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Olá pessoal! Aqui é a Natália, brasileira que mora em Hikone e eu quero escrever um pouco sobre minha experiência no "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai" em Otsu, Shiga. Para quem não sabe, o verão no Japão é conhecido como a época dos festivais ("matsuri"), no qual as pessoas saem de casa com a família e amigos para se distrair e esquecer um pouco o calor. Uma das tradições desse período é assistir os famosos festivais de fogos de artifícios ("hanabi taikai") que acontecem em toda parte durante o mês de agosto.

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No dia 8 de agosto de 2017, eu fui pela primeira vez ao "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai", que acontece no porto da cidade de Otsu, capital da província de Shiga. O "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai" é o maior festival de fogos de artifício da região de Shiga e aproximadamente 350 mil fogos são liberados durante o evento, colorindo o céu de Otsu de maneira sem igual.

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Como eu moro em Hikone, na região norte de Shiga, saí do serviço e peguei um trem até a estação JR Otsu. De lá, encontrei com a minha amiga Emily que trabalha na cidade e decidimos jantar em algum lugar, já que tinhamos um tempinho até o início do evento.

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Saímos pela saída norte ("kita guchi") da estação e seguimos o fluxo das pessoas que estavam indo para o evento. Logo de cara acabamos achando a placa do "Saigo ni Katsu", um restaurante especializado em pratos com carne, à 3 minutos à pé da estação de Otsu.

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O restaurante ficava no fundo de um corredor, então percorremos o corredor e entramos no local. Apesar de pequeno, o restaurante era bastante confortável e lembrava bares antigos japoneses que a gente vê na televisão.

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Depois de ficar uns bons minutos em dúvida sobre o que pedir, eu optei por um "tonteki", um filé de carne de porco com molho especial. Além do filé de 200 gramas, o prato veio com salada, arroz à vontade e sopa. O mais impressionante foi o preço, apenas 900 ienes por tudo.

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A Emily optou pelo "bifuteki", praticamente o mesmo prato que o meu, com a diferença que o filé era feito de carne de vaca. Além das opções de carne de 200 gramas, havia a opção de pedir a carne com 400 gramas.

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O menu também tinha outras opções muito interessantes, como curry especial da casa ("kare"), filé de carne servido sobre o arroz branco ("suteki don") e filé com molho demi glace ("bifu demi"). Definitivamente vou precisar voltar mais vezes para experimentar os outros pratos.

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Obviamente, eu e a Emily ficamos muito felizes com o nossos pratos. (^_^) Depois da janta, saímos e continuamos nosso caminho até o festival de fogos de artifício.

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Para chegar no "Biwako Dai Hanabi Matsuri", basta sair da estação JR Otsu pela saída norte ("kita guchi") e seguir o fluxo de pessoas. Há muitas policiais e staffs orientando até o local, então não há como errar. O local do evento é aproximadamente 10 mins a pé da estação de Otsu, então foi bastante tranquilo para chegar.

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Uma dica para chegar no local do evento é seguir as pessoas que estão vestidas de yukata. Muitos casais de namorados aproveitam para assistir os fogos de artifício juntos. (^_^)

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Como o evento é o maior da região de Shiga, há diversos locais para assistir os fogos de artifício. O evento em si é gratuito, mas aqueles que quiserem ver os fogos em um lugar privilegiado e com direito à assento, podem adquirir um ingresso especial, que pode ser comprado antecipadamente ou no dia mesmo.

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O evento começou às 19h30m, com um show de fogos impressionante. Durante o festival, os fogos foram divididos por tema, então havia fogos de diferentes cores e formatos para admirar. Muitas pessoas aproveitaram para tirar fotos e vídeos do céu.

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Além dos fogos tradicionais, havia fogos temáticos com formatos de objetos, planetas e bichinhos. A cor e quantidade de fogos também era impressionante, deixando o céu de Otsu com um aspecto multi-colorido.

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Às 20h30m, o evento chegou ao fim, com outra chuva de fogos. Ficamos tão entretidas pelos fogos de artifício que nem sequer vimos o tempo passar. Para aqueles querem experimentar um festival de fogos de artifício tradicional do Japão, eu definitivamente recomendo ir ao "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai" de Otsu!


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PARA ASSISTIR O "BIWAKO DAI HANABI TAIKAI"

Aqueles que desejam adquirir os ingressos especiais para assistir os fogos de artifício do "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai" podem conferir a página oficial do evento. A página é atualizada todo ano no mês de julho e os ingressos são vendidos a partir dessa data. A página oficial do evento é https://www.biwako-visitors.jp/hanabi/

Você poderá adquirir os ingressos reservados de diversos sites de compra online. Basta seguir as instruções de cada site para efetuar sua compra. Para aqueles que querem ver os fogos de artifício bem de pertinho e com conforto, é uma excelente ideia comprar o ingresso especial. Lembrando que o evento em si é gratuito, então mesmo aqueles que não tem ingresso podem ir até o local e assistir os fogos de um dos locais não reservados. (^_^)

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COMO CHEGAR NO "BIWAKO DAI HANABI TAIKAI"

Para chegar no local do "Biwako Dai Hanabi Taikai" de trem você deverá descer na estação JR Otsu ou JR Zeze e caminhar até o local do evento. Também é possível descer na estação Hamaotsu da linha Keihan e caminhar até o local. Os arredores do evento costumam ficar bem cheio de pessoas, por isso é recomendável chegar o mais cedo possível antes do início dos fogos! Não deixem de perder a oportunidade de assistir o maior festival de fogos de artifício da região de Shiga!

Great Lake Biwa Fireworks Display 2017

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August 8th is the day of the Great Lake Biwa Fireworks Display!

This year I went with the Hikone City CIR Natalia at Otsu Port right on the lake.

Natalia and I met up at Otsu Station and headed down Suehirocho road, the street to the far left of Otsu station near 7 Eleven.

Even though we met up hours before the start of the show, the streets were already crowded with people on their way to finding a good spot to watch from.

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We walked for less than two minutes before we arrived at the restaurant we had decided to go to for dinner. It was called Saigo ni Katsu Part 2 (yes there is a part one.)

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We ordered a pork and beef steak respectively, and it came with plenty of shredded cabbage, rice, and soup.

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The beef steak that I ordered was very tender and juicy and was absolutely wonderful.

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Natalia and I about to dig into our feast. We ordered the normal size portions, but we were very full by the end of our meal.

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The Restaurant was located down a small pathway off from the main road, marked by the big sign with the Chinese character for "MEAT." My kind of restaurant right there.

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After eating, we headed down toward the lake so we could find our seats. The streets were full of people in colorful yukata looking forward to seeing a really spectacular fireworks show. Once we found our seats, we got our cameras ready and waited for the show to begin!

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We didn't have to wait long before the show began. Here are some of the pictures I got!

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The fireworks this year were full of spectacular displays of reds, greens, and golds.

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Although it was a bit challenging to catch the brief moments when the fireworks were at their peak, here are some of the best shots I got! If you have not yet had the opportunity to go to see this particular firework show over Lake Biwa, I highly recommend that you do!


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For those interested in getting the seats we got!

Paid-entry seating tickets go on sale every year at the beginning of July. Please see this website for more info.  http://www.biwako-visitors.jp/hanabi/
Tickets are sold both online and at tourism centers.
Paid-entry tickets have assigned seats and are right up close to the fireworks for a great view!

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There is of course also free-seating areas where everyone can view the fireworks from. You can access these areas by either JR Otsu or Zeze Station, or by getting off at Hamaotsu via the Keihan Line. My one piece of advice here would be to allow plenty of time to find a seat though as this area is always very crowded, but I definitely recommend that you come and see these fireworks for yourself!

Trip by Ohmi railway

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On March 25, We got up bright and early for a day of sightseeing along the Ohmi Railway!

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The experience was very different from that of the JR lines we're used to taking, but it gave me the feeling of going back in time.

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The sites were also really pretty along the way with spring just beginning.

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We got off at our first stop in Minakuchi, and headed to the Kafuka Ichigo Orchard for all-you-can-eat strawberry picking.

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For 45 minutes, Michaela and I were allowed to eat as many strawberries as we could,and we definitely tried to make the most out of it!

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The strawberries were really juicy; it was sometimes hard to pick the best ones to eat because they all looked so good!

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I think that strawberry picking at Rokushin would especially be a great activity for families; it was so fun.

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Next, we took the Ohmi Railway to Higashiomi,

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and stopped to visit the house of Hikoshiro Fujii, who was a prominent yarn merchant, with a home that used an interesting mix of European and Japanese inspired architecture and decoration.

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My favourite part was the garden in the back; it seemed so effortlessly beautiful, and though you could see traffic from afar, it was so peaceful and quiet.

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Afterwards, we took a short walk around the neighborhood, until we reached Menmen Tanaka, which was a restaurant that served soba and udon noodles. Both meals were delicious!

I got the soba with a vegetable tempura, and Michaela got udon, which was served with a side of sweet beans and sakura shrimp from Lake Biwa. It's called ebimame, which we were told was a famous food in the Bikwako area.

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When we finished out meal, we hopped back on the Ohmi Railway for one more stop before heading home; Toyosato Elementary School.

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Our destination was a bit of a walk from the train station, but it was well worth it! Toyosato Elementary School was recently made famous by the japanese anime K-On!,

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but it was designed by William Merrell Vories, who was a prominent architect in Shiga during the first half of the 20th century.

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It was really interesting to see the interior of the school building; there's so much attention given to detail, and our tour guide was really wonderful about pointing everything out.

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My favourite thing about the school was the main staircases, which had small bronze turtles and rabbits along the railing, meant to symbolize the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

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After finishing the tour it was finally time to say goodbye, so Michaela and I headed back home from a long day out, tired but happy!

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Being able to experience so many things in Shiga was really fun, and I'm so grateful that we were able to take part in such a fun day. Shiga is a wonderful prefecture with a lot of history and beauty; my hope is that many more people get to learn about what makes this region of Japan special!

We Love SHIGA BIWAKO

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Trip to Nagahama part.2

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Got to explore Nagahama with Molly DeDona! We found some real gems on our day out!

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First, we went to make our own blown glass cups.

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It was a little scary at first, but they were so nice and guided us through every step.

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They were professionals and made me feel like I was in good hands.

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Next, at the same shop, we made our own designs on cups to be sandblasted.

Sandblasting basically adds a cool, frosted effect to your class.

We both decided to do it the difficult way so it took some time, but the result was worth it!

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After all of our hard work, we got some food that is a specialty of Nagahama.

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It's a kind of udon soup. It was deli0cious! The broth was thicker than most and it had a giant mushroom in it! :)

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Next, we walked around Nagahama. We looked at a few shops, including the shop of the figure museum in Nagahama.

It seemed like a cool museum and I wouldn't mind checking it out next time I go!

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We visited also visited a temple as we walked around. While they didn't have an English brochure, just looking at the temple's structure and beautiful shrine inside was worth the visit.

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There were also shops nearby that looked like they sold Yukata. I'll have to stop by and check them out some time!

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Also, the animal that represents that temple or the area is a fox. So, there were lots of cute pictures of foxes on our way to the temple.

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We eventually made our way over to the Plum Blossom exhibit on the other side of the tracks to make our Plum Sake! It was a once in a lifetime experience and I enjoyed every minute! We had visited the Plum Blossom exhibit before, however we had no idea that there was such an event held there.

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Japanese people can make sake in their own house so they had this class.

There was a taste test before where we tried 11 different kinds of sake.

Then, they explained why each sake was different and showed us how to make it.

There was even a company sponsoring the event, so we got a free can of plum juice and sake that we could drink right away.

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I have to shake the plum sake glass jar everyday, but I'm excited to try my own homemade sake when it's ready! :)

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Still, we saw some goodies back in the shopping area that we had to buy so we stepped out for a minute.

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However, when we got back, they lit up the garden out back and it was beautiful.

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After drinking some tea and enjoying some mochi, we took some pictures and said farewell.

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In the end, I honestly never would have thought there would be such gems in Nagahama. I loved exploring and getting to learn more about the opportunities in Shiga. I can't wait to choose another city and explore again!

Trip to Nagahama kurokabe & Bonbai Exhibition

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This is a little overdue, but here is an overview of my super fun Saturday in Nagahama!

Me and Kate had the chance to go to Nagahama, a bit North of Hikone and try out some of the activities and specialties of the region.

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So, the first place we went to in Nagahama was Kurokabe Glass House.

While we were there, Kate and I had the chance to make our own glass cups.

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While the glass artists did most of the work, we did get the chance to shape the hot glass a little bit. It was difficult to do, the glass was molten hot!

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It was really fun though, we got to choose what colors were added to the glass, but we did not get to take it home right away, since it has to cool.

However, the cup arrived in the mail today, and it looks great! I am excited to get to use it!!

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At the same business, you can decorate a cup or plate, and have it sandblasted permanently with a design.

I made mine represent Lake Biwa, and I marked out Hikone and Ootsu in relation to it.

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It was really fun, and it is not very expensive (about 15 dollars). I would totally go again; and I would really like to sometime this semester, I highly recommend it.

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We got to eat Noppei udon, which features a huge Shitake mushroom in with the noodles.

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The broth is really thick, almost like thick cornstarch gravy. It was delicious though!

We ordered a lunch that also came with a rice bowl, which had salmon and soy sauce drenched rice, which was also delicious.

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Lunch was really close to Kurokabe Square, a great shopping center with a wide variety of stores in the arcade style mall, as well as many places to buy souvenirs, mostly of glass figures and tableware.

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There were at least three really nice stores to buy a wide variety of glass cups, plates, hina masturi (For the national Girls day holiday, displays of Heian era court figures are popular to display) figures, and jewelry.

You can also buy Shiga-prefecture specific food specialties.

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We also made plum sake, which was really fun.

I didn't understand everything that was being said because it was all in Japanese, and since I was tired and it was warm in the room, I almost fell asleep for a minute!

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We got to try various umeboshi sake, they were all a lot sweeter than I expected, but I definitely want to try to buy some and bring it home to share.

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I had been to the bonbai exhibit once already, (like bonsai trees, but blooming plum trees instead)

but this time we went closer to sundown, and we got to see all the special lights on both inside and outside the exhibit, it was really pretty at night.

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so,when we went to the bonbai exhibit, it was nearing dusk, and we excited to se the light-up of the exterior garden that wold happen after dark.

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Even through I had been there once before, it was during the day, so we missed the light-up part of the exhibit. The plum trees themselves were rather amazing,some are nearly 400 years old!

They are given constant attention and pruning from their caretakers, and only the best are selected to be displayed in the exhibit.

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One of the great parts of the exhibit is the interaction you can have with the flower blooms, you can lean over and smellthe blooms, and they sure do smell good!

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There are two floors of the exhibit, and the upstairs has a little place where you can sit down and have tea and light snacks. I had matcha tea, and a small sweet, and as we were drinking and eating, we could look out the window as the lights were turned on out in the garden. There is also a really nice gift store on the way to exit the exhibit, you can get a variety of sweets, teas, and other local food products.

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It was a really fun exhibition, it would recommend it to anyone.

Hachimanbori Matsuri(Festival) part.2

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During my short stay here in Japan, I was given the opportunity to travel with We Love Shiga・Biwako to Omihachiman.

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I'm never really sure what to expect when visiting a new city in Japan, but I wasn't let down with Omihachiman. This city of full of history, beauty, and entertainment; whether you want to enjoy a nice stroll in the city, enjoy the thrill of shopping malls, or even climb a mountain, there's something to do for most everyone.

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Our first stop was at a bead shop called "Rear Wood Beads Bijux"; the wood they use for beads comes from all over the world (I believe some comes from South America).

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Here, we made some nice wrist strap for cellphone. All in all, it was a fun experience (I've never made anything with beads before).

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After we had finished making our wrist strap, we were famished. Thus, we took a quick break at the sweet shop across the sidewalk (maybe 10 steps away). There was an assortment of delicious snacks to choose from, but since I can't resist the parfaits in Japan, I had to get one. It was pretty tasty, and the atmosphere of the shop was quiet and peaceful.

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I would say that one of my favorite things about Omihachiman is the scenery, it's spectacular. I couldn't help myself but to take as many pictures as my phone's storage could handle (it can handle quite a bit). Perhaps some of the best shots I took were of the river. Although I am quite a poor cameraman, the natural beauty made up for my budding skills (or lack there of). This shot was actually taken on top of a small bridge that overlooked this river. Omihachiman has some beautiful places to visit, and this is perhaps one of my favorites in the city.

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I can't mention beauty without mentioning Japanese temples and shrines. This particular shrine was a bit different than what I've experienced thus far in Japan. Usually, there will be a large red torii gate that gate that you have to pass through. In this case, the gate you see (frame of the picture) was brown, which made me think it was a temple.

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I won't spoil the inside of the shrine area for you, so please, if you have the opportunity then you should visit.

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After walking around inside the shrine for perhaps 20 minutes, the sun decided to make way for dusk. Actually, Japan is perhaps at it's most beautiful during the hours when the sun is just rising or just sinking, in my opinion.

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Here's actually another torii gate that you walk through in order to get to the aforementioned shrine (it also leads over the bridge mentioned earlier as well).

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Japan really likes to light places up, especially here in Omihachiman. Actually, the day we explored this city (Sept. 17th)there was a festival going on. As you may be able to see from the background, the whole river way is lit by candlelight. Simply beautiful.

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Walking around the town at night was a lot of fun; there were many vendors selling food (like omi beef skewers, takoyaki, corn on the cob, and more), people singing, and lots of hustle and bustle.

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Omihachiman is the "City of Merchants". What I mean by that, is that many many years ago, merchants from all over Japan would gather here and trade. These merchants had built large houses, and so you will see many such houses in Omihachiman. Furthermore, these very merchants went on to actually found some of the most well-known cities in Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto).Perhaps it could be said that Omihachiman is the heart of Japan (my thoughts).

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This painting is one of dozens that has survived for many hundreds of years. I forgot who created such beautiful works of art, but their work is well remembered by the people of Omihachiman. I often wonder what it was like to live in Japan many hundreds of years ago; is it in some ways similar to now, or perhaps vastly different. What about my home country, America, or other places around the world? Going to these merchant houses really made me think about the past, present, and future. If you have the opportunity, again, please visit them.

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The last piece on our itinerary was riding a gondola up to the top of a nearby mountain. Let me just say that the view was spectacular, and my pictures can't even hold a candle to the real thing. There's something awe-inspiring about being above the clouds and looking over something so vast and being able to see it all. Perhaps humbling. The pictures at the bottom are just a couple more shots from the night.

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Omihachiman holds so much beauty and history, it's really an amazing city. I probably never would have experienced this if I wasn't invited.

Hachimanbori Matsuri(Festival)

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Roughly since I came to Japan and started living in Hikone I had thought Omihachiman would be a nice place to visit.

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I had really wanted to ride the cable car there.

Not only was I able to ride said cable car but was also given the opportunity to enjoy various food and live music during a festival going on when I had visited.

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Firstly, me and my compatriots from JCMU visited a place called Rear Wood Beads Bijoux, where we made some bracelet-like accessories with wooden beads originating from various places all over the world.

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This was actually quite difficult, but the accessories came out well.

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I ended up giving mine to JCMU's Student Services Coordinator who had sarcastically joked about me making one for him--the joke's on him because I actually made one!

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I also had a parfait at a local restaurant called Hosa Amana.

The restaurant was a nice little place with an interesting upstairs seating arrangement.

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Such kind of places are a bit rare where I am from in Michigan. The service was amazing and, as parfaits go, it was definitely something I would recommend to anyone who goes to Omihachiman.

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After eating, my classmates and I went to a shrine that had some pretty cool statues and enjoyed the shrine's architecture.

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I taught one of my classmates that is less experienced with Japanese culture how the hand washing custom works at shrines,and one of the people with us noted how I Japanese my cultural knowledge makes me seem, which is funny because there is still so much I do not yet understand fully about Japanese culture.

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Around the time we visited the shrine there was a small festival going on, so we spent some time enjoying the river that was lite up with candles. It was quite a sight!

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We then saw someone play an ocarina (which was way cool!) and went to this old building with a bunch of beautiful art in it.

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The ocarina is what I would say was the coolest live music I saw during the trip and the water color paintings were also a sight to behold. I treasure having witnessed both.

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We ended the night by taking the Omihachiman cable car to the top of the near-by mountain.

The night time view quite spectacular considering how dark it was.

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Omihachiman has a bright skyline, which makes the city a marvel to behold at both day and night time.I would like to return and use the cable car again in the day time to compare.

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There was a couple playing live music up there as well. With both the live music and vew from the mountain it a spectacular experience!

Boat Race Biwako

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We have been to the Biwako Boat Racing Arena once before, but the weather was not that great at the time.

On this day, however, we had beautiful weather, albeit a bit windy,

so we could properly enjoy not only the races, but also the gorgeous scenery.

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This is the arena as seen from Lake Biwa's side.

I gotta say it looks way better from here, with nice glass windows.

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Here's another photo of the scenery.

Something you might find interesting is that you can actually watch the Lake Biwa summer fireworks display from here.

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The second floor is general seating, and there is no smoking allowed (you can smoke on the first floor). It has a nice view...

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... and a lot of vendors. You can find snacks, beer, coffee, boiled eggs (?) and more.

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The third floor is reserved seating, which costs a little bit more, but has nicer seats and a better view.

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Here we are enjoying the view. In the distance, you can see Mt. Mikami, also known as Omi Fuji.

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There's a small computer where you can check the odds from your seat.

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From the window we actually had the chance to see Umi no Ko, the floating school.

Fifth graders all around Shiga take an overnight field trip on this boat to learn about Lake Biwa.

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We also saw the Michigan boat, which runs daily cruises around the lake.

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Maddie poses with the Boat Race Bible...

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...a thorough guide to the boat races.

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If you are not Japanese-savvy, there's also an English pamphlet that gives you the basics.

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To the left you can see one of many leaflets filled with statistics on the day's races. It includes info on the riders, engines etc.

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Here's a close-up of the betting card. There are many options and you can bet from 100 to 500,000 yen.

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Since the second floor has no computers for you to check, you might as well use one of the huge displays that show the odds and other valuable info for betters.

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There are automated betting machines so you don't have to interact with a human being.

Especially good if you are worried about your poor Japanese skills.

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I bet 100 yen and won about 1 million dollars, baby! Just kidding. I lost.

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One interesting aspect of boat races in Japan is that they happen simultaneously all around the country.

While you are waiting for your race to start, you can watch (and bet on) races happening in other arenas, such Kyushu and Okinawa.

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This giant clock is used to time the start of each race. (It's also a pokestop.)

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This is what a start looks like. Go number 1!

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Once the boats get near to the corner, they have to slow down to make the turn.

This is a decisive moment because if they pull it off right, they can get a big lead.

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Heading for the finish line! Come on, number 1!

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And we have a winner! IT'S... number 6... sadly...

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Did you win? Did you lose? Beer makes everything better.

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If you feel the need for something more substantial than a snack you can check the small cafeteria.

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Here's the curry we had. It has a nice assortment of toppings.

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These are the boat race girls. They look like Power Rangers and are in a lot of posters all around the place.

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This is a behind the scenes shot: Special thanks to these guys from Biwako Boat Racing for hosting us and showing us how to bet!