JAPAN PHOTOS by Philbert Ono

*Be sure to wear a mask when traveling.

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About the song and rowing route... この歌について(日本語解説)(日本語はこの下にあります。Japanese follows the English below.)

Shiga Prefecture's most famous and beloved song is called Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌) or "Lake Biwa Rowing Song." I have rendered this song into both pictures and English, according to my own imagination and interpretation.

First composed in 1917 by a bunch of college students from Kyoto, the song has been recorded by many famous Japanese singers and groups. In 1971, it became a major nationwide hit with singer Tokiko Kato's rendition. Today, the song remains a favorite among choir groups in Japan, and a choir singing contest is held for the song every June (since 1997) in Imazu, the birthplace of the song in the northwestern corner of Lake Biwa.

Shiga Prefecture also has stone monuments dedicated to each of the six verses. There's even a museum (Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan) in Imazu dedicated to the song. Okaya city on the shores of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture, the birthplace of the song's composer, Taro Oguchi (小口太郎) (1897-1924), also has a song monument and bronze statue of him.

The song is about a four-day, boat-rowing trip around Lake Biwa undertaken on June 27, 1917 by seven college students. They were in the rowing club at an elite college in Kyoto called Dai-san Koto Gakko (No. 3 High School 第三高等学校) which later merged with Kyoto University. As shown by the red line in the map above, they started at Otsu and rowed to Omatsu (now called Omi-Maiko), Imazu, Chikubushima island, Nagahama, Hikone, Chomeiji, and back to Otsu. They stopped overnight at Omatsu, Imazu, and Hikone.

The dotted blue line shows a longer route taken by earlier members of the rowing club beginning in 1893 when they did it for the first time. Twenty-one of them rowed around the lake in three boats, taking four nights and five days. The school's annual summer tradition of rowing around Lake Biwa thus began.

As the song circumnavigates the lake and mentions famous places in Shiga, the words also express symbolic meanings and sometimes unknown or mistaken meanings. The song is widely interpreted as describing the journey of life itself.

I have visited and photographed all the places mentioned in the song as well as all the song monuments in Otsu, Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Hikone, Chomeiji, and Okaya (Nagano). I also created some digital images to match the scenes mentioned in the song.

More info about Lake Biwa Rowing Song here.

Photo: This map of lake Biwa is part of the Verse 5 Song Monument recently built in Oct. 2005 at Hikone Port. The English captions were inserted by me with my computer.
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Map of Asukayama Park. Near Oji Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line, a slender park noted for cherry blossoms.
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Tahoto Pagoda and Gekkoden Hall at Gokokuji temple in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
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Map of park. The park is a long, elongated shape.
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Map of Mt. Mikami. It says the trail is 1.3 km long, taking 40 min. For normal people, allow 80 min. to reach the peak. I took about 90 min. to reach the top, while taking time to take pictures.
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Eikando is a Jodo-shu Buddhist temple famous for autumn foliage, especially red maples. One of Kyoto's most photogenic spots for fall leaves.
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Sutra Repository 経堂
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When you first enter Eikando temple in Kyoto, this is what you see. A hint of more to come.
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This path of maples would be redder a several days earlier. Path to Miei-do Hall.
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Everywhere you look in Eikando is so utterly photogenic, or should I say paint-genic since they didn’t have cameras when the temple was built. Everywhere looks like a scene from a classic Japanese painting.
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Even the shape and placement of the trees are so artistic.
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Eigenji Temple
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Eikando temple, Kyoto
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Whoever landscaped or designed the temple grounds was an artistic genius.
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Main entrance to the temple.
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Courtyard garden
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Courtyard garden seen from the Shaka-do Hall.
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Courtyard garden seen from the Shaka-do Hall.
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Roof of the Mieei-do Hall.We were not allowed to photograph inside the temple buildings.
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Amida-do Hall
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Amida-do Hall
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Temple bell
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Yasuragi Kannon at Eikando
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Yasuragi Kannon statue at the bottom of the steps of Amida-do Hall.
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Miei-do Hall (Daiden)
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Miei-do Hall (Daiden)
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Hojo-ike Pond. Notice the two-story pagoda (Tahoto) in the distance.
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Hojo-ike Pond. The two-story pagoda (Tahoto) in the distance.
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The two-story pagoda (Tahoto) is a short climb up the stairs. Worth the view.
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View from the two-story pagoda on the hillside. This would be a sea of red during the peak period. I have to come back here.
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View from the two-story Tahoto pagoda on the hillside at Eikando.
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Bridge to Benten-shima on Hojo-ike Pond.
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Bridge to Benten-shima on Hojo-ike Pond.
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Miei-do Hall in the distance.
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Gasen-do Hall
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Gasen-do Hall
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Eikando
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Bridge to Benten-shima on Hojo-ike Pond.
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Bridge to Benten-shima on Hojo-ike Pond.
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Eikando
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JPN Cafe
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They also had a rest area where they served tea and sweets amid the foliage. Brisk business.
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Eikando
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Eikando
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Eikando, Kyoto
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I was a few days too late to see the peak. Will return again in autumn.
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Map of Hikone. Hikone Castle is famous as being only one of five castles in Japan designated as a National Treasure. The tenshu castle tower is original, and you can enter it to get a good idea of what a real castle looked like.
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Karasuma Peninsula in Kusatsu. There is a large lotus pond behind the windmill. About 20 min. by bus from JR Kusatsu Station.
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Map of Hanno.
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Map of the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace
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Tourist map of Takatsuki which has quite a few temples with a Kannon statue.
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Little Shinto shrine and red maples.
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I had a great autumn photo shoot this day at Tokugen-in.
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In Sept. 2018, this front wall of Tokugen-in temple collapsed due to a strong typhoon.
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Momiji
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Looks like the trees are on fire. Rikugien Garden, Tokyo
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Entrance
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Tall bamboo illuminated. Very subtle colors against the black sky.
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Chrysanthemum display
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Pine trees and autumn leaves lit up at Rikugien Garden.
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Japanese pine tree in fantastic shapes.
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Weeping cherry tree in fall.
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Shibata Castle Park map
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Admission to Sorinji temple and Ryushintei garden is 300 yen.
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Ryushintei Garden is Yamaguchi Prefecture's oldest Japanese garden. A mountain ridge and pond are used as part of the garden. Only two Japanese gardens in Japan are like this.
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Ryushintei Garden at Sorinji temple, Ube, Yamaguchi. It is designated as a National Scenic Garden. In fall, there are maple leaves, and in spring, azalea.
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Ryushintei Garden at Sorinji temple, Ube, Yamaguchi. Late Nov. is the best time to see the fall leaves.
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It seems we can view the garden only from the temple balcony without actually walking through the garden.
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Tofukuji is a Zen Buddhist temple famous for red maple leaves. Quite spectacular and photogenic landscapes. One of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto. Tofukuji temple is the easiest way to see autumn leaves in Kyoto. From Kyoto Station, it's only one train stop (JR Nara Line) away (get off at Tofukuji Station and walk 10 min.). But the trains get sardine-packed in the morning. Expect large crowds during late Nov.
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Long line to enter Tofukuji, but it progressed quickly enough.
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This is the symbol of Tofukuji temple, a bridge named Tsutenkyo (通天橋) that goes across this mass of red Japanese maple trees. You see this photo in all the Kyoto travel brochures.
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There was a line to get into the temple (¥400 admission).\\
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Longer line to get to Tsutenkyo Bridge. But we enjoyed the colors along the way. The line went along fast enough.
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The trees are very well placed and very photogenic.
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Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto
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That's the bridge where everybody is going. Tsutenkyo (通天橋)
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Tsutenkyo (通天橋)
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Tsutenkyo Bridge.
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View from Tsutenkyo Bridge.
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View from Tsutenkyo Bridge, Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto. More pretty views from the bridge. When the sun's out, the colors are spectacular. The colors really look like this, I didn't digitally enhance the colors.
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On the bridge, this sign says "No photos" because they don't want people to stop and take photos and hold up the line going through the bridge. Obviously, no one paid attention to this. We all stopped and took photos.
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Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto
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The middle of the bridge has this little deck protruding outward.
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View from Tsutenkyo Bridge. That bridge in the distance is where you enter the temple.
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View from Tsutenkyo Bridge. That bridge in the distance is where you enter the temple.
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Long line of people entering the temple. They were in for a treat and it was worth the trip. Happy autumn 2017!
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Sanmon Gate, Tofukuji's main gate. National Treasure.
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