Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, Koka Ninja Village, the birthplace of ninja, Hikone Castle, a National Treasure, with impressive views, and finally a boat ride through the waterways of Shiga. If you are planning a trip to Japan, and are in and around the Kyoto area, then Shiga is a mere twenty minutes away by train. Here are the top eight sightseeing spots for the perfect day trip:
1. Suigo Meguri (Tour of the Riverside)
(image by omi8.com)
The landscape of Omihachiman served as the inspiration for Edo Era ukiyo-e paintings. Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, became a nationally-designated park in 1950. The beautiful landscape of the Lake Biwa area which has retained the feeling of the old Japan has been chosen as one of The Eight Great Views of Lake Biwa. Known as “Shunshoku – Azuchi/Hachiman no Suigo”, the tour of the riverside through the famous Omihachiman on boats paddled by oarsmen is a specialty of the area. Selected as the No. 1 Important Cultural Landscape, the riverside has kept its original appearance without being touched by anyone. Moving leisurely through the bunches of reeds and fields with only the relaxing sounds of paddling from the boat, you will be able to forget about the hustle and bustle of the city. This tour is the activity that will let you experience most closely the co-existence of water and the waterways of Shiga and Omihachiman that has been in place since the beginning. There are 5 companies which can operate the tours at Omihachiman. There are oar boats as well as motorboats. There is no need to make reservations for the passenger boats but they are required for chartered boats.
The tour of the riverside provides wonderful views for each season. Proceeding through the network of waterways by boat, you will be able to discover the beauty of each season. In spring, the cherry blossoms and rape blossoms brilliantly decorate the routes. With the petals floating beautifully on the water surface, this is the ideal season for the tour. Summer is also a refreshing season with all of the fresh greenery. The festival of the Great Dragon King of Yoshino, the protective deity for the waterways, is the harbinger for summer at Omihachiman. The fall foliage and the winter snowscapes around the waterways are also recommended (passenger boats only operate between April and October). How about leisurely enjoying the views of the riverside that can only be found in the untouched nature and the abundance of water of Shiga Prefecture?
Admission: Adult: ¥ 2160 / Child: ¥ 1080
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Suigo Meguri
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Suigo Meguri
- Tours of Suigo Meguri
2. Enryaku-ji Temple
(image by blue-wind.net)
With 1200 years of history, Mt. Hiei continues to be worshiped as a site of Buddhist practice and world peace. It is even depicted in a famous poetry card game as Japan’s premier mountain, and for its tradition and history, it was registered in 1994 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 848-meter mountain is considered to be the grounds for Enryaku-ji and is divided into 3 areas. It is recommended that 1 day be devoted to a leisurely tour of this wide area. First off, there is the most well-known area of the East Pagoda which contains Hon-do Hall (Main Temple) for the entire mountain and Nemoto Chu-do Hall. The East Pagoda area also contains the Kokuho-do Hall which displays many National Treasures. The Amida-do Hall is also a highlight with the sound of monks chanting sutras. Next on the list is the West Pagoda area which includes the Important Cultural Properties of Jogyo-do and Hokke-do Halls. The halls are linked by a covered passageway and are known collectively as Ninai-do. The oldest building in Enryaku-ji is the Shaka-do which shouldn’t be missed either. Walking from the West Pagoda area for about 4km, you will arrive at Yokawa. But because of the 1-hour walk there, there is a bus that is also suggested. You can view Yokawa Chu-do and the Shiki Ko-do, famous for Tsuno Daishi who warded off evil.
From Mt. Hiei which straddles the border between Kyoto and Shiga, you can enjoy a wonderful view. To the east, there is Shiga Prefecture’s Lake Biwa while to the west, there are the streets of metropolitan Kyoto. You can reach the summit by bus or car, but it’s recommended to take the ropeway to really enjoy the scenery. The 2025-meter distance covered by the ropeway is the longest in Japan and takes 11 minutes to traverse. From the ropeway, the beautiful Lake Biwa and the townscapes of Shiga Prefecture spread out in front of you as a grand panorama.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 700 / Child: ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Enryaku-ji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Enryaku-ji Temple
- Tours of Enryaku-ji Temple
3. Kurokabe Square
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Kurokabe Square has made excellent use of the traditional buildings in the old downtown in Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture with its art shops, glass workshops, cafes, restaurants and other individualistic establishments. The Kurokabe Glass Museum, which was built as a restoration of the old Kurokabe Bank that had been popular since the Meiji Era, is the symbol of Kurokabe Square. The wooden Western-style building built in 1990 has character where on entering, various glittering glass products can be seen. Kurokabe Square is also known as Japan’s largest exhibition area for glass art. At the museum, you can encounter various glass works from all over the world including Europe. On top of that, there is Gallery Amis which deals in glass works of high quality from all of the studios, and Kurokabe Glass Studio where you can closely observe the production of glass. You will want to take this opportunity to experience the world of glass. Aside from the works of glass, the Square also has boutiques that value encounters between buyers and artisans. You should be able to find the product that you are interested in.
At the trial classes at Kurokabe Square, anyone from little children to grown-ups can enjoy making their own glass works. You can produce your own original work of glass art through classes such as glass blowing, stained glass, glass bead making, sandblasting, gel candles and decorative music boxes. Aside from the Kurokabe Trial Classes, there are also the pottery-making Hokkokugama Trial Classes and the figure-making classes at Kaiyodo Figure Museum. Everyone can relate to the joy of creating something on their own.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kurokabe Square
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kurokabe Square
- Tours of Kurokabe Square
4. Hikone Castle
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Since the establishment of Hikone Castle in the early Edo Era, it has been one of the few castles in Japan to have retained its beautiful appearance. Among the early modern castles, there are only 12 surviving original castle towers or keeps within the nation, and even within those, Hikone Castle has been selected as a National Treasure. The castle with its massive bearing is built upon the peak of Mt. Hikone as it looks over Shiga and the largest lake in the country, Lake Biwa.
The highlights of Hikone Castle are not limited to the castle tower and the watchtower alone. At the north side of the castle, there is Genkyu-en, a Japanese-style garden with a path built around a pond. The garden has been built to recreate The Eight Views of Omi showing the beauty of the former Omi Province (now Shiga Prefecture). During the season of autumn leaves, it is lit up and the surrounding trees beautifully melt into the surface of the large pond that is in the center of the garden. Genkyu-en is a famous garden that will evoke the splendor of Edo culture from that time. Also every September, there is the Mushi no Koe wo Kiku Kai (Celebration of Listening to Insects) and other events where you can fully enjoy Hikone Castle’s co-existence with nature.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hikone Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hikone Castle
- Tours of Hikone Castle
5. Lake Biwa
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
With a long vertical shape that cuts through Shiga Prefecture from north to south, Lake Biwa has a surface area of 669.23 sq. meters which makes it the largest lake in Japan. There are many historic tourist spots in the surrounding area. Within these, there is Mii-dera Temple which is famous for its pre-eminent cherry blossoms in the prefecture, Omi Jingu which is definitive of the Omi style of shrine architecture, Ishiyama-dera Temple which is connected with Murasaki Shikibu who wrote The Tale of Genji, and Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine which is popular for the autumn foliage and its nighttime illumination. In particular, Shirahige Shrine whose impressive large torii gate stands in the middle of Lake Biwa is also called Itsukushima Shrine of Omi and is visited by many worshipers.
Along with the historic tourist spots, there are also plenty of leisure spots where you can fully enjoy the nature around the lake. There are day-long cruises around Lake Biwa including the Lake Biwa Cruise where you can enjoy a trip with the family while having a meal on board. There is also Blume-no-Oka with a huge park, an animal farm and interactive workshops; Lake Biwa Valley where you can get a grand panoramic view of the lake; and lots of other facilities where you can experience the nature around the area. A drive around Lake Biwa is also recommended. With cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, there is overwhelming beauty throughout the four seasons at Lake Biwa.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Lake Biwa
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Lake Biwa
- Tours of Lake Biwa
6. Lake Biwa Museum
(image by 琵琶湖博物館)
The Lake Biwa Museum which is located in Kusatsu City, Shiga Prefecture is Japan’s largest lake museum. The flora and fauna for Japan’s biggest lake along with the relationship between the lake and people are displayed in an understandable manner. At every exhibit, you will be able to understand the link between Lake Biwa and humans at this interactive museum which can be enjoyed by the whole family from kids to adults. Within the permanent displays, Lake Biwa’s development and history are explored, and visitors will be able to easily understand the lake’s environment and the lifestyles of people through models and other paraphernalia. At the aquarium, you can observe freshwater life native to the lake. The Tunnel Tank and The Touching Corner are also highly recommended. The Discovery Room with 18 hands-on exhibits is a big hit with the small children. This is a museum that also works hard on environmental conservation while displaying rare animals. By observing the current initiatives toward the history of Lake Biwa and the various environments, you will become aware again about the importance of protecting nature.
At Lake Biwa Museum, there are plenty of events to enjoy. There is a lot of interactivity with nature so please refer to the homepage. Also, there are concerts and learning events regarding the life native to Shiga Prefecture. You can also experience things that can only be found in Shiga or Japan such as agricultural work in the rice paddies.
Next to Lake Biwa Museum, there is a lotus pond which can be enjoyed from mid-July to mid-August, the Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden under the theme of plants and people, the Kusatsu Dream Windmill Farm generating electricity from wind power, and the roadside station Green Plaza Karasuma. Please enjoy the entire day satisfying body and mind through the wonderful nature and history of the Lake Biwa area and the delicious food there.
Admission: ¥ 750
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Lake Biwa Museum
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Lake Biwa Museum
- Tours of Lake Biwa Museum
7. Miho Museum
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
The Miho Museum is located in the lush green mountains of Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture famous for its Shigaraki-yaki pottery. It was built in the style of Togenkyo (Shangri-la) for which the Chinese poet Tao Yuanming had written about, and getting away from the avenue of weeping cherries, through a silver tunnel and across the suspension bridge over a valley, you finally reach the entrance to the museum. At this museum, there is a collection of more than 2000 works of art from all over the world such as Egypt, Greece, Italy, the Middle East, China and finally Japan of which up to 250 of them are on display at any one time. Many of them have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, and as a private art museum, it boasts one of the most prominent collections in Japan. Along with the permanent display, there are also special seasonal exhibitions. There is also a museum shop and a restaurant that uses ingredients with no pesticides or chemical fertilizers so that you can spend an entire day there. Also, the glass-enclosed entrance is a novel design which was provided by the renowned I.M. Pei who designed the glass pyramid at The Louvre. The museum which was designed to merge with the surrounding nature seems to have also made the landscape a part of the art. This is a place where you can truly feel Mother Nature.
A museum with the theme of getting close to nature, the surrounding area is also one of the highlights of Miho Museum. Especially in the spring, the weeping cherry blossoms beautifully color the way to the museum. Entering the silvery tunnel, the pink of the brilliant cherry blossoms is well reflected. In addition, you can also enjoy the foliage of autumn. These two periods of cherry blossoms and fall colors are especially recommended for this exhaustively calculated fusion of beautiful nature and the museum.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,100 / Child: ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Miho Museum
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Miho Museum
- Tours of Miho Museum
8. Koka Ninja Village
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
In Koka City, Shiga Prefecture, the birthplace of ninja, there is the large Koka Ninja Village at the foot of the Suzuka Mountains. Within the expansive grounds, there are facilities such as Shinobi Shrine, the Trap House, the Ninjutsu Museum and the Ninja Star Training Hall. The Koka Ninjutsu Museum is a museum of art that boasts the world’s largest amount of knowledge on ninjutsu. It not only displays information but also the tools of a ninja such as shuriken (ninja throwing stars). The museum is located in a thatched-roof house with the atmosphere of an old Japanese family home that is one of its charms. Also, the Trap House is the former home of a descendant of an actual Koka ninja where you can encounter various surprises. At the ninja dojo and the Ninja Star Training Hall, you can train like the real ninja. You can also rent out ninja outfits so you can have fun taking part as these warriors. Furthermore, Shinobi Shrine which is located in Ninja Village is a place which has enshrined ninja. It’s also famous for enshrining the largest image of Daikokuten in Japan (one of the Seven Lucky Gods who is the God of Wealth). Koka Ninja Village is a theme park for those die-hard ninja fans where you can enjoy yourself relating as a ninja warrior.
At Ninja Village, there are plenty of events such as the Ninja Championship Series and the Miss Kunoichi Contest to select the best female ninja. The nation’s ninja fans come from all over to see these competitions of real ninjutsu. In summer, many events such as the opening of the ninja dojo can be enjoyed by the entire family as they get in contact with the nature of Koka in Ninja Village. Not only ninja fans but folks who enjoy the outdoors are recommended to visit this tourist spot.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,030 / Child: ¥ 730