lit up in autumn.

November 15-30, 2015
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine Maple Festival Light-up, Otsu
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine at the foot of Mt. Hie in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture is the head shrine for all Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno Shrines in Japan (around 2,000). The spacious grounds includes two shrines that are National Treasures and 3,000 maple trees lit up at night 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm during this period. Even the green leaves look great against the dark sky. Highly recommended if you’re in that part of the city. Near Hiezan Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei Line and Keihan Line’s Sakamoto Station. Map | Photos
もみじ祭
http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/event/momiji/

Saimyoji

Saimyoji

November 21-29, 2015
♦ Koto Sanzan Temple Trio autumn foliage, Kora, Aisho, and Higashi-Omi
Koto Sanzan (湖東三山) is a trio of large Tendai Buddhist temples in eastern Shiga: Saimyoji (西明寺) in Kora, Kongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi. They are famous for autumn leaves and structures that are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Each temple also has its own unique characteristics. Saimyoji has a National Treasure Hondo worship hall and National Treasure pagoda that you can enter. It’s also deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Kongorinji has many little Jizo statues and a National Treasure Hondo main hall housing an 11-faced Kannon statue and 13 other statues that are Important Cultural Properties. It is also displaying Japan’s oldest Daikokuten statue until Nov. 30, normally hidden from view. It’s 1,200 years old. Hyakusaiji is famous for giant straw sandals on a gate and a Japanese garden. Established by Shotoku Taishi in 609, Hyakusaiji is Shiga Prefecture’s oldest temple and one of Japan’s oldest. The Hondo temple hall has an 11-faced Kannon statue carved by Shotoku Taishi, a prince credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan.

During this period, convenient shuttle buses (Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus) run every day between these three temples and a few train stations. The shuttle buses run most frequently from north to south, that is, from Saimyoji to Kongorinji and then to Hyakusaiji. If you start from the north, board the shuttle bus at Hikone Station. The bus will take you to Taga Town Hall from which you transfer to a bus bound for Saimyoji first.

From the south, board the bus at Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. The bus will stop at Hyakusaiji first. (A different bus also goes to Eigenji.) Check the bus stop for bus departure times. After touring Saimyoji (or Hyakusaiji), catch another shuttle bus to the next temple. Shuttle buses also run from Hyakusaiji to Eigenji (listed below), another temple famous for foliage. From Saimyoji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 5:23 pm for Taga Town Hall where you can catch a bus to Hikone Station (or walk to Taga Taisha-mae Station).

From Hyakusaiji and Eigenji, buses go to Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. From Hyakusaiji, the last shuttle bus leaves at 4:30 pm for Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station arriving at 5 pm. Note that from this year, shuttle buses will not run from Amago Station and Kawase Station.

Bus fare is 200 yen per ride which is only 10-20 min. They also offer a day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for 1,800 yen. This day pass includes passage on all Koto Sanzan shuttle buses and all Ohmi Railways trains. A good deal if you plan to ride on Ohmi Railways. Each temple also charges admission of 500 yen. Note that if you like to take your time, you might not be able to see all three temples in one day.
Saimyoji Map | Kongorinji Map | Hyakusaiji Map
秋の湖東三山
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/bus/7859/index.html/
http://www.ohmitetudo.co.jp/image/kotousannzansyato_ycyrontvxrytjebndwkbvsjzxjycfcvc.jpg
Official sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji

Eigenji

Eigenji

November 8-29, 2015
Eigenji Temple Autumn Foliage and Light-up, Higashi-Omi, 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm for light-up
Although this temple is not one of the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio, it’s also famous for autumn leaves with 3,000 maple trees. Along with Saimyoji, Eigenji is also one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Established in 1361, Eigenji belongs to the Zen Rinzai Buddhist Sect (Eigenji School). Since it’s a different sect, Eigenji is not a member of the Koto Sanzan trio of Tendai Sect temples. Impressive during the day, but also beautiful at night when the leaves are illuminated along with the walking paths. Admission 500 yen.

From Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus going to Eigenji Shako (永源寺車庫) and get off at Eigenji-mae (永源寺前). Takes about 35 min. Bus schedule from Yokaichi Station on weekdays | Saturday | Sunday. Note that from Eigenji-mae, the last bus for Yokaichi Station leaves at 7:26 pm on Sat./Sun. and 8:27 pm on weekdays. Shuttle buses from Hyakusaiji also run to Eigenji during Nov. 16-Dec. 1. Map
永源寺 ライトアップ
http://eigenji-t.jp

Hyozu Taisha

Hyozu Taisha garden

November 13-29, 2015
Hyozu Taisha Shrine Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Yasu, 5:45 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Established in 717 (Nara Period), Hyozu Taisha Shrine has a noted Japanese garden with a pond ringed by small rolling hills and autumn leaves. The fall leaves certainly look colorful and impressive when illuminated in the evenings and reflected in the pond. Mini concerts will be held during the foliage illumination in the evenings.

A short bus ride from JR Yasu Station’s North Exit (Kita-guchi). Take the Yoshikawa Line (going to Nishi Kawahara 2-chome 西河原2丁目 or Ayame-hama あやめ浜) and get off at Hyozu Taisha 兵主大社. Buses are infrequent (schedule here). The last bus leaving Hyozu Taisha for Yasu Station leaves around 9:02 pm on weekdays and around 7:17 pm on Sat./Sun. Or take a taxi (costing about 2,000 yen from Yasu Station). Map
兵主大社庭園紅葉ライトアップ

Genkyuen

Genkyuen autumn foliage light-up.

November 14-29, 2015
Genkyuen Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Hikone, 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (enter by 8:30 pm)
Adjacent to Hikone Castle, Genkyuen was built as a castle garden in 1677 by Ii Naooki, the fourth lord of Hikone Castle. I would call this Shiga’s best place to view autumn foliage illumination. The pond’s reflection of the colorful autumn leaves at night doubles the impact. Hikone Castle in the background is also lit up for a perfect night scene. Reminds me of a master painter using a black canvas. Admission 500 yen (200 yen for jr high and younger). Short walk from JR Hikone Station. Map
錦秋の玄宮園ライトアップ
http://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/event/articles/c/kinshu

Zensuiji

Zensuiji and maples.

November 14-30, 2015
♦ Konan Sanzan Temple Trio Autumn Tour, Konan, all day
Not to be confused with Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan is a trio of Tendai Buddhist temples in the city of Konan. A small city like Konan is lucky to have as many as four National-Treasure structures at the three Konan Sanzan temples. Like Koto Sanzan, Konan Sanzan temples are also noted for autumn leaves. During this period, a convenient shuttle bus plies between the temples and train stations.

The temples are Jorakuji 常楽寺, Chojuji 長寿寺, and Zensuiji 善水時. Jorakuji has not one, but two buildings that are National Treasures: the Hondo main hall and three-story pagoda. Chojuji means, “Long Life Temple,” and its small, but distinctive Hondo hall is a National Treasure. Zensuiji has the largest and most impressive Hondo hall (National Treasure) bearing elegant roof lines. Not to be missed by architectural buffs. The three temples are all in quiet, rural neighborhoods.

One thing you have to understand is that two of the temples (Jorakuji and Chojuji) are on one side of the train tracks and the third temple (Zensuiji) is farther away on the other side of the tracks. So there are two separate bus routes going to the three temples and there’s a train ride between Jorakuji/Chojuji and Zensuiji.

The Konan Community bus called Meguri-kun runs from JR Ishibe Station (JR Kusatsu Line) to Jorakuji and Chojuji once an hour from 8:24 am to 3:45 pm. From Jorakuji, you can take the bus to Chojuji. From Chojuji, take the bus back to JR Ishibe Station and catch the train to JR Kosei Station one stop away. From JR Kosei Station, take the bus to Zensuiji. The last bus leaves Zensuiji at 5:17 pm for JR Kosei Station. You can also tour the temples in reverse order, starting with Zensuiji. In the morning, buses leave JR Kosei Station (north exit kita-guchi) for Zensuiji at 8:28 am, 9:20 am, 9:30 am, 10:15 am, and 11:25 am. Bus schedule Map
湖南三山めぐり
http://www.burari-konan.jp/konan3zan/

November 14-December 6, 2015
♦ Kyorinbo Garden Autumn Foliage Light-up, Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman, 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm (enter by 7:30 pm)
Beautiful Japanese garden designed by Kobori Enshu. Part of a temple at the foot of Mt. Kinugasa. Autumn foliage at night is reputed to be most beautiful. Of course, you can also go during the day. Tripods/monopods and food are not allowed. No photography inside the buildings. The garden is usually open only on weekends and holidays, but it will be open every day during Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. Admission 500 yen (200 yen for jr high and younger). From JR Azuchi Station, take a taxi for 10-min. ride. Google Map
石の寺 教林坊 紅葉ライトアップ
http://www.d1.dion.ne.jp/~marche/kyourinbou/

November 29, 2015
♦ Yabusame at Hikone Castle, Hikone
To mark the 200th anniversary of Lord Ii Naosuke’s birth, a special yabusame event will be held at the castle main gate. Details to be determined.
http://naosuke-200th.com/en/event/

November 28-29, 2015
♦ Hot Air Balloon Over Lake Biwa, Takashima, early morning
Dramatic sight of hot-air balloons crossing Lake Biwa. They start off very early in the morning so you would have stay near the launching beach in Takashima. Note that weather conditions can cancel the event.
熱気球琵琶湖横断
http://www.takashima-kanko.jp/

December 6, 2015
♦ Tonda Ningyo Puppet Show, Lute Plaza, Nagahama, 1:30 pm
The famous Tonda puppet troupe will perform three acts. Admission 1,200 yen at the door.
At JR Nagahama Station, go to Bus stop 1 and take the bus at 12:27 pm going to Nagahama Shiyakusho Azai-shisho-mae (長浜市役所浅井支所前) and get off at Biwa Shisho-mae (びわ支所前). Takes about 20 min. Only three buses go there on Sunday. Or take a taxi if you’re rich or going with friends. Google Map
人形浄瑠璃「冨田人形」

December 6, 2015
♦ Tarobogu Shrine Fire Festival, Higashi-Omi, Noon – 4:00 pm

Held annually on the first Sunday of December, the Tarobo Shrine Fire Festival burns a big pile of 100,000 wooden prayer tablets called goma (護摩) collected from believers all over Japan. The tablet is written with the believer’s name, address, and prayer wish. The fire burns as a prayer for family health and safety. After the fire settles down, barefoot priests walk over the hot ashes. Very dramatic festival (photo here).
Short walk from Ohmi Railways Tarobogu-mae Station. Map
太郎坊宮お火焚大祭
http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~tarobo/

For art and museum exhibitions in Shiga, see Kansai Art Beat’s exhibition schedule for Shiga museums.

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