Lake Biwa

KANSAI Shiga Culture and calm around Japan's largest lake

Shiga, Japan

A stone's throw from Kyoto and surrounding Japan’s largest lake, Shiga is full of ancient festivals, outdoor fun and a stately castle

For centuries, Shiga Prefecture has benefitted from its strategic position between Tokyo and Kyoto. Wealthy merchants and powerful leaders built stunning temples, shrines and castles, and celebrated their prosperity with raucous festivals that continue today. Blessed with Lake Biwa and mountains that enjoy snow in winter, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds and get outdoors in any season.

How To Get There

Shiga is easily accessible by shinkansen from Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and beyond. Destinations on the south and western sides of Lake Biwa can be reached quickly on local trains and commuter lines from Kyoto.

Maibara Station on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line is your transport hub for destinations on the eastern side of Lake Biwa. The journey from Tokyo to Maibara takes between two and three hours. The JR Tokaido Main Line—or Biwako Line as it is nicknamed in this section—whisks visitors from Kyoto to Otsu and Koka on the south side of the lake. Alternative transport options from Kyoto include the JR Kosei Line and the Tozai Subway Keihan Keishin Line.

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Don’t Miss

    Hikone Castle, one of the few fully intact, original Japanese castles
    Boisterous festivals in Nagahama and Omihachiman
    A taste of lake life on and around Lake Biwa
    Uncrowded art spaces like the Miho Museum and The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park

Local Specialties

  • Funa Sushi

    Carp from the fresh waters of Lake Biwa are pickled in salt and then fermented in steamed rice for up to three years to make this precursor to modern sushi, which dates back a millennium. With a strong, tart flavor and aroma, funa sushi is the blue cheese of sushi.

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  • Omi Beef

    The oldest brand of wagyu beef in Japan. Omi beef comes from cattle that have been raised in the environs near Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake. Famous for its thick marbling and well-balanced flavor.

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  • Omi Hemp Textiles

    Made from either hemp or a flax-like fiber called ramie, Omi jofu is a summer fabric. Patterns give this natural textile its priceless charm—only a skilled weaver can align the separately hand-dyed warp and weft yarns to produce a sublime ikat design.

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  • Shigaraki Ware

    Shigaraki is one of Japan’s six ancient potting centers. Its kilns fire unglazed stoneware and glazed ceramics called Shigaraki yaki. Modern forms extend to art and architecture, including Taro Okamoto's showstopping Tower of the Sun at Expo '70 in Osaka.

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Seasonal Highlights

  • Spring

    Cherry blossom fever sweeps Shiga throughout the month of April while festival season gets into full swing, with several of the biggest and best taking place in the same month.

    hikone castle
  • Summer

    Fireworks flood the summer sky and watersports on Lake Biwa help beat the heat. Summer is also a time for forest bathing in the vivid green grounds of Shiga's temples.

    lake biwa
  • Autumn

    Enjoy fall foliage throughout November, witness the Otsu Festival and search out the autumn moon that inspired the world’s first novel.

    hikone castle
  • Winter

    Bring your skis and boards to Biwako Valley, or escape the chill in the area's onsen. Warm up with tasty treats and hot local sake.

    shiga-kogen highlands area

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