Shiga History January–April 2018

Chronology of Shiga Prefecture’s major news headlines for January–April 2018 (according to the year, month, day, and time posted at GMT).

Originally posted on Twitter under Shiga Headlines by Philbert Ono. Twitter posts are limited to 280 English characters including spaces and links (shortened by Twitter). Dates and times below are based on GMT, not Japan time.

2018-01-01 11:21:58 迎春 Happy 2018! Wishing everyone a safe, healthy, and productive new year. Thank you for reading Shiga Headlines, Shiga Blog, & https://t.co/MzT4BdgWjB. I’ll be adding more top-quality content in 2018. It’s the details that make it interesting and useful, and fun to write. https://t.co/kP1UPj0zm4
2018-01-06 02:12:23 Bilingual video of Kyoto University’s Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th anniversary celebration held on Nov. 25, 2017. Lake Biwa Rowing Song also sung in English. 京都大学「琵琶湖周航の歌」誕生百周年記念事業のダイジェスト版動画(66分)。グリークラブ、吹奏楽団等。https://t.co/Hj9cwLn4x6
2018-01-08 12:09:53 As of Oct. 1, 2017, Shiga had 53,211 males & 54,493 females (7.7% of Shiga’s pop.) born in the Year of the Dog. The lowest figure among the 12 Oriental zodiac years. Age 48 (b. 1970) had the highest number of Dog Year people at 20,631, while 1,458 Dog people were age 96 or older.
2018-01-11 11:52:37 The fire-walking ceremony (火渡り神事) that was held annually in Feb. by Sugawara Shrine (菅原神社) in Yasu will be canceled indefinitely from this year. The shrine’s priest passed away in Oct. and his son is unable to take over the ritual performed to dispel illness & disasters.
2018-01-11 12:00:37 Influenza warning has been issued for all of Shiga as the number of patients (1,320 as of Jan. 7) is expected to increase further. Both Type A and B have been found in Shiga. Wash your hands, etc., and take care even if you got your flu shot.
2018-01-15 10:45:13 Beautiful view of Mt. Hiei from Aeon Mall Kusatsu early this afternoon. The Food Court on the 3rd floor has large picture windows, very clean. Short bus ride from JR Minami-Kusatsu Station. #イオンモール草津 https://t.co/6IZOMZAjuQ
2018-01-18 06:55:53 Major construction continues in front of JR Nagahama Station (east side). They are building a pedestrian deck. 
2018-01-20 02:06:38 The old Otsu PARCO shopping complex that closed last Aug. will reopen as a new shopping complex in late April with about 40 stores including Heiwado, Yamada Denki, a sports shop, and bookstore cafe.
2018-01-24 13:39:30 Private email account of an instructor at the University of Shiga Prefecture was hacked from overseas, resulting in the leak of personal info on 168 students (their names, addresses, academic records, post-graduation plans, etc.). Poor students…
2018-01-25 02:48:28 Due to snow, trains are delayed on the Biwako/Tokaido Line between Maibara and Kyoto. Trains between Maibara and Nagoya also delayed, but running. Ohmi Railway trains are delayed on most lines. Lots of snow in northern Shiga. Great for skiers. https://t.co/Q9oRi30kOt
2018-01-27 06:37:15 Maibara City Hall worker Mori Atsushi (39, 森篤志) pleaded guilty at Otsu District Court on Jan. 26 for bid-rigging a construction project to expand a childcare facility in Maibara. He leaked the bidding info to a construction company he favored. Sentenced to 18 months in jail.
2018-01-27 06:37:28 In 2017, the annual number of stalker cases reported to Shiga Police reached a record high of 351. Many stemmed from couples who broke up. 21 stalker arrests were made, and 58 police warnings were issued. Be careful of who you date.
2018-01-27 06:39:00 Sadly, Dr. Ikai Tsuyoshi (68, 猪飼剛) & son Satoshi from Shiga apparently accidentally skiied off course at Lotte Arai Resort in Myoko, Niigata on Jan. 24 and could not be rescued in time. Their bodies will be recovered later. A reminder to skiers to never ski in the backcountry.
2018-01-27 06:39:20 On Jan. 22, 2018, Maibara reached a record 400 consecutive days (since Dec. 18, 2016) without any traffic accident fatalities. This is the longest such period among Shiga’s cities and towns. Local police have reinforced the monitoring of fatality-prone sections since last June.
2018-01-30 01:03:59 Take the Shiga Quiz! 100 basic (?) quiz questions about your favorite prefecture. Heavily illustrated. There’s no other quiz like it. https://t.co/HukbMwc2Rn
2018-01-30 01:06:08 Also take the Shiga Image Quiz. 50 questions showing 50 images of Shiga’s most iconic sights and attractions you should know about. An excellent visual introduction to Shiga. https://t.co/VyuAAuqIHc
2018-02-01 20:58:09 I didn’t know this until now, but Dr. Pryse Duerfeldt in Marquette, MI passed away in July 2017. I’ve never met him in person, but he emailed me a few times over the years & avidly supported https://t.co/MzT4BdgWjB & sister-city relations w/Higashi-Omi. My belated condolences.
2018-02-02 23:22:26 For 5 years in a row in 2017, more people moved out of Shiga than those who moved in. Cities in southern Shiga, especially Kusatsu (+690), Moriyama (+369), and Otsu (+238) saw gains, while Higashi-Omi (-497), Nagahama (-427), Konan (-408), & Takashima (-361) saw losses.
2018-02-02 23:22:35 Reservations for Lake Biwa Canal boat rides starting on March 29 between Otsu & Kyoto now being accepted online (in Japanese only). Fares start at ¥4,000 for a 55-min. ride from Miidera to Keage. Boats will run until May 28 & in Oct.–Nov. Should be fun. https://t.co/hGd2BTfvwg
2018-02-06 21:29:41 From fall 2018, Shiga will start issuing newly-designed car license plates showing Lake Biwa and Chikubushima island. The design was the overwhelming favorite among the four choices presented last fall for voting by Shiga residents. 
2018-02-06 21:31:00 Opened in July 2017, Ekimachi Terrace Nagahama in front of JR Nagahama Station is bleeding red ink. Nagahama’s deputy mayor has been promoted as its president. They will build a kids’ play area on the 2nd floor to attract more families to this customer-sparse commercial complex. https://t.co/4JhrrxGQ8v
2018-02-06 21:31:15 Koka City Hall’s General Affairs Dept. head & other managers committed ballot count fraud & coverup for the House of Representatives election on Oct. 22, 2017. Total ballots counted didn’t add up, so they stuffed invalid ballots to compensate. A missing ballot box was later found
2018-02-06 21:31:28 Too bad Shiga won’t have any athletes at PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Our last hope was freestyle moguls skier Ito Miki (30) from Hino aiming for her 4th Winter Olympics but didn’t do well enough (22nd place) at the Freestyle Ski World Cup in Mont-Tremblant, Canada in Jan.
2018-02-08 01:25:49 At Koka City Hall, a missing ballot box with uncounted ballots was found after ballot count managers had already stuffed invalid ballots to match the correct total. One manager then took home the uncounted ballots and burned them to coverup their illegal ballot stuffing.
2018-02-08 01:29:03 Due to heavy snow, trains are currently not running on JR Kosei Line between Omi-Imazu and Omi-Shiotsu, and on JR Hokuriku Line between Nagahama and Tsuruga. Check current status here: https://t.co/Q9oRi30kOt
2018-02-09 06:28:14 Wow, “Hello Otsu” Facebook page in English (by Otsu Tourist Association) has over 42,000 followers. Is that for real?? Their previous “Otsu Style” FB English page had only 344 followers. https://t.co/4F7dTU0Urt
2018-02-12 22:57:19 New York Times紙の記事が話題になりました。多数の有名人や政治家などがフェイクフォロワー(fake followers)を買っていると判明。ばれやすいし、詐欺と同等。信用は失われる。 https://t.co/rIRgYIfD67
2018-02-12 22:57:48 Koka City Hall’s General Affairs Dept. chief Yasui Tatsuya (57, 保井達也) & 2 other managers on the election committee who committed ballot count fraud & coverup last Oct. have been fired on Feb. 9. Koka will have an outside committee to investigate & propose preventive measures.
2018-02-12 22:57:59 Hikone policeman Nishimura Hitoshi (32, 西村仁志) arrested & fired for DUI in Taga on Dec. 28. He was sleeping in his car at an intersection when another policeman approached & he sped home. Asked his family to lie & say they drove him home. Court fined him ¥500,000.
2018-02-12 23:01:27 NHK TV national news this morning spotlighted Shigaraki’s plight in trying to survive as its pottery production has dwindled to 1/4 or 1/5 of its peak. 信楽陶器工業協同組合、信楽町観光協会はまだ外国語版のホームページがありません。五輪はあと二年。
2018-02-15 03:38:34 The family of the Otsu City Public Enterprise Bureau worker in his 40s who overdosed on tranquilizers & died in March 2015 after suffering from power harassment by a male superior for a year will receive ¥8 mil. compensation from the city. Unnamed culprit received a mere pay cut.
2018-02-17 01:16:10 “Hello Otsu” Facebook page in English (by Otsu Tourist Association) now has over 47,000 followers. That’s 5,000 more than a week ago. What a miracle! Meanwhile, their Japanese FB page has only 1,500 followers. https://t.co/4F7dTU0Urt
2018-02-19 00:06:50 Hikone is now selling Hiko-nyan stickers for the LINE messaging app. For ¥120, you get a set of 16 stickers showing Hiko-nyan in new, cutesy poses such as “Thank you!” “Sayonara!” “Come here!” “No good!” and “Good night!” (in Japanese only). Includes Iinosuke stickers. 
2018-02-24 13:12:16 Nice to see a Shiga company being a major sponsor of Tokyo’s biggest annual sporting event, the Tokyo Marathon. Got my volunteer uniform today for the mega-marathon tomorrow (36,000 runners + 11,000 volunteers). 
2018-02-28 14:45:07 Too bad the tanuki and fox were not chosen as the official mascots for the Tokyo Olympics. They got only 35,291 votes. The futuristic superhero mascots (yet unnamed) won with 109,041 votes by Japanese elementary school kids. A tanuki mascot would’ve made Shigaraki very busy.
2018-02-28 15:00:46 Higashi-Omi has agreed to pay ¥32 million in compensation to the family of the age 73 man from Sakai, Osaka who died when the giant kite fell on him at the Odako Matsuri giant kite festival in May 2015. Still unknown when the kite festival will restart. Won’t be in 2018.
2018-03-01 11:59:07 After educating 530,000 5th graders about Lake Biwa for 35 years (since 1983), Shiga’s Uminoko “Floating School” completed its final voyage for 5th graders today. The aging ship’s replacement (also named “Uminoko”) will sail this May. Otsukaresama Uminoko (“Child of the Lake”)!! https://t.co/PTHQi73jpK
2018-03-02 13:46:19 The public can board and tour the old Uminoko “Floating School” at Otsu Port on March 11, from 9:15 am to 10:30 am before its official retirement ceremony. Your last chance to say “Good-bye and thank you” to this wonderful ship. #うみのこお別れ見学会 https://t.co/R1BBxGVuR4
2018-03-04 11:31:26 Kenyan Macharia NDIRANGU won the 73rd Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon today in 2:07’53”. NAKAMURA Shogo #中村匠吾 was 7th at 2:10’51”. Photo: Macharia (left) glancing at 2nd place Albert KORIR (also Kenyan) at Lake Biwa Canal a few km before the finish. #2018びわ湖毎日マラソン 
2018-03-10 08:16:10 In Omi-Hachiman today, visited one of the neighborhoods #宮内町building a festival float for the Sagicho Matsuri on March 17–18. Made of edible materials featuring the Year of the Dog. Takes about 2 months to build. This dog’s fur is made of jute fibers. Beautiful. #左義長まつり 
2018-03-20 17:41:45 さすが近江八幡。八幡堀の見つかりにくい駅行きのバス停の案内は英語にも表示。大いに助かる(白雲館前)。 Omi-Hachiman is tourist-friendly even for foreigners. Pointer to the bus stop at Hachiman-bori Canal. 
2018-03-20 17:42:12 Beautiful weather in Omi-Hachiman last weekend for 13 beautiful Year of the Dog floats (plus three children’s floats) at the annual Sagicho Matsuri. About 70,000 spectators enjoyed the float procession on Sat. and float battles and float burning on Sun. #左義長まつり #近江八幡 
2018-03-24 11:35:37 Zeze High School got wiped out by Japan Aiviation High School Ishikawa 0-10 in their 1st game today at the 90th Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament. Two other teams from Shiga will play soon.
2018-03-25 11:33:11 Saio Princess Procession today in Tsuchiyama, Koka. They arrived here at the National Historic Site of Tarumi Tongu, one of the palaces where the princess stayed on her way from Kyoto to Ise during the 9th–13th centuries. She wears a Juni-hitoe kimono. #あいの土山斎王群行 #甲賀市 
2018-03-28 05:15:52 Hikone Higashi High School beat Keio Senior High School (Kanagawa) 4-3 in their 1st game today at the 90th Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament. Next, they will play on March 31 at 11 am against Hanamaki Higashi High School (Iwate). #彦根東高等学校
2018-03-31 12:04:06 Both Shiga high school teams lost their second match at the 90th Senbatsu Spring Koshien national high school baseball tournament today. Hikone Higashi High School lost to Hanamaki Higashi High School (Iwate) 0-1, and Ohmi lost to Seiryo (Ishikawa) 3-4. Both were close games.
2018-04-06 19:46:33 The evening illumination of cherry blossoms at Omi-Fuji Karyoku Koen Park in Yasu this weekend has been canceled because the flowers bloomed a week early this year and they are now mostly gone.
2018-04-06 20:00:30 The old Otsu PARCO shopping complex will reopen this month on April 27 as “Oh! Me Otsu Terrace” with over 30 stores including Friend Mart (Heiwado), Yamada Denki, a sports shop, TSUTAYA bookstore, Can Do, United Cinemas, Saizeriya, Shiga Bank, & Curves. https://t.co/FJdqcttTWJ
2018-04-09 15:19:33 The strong magnitude 6.1 earthquake that hit Oda, Shimane Prefecture on April 9 at 1:32 am was also felt slightly in Shiga, M2 in places like Otsu, Nagahama, Maibara, Omi-Hachiman, and Takashima, and M1 in Hikone, Koka, and Higashi-Omi.
2018-04-09 15:19:56 Hikone-native swimmer Yui Ohashi #大橋悠依 set a new Japanese record in winning the Women’s 400-meter individual medley in 4:30.82 at Japan Swim 2018 nat’l championships (第94回日本選手権水泳競技大会競泳競技) at Tatsumi, Tokyo on April 8. Also won the 200-meter individual medley.
2018-04-11 15:17:01 今夜4月12日18:30にNHK総合に放送される「おうみ発630」長浜市出身のバンド~Lefa~ボーカル北川陽大さん ~滋賀を音楽で盛り上げたい。Watch NHK Otsu TV news tonight at 6:30 pm to hear Kitagawa Akihiro sing a special song. 
2018-04-12 13:19:10 Founded in 1933 in Hikone, Takata Corporation (タカタ株式会社) that filed for bankruptcy in June 2017 due to the massive recall of defective and deadly automotive airbags has been taken over by Joyson Safety Systems in the US. After 85 years, its name “Takata” is now gone.
2018-04-12 13:40:32 Last night (April 11) inside the police koban in front of JR Kawase Station in Hikone, a rookie policeman (19) shot & killed police sergeant Imoto Akira 井本光 (41), a co-worker. He was angered by Imoto’s disparagement. He fled the scene in a police car, but was soon caught.
2018-04-12 13:51:47 Some cherry blossoms still remain at Lake Yogo today in Nagahama. Yaezakura is starting to bloom. 
2018-04-14 08:29:58 April 15 is Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri’s main day starting at 10 am at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Child kabuki will be performed on 4 floats in this order: Shojo-maru (猩々丸), Ho’o-zan (鳳凰山), Takasago-zan (高砂山), Kotobuki-zan (壽山). Photo:Shojo-maru https://t.co/ZLHtkV1SRC https://t.co/QxkBWyivw1
2018-04-15 10:42:31 Cold, windy, and rainy morning at the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri today. Rain stopped in the afternoon. Boat-shaped Shojo-maru float’s kabuki play titled “Kumagaya Jinya” ended with this “Titanic Moment” on the bow. #長浜曳山祭 #猩々丸 #熊谷陣屋の場 
2018-04-18 13:06:50 A 3-day survey conducted in Jan. by birdwatchers at 181 locations around Lake Biwa found about 110,073 waterfowl in the lake, about 18% fewer birds than last season. Of the 41 species observed, the Eurasian coot saw the steepest decline of 33% fewer birds than last year.
2018-04-18 13:07:11 Omi-Hachiman’s mayor-elect KONISHI Osamu (59) 小西理 plans to go ahead with his campaign promise of canceling the construction of the new city hall that already started in Feb. A major sticking point against incumbent FUJITANI Eisho (71) whom he easily defeated on April 15.
2018-04-18 13:10:31 Sad that this large willow tree at Lake Yogo was knocked over by the typhoon last Oct. Famous as the tree where the swan maiden hung her clothes when she went skinny dipping in the lake. Glad it looks like the tree is still alive. Future swan maidens have to choose another tree. 
2018-04-18 13:11:03 Running since Aug. 1995, Steam Locomotive C56 “Pony” will make its final run as the “SL Kita-Biwako Train” on May 27, 2018 leaving Maibara Station at 1:16 pm and arriving Kinomoto Station 45 min. later. Due to old age, it will be retired and replaced by the D51 steam locomotive. 
2018-04-18 13:15:48 RT @LeavenworthKS: It’s been a cold few days, but our hearts are warmed by the beautiful blossoms on the cherry trees planted at North Esplanade Park in honor of our Sister City, Omihachiman, Japan.
2018-04-19 11:39:18 At Odani Castle in Nagahama, for the first time, 16th-century Shigaraki pottery pieces and remains of a drainage system were found where the Azai castle lord’s residence was believed to be located at the foot of Mt. Odani. #小谷城跡 #御屋敷跡
2018-04-19 11:39:50 The year-long NHK Taiga Drama historical TV series in 2020 titled “Kirin ga Kuru” (麒麟がくる) will be about Akechi Mitsuhide, lord of Sakamoto Castle in Otsu and most famous for assassinating warlord Oda Nobunaga in 1582. Mitsuhide will be played by actor Hasegawa Hiroki.
2018-04-19 11:40:10 To the relief of local residents, the koban police box in front of JR Kawase Station in Hikone where a junior policeman shot and killed coworker and police sergeant Imoto Akira (41) on April 11 has reopened today with two policemen on duty each shift.
2018-04-19 11:40:52 Otsu Basho sumo exhibition tourney will be held on July 30, 2018. Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi today requested the Japan Sumo Association to allow her to stand on the sumo ring for her speech that day. She & other female mayors will also submit a formal request to the Sports Minister. https://t.co/txa57hisur
2018-04-20 12:48:36 Otsu has been selected as one of the team camps for Wales and Fiji during the Rugby World Cup 2019. https://t.co/Hal1grL8WC
2018-04-20 14:03:24 Today, NHK World spotlighted Shiga Prefecture in a 30-min. news program. They covered a wide range of topics, but I thought the castle wall builder (AWATA Suminori) from Sakamoto building castle walls in the US was most interesting. Watch it online here: https://t.co/fM4TPzyuej
2018-04-22 08:33:36 第2回びわ湖音楽祭のプレイベントの一つとして関島秀樹コンサートが近江舞子のほとり・ポトリというカフェで4月21日に開催されました。自ら作詞・作曲された滋賀の歌を披露しました。橋板の歌も興味深いでした。とても良かったです。Sekijima Hideki performed in Omi-Maiko. 
2018-04-22 08:55:58 加藤登紀子プロデュースの「第2回びわ湖音楽祭」が2018年5月20日(日)に和邇に開催されます。入場料/6,000円。前日にも平和堂 和邇店に無料プレイベントが盛りたくさん。Singer Kato Tokiko and local artists will perform in Wani, Otsu on May 20. https://t.co/B7181FDE8b https://t.co/iUTmLqYM7W 
2018-04-27 11:17:39 Repair work has started on Hikone Castle’s white plaster walls damaged by Typhoon Lan (No. 21) last Oct. Repairs should be completed by Nov. this year. 
2018-04-27 11:25:15 About 2,500 shoppers were on hand today for the reopening of the old Otsu PARCO shopping complex renamed “Oh! Me Otsu Terrace” with over 30 stores including Friend Mart (Heiwado), Yamada Denki, TSUTAYA bookstore, Can Do, United Cinemas, and Shiga Bank. https://t.co/5gMYxdB8Q2
2018-04-28 22:59:50 My article about YUtour, tour guide for foreign visitors in Shiga. Operated by MORI Seita (森 聖太), a great tour guide. #悠ツアーhttps://t.co/YYaGK7ZwAl

Shiga History Sept.–Dec. 2017Chronological History of Shiga | Shiga History May–Aug. 2018

YUtour, tour guide extraordinaire in Shiga Prefecture

Tour guide Seita Mori (right) amid terraced rice paddies in Hata, Takashima.

by Philbert Ono, photos courtesy of Seita Mori and selected by Philbert Ono

It’s about time I introduce YUtour (悠ツアー), a licensed tour guide service for foreign tourists in Shiga Prefecture run by my friend MORI Seita (森 聖太) in Otsu. YUtour is a one-man operation with Seita-san as YUtour’s one and only English-speaking guide. All indicators (such as TripAdvisor comments) show that he is doing an outstanding job. And after having a long lunch with him the other day in Otsu, I believe it.

YUtour’s guided tours in English focus on the rural areas, ecotourism and nature, and traditional crafts of Shiga. He takes guests mainly to Otsu (Mt. Hiei, Sakamoto, Ogi, and Katata), Takashima (Harie and Hata), Shigaraki (pottery and Miho Museum), and Omi-Hachiman (Okishima island and traditional boat rides). If you look at the YUtour website, you can see “Ready-made tours” with a set itinerary and pricing, and “Tailor-made tours” to other areas in Shiga upon request. Most of the tours are day trips from Kyoto, and Seita usually meets his guests at Kyoto Station at the tour’s start. He takes mostly individuals, couples, or small groups, but can also handle larger groups.

Seita (in front) in Nakajima, Harie.

Why take a guided tour instead of touring by yourself?
When touring rural areas where public transportation is limited, English information is scarce, and where people don’t speak English, a guided tour in English makes it much easier.

The guide can introduce you to local people (farmers, potters, craftsmen, etc.) so you can talk to them and ask questions. It makes your visit more enjoyable and educational. When it comes to outside visitors, rural folks always appreciate some kind of introduction. Just a simple introduction by someone they know is all it takes for them to open up their world, culture, and lifestyle to you. With the right connections, people in Shiga can be very friendly to foreigners. And Seita is that connection.

Pottery lesson in Shigaraki.

Calligraphy brush makers in Takashima.

Kabata water basin is used to wash or chill fruits and vegetables. Carp also eat food scraps from washed dishes.

YUtour’s most popular destinations are Harie (homes with “kabata” kitchen basins spewing natural spring water), Hata (farming community with terraced rice paddies), Shigaraki pottery centers, and Miho Museum. YUtour uses public transportation as much as possible so visitors can also experience what locals do. But if necessary, they will use a taxi or mini bus (for large groups). About 40 percent of YUtour customers are from the U.S., followed by Australians and Europeans. English-speaking tourists from Asia also take his tours.

Since YUtour is a small operation, Seita makes the tours a lot more personal, personable, and flexible than with large tour operators. He tells me that he never gets tired of taking people to the same places and explaining the same things over and over. It’s because his guests are all different and they all have different interests, questions, and opinions and he enjoys talking to them. Seita learns a lot from them as well. So it’s a very interactive tour and not just a one-way lecture about this and that. I asked him what was the most common comment he gets from his visitors to Shiga: “So peaceful here!” Yep, laid-back Shiga is definitely a refreshing and relaxing break from the craziness and crowds of Kyoto.

Cycling through rice paddies in Adogawa, Takashima.

Hand paddling a boat through reeds in Lake Nishinoko, Omi-Hachiman.

Old reeds around the lake are burned in early March to make way for new buds.

Seita started YUtour in 2012 as part of his noble mission to help revitalize rural communities. Bringing foreign tourists was one way to do it. The “YU” (悠) in YUtour means “leisurely” in Japanese. I believe YUtour was the first professional tour guide service to start up in Shiga exclusively for foreigners. When I first heard about it, I didn’t think it would be so viable since Shiga is so little known overseas.

Indeed, Seita did struggle to get customers during his first year in business. But he stuck with it and over the years, YUtour gradually became a very active and in-demand service. It has gained more customers as word spread, and it’s now on track for further growth. The increasing number of inbound tourists to Japan has also helped, and Seita is also seeing repeat customers. He is most busy in spring and fall when he can be booked for at least half the month. Least busy are the winter months.

He has also been spotlighted in local Japanese newspapers and NHK Otsu TV news in 2017. I’m so glad to see him come this far to establish a niche for himself in Shiga. It takes a lot of dedication and determination and he loves what he’s doing. Seita also works part-time as a research assistant at Kobe University, so he does have a side job to fall back on when YUtour is not so busy.

Seita (left) helps to clean waterways in Harie.

I met Seita-san for the first time about a year ago when I invited him to one of my events. We didn’t have time to talk then, so we finally met up again over lunch in Otsu earlier this month.

I could quickly tell that he was a dedicated, upright professional and very community-oriented and knowledgeable about Shiga. He is a licensed tour guide for foreigners (通訳案内士) which means he passed a difficult national exam for testing one’s English ability and knowledge of Japan. It’s surprising to hear that he has never studied or worked abroad, so his English was mostly self-taught. To get up to that level without living abroad (or being married to a native English speaker) is pretty amazing for a Japanese person. (Japan’s English education program in public schools has largely been a failure for decades, with the vast majority of students still unable to converse in English even at college age. Japan’s low-quality English found everywhere in tourism brochures, official websites, signs, etc., also does not help.)

He also has a Ph.D degree, so we had very intelligent conversations (in Japanese). Besides me interviewing him, we also discussed tourism issues in Shiga and Otsu.

On NHK TV in July 2017, Enryakuji spokesman commented on their English weakness.

One thing we talked about was Enryakuji Temple. Enryakuji recently admitted on NHK TV that they were not good at English PR. I told Seita that Enryakuji should just ask its overseas Tendai Buddhist temples to help produce English materials. I’m sure they would gladly help their headquarters temple produce the English for PR brochures, official website, and directional signs. They are native English speakers who know the religion and terminology, so they are very qualified to do it. When it comes to English PR, Enryakuji is way behind Koya-san in Wakayama Prefecture. Seita showed me the excellent English website for Kumano Kodo. Something that Enryakuji, Otsu, and Shiga could learn from.

Seita and I also agreed that Otsu’s push to develop Chuo-Odori road between Otsu Station and Lake Biwa for tourists is not so promising since there’s nothing at the end of the road (except for a hotel). Yes, there’s Lake Biwa, but there are other more convenient roads leading to the lake.

Otsu recently made a snazzy, eye-catching video just to promote that it’s only “9 minutes by train from Kyoto.” This should’ve been “Only 9 minutes TO Kyoto” instead. Have tourists stay in Otsu to visit Kyoto, rather than tourists staying in Kyoto to visit Otsu. People who lodge in Otsu drop more money than people who just visit Otsu, right? Otsu often serves as backup accommodations for people who can’t find hotel rooms in Kyoto anyway. So a “9 minutes TO Kyoto” campaign would have been more practical. Vice versa is a lot harder—getting tourists staying in Kyoto to visit central Otsu.

Theoretically, being so close to Kyoto might sound good, but it can also be disadvantageous. Tourists who want to get away from Kyoto may think Otsu is too close and prefer to venture further away. This may explain why Harie and Shigaraki (both taking at least an hour from Kyoto) are more popular to visit from Kyoto.

Well, I still give credit to Otsu for at least trying and coming up with ideas. But as I told Seita, I think Otsu is stuck in a hard place. It doesn’t have a trademark attraction like Hikone Castle in Hikone. Yes, there’s Enryakuji (World Heritage Site), but it’s almost part of Kyoto and most people go there from Kyoto. Otsu has other important Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but people who want to see temples/shrines might as well stay in Kyoto. There’s Lake Biwa and lake cruises, but the lake is not unique to Otsu. Otsu has a lot of things, but nothing stands out. So it lacks a strong and unique identity attractive to tourists.

Pottery kiln in Shigaraki.

And Shigaraki (in Koka), despite its fame and popularity with foreigners, still has no official tourism website in English. (Google Translate doesn’t count.) Selling their wares to foreigners should really help (especially with the Tokyo Olympics coming up). The Shigaraki pottery association should create an English website. Shigaraki hardly has info in English except for Miho Museum and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park.

Too many people working in Shiga tourism still don’t understand the power and worldwide reach of the Internet and how a little language can go a long way. It’s hard to believe that there are still volunteer tour guides (mostly retirees) in Shiga who do not even use the Internet. (No emailing, no messaging, and no Web browsing.)

Anyway, I had a good discussion with Seita-san and we’ll be keeping in touch. YUtour provides a very valuable and rare service in Shiga. I think Seita represents Shiga very well as a grassroots cultural ambassador spreading the word about Shiga. I find him to be very friendly and affable. He is another example of how even one person can make a big difference in Shiga. It’s not snazzy videos nor slick brochures. It’s the word of mouth that counts the most and Seita Mori is on the front line for that.

To book a tour, go directly to the YUtour website. As of this writing, YUtour is not available for booking at travel sites like Expedia.

Website: http://www.yutour.net/
For more photos of his tours, see the Facebook page: https://ja-jp.facebook.com/yutour.net/

Seita also appeared in this PR video of Kyoto and Shiga produced by KLM:

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri 2018 Festival Schedule


Video link: https://youtu.be/3zYuarHUHXs

Updated: April 13, 2018

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri (長浜曳山祭) is a major float festival held annually on several days centering on April 15 by Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine in the city of Nagahama in northern Shiga Prefecture. The main highlight is child kabuki actors (boys age 5 to 12) performing on four ornate wooden floats pulled through the main streets. (If you can read Japanese, download the festival’s official guide brochure.)

2018 Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri Festival Schedule

(Main highlight dates in red, times are approximate)

April 7 (Sat.), 10 am–3 pm: At Hikiyama Museum, exhibited floats to be replaced. Details here.

April 9th–12th, from 8 pm: Hadaka-mairi worship at Nagahama Hachimangu and Hokoku Shrine. Details here.

April 10th–12th: Child kabuki practice open to the public. Details here.

April 12, from 6:30 pm: Portable shrine procession from Nagahama Hachimangu to Hokoku Shrine and Otabisho. Details here.

April 13, from 5:30 pm: Child kabuki performances in local neighborhoods. Details here.

April 14, 9:30 am to 1 pm: Child kabuki performances in local neighborhoods. Details here.

April 14, 1 pm to 4 pm: Float procession to Nagahama Hachimangu. Details here.

April 14, at 7 pm: Child kabuki evening procession from Nagahama Hachimangu to Hikiyama Museum. Details here.

April 15 (Main day): Child kabuki performances all day at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (10 am to 2:15 pm), Otemon Arcade, and Otabisho (4 pm to 8:15 pm). Details here.

April 16, 9 am to 9 pm: Child kabuki performances from 9 am to evening in local neighborhoods. Details here.

—Tips for seeing the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival—

When you arrive at JR Nagahama Station, you should go to the tourist information center outside the turnstile and ask what time and where the floats will perform kabuki. If you will see the festival on April 15, the main day, you can conveniently see all four floats perform kabuki in succession (40 min. each) at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine from 10 am to 2:15 pm. If you arrive Nagahama later in the day, you can see all four floats perform in succession at the Otabisho (large parking lot) near Nagahama Station from 4:00 pm from 8:15 pm.

You can also walk between Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine and the Otabisho (see map below), especially along Kurokabe Square and the Otemon shopping arcade where the floats will pass or perform in the afternoon. You can see the floats up close (artwork, etc.) while they are parked.

Each of the four floats will perform kabuki four times on April 15 for a total of 16 kabuki performances. So there will be a kabuki performance once or twice every hour from 10 am to 7:35 pm. You can easily see one or more kabuki performances somewhere in central Nagahama during this time.

Be aware that it is “standing room only” for all kabuki performances. It can be tiring to watch all four kabuki performances while standing. You could bring a collapsible chair, but people standing in front of you will block your view. (Although a limited number of paid seating is available at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, they sell out quickly.) If you plan to see the festival in the evening, the temperature can get much cooler so bringing a jacket is advisable.

About Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri

All festival events are within walking distance from JR Nagahama Station on the JR Hokuriku Line. Since there’s no detailed festival information and schedule in English from official sources, I provide this festival schedule in English based on official festival information and my recommendations. With a little knowledge of what’s what and what’s going on, I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy this festival much more after reading this post.

There are 12 kabuki floats (called hikiyama) with a kabuki stage and one “guardian” float named Naginata-yama with no stage. Every year, only four of the kabuki floats perform kabuki at the festival. Three groups of four kabuki floats take turns appearing in the festival each year so each float group appears (performs kabuki) every three years. The same four floats appear together each time. Only the Naginata-yama guardian float appears in the festival every year, but does not perform kabuki. To see all 12 kabuki floats, you would have to see the festival three years in a row.

Although April 15 is the main festival day (called Honbi 本日), there is a slew of festival events and kabuki performances before and after this day. If you can’t make it to Nagahama on April 15, you can still see kabuki performances on April 13 (evening), 14 (morning), and 16 (all day).

My video embedded above shows all the major festival events during this period. A few ceremonies and rituals are closed to the public. On Dec. 1, 2016, Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri was inscribed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as one of the 33 “Yama, Hoko, and Yatai float festivals in Japan.”

Another thing to know is that the four kabuki-performing floats draw lots to determine the order of their performances. Being Float No. 1 is most desirable since they get to perform first on April 15 (main festival day) and can end early and go home early. They also have the honor to host the Sanbaso prayer dancer who performs before their kabuki play.

The four Nagahama Hikiyama floats appearing in April 2018 and their kabuki plays and performance order are as follows:

Shojo-maru (猩々丸) Float No. 1 –  Ichi-no-Tani Futaba Gunki Kumagai Jinya「一谷嫩軍記 熊谷陣屋の場」
Ho’o-zan (鳳凰山) Float No. 2 – Koi Bikyaku Yamato Orai Umekawa Chube’e Ninokuchi-mura (Ninokuchi Village)「恋飛脚大和往来 梅川 忠兵衛 新口村の場」
Takasago-zan (高砂山) Float No. 3 – Gishi Gaiden Tsuchiya Chikara「義士外伝 土屋主税」
Kotobuki-zan (壽山) Float No. 4 – Niai Meoto Shusse no Hikitsuna – Nagahama Kazutoyo Chiyo「似合夫婦出世絏 長浜 一豊の屋敷」

How Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri Festival Started

According to legend, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the lord of Nagahama Castle, his first son Hashiba Hidekatsu was born in the early 1570s. To celebrate his son’s birth, Hideyoshi gave gold dust to the townspeople. The people used the gold to make a wooden float to celebrate the son’s birth. Hideyoshi paraded the float at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. This was the start of the Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri. This legend is often told, but it is not true.

Nagahama Hikiyama Festival originated from an annual samurai procession held by Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine founded in 1069 by the famed samurai Minamoto no Yoshiie (1039-1106). The shrine worships Hachiman (Emperor Ojin), the divine guardian of samurai.

In the late 16th century, daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi relocated the shrine to make way for his Nagahama Castle on the shore of Lake Biwa. At the same time, Hideyoshi rebuilt Nagahama Hachimangu that had been ravaged by war. The shrine’s annual samurai procession dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshiie was also resurrected with Hideyoshi’s samurai retainers.

By the 18th century well after Hideyoshi’s death, the samurai procession became more elaborate with wooden floats being added. When kabuki became popular in the 18th century, Nagahama’s townspeople thought about staging kabuki on the floats. They asked the prominent carpenter and woodcarver family of the late Fujioka Izumi (1617–1705) to design a float having a kabuki stage. The early floats were much simpler than today’s floats. The Fujioka family went on to design and build many of the floats. The idea of staging kabuki on festival floats spread from Nagahama to float festivals in nearby prefectures like Gifu.

Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri Festival Schedule of Events in 2018

Here is a detailed schedule of Nagahama Hikiyama Festival events in 2018 (times are approximate, and delays may occur). Also see the festival map toward the end of this post. The photos are screenshots from my video embedded above. Click on the photo to see the respective video segment.

April 7, 2018: Float Replacement Event (曳山交替式)
10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.: The hikiyama floats exhibited in the Nagahama Hikiyama Museum will be pulled out and taken back to their neighborhoods to prepare for the festival. Then the four floats appearing in next year’s festival will be brought into the museum to be displayed.

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April 9: Senko-ban Visitation (線香番)
Festival officials visit the four floats’ kabuki practice halls to watch a kabuki rehearsal and time the performance. Before clocks were invented, they used a burning incense stick (senko) to measure the kabuki play’s length. This is also when the parents see their sons perform for the first time. However, the actors do not wear the makeup and costumes yet. This ceremony is not open to the public since the practice hall will be filled with the boys’ parents and relatives.

April 9–12: Hadaka-mairi Shrine Worship (裸参り)
From 8:00 p.m. every night on these four days, scantily-clad young men (wakashu 若衆) from the four floats gather at their respective kabuki practice hall and parade to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine where they pray and purify themselves by running around a well and splashing themselves with the cold well water. They pray for a successful festival, healthy actors, and to draw a favorable lot on April 13 that determines the order of the floats’ performances. They all want to be Float No. 1 which performs first and goes home first on April 15 (main day).

From Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, they march through Otemon-dori shopping arcade to Hokoku Shrine across town where they pray and splash in a well again. On their last worshipping day on April 12, Otemon-dori shopping arcade has festival musicians and representatives from non-performing floats (i.e. those not performing in the festival this year) to greet the wakashu men. They play festival music (called shagiri 囃子) and offer cups of sake (rice wine) to the wakashu leaders and Kujitori-nin. They shout “Yoisa! Yoisa!” the whole time and drink a lot of sake.

You will notice that they wear different colored headbands. The young man wearing a red headband is the Kujitori-nin (籤取り人) who will draw the lot at the lot-drawing ceremony on April 13. The men wearing a blue headband are the guards (警護) who direct the wakashu. The men with a white headband are the rank and file. When a float’s wakashu pass by another float’s wakashu, a scuffle may break out since they are rivals in drawing lots. Quite a spectacle at both shrines and in-between.

April 12: Portable Shrine Procession (Mikoshi togyo 神輿渡御)
From 6:30 pm, men carry a mikoshi portable shrine from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine to the Otabisho rest place across town while shouting, “Yoisa!” They go through the Otemon-dori arcade and a few side streets. Along the way, festival musicians from other floats greet the portable shrine (no sake is served). Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri’s festival music is called shagiri (しゃぎり) instead of hayashi (囃子). The portable shrine was made in 1676 by Fujioka Kanbe’e (藤岡甚兵衛) with donations from shrine parishioners. The Fujioka family was a renown woodcarver and Buddhist altar maker in Nagahama.

The portable shrine brings the deity closer to the people and chases away evil spirits. They occasionally raise the portable shrine to wish happiness and safety to the people around it. The portable shrine arrives at the Otabisho at about 7:30 pm. The Otabisho is a rest place for the god traveling in a portable shrine. The portable shrine remains in the Otabisho until April 15 evening.

April 10–12: Public Kabuki Practice (公開稽古)
Only during these three days, each float’s kabuki practice hall is open to the public. You can watch the boys (mostly age 5 to 10) practice their kabuki play usually once in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The practice hall is typically a small community center in the float’s neighborhood. It has a large room with a makeshift kabuki stage in the same size as on the float. (For practice times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.)

Anybody can watch them practice without any reservation or admission fee, but they do not wear the kabuki makeup and costumes (no dress rehearsals). They have been practicing every day since March 20 (spring vacation), so by this time, they have mastered their roles quite well. They receive some fine-tuning during this time.

When you watch them practice so hard (sometimes they even break down and cry), you will come to appreciate how much work it takes to put on a kabuki play. You can also see what the boys really look like without the kabuki makeup. Then when you do see them in kabuki makeup (from April 13), you will be amazed at their transformation.

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Before the kabuki makeup and costumes…

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And after the kabuki makeup and costumes.

The kabuki play is directed by three instructors called San’yaku (三役): The choreographer, tayu narrator, and shamisen player. The choreographer casts the actors’ (yakusha) roles usually according to their physical attributes. The choreographer is usually an experienced kabuki actor and directs the actors’ movements and voice. The tayu narrates the story in a highly stylized manner like in kabuki. The shamisen player provides the only music played during the kabuki performance.

Since 1990, the Nagahama Hikiyama Cultural Association (長浜曳山文化協会) has been working to train local artists to become tayu narrators and shamisen players in the festival. In 2016, for the first time, all four floats had at least one locally-trained tayu narrator or shamisen player. Previously, they were all from outside Shiga.

Each performing float also publishes its own festival program booklet or brochure introducing the float and kabuki actors in Japanese. (If it has English, it’s usually not very good.) You can buy one for cheap at the practice hall.

*Tip: On April 12, you can see three different festival events: Kabuki practice during the day, the portable shrine procession from 6:30 pm, and the hadaka-mairi shrine worshippers from 8 pm.


April 13
The main events on this day are the lot-drawing ceremony and the first kabuki performances in full costume for the public held in the evening.

Taiko Drum Call (起し太鼓): Before dawn at all float neighborhoods, a small team walk around and beat a taiko drum as a wakeup call.

Sacred Staff Receiving Ceremony (御幣迎えの儀)
7:00 a.m.: Representatives (including the Sacred Staff Messenger age 5–7) from the four floats go to Nagahama Hachimangu to receive their sacred staff (zigzag paper streamers) to be mounted on their floats.

Lot-Drawing Ceremony (Kujitori-shiki 籤取り式の儀)
1:00 p.m.:
 This ceremony is held to draw lots to determine the order of the four floats’ kabuki performances. Being Float No. 1 is most desirable since they get to perform first on April 15 (main festival day) and can end early and go home early. They also have the honor to host the Sanbaso prayer dancer who performs before their kabuki play.

At Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, four unmarried lads representing the four floats wear a red headband (like they did at the Hadaka-mairi) and sit in front of the shrine priest inside the worship hall. They are the lot drawers (Kujitori-nin).

Four pieces of paper are written with float numbers one to four. Each piece of paper is crumpled into a ball and placed on a tray as a lot to be drawn. There is a tray for each lot, and each lot drawer selects and carries back a tray. While sitting together, they all open their paper lots at the same time to see who is Float No. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The Lot-drawing ceremony is not for the public since the shrine’s worship hall is too small to allow the public inside to see the ceremony. However, you can see them from outside celebrating (throwing the lot drawer into the air, etc.).

April 13 Kabuki Performance (十三日番)
5:30 p.m. to around 8:30 p.m.: The four floats hold their first public kabuki performances in full makeup and costume in their respective neighborhoods. (For exact performance times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.) Each float will perform kabuki only once or twice this evening.

In case of rain, the float will be covered with a tarp or moved to the shopping arcade for shelter.

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Sanbaso dancer (三番叟)

About the Sanbaso dancer
Float No. 1 receives the honor of hosting the Sanbaso dancer. The Sanbaso dances on Float No. 1 before the float’s kabuki play and he is the first performer on April 15 (main festival day) at the shrine. He holds a bell tree shaped like a ripe rice plant and performs prayer dances for a rich harvest.

The Sanbaso performs two short dance segments. The first segment is Momi-no-dan (stomping segment) where he waves his sleeves and stomps on the ground like he is preparing the ground for planting. He also does the “crow jump” (karasu-tobi) by jumping three consecutive times.

The second segment is Suzu-no-dan (bell segment) when the Sanbaso shakes his bell tree and mimes the planting and growing of rice. His costume has a crane design and his high cap has tiger stripes and a red sun on both sides.

The Sanbaso is a well-known dancer in Noh and kabuki. He comes from a Noh prayer dance called Okina (翁) dating from the 14th century as a religious ritual. Okina has three dancers praying for longevity, peace, endless joy, prosperity, and rich harvests. Sanbaso is the third dancer in Okina which is traditionally performed on auspicious and celebratory occasions like New Year’s and at the beginning of the day’s Noh or kabuki program. This is why he always appears first on the main festival day. The Sanbaso dances each time the float performs during the festival days. The boy playing the Sanbaso is recruited from the public in Nagahama and he is around age 10. He has his own choreographer, tayu narrator, and shamisen player. Ciick here to see the Sanbaso video clip.


April 14
The day before the main festival day is also a busy day. Lots to see/photograph.

Kabuki Performance in Local Neighborhoods (自町狂言)
9:30 a.m. to 1 pm: Morning performances of kabuki plays are held by the four floats in their respective neighborhoods. The floats perform once or twice in the morning. For exact times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.

Floats Proceeding to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (Noboriyama 登り山)
1 pm to 4 pm: After they finish their morning kabuki performances, the four floats proceed from their neighborhoods to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Float No. 4 arrives at the shrine first, followed by the others in reverse numerical order. All four floats arrive at the shrine by 4 p.m. It’s a spectacle to watch them pull the floats through the streets and the shopping arcade as they shout “Yoisa! Yoisa!” It’s a stop-and-go process. Meanwhile, the Naginata-yama float is pulled from its storehouse across town and arrives at the Otabisho rest place at 4 p.m. It is the only float that does not go to the shrine.

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About the Naginata-yama “Long Sword Float” (長刀山/小舟町組)
This is the only float with no kabuki stage, an Imperial-style carriage with only three wheels. Carries banners and long swords. A ceremonial and “festival guardian” float appearing every year on April 14-15 only at the Otabisho. It does not go to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Built in 1775 with Chinese lion sculptures on four sides. It’s a nice float, but does not attract the crowds. It’s a quiet float.

After the Sword Procession on April 15, red banners are hoisted on the float. Before Float No. 1 arrives at the Otabisho in the late afternoon, Naginata-yama’s red banners are replaced by white ones bearing the Minamoto Clan’s crest. The float’s caretaker is the Naginata-gumi association from the lakeside Kobuna-machi neighborhood (小舟町 now in Asahi-cho) where Minamoto Yoshiie landed for his victory march to Nagahama Hachimangu.

Evening Kabuki Procession (Yu-watari 夕渡り)
7:00 p.m.: Evening procession of all the child kabuki actors in full costume walking from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine to Nagahama Hikiyama Museum through Otemon-dori shopping arcade. It starts with actors from Float No. 4, then No. 3, 2, and 1. Occasionally, the actor will stop and pose for photographers. Each actor is escorted by an adult relative (usually the father) holding a paper lantern and wooden placard indicating the actor’s name, age, and kabuki character. The procession includes festival musicians (no floats). A real crowd pleaser for locals and tourists alike.

All the kabuki actors (and stagehands) are treated like royalty during the festival. They receive gifts from relatives and friends and are very much pampered by their parents for undertaking such a difficult and rigorous task of kabuki acting. (A few of them even do it more than once.) The mothers have to make sure they don’t get sick or catch cold. This childhood experience stays with them for life and many of them come back to Nagahama to help out with the festival. In recent years, the floats have had difficulty recruiting kabuki actors (and musicians) since there are fewer kids in their neighborhoods.


April 15: Main festival day (Honbi 本日)
The festival’s peak day with kabuki performances here and there in central Nagahama from 9:45 am to 8:15 pm. The four floats start at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine where they perform in succession. Then they start moving toward the Otabisho and perform three more times at multiple locations (see map below). Before and after the kabuki performances, there are other processions and ceremonies. Note that the floats can be prone to be late (especially in the evening), so the time schedule is only approximate.

Before dawn: Taiko Drum Call (起し太鼓) at all float neighborhoods.

April 15 Events at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (Times are approximate.)
7:00 a.m.:
 Spring Festival Ceremony (春季大祭). A religious ceremony, not really for tourists.

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8:30 a.m.: Morning Kabuki Procession Arrival (Asa-watari 朝渡り) of child kabuki actors arrive at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Colorful procession, but too early in the morning for spectators.

9:20 a.m.: Sword Procession (Tachi-watari 太刀渡り) of sword bearers arrives at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine after going through Otemon-dori arcade. Led by a golden sacred staff, this procession reenacts the Hikiyama Matsuri’s original samurai procession before floats were added. Young men wear ceremonial aprons (similar to sumo wrestlers) and young boys wear samurai armor and a long naginata sword (2–3 meters long). They depict Minamoto no Yoshiie’s victory march to the shrine after he won the Gosannen War (1080s) in the Tohoku Region. Minamoto no Yoshiie was a famous samurai who founded Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine in 1069.

By the 16th century, Nagahama Hachimangu was ravaged by civil war, so Nagahama Castle Lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved and rebuilt the shrine at its present location further inland. He also used his own samurai retainers to restart the shrine’s annual festival procession dedicated to Minamoto no Yoshie.

The Sword Procession is conducted by the Naginata-gumi group which also pulls the Naginata-yama float. It has the Matajirohama beach (又次郎浜) where Minamoto no Yoshie landed for his victory march to the shrine.

After resting at the shrine for a short period, the Sword Procession goes to the Otabisho to mount their long swords on the Naginata-yama float.

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9:35 a.m.: Okina Maneki (翁招き) is an opening ritual held in front of Float No. 1 to mark the start of kabuki performances. A long bamboo pole attached with a wooden placard is waved to the shrine and to Float No. 1 as a signal to start the festival and the festival music begins. Float No. 1 is then moved into position for the first kabuki performance (opening with the Sanbaso dancer).

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10:00 a.m.–2:15 p.m.: Kabuki at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine (Hono kyogen 奉納狂言) has the four floats perform kabuki at Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine in succession starting with Float No. 1. These performances are dedicated to the gods. Each play is about 40 min. long. After a float finishes a kabuki performance, it leaves shrine and goes to the next performance location on the way to the Otabisho. The next float is then moved into position in the shrine to give its kabuki performance. So there is a break time between performances.

If you want to see all the kabuki plays on the four floats, one option is to stay at the shrine to see all of them. But it’s standing room only, so you may get tired standing for that long. There is paid seating, but they require advance tickets (costing a few thousand yen) sold in Feb. and usually sell out quickly. If you sit on the ground, you won’t be able to see the float since everyone is standing in front of you.

You can just watch one or two floats at the shrine, take a break, and watch the other floats at other locations and times. For kabuki performance times at the shrine and elsewhere, see the table below. All four floats will also perform at the Otabisho later in the afternoon and evening (also standing room only).

Each float has five to seven kabuki actors and one or two stagehands. There used to be more actors like 10 or more per float, but there are fewer kids now. It’s also quite expensive to rent the kabuki costumes. Since each kabuki float performs every three years, that’s how long they have to raise money for the festival.

Although watching the kabuki is impressive without even understanding it, you would enjoy it more if you knew the kabuki story. Most of the kabuki plays are well known and you may be able to find an English synopsis online if you know the kabuki play’s title in Japanese or English. Sometimes the kabuki play includes something about Nagahama.

*The order of the floats’ performances is decided on April 13 by the Kuji-tori ceremony (籤取り式の儀) where they draw lots to see which float is No. 1, 2, 3, or 4.

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Performing at Kanaya Park.

After performing at the shrine, each float will move across town mainly along Otemon-dori road (shopping arcade, Kurokabe Square, etc.) to the Otabisho rest place. Along the way, they will stop and perform kabuki three more times with the last performance at the Otabisho by Float No. 4 held from 7:35 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. The map below has a red line indicating the float route on April 15 and the kabuki performance spots (1 to 7) along the way. To enlarge the map, click here.

Float No./Location1. Hachimangu2. Shrine path3. Kanaya Park4. Hikiyama Museum5. Arcade intersection6. Kurokabe Square7. Otabisho
Float No. 1
(Shojo-maru)
10:00–10:45 am12:00–12:45 pm2:00–2:45 pm4:00–4:45 pm
Float No. 2
(Ho'o-zan)
11:15–11:55 am1:15–1:55 pm3:15–3:55 pm5:15–5:55 pm
Float No. 3
(Takasago-zan)
12:25–1:05 pm2:25–3:05 pm4:25–5:05 pm6:25–7:05 pm
Float No. 4
(Kotobuki-zan)
1:35–2:15 pm3:35–4:15 pm5:35–6:15 pm7:35–8:15 pm
*Location numbers correspond to the numbers in the map below.

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April 15 Otabisho Events
The Otabisho (御旅所) is a small shrine building on a large parking lot near Hokoku Shrine (short walk from JR Nagahama Station). It is where the portable shrine rests during its journey away from Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. (The time schedule below is only approximate. Delays may occur. If you are visiting on a day trip and plan to stay until the end, be sure to check the time of your last train home.)

4:00–8:15 pm: Successive kabuki performances are held by the four floats as they arrive at the Otabisho one by one. Float No. 1 should arrive at 3:30 p.m. and start performing kabuki at 4 p.m. The last float (Float No. 4) is scheduled to finish its kabuki performance at 8:15 p.m. The kabuki actors are whisked home right after their performance. They don’t stick around for the latter events. They are exhausted and need to sleep and be ready for the next day.

9:00 p.m.: Portable Shrine Procession (Mikoshi togyo 神輿渡御)
After all the floats finish performing at the Otabisho, a short Shinto ceremony is held and the portable shrine that was brought to the Otabisho on April 12 is taken out and carried around the Otabisho a few times before it goes back to Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine. Note that it can get chilly this late in the evening, so dress warmly.

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9:30 p.m.: Returning Floats (戻り山)
The floats start to leave the Otabisho to return to their neighborhoods. Naginata-yama is always the first float to leave, followed by Float No. 1 and the other three floats in order. The last Float No. 4 might leave as late as 11 pm. The floats go back to their neighborhoods.


April 16: After-Festival Kabuki (Goen kyogen 後宴狂言)
9:00 a.m. to 8:40 pm: Each of the four floats will perform kabuki three times this day in their respective neighborhoods in central Nagahama. They will also perform on stage at the Nagahama Bunka Geijutsu Kaikan hall for a paying audience from 10:55 a.m. Each float’s final performance of the festival is called senshuraku (千秋楽). It starts from 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. (For exact times and locations, see the official festival guide book in Japanese or ask the tourist information desk at Nagahama Station.) Expect to see some tearful kids and relieved parents after the last show is over.

April 17: Sacred-Staff Returning Ceremony (御幣返しの儀)
8:00 am: Representatives (including the Sacred Staff Messenger around age 5–7) from the four floats go to Nagahama Hachimangu to return their sacred staffs (zigzag paper streamers) that were mounted on their floats. Not much for tourists.


For more information about the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival in English, including the festival’s origins, history, and all the floats, watch my YouTube video (embedded above). I don’t mean to brag, but it’s the world’s most comprehensive video about the festival in English. Being 91 min. long, it’s a long video, but you’ll learn a lot and enjoy the festival a lot more by knowing more about it and knowing what to expect.

For festival details in Japanese, see or download the official festival guide book pdf.

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