History & Economic Development
Omihachiman is a city in Shiga Prefecture, located on the east side of the largest freshwater lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. Omihachiman is famous for being the birthplace of Omi merchants (Hachiman merchants), which were businessmen who were active throughout Japan, especially during the Edo period (1603-1867) in Tokyo and Hokkaido. Their business was based on trust. Therefore, they did not loan money at high interest or otherwise take advantage of supply shortages. Their business policy was to meet the needs of the people and to create a business that people could respect. The residential areas these merchants once lived in have been preserved as nationally important historic buildings.
There are several factors that contributed to the development of Omihachiman. One major factor was the Hachiman Moat. It was originally built to protect a castle. However, in the 1580s, Hidetsugu Toyotomi transformed the moat into a canal system and forced boats using Lake Biwa to stop in Hachiman.
Tradition And Tourism
Omihachiman’s culture focuses on tourism and the preservation of historical assets. Local folk arts and local specialty foods enchant the visitors. Omihachiman is a lake city fronting Lake Biwa, as well as Lake Nishinoko, where Suigo boat rides are a major attraction. In fact, Omihachiman is home to the first national vacation village in Japan. The Azuchi Hachiman Canal is considered one of the eight best views of Lake Biwa. It was selected as the first culturally important landscape in Japan. Many people enjoy visiting to relax and escape from the busy city life.
The Sagicho Matsuri festival held in mid-March is one of the Shiga Prefecture’s most famous festivals. There is a parade with works of art. Floats are carried around the streets, and on the second day, they collide with each other in an attempt to topple each other over. At night, the floats are set ablaze, since Sagicho is actually a fire festival.
Omihachiman has many specialties that are made from abundant natural resources and products of a long history, including:
- Omi Beef, which is one of the top three beefs in all of Japan
- Decchiyoukan sweets, which were made famous by Omi merchants
- Aka-konnyaku (red yams), which are associated with Oda Nobunga
- Choji-fu (wheat gluten), which is very healthy
- Omi rice and fish from Lake Biwa boiled in soy sauce
- The traditional sushi, featuring fermented freshwater fish called funa-zushi, which has been enjoyed since the 8th century
The Omihachiman Committee plays an integral role in connecting West Michigan with Japan.
We are proud of our history as Grand Rapids’ first sister city committee. Since our establishment in 1986, our committee has provided a crucial service to our community by overseeing person-to-person exchanges, providing educational presentations on Japanese language and culture, offering translation services and strategic counsel to local businesses, and so much more.
This work is made possible by the tireless efforts of our volunteer committee members, who share a passion for advancing US-Japan ties by cultivating friendships between Grand Rapids and Omihachiman. Our committee meets the first Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids. These meetings precede J-Chat, our monthly offering bringing Japan-related presentations and language practice to the local area.
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