Discover the Region

Head to Lake Biwa for summer fun!

Hop on the bullet train and make a journey to the west! Enjoy the lush natural settings of Lake Biwa followed by visit to the ancient streets and verdant shrine gardens of Kyoto.

What to Expect

Fantastic views of Mount Fuji from the bullet train

Summer activities at Lake Biwa

Temples and shrines surrounded by lush maple trees

Riverside meals and refreshing summer treats

Highlight

Head to the Kansai area for a taste of Japanese tradition and cultural heritage.

Day 1: Visit the Makino Highland, overlooking Lake Biwa—Japan’s largest lake. Cycle under an avenue of towering trees and canoe under a shrine gate before you head to the cultural capital of Kyoto.

Day 2: Start your day early with a visit to the Arashiyama/Sagano area. Don a traditional yukata and explore secluded shrines, stroll along the banks of Kamogawa River, pick up souvenirs, and try some sweet summer treats.

Fast facts

Required time Game + 2 days
Distance traveled app. 550 km
Transportation Shinkansen, train, bus
Starting point Tokyo
Final destination Osaka

Take a trip!

Day 1

Relaxation and recreation at Lake Biwa

Escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the serene Lake Biwa. It’s just 2.5 hours away and offers all kinds of activities, including cycling, canoeing, and hot springs.
Escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the serene Lake Biwa. It’s just 2.5 hours away and offers all kinds of activities, including cycling, canoeing, and hot springs.
Tokyo area
Tokyo Station

150 min Shinkansen
Maibara Station

50 min Train
Makino Station-Makino Highland

20 min Train
Omi-Takashima Station

20 min Walk/5 min Taxi
Shirahige Shrine

20 min Walk + 40 min Train
Kyoto Station
Kyoto area

Access

The Kansai area is home to spots like Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. It also encompasses Japan’s largest lake—Lake Biwa. Spend the first day of the course enjoying summer activities by the shore.

Lake Biwa is accessible from Kyoto Station, but if you’re coming from Tokyo, you can use your JR Pass and take the Hikari Shinkansen to Maibara Station.

Tokaido Shinkansen (Bullet train)

The journey is less than 2.5 hours from Tokyo or Shinagawa Station. Both stations are packed with shops and stalls, so you can pick up snacks, drinks, or even a bento meal before you board the train. You’ll also find snack carts inside the train. Try getting a seat on the right-hand side of the train for fantastic views of Mount Fuji after you pass Atami. You can also expect to see verdant tea gardens, meadows, and pristine rivers during the ride.
Ekiben - Kiyoken shumai bento

After stepping off at Maibara Station, transfer to the JR Hokuriku Main Line and head to Omi-Shiotsu Station. It takes about 30 minutes. Then take the JR Kosei Line to Makino Station. The entire journey from Tokyo takes about 3.5 hours. The Makino area is situated on the northwest shores of Lake Biwa and offers hot springs, along with great views of the surrounding mountains and rivers.
Lake Biwa

Shinkansen and Wi-Fi

The Tokaido Shinkansen lines connect Tokyo and Osaka. Note that JR Rail Pass users can access all the trains on this line except the fastest one, Nozomi. Opt for the Hikari train, which will take you there in a little over 2 hours. Free Wi-Fi is available on board.

Cycle under a tunnel of towering dawn redwoods

The Makino Highland is packed with activities like camping, golf, tennis, and it even has playgrounds and hot springs!

Cycling is a great way to explore the area. You can rent one at the tourist information center at Makino Station. Visit the dawn redwood avenue—you’ll be following in the footsteps of the Olympic and Paralympic Torch Relay runners.

Metasequoia tree in Makino Highland

The route runs for about 2.5 kilometers, passing through serene pastoral landscapes. You’ll be cycling under a tunnel of about 500 lush dawn redwood trees.

Shiga Metasequoia Cycling

If you’d rather take a leisurely walk around the area, take the Makino Kogen bus and step off at Makino Pic-land. The avenue is a 5-minute walk from the bus stop.

(Pic-land is 6 minutes from Makino Station on the clockwise route and 25 minutes on the anti-clockwise route)

Canoe under a shrine gate

Shirahige Shrine looms over Lake Biwa and is the oldest shrine in the area. It was built about 2,000 years ago and is associated with longevity and safe travels. Its vermillion torii gate, set against the backdrop of the lake, makes for  a stunning view.

The Shirohige Hama Campgrounds are located nearby and offer a unique canoeing experience—you can canoe right under the shrine gates. There’s an orientation lecture beforehand and you’ll be accompanied by a guide, making it perfect for beginners.

Lake Biwa

Shirahige Shrine in Lake Biwa, Shiga

Stay back until the evening to see the shrine gates illuminated.

Access Shirahige Shrine via Omi-Takashima Station, 20 minutes from Makino Station on the JR Kosei Line. The shrine is 30 minutes on foot and 10 minutes by taxi from the station.

After a fun day of lake activities, make your way to the ancient city of Kyoto. It’s about 40 minutes away on the JR Kosei Line.

Kyoto Station

Stay at a traditional ryokan inn

Kyoto has a range of hotels to fit every budget, from luxury boutique hotels to backpacker hostels. You can even stay in a traditional ryokan, capsule hotel, or rustic bed and breakfast.

Ryokan inn in Kyoto

If you do choose to stay in a ryokan, go for a meal plan—it’s a great way to sample traditional Japanese dishes and seasonal ingredients. You can also expect a hearty Japanese-style breakfast, with delicious fare such as grilled fish, hot tofu, eggs, and pickled veggies.

Traditional Japanese dishes at ryokan

Visit Gion for an evening stroll

After dinner, explore the traditional Gion district, centered around Yasaka Shrine. With street lamps, traditional wooden buildings, and cobbled paths, the area looks picturesque even after dark.  If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a geisha.

Ninenzaka

Pay a visit to the nearby riverside Ponto-cho area, lined with bars and restaurants.

Gion at night

Pontocho

Gourmet delights

If you choose to eat dinner outside your hotel, Kyoto has plenty to offer for epicures. You can opt for a Kyo-kaiseki course, characterized by fresh seasonal ingredients and beautiful plating techniques, or the traditional “obanzai” style of cooking, which incorporates a mix of seasonal and dried ingredients.
Kyoto-style sukiyaki—beef and vegetables in sweet, rich soy sauce—is an affordable alternative. Pike conger and Kobe beef are also great options.

Head to the restaurants in Ponto-cho for a vast selection of eateries.

Kyoto’s best entertainers

For visitors looking to get familiar with geisha culture, there’s no better place than Kyoto. Geisha are locally known as “geiko” while trainees are called “maiko.”

You can enjoy an evening of geisha entertainment, which includes dance, musical performances, and traditional games. It usually comes with an extravagant meal. There are some places that offer English services, and you’ll be able to take pictures with the geisha.

Yasaka Shrine

Illuminated shrines

Some shrines in Kyoto are open and lit up in the evenings, making them perfect for a stroll after dinner. 

Visit Yasaka Shrine in Gion—it’s open 24 hours and illuminated with beautiful paper lanterns at night. The nearby Kodaiji Temple also has night illuminations for two weeks in the beginning of August.

A little further from the city center, you’ll find the iconic red gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine lit up at night year-round.

Day 2

Temples, shrines, and summer greens

Visit beautiful temple gardens, stroll through Kyoto’s ancient alleyways, try some traditional dishes and delicious summer treats.
Visit beautiful temple gardens, stroll through Kyoto’s ancient alleyways, try some traditional dishes and delicious summer treats.
Kyoto area
Kyoto Station

17 min Train
Saga-Arashiyama Station

Walk
Arashiyama

40 min Bus
Shijo Karasuma

Walk
Shijo Karasuma / Kyoto Station

30 min Train
Osaka Station
Osaka area

Get an early start to the day

Kyoto has an impressive collection of temples and shrines, some of which are designated World Heritage Sites. Iconic spots such as Kiyomizu Temple, Kinkakuji Temple, and Fushimi-Inari Shrine usually top the list for visitors, but the verdant countryside has plenty of cultural gems to offer.

Wake up early in the morning and head to the Arashiyama area. The enormous Togetsu-kyo Bridge and the beautiful natural surroundings make for a picture-perfect view.

Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama

Arashiyama Station is 20 minutes away from Kyoto Station on the JR Sanyo Main Line (Sagami Line). From the  Station, make your way past a grove of towering bamboo trees to Nonomiya Shrine. Afterwards, you can pay a visit to Tenryuji Temple—the garden in the temple premises is filled with lotuses and bellflowers in the summer.

Bamboo trees in Arashiyama

Must-see temples in Arashiyama and Sagano

Jojakko-ji Temple

Jojakko-ji Temple stands on the slopes of Mount Kokura and overlooks the Hozu River. It was built in the 16th century. The temple premises, full of maple trees and moss, are enveloped in green through spring and summer. The temple complex also includes Tahoto Pagoda, a designated National Treasure, and an observatory which offers panoramic views of the area.

Nison-in Temple

Built in the mid-ninth century, Nison-in Temple stands at the foot of Mount Kokura. The approach to the temple is lined with maple and cherry blossom trees, creating a beautiful green arch in the summer.

Gio-ji Temple

The scenic Gio-ji Temple is known for its lush carpet of moss and beautiful maple trees. Don’t miss the soothing sounds of the suikinkitsu—a water-based garden ornament—and views of the bamboo grove from the circular “Yoshino” windows.

Mark your visit with temple seals

Goshuin are temple or shrine seals hand-calligraphed by monks. They include the date of your visit and make for great keepsakes.

How to collect goshuin stamps

First, you need to purchase a goshuin book. They cost between 1,000 to 1,500 yen and are available at most temple shops. The cover designs vary between temples. 

Once you have a book, head to the goshuin reception desk of each temple or shrine you are visiting and ask for your book to be stamped. Expect to pay 300 to 500 yen. If you don’t have a goshuin book, you can receive the stamp on a piece of paper.

Goshuin

Kick back at the Kamogawa River

Take a bus back to the center of Kyoto and head to the Kamogawa River.

Kamogawa River

You’ll find people enjoying lunch or taking a stroll along the banks of the Kamogawa River. You can also choose to head upstream to the Kamogawa Delta, where the Kamo River meets the Takano River. The area is accessible via Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line.

Kamogawa Delta

You can use stepping stones to walk over the river. Be sure to look out for small stones shaped like turtles and plovers.

The area is perfect for all kinds of riverside activities and relaxation. You might even spot some herons and wagtails!

Check out the local eateries

Takase River in Gion

Takase River in Gion

For lunch, you can choose from a number of areas, including Arashiyama, Sanjo, and Gion. Your options are endless—tofu, sushi, sukiyaki, the classic Kyoto obanzai set, or Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. You can also opt for Western-style fare such as hamburgers, omelette rice, or egg sandwiches.

Yuba (Tofu skin)

Yuba – Tofu skin

Pick up a souvenir

Kyoto's souvenirs
Kyoto is a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts. You can choose from traditional bamboo crafts, dyed textiles, and a variety of modern pieces with a Japanese touch. Popular items include crepe wrapping cloths (furoshiki), Japanese-style accessories, hand towels with delicate patterns, and hand fans. You can also find incense and solid perfumes in a variety of scents.

Sweettooths can select from a range of confections made with green tea or red bean jam.

Don a yukata, have a riverside meal, and try some sweet treats

Go for a walk in a yukata

Yukata, a traditional outfit made with airy cotton, is perfect for hot summer days. You’ll find plenty of places in Kyoto where you can rent them. You can have someone put it on for you and get your hair styled in about 30 minutes, and even add extra touches like traditional geta sandals. You’ll find yukata rental shops in areas such as Gion, Kyoto Station, and Arashiyama.

Cool down by a river

Kawadoko—meals on riverside decks—is a great way to cool down in the hot Kyoto summer.

The Kamogawa area near Shijo-dori and Kibune in the north are popular spots. The kawadoko decks are open between May and September in these areas, and open during lunch hours in May and September.

The west part of the Kamogawa River, between Niji-dori and Gojo Ohashi bridge, is lined with about 100 restaurants offering a variety of food. They are set up with elevated terrace seats that overlook the river.

If you have time to spare, take a day trip to the Kurama or Kibune area for delicious Kyoto cuisine in lush natural settings.

Healthy and refreshing sweets

In Kyoto, you’ll find a variety of cool and refreshing Japanese sweets made with healthy traditional ingredients such as green tea, red bean paste, and soybean flour. Sample warabi mochi—a jelly-like confection made with bracken starch—or shaved ice topped with strawberries and milk. You can also opt to top your shaved ice with quintessential Kyoto flavors like green tea and red beans. Another treat to try is monaka ice cream: ice cream wrapped in crispy bean jam-filled wafers.

Walk under maple trees

Kyoto has plenty of scenic temples. Pay a visit to the eastern section of Kyoto for some spots known for their stunning maple tree gardens. Eikan-do (Zenrin-ji) Temple has about 3,000 maple trees. You’ll be walking under a tunnel of lush green maple leaves as you make your way up the stone steps leading to the main hall.
Eikan-do (Zenrin-ji)

Yasaka Shrine is open 24 hours a day. The approach behind the main shrine building is flanked by maple trees and paper lanterns.
Yasaka Shrine

Kennin-ji Temple, located near Gion-Shijo Station, is Kyoto’s oldest zen temple. It has a beautiful landscape garden with maple and moss, as well as a rock garden. It also houses a folding screen that has been designated a National Treasure.

Kennin-ji Temple

Kennin-ji Temple

Kodai-ji Temple also has a famed rock garden, which looks stunning framed by summer greens.

Kodai-ji Temple

Kodai-ji Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of Kyoto’s most iconic temples. The streets leading up to it are lined with traditional buildings and gift shops. The view from the main hall, which overlooks groves of maple trees, is spectacular.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

For even more maple trees, you can take a bus or train to more secluded spots such as the beautiful Sanzenin Temple or  Kifune Shrine. Ruriko-in Temple, located at the foot of Mount Hiei, is another scenic spot, along with Bishamon-do temple. They are all known for their maple trees.

Kifune Shrine

Kifune Shrine

Note that Rurikoin is only open during spring and autumn. Ensure to check the dates in advance.

Rurikoin

Rurikoin

Venture into Osaka’s urban jungle

Osaka is just 30 minutes by train from Kyoto. You can use the JR, Keihan, or Hankyu Line.

Osaka Station

Osaka Station

You can return home via the Kansai International Airport, but before you leave, try some of Osaka’s mouthwatering fare. Deep-fried skewers, okonomiyaki, and takoyaki are all local specialties.
Dotonbori in Osaka

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

You can also opt to visit Osaka Castle, the enormous Kaiyukan aquarium, and Universal Studios. There’s plenty to see around the Dotonbori area, and you can shop in the massive malls near Osaka Station and Namba Station.
Osaka Castle

Other places to visit include the ancient city of Nara or Mount Koya, a temple settlement renowned for its Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.

Spots along this course

  • 1

    Maibara Station

  • 2

    Makino Highland

  • 3

    Redwood avenue

  • 4

    Shirahige Shrine

  • 5

    Kyoto Station

  • 6

    Gion

  • 7

    Ponto-cho

  • 8

    Kodaiji Temple

  • 9

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

  • 10

    Saga-Arashiyama Station

  • 11

    Togetsu-kyo Bridge

  • 12

    Bamboo trees

  • 13

    Jojakko-ji Temple

  • 14

    Nison-in Temple

  • 15

    Gio-ji Temple

  • 16

    Kamogawa Delta

  • 17

    Kamogawa kawadoko decks

  • 18

    Eikan-do (Zenrin-ji)

  • 19

    Yasaka Shrine

  • 20

    Kennin-ji Temple

  • 21

    Kodai-ji Temple

  • 22

    Kiyomizu-dera Temple

  • 23

    Kifune Shrine

  • 24

    Rurikoin

  • 25

    Osaka Station

  • 26

    Kansai International Airport (KIX)

  • 27

    Kobe

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