So, besides our ryokan stay in part 1, there was a lot of other things to do in Shiga Prefecture. Other things we did in and around Lake Biwa were…
The Katsube Fire Festival
When Emperor Tsuchimikado fell sick sometime in the 13th century, a fortuneteller traced the cause of his sickness to a dragon living in a nearby marsh. The dragon was killed and burned, so every second Saturday of January, the Katsube Himatsuri (Fire Festival) is celebrated to commemorate that event. Oh right, and yeah, the emperor recovered after that happened.
So, to presumably represent said dragon, massive torches made of hay are constructed, hauled into the shrine grounds by men in traditional loincloths, and set aflame. As the torches burn, the men dance in circles and chant.
Small fireworks inside the torches go off just as the torches are spent, signifying their end. Then, their remains are hauled out through the shrine gates. Man, Japanese festivals are so cool.
Mount Hiei via the Biwako Valley Ropeway
Biwako Valley Ropeway is Japan’s fastest, and it takes you to the top of the local Mount Hiei in five minutes. Activities included my first encounter with snow this unconscionably warm winter, and my first time sledding in over 15 years.
We also spent what must have been an hour trying to get the perfect picture on the edge of the infinity pool at Biwako Valley Terrace. Perfect for Instagram! Too bad I don’t have one.
Mount Hiei stands at a modest 2,782 feet (848.1m), which still makes for a great view above the clouds.
The Michigan Cruise
Nothing is more Japanese than an American paddle steamboat straight out of 1880s Mississippi River. You can take a 60, 80, or 120-minute cruise on the fantastic Michigan, four stories and also featuring a bar and live performances.
Keeping with the American theme, the performers even sang in ENGLISH, which is always a surprise. It was mostly Disney music, including Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go,” Mary Poppins’s “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and Jungle Book’s “I Wan’na Be Like You.”
Much like the Naruto cruise in Awaji, you can also feed the birds here, since they follow the boat the whole time and are pretty unafraid of humans. I had a perfect moment of symbiosis with one particular gull, who snatched my stick of Pretz right out of my hand. They flew a little too close for comfort a lot, even when we were just leaning on the railing looking out at the scenery.
Daiichi Nagisa Flower Park
Conveniently located a several-mile walk next to turbid rivers, Communist-block architectural monstrosities, rice paddies, and homes from which getting to a train station in less than half an hour is only a dream, is Daiichi Nagisa Park, where you can catch over 12,000 early-blooming rapeseed flowers.
So now, thanks in large part to Stanzi and others encouraging me to travel more, I’ve made a not-insignificant dent into the prefectures of Japan!
To end on a more interesting note, Ogoto, the immediate area of Shiga that we stayed in, has a little bit of a seedy undertone and history to it. Our lovely 4-star hotel was right behind a huge pachinko parlor, and closer to it still was this:
A “soapland” in the process of being demolished. Soaplands are essentially brothels that just barely, barely skirt by in the eyes of Japanese law. We saw them dotted all over our travels across Shiga and around the lake. Oh well, perhaps on my next solo travel trip ;^)))