Shiga #4: Plum Bonsai Trees (盆梅)

It’s almost March… the air is slowly getting warmer, and it will soon be time for plum blossoms, which herald spring here in Japan. Today we’re heading down to the Kansai area to Shiga, a prefecture known for the famous Plum Blossom Bonsai, called Bonbai in Japanese. There are two postcards in the Postacollect collection depicting bonsai, the other being Kagawa Prefecture’s Pine Bonsai.

Bonsai are miniaturized trees which are carefully cultivated to stay small. These trees still flower however, and Shiga is the place to go to appreciate these cute but beautiful trees. Every year in Nagahama, the Keiunkan (a guesthouse built to host the Emperor Meiji on his way to Kyoto) features a show of about 90 plum bonsai of various shapes, forms, and sizes. It is one of the largest and longest exhibitions of its kind in Japan, and the quality of the exhibits, and the way each bonsai is showed to it’s full potential, is carefully thought out, giving the exhibition it’s famous reputation.

The Nagahama Bonbaiten can be visited from January through March 10th. It is close to JR Nagahama Station. Be sure to stop by the Tourist Information Center by the station for information and brochures! If you’d like to see the full-sized trees, at the Hokoen Park in Nagahama you can see a plum grove. Or if you’re not close to Shiga during plum blossom season, visit any bairin (plum grove), and you could very well find your own bonsai to see or even buy. I found some visiting my local grove called Akimabairin:

Aren’t they cute?

Shiga #2: Hikone Caste, Lake Biwa, & Chikubu Island (彦根城・琵琶湖・竹生島)

Most postcards just depict one place or feature of a prefecture, but a few are more ambitious. Shiga’s second postcard depicts three famous places in Shiga Prefecture: Hikone Castle, Lake Biwa, and Chikubu Island.

These three can definitely be seen altogether (on a clear day anyway), so it makes sense to put them together. I’ll give a little background on each before posting a few pictures.

Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It too is featured in the “Eight Views of Oumi” which I talked a tiny bit about when I introduced Tsukimi and Shiga’s 6th postcard. Chikubu Island is on Lake Biwa, and is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site. There are both a shrine (Chikubushima Jinja) and a temple (Hougon-ji) on the island. Hougon-ji is a really interesting place and definitely worth reading up on. Finally, Hikone Castle is one of only 12 left in Japan with the original keep, and one of only four listed as a national treasure.

I visited Hikone Castle and Lake Biwa during Golden Week a few years ago, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see Chikubu Island from the castle. Here are a few pictures nevertheless:

Hikone Castle from the back side

Looking out onto Lake Biwa. On a clear day we could’ve seen Chikubu Island.

The Castle has some nice garden areas around it not shown in the postcard, but which were very nice.

If you’ve in Shiga during the end of October/beginning of November, there’s a festival at and around the castle that looks really neat! The main event is November 3rd and you can read about it here. If you go, say “hi” to Hikonyan for me!

2015.01.20: NHK’s Fudoki program, which are short 5 minute videos on various Japan-related topics, has two videos uploaded, one about Hikone Castle’s Architecture (a short 5 minute video), and the other on Lake Biwa. There’s another NHK Program, BEGIN’s Japanology series, which has a much longer video on Lake Biwa here as well.

Moon-viewing Festival (Shiga #6: Ishiyama Temple (石山寺))

My goodness, sorry for the long wait for a new post! I usually have a queue going for Mondays but didn’t schedule correctly… whoops! Let’s go right into my second Postcard Element Post, this time about that bright round thing in this postcard… the moon!

This Monday (September 8th) was a autumn holiday called Tsukimi (“Moon-viewing”) here in Japan. The moon is big, bright, and easy to see this month, and it is coming into harvest time for the rice and other crops, so Tsukimi is a festival to not only enjoy the beautiful moon this time of year, but also to give thanks and prayers for a successful harvest.

It isn’t an official holiday, but there are some traditions associated with it that some people celebrate. For example, many people make Tsukimi dango (Tsukimi dumplings), decorate their homes with fall harvest foods such as persimmons or chestnuts, and decorate the home with bush clover and pampas grass.

I didn’t get any good moon pictures this year (its been rainy and cloudy a lot recently), but I did take a picture of the moon a clear night a little before, and also made Tsukimi dango and decorated last year, so here’s two pictures for you:

Can you see the rabbit?

Happy Tsukimi!

By the way, the postcard is Shiga’s 6th postcard from the Otsu area of a temple called Ishiyama-dera. It is part of the Kansai-Kannon Pilgrimage, and the famous ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige featured it on a famous print called “The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama” (石山の秋月) from his series “The Eight Views of Oumi”. It is also where the world’s first novel, “The Tale of Genji”, was begun by Murasaki Shikibu one full-moon night in August in 1004. So the moon features highly in this postcard! Although I’ve been to Shiga before, my last visit was in 2011, so I don’t have this postcard. I would love to go back and see the prefecture again, though!