The inn we stayed at was located in a district with lots of small pubs, so you could hear karaoke almost all night long. Another thing was that someone at the inn was chain smoking for most of the night too.
The smell and noise made it a rather sleepless night. Still, on Sunday we woke up to, sun!
After a hearty breakfast of grilled aji (horse mackerel), nagaimo (chinese yam) with katsuobushi (shaved bonito), a piece of ham, over-easy egg, some tsukemono (pickled veggies), miso soup and rice, we checked with the ferry people to see if they were running and they were (woot!).
There was a free shuttle from the JR Hikone station to the harbor, so we did a little galavanting before the pick-up time.
Our first spot was a walkway lined with keyaki (zelkova), these trees are huge! I can only imagine how beautiful they must be with leaves.
To the opposite side of the walkway were sakura (cherry) trees, this walkway must be beautiful when the sakura is in bloom and the leaves of the keyaki comes in.
We then went to Daishiji which has a ne-kobo (sleeping Kobo Daishi aka Kukai). Kobo Daishi was a Japanese monk and is the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.
We then caught the shuttle to the harbor. From Hikone, it is about 40 minutes by boat to the island of Chikubushima. And a round trip ticket costs 3300 yen (about US$33) per person.
This island is considered a holy place and one of eight beautiful views of Lake Biwa.
The ferry to Chikubushima runs 4 times a day, and for each run they give you about 70 minutes to explore the island before the next ferry arrives to take you back. I am not sure if you can skip a run to stay longer.
There are a few shops and some small places to eat at the base of the island and things were pricey, but for us, we just went to check out the island.
Also at the base of the island you need to pay an "admission" fee of 300 yen (about US$3) per person.
After paying your fee, you are met with stairs, lots of them and they were quite steep.
This island isn't wheelchair friendly unfortunately.
The information pamphlet says that there are 165 steps to the top. I didn't count them, but there sure were a lot.
The steps are called Pilgrim's stairs because these stairs lead people to worship.
One of the many temples on the island that we stopped at was Benzaitendo which houses one of three famous Benzaiten statues in Japan.
Benzaiten is one of the the 7 gods of good fortune and is thought to bring monetary fortune.
She also represents music and poetry.
There were lots of daruma amulets in the form of Benzaiten too.
To the east side of the island was a cliff with a torii (gateway). Below were all these ceramic disks.
For 300 yen (about US$3), you receive 2 disks. On the first disk, write your name. On the second, write your wish.
Then face the torii and fling your disks one by one (thinking of your wish as you fling it), if they go through the "legs" of the torii, like an upside-down field goal, then your wish will come true.
Most people we saw do this either hit the torii "leg" or missed completely, including us.
Just above this area, is a long hallway called Funaroka.
This hallway was apparently made from hull of Hideyoshi's boat, the Nihonmaru, wow!
There were a few more temples to the east of the island, but we had run out of time.
The boat had come back for us, so we returned to Hikone for lunch.
Our next stop was Taga Taisha, but the train was on the Sunday/Holiday schedule and only running one every hour, so, we decided to get some lunch while we waited for the train.
Yachiyo is a small shop near the JR Hikone station. I chose the kitsune udon and Satoshi had the shippoku udon (which had kamaboko, nori, mizuna, fu (dried wheat gluten), yuba (bean curd skins).
I was quite surprised when my udon came out, the aburage (fried tofu) was cut up and not seasoned like most kitsune udon you see. Satoshi was saying that it might have been Kanto (Eastern Japan) style.
Still, it was delicious and hit the spot.
Taga taisha is about a 10 minute walk from the Omi Taga Taisha mae station.
The town is quaint and in front of almost every home you will find these ema (picture amulet).
Even shop signs are in the shape of these ema, in fact, the road to the shrine is called Ema-dori (picture amulet road).
This shrine is known for en-musubi (matchmaking, god of marriage) and is a popular place for weddings.
Just in front of the shrine are several shops selling different foods.
One item in particular that we tried was ito-kiri mochi. This mochi is filled with sweet bean paste and instead of using a knife to cut the mochi, they use a string to cut each piece.
Apparently this is sweet was first created to celebrate Japan's victory over Mongolia way back when.
Besides a lot of daruma, we saw a lot of shamoji or shakushi (rice paddles) on this trip. These are considered good luck as you "scoop" up some good luck.
Despite the first two days, our last day in Hikone turned out to be a beautiful day. We were able to see all that we wanted to and got to enjoy some delicious foods.
I don't really want to end this post on a low note, but thought I should give you some update on the situation in Tohoku.
Apparently they are finding personal items (namely photos) in the rubble, so instead of gathering everything up and throwing them away which would inevitably make clean-up faster, they are sorting through to try to re-connect them with their owners, thus it is taking a little longer.
The aftershocks still continue, even in Tokyo, ranging between magnitude 1 and 5, most people they are talking to in the shelters aren't too sure they will return after things settle down, they are too scared, I would probably be too.
Sadly, a farmer has apparently committed suicide and it is thought that it was due to the ban on selling of "radioactive" veggies, though his family is too kind not to blame his death on this. (I still think we should be eating these veggies if the levels are safe!!)
The news keeps flip-flopping about the nuclear plant too.
Grim news. It will all take time to heal. All we can do is hope and pray for the best.
Sorry this was such a long post, hope our trip didn't disappoint, if you'd like to see more photos from this trip, please look at my Flickr Photostream or the Shiga set.
Itokirimochi Ganso Enjudohonpo
Taga-cho, Inukami-gun, Shiga
Tagacho, Inukami-gun, Shiga