Shiga is best known for having the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. It is close to Kyoto and is a hidden gem which has a lot to offer for lovers of both nature and history and is well worth the detour. With architecturally stunning shrines and castles, beautifully sculpted gardens as well as one of the biggest fireworks festivals in the Kansai area, Shiga is jam-packed with things to do. So keep reading for our top 10 things to do in Shiga.
1. Visit Shirahige Shrine, Shiga
Many people don’t know that there is a floating tori gate in Lake Biwa that resembles Hiroshima’s Itsukushima Shrine. During the day the blue of the sky and water boldly contrasts with the orange gate. At sunset the sun goes down just behind the gate and creates a mesmerizing view as brilliant hues of pinks and oranges irradiate the background. The shrine, which is located just opposite of the gate, is about 1900 years old and is where people pray for health and a long life. So for something a little off the beaten path I recommend Shirahige Shrine.
【Opening hours】6 am – 5 pm
【Access】A 30 minute walk from JR Oumitakashima Station
2. Watch fireworks at Lake Biwa, Shiga
One of the most spectacular fireworks displays in the Kansai region can be seen at the Biwako Fireworks Festival in Shiga. Held during the summertime, 10,000 fireworks are launched creating vibrant patterns across the sky and reflected in Lake Biwa below. This festival draws a huge crowd and due to its popularity, it is recommended that tickets are bought in advance if you want the best view of the fireworks. Another option is to watch the event from Niono-hama Beach, although to secure a seat it is recommended to come at least 2 hours early.
【Time】7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
【Address】Otsu Port [Map]
【Access】Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line Special Rapid Yasu from Kyoto Station to Otsu Station and then walk for about 15 minutes towards Otsu Port
3. Enjoy water sports at Lake Biwa, Shiga
Lake Biwa has a large selection of water sports on offer that are sure to get your adrenaline pumping. There’s something for everyone, with a list of interesting activities including kayaking amidst the beautiful scenery of Lake Biwa, rolling across the water inside a giant inflatable ball and using a water-propelled jet pack to hover above the surface of the water. Bookings for these exciting activities can be made online and more information about them can be found on the official Lake Biwa website here.
4. See the beautiful view from Mangetsuji Temple, Shiga
Mangetsuji Temple is famous for its floating hall, which looks out onto Lake Biwa. It’s a beautiful place to watch the sunset and take in the serene atmosphere that Shiga has to offer. The temple was originally built during the Heian Period and was used to pray for protection over the lake. The floating hall is featured in the artwork of Hiroshige, who was known for his woodblock prints, also called Ukiyo-e. The series was titled “The Eight Views of Omi (now called Shiga)” and features in the piece titled “The wild geese returning home at Katata”. Not only is the temple beautiful but it also has a lot of cultural significance.
【Opening hours】8am – 5pm
【Access】From Kyoto Station take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line to Yamashina Station and change to the Kosei Line. From there take the Kosei Line to Katata Station and walk for around 20 minutes
5. Learn about Japan’s history at Hikone Castle, Shiga
Hikone Castle is a national treasure and is 1 of the 12 castles that still maintain their original structure, with most Japanese castles having been destroyed during the Meiji Period and reconstructed at later dates. The ornate, black and white fortress was completed in 1622 by Ii Naokatsu and was used as a base for the local Ii family feudal lords. As one of the few original castles in Japan, many of its structures are designated as having important cultural properties, including stone walls, double moats, turrets, gates and wooden stables, which are the only surviving example of a castle’s stables in Japan.
Aside from the historically significant architecture of the castle and the amazing views from the top of the keep, visitors can enjoy exploring the other features housed inside the castle grounds. The Genkyu-en strolling garden contains a traditional tea house and a beautiful Chinese-style garden, centred around a pond. There is also the Hikone Castle Museum, which houses priceless treasures of the Ii family. These include Noh masks, samurai swords and musical instruments.
【Cost】¥800 (castle and garden), ¥1 200 (castle, garden and museum)
【Access】From Kyoto Station take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line Special Rapid Omishiotsu to Hikone Station. Hikone Castle is about 20 minutes on foot
6. View beautiful art at Miho Museum, Shiga
Miho Museum is an architectural wonder. It was designed by world-renowned architect I. M. Pei, famous for his design of the Louvre Pyramid. The best season to visit is in spring, when the tunnel leading to the museum’s entrance really comes alive as the reflection of the pink cherry blossoms illuminates the whole tunnel. The design of the museum was created to complement the surrounding nature and the large use of glass serves to let in a lot of natural light. Miho Museum houses a lot of art, not just from Japan but also from Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The museum is the perfect blend of nature and design and is not to be missed if you are an art lover.
【Opening hours】Tues – Sun, 10 am – 5 pm (last entry 4:00 pm)
【Access】From Kyoto Station take the JR Line Special Rapid to Ishiyama Station. Exit on the right and take the no.50 or no.150 bus for about 50 minutes to Miho Museum
7. Go on a boat ride down Hachimanbori Canal, Shiga
Omihachiman is most famous for its canal, which was used as a transport hub between Kyoto and Tokyo by the Omi merchants. Some of these storefronts and Omi merchants’ homes are still standing and provide a glimpse into the past. A boat ride down Hachimanbori canal will take you along the canal past the historical buildings. In order to ride the boat you can buy tickets at the port itself with the next departure time written on the chalkboard. During different seasons the scenery changes. In Spring, cherry blossoms line the canal while in autumn, orange and red leaves can be seen. Whatever season you’re traveling in, you’re guaranteed to experience a wonderful view.
【Opening hours】everyday, 10 am – 3pm
【Access】Take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line Special Rapid Nagahama from Kyoto Station to Omihachiman Station. Finally, from Omihachiman Station take the Kokoku Bus for 7 minutes and get off at Osugi-cho Hachimanyama
8. Relax at Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden, Shiga
This beautiful botanical garden is especially known for its lotus flowers, lilies and other diverse aquatic plants. This garden is divided into numerous sections and has a pond, greenhouse and restaurant. The pond resembles a French garden like those painted by Monet and offers a stunning display of lilies and lily pads with a bridge allowing visitors a vantage point and a great view. The greenhouse, though small enough for a quick stroll through, offers a wide variety of air plants, succulents and tropical plants. The garden is also a 5 minute walk from the Lake Biwa Museum, which houses samples of fossils, geological records and an aquarium with a variety of aquatic life from Lake Biwa itself.
The ambience of the garden against the stunning backdrop of the distant Hira and Hieizan mountains makes for a very romantic setting. If you are looking for a tranquil and romantic place to enjoy flowers and beautiful scenery, Mizunomori is the place for you.
【Opening Hours】Tue – Sun, 9 -5 pm (last entry 4:30 pm)
【Access】From Kyoto Station take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line Special Rapid Omishiotsu to Kusatsu Station. Take the Lake Biwa Museum Bus from the West Exit and get off at Mizunomori
9. Eat delicious Omi Beef
Omi beef is one of the top wagyu beef brands in Japan. The cattle that the beef comes from is carefully selected and raised under precisely managed conditions. They drink the pure water of Lake Biwa and consume feed with a carefully considered nutritional balance. This high quality of life leads to meat that is soft, tender and well marbled, which makes Omi beef so prized because it melts in your mouth. Though not as internationally known as Kobe beef, Omi beef is equally delicious. It is also known by connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine for its rich historical roots. Omi beef dates back to over 400 years ago when the feudal lord Takayama Ukon would offer the meat as a reward to warlords who distinguished themselves in battle.
Omi beef can be bought at a reasonable price compared to other wagyu brands. Furthermore, it is delicious in a variety of Japanese cuisines including sukiyaki or Japanese barbecue.
10. Try Funa Sushi, a local delicacy
Want to try something unique and different? Then Funa Sushi is for you. A local delicacy of Shiga prefecture, it is made from fermented nigoro buna (white crucian carp). The whole fish is fermented using a mixture of rice and salt and is traditionally preserved under the weight of a stone for a number of years before being eaten. The fish has soft bones, which makes it perfect for preserving using this method. Additionally, the fermentation process promotes good bacteria that are beneficial to the human body, making it a particularly healthy dish.
Keep in mind though that Funa Sushi is not for the faint of heart and may take some time for western palates to get used to. It is known for having the strongest smell out of any Japanese dish, being compared to blue cheese. The taste is strong and sour and pairs well with Japanese sake. Funa Sushi is an interesting dish that should be tried by anyone who considers themselves a foodie.
Shiga has so much to offer from delicious and unique food to the breathtaking scenery of Japan’s largest lake. We highly recommend you visit Shiga on your next trip to Japan and experience a place with a lot of cultural and historical significance. If there is anything you would recommend doing in Shiga, leave a comment down below and tag us on Instagram @gdayjapan with your Shiga pictures.