Updated April 23, 2014
On April 1, 2014, Japan’s consumption tax increased from 5% to 8%. This means almost everything will cost slightly more, including train fares, souvenirs (some souvenirs will be priced the same as shops absorb the extra tax), food, hotel, etc. What’s going to be weird are the train fares. Pay for a train ticket in cash, and you most likely will be paying more than necessary since they will round off the amount to the nearest 10 yen. Use an “IC” smart card (tap card) like ICOCA instead. We saw a shopping frenzy during the last few weeks and days until March 31, 2014 when the tax was still 5%. We’ll get used to the 8% soon enough.
Cherry blossoms are starting to bloom. Otsu should reach full bloom by the end of this week. Cherries along the Lake Biwa Canal will be lit up from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm until April 13. Hikone started to bloom on April 2, three days later than last year. Full bloom is expected a week later. See the Weather News sakura channel for the current sakura status in Shiga. Pink means almost full bloom and red means full bloom.
Following cherry blossoms are matsuri or spring festivals. See my Top 10 list of April-May festivals in Shiga Prefecture here. The festival dates are the same every year except for the Higashi-Omi Giant Kite Festival held on the last Sunday of May. Golden Week is also full of matsuri and I have a list of Golden Week festivals in Shiga here.
Other notable Spring 2014 events:
- Buddhist art fans should know that the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio (Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji) is now having a special display of their “hidden” Buddha statues (湖東三山本尊 特別公開). For the first time in eight years, the Kannon statues are being shown to the public from April 4 to June 1, 2014.
- Hikone Byobu folding screen (彦根屏風), a National Treasure, is on display until May 7, 2014 at the Hikone Castle Museum is next to the ticket booth to enter Hikone Castle. Open 8:30 am to 5 pm (enter by 4:30 pm). Admission is 500 yen for adults (cheaper if you also buy a ticket to enter Hikone Castle). Details about the byobu here. Google Map
- If you’re in Tokyo in April, note that there is a rare Buddhist art exhibition at The University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai) displaying 18 Kannon statues from Nagahama. Three of the Kannon statues are Important Cultural Properties. The statues were removed from their respective temples and carefully packed and transported to Tokyo from Nagahama. The show runs until April 13, 2014. Blog post here. Official Web site.
- A giant balloon (photo) in the shape of Minakuchi-Okayama Castle will be mounted atop Mt. Okayama (Kojo-san 古城山) in Minakuchi, Koka for 4 days from Apr. 17, 2014 coinciding with the Minakuchi Hikiyama Matsuri float festival. It will be inflated from 10 am to 9 pm and lit up at night. The balloon will be 11 meters high. Minakuchi-Okayama Castle was originally built in 1585 by Nakamura Kazuuji 中村一氏, a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It fell into ruin after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 where the castle lord lost. Since there are few historical records of the castle, its exact appearance is unknown.
Have a happy spring!