10 Places to Visit in Shiga Prefecture – Located east of Kyoto in Western Japan, Shiga Prefecture is most famous for Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. There are many places to visit and things to do in Shiga. Here is a list of 10 places to visit.
1. Lake Biwa
By far the most famous attraction in Shiga is Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, which occupies a sixth of the area of Shiga. It is seen by many as the symbol of Shiga. The lake is also one of the oldest, estimated to be the 13th oldest in the world. Due to its proximity to the former capital Kyoto, the lake features prominently in Japanese literature.
Around the lake, there are many attractions including a boat cruise, where you can enjoy scenic views of the lake. The whole Biwako Valley area is a popular resort area with many outdoor activities. You can go to the top of the 1100m high Horai Mountain by cable car and experience some breathing taking panoramic views of Lake Biwa.
Sunrise during summertime is a particularly beautiful time as you will be able to witness some truly spectacular colors created from the rising sun. It is also very popular to visit during the springtime as the lake is surrounded by lots of cherry blossom viewing spots.
2. Hikone Castle
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Hikone Castle is a popular landmark of Shiga. Built in 1622, the castle is one of the best-preserved in Japan, surviving the Feudal era without any destruction or reconstruction. Although it is fairly small, it displays different and unique architectural styles and has been selected as a national treasure. As well as the main castle’s keep, the inner moats, walls, guardhouses and gates also remain intact. The castle has become so popular as a tourist attraction that they have even created their own mascot for the castle.
The castle allows visitors to enter and climb to the top of the castle keep tower, offering nice views overlooking Lake Biwa. Among the other highlights around the castle is a Japanese style garden which is among the most scenic spots for cherry blossom viewing in Shiga.
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3. Miho Museum
Miho Museum is a real hidden gem in Shiga. The museum is named after its founder Koyama Mihoko, one of the richest women in Japan, who wanted to fulfil her vision of promoting beauty and peace through art.
The museum is a unique piece of architecture, designed by the same architect that designed the Louvre in Paris, known for his steel and glass combinations. His designs combine the softness of nature with the hardness of glass and steel. To enter the museum visitors pass through a tunnel and over a bridge before arriving at the museum. For the the architecture alone it is well worth visiting.
The museum’s collection started from Japanese including painting, ceramics and calligraphy before expanding to art from around the world. The collections houses around 3,000 artworks from around the world, including ancient Japan, Greece, Egypt, Rome and Asia, of which between 250 to 500 are on display to the public.
4. Lake Biwa Museum
Located in Kusatsu City, Shiga, the Lake Biwa Museum is the largest dedicated lake museum in Japan. The museum focuses on humans and their relationship with the lake, as well as the many different flora and fauna that exist there. You can learn all about how Lake Biwa came to be and the deep history and development behind it.
There are many interactive displays which explore this connection and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. The aquarium is an interesting feature, allowing visitors to observe the many freshwater fish that are native to the lake. The museum also plays an important role in environmental conservation, allowing visitors to be more aware of the significance of preserving and protecting the lake.
5. Shigaraki Pottery Town
Shigaraki is one of the oldest pottery towns in Japan, dating back over 1,200 years. The town has a rich history and was briefly imperial capital for a few months in 745. It is most famous to Japanese people for its tanuki (Japanese raccoon) ceramic figures. Here you can take part in many different workshops relating to ceramics, including furnace workshops and painting workshops. You can even design your own figures to take home. The town also has a ceramic park with a museum where you can learn all about ceramics.
6. Ōmi Hachiman Hachiman-bori Canal
Ōmi Hachiman is a charming town in Shiga Prefecture, known for its nicely preserved picturesque Hachiman-Bori Canal and traditional old town. It is one of the most famous old towns in the Prefecture and has been developed as a commercial town since a feudal lord built a castle there in the 16th century.
Visitors to the town can experience traditional boat cruises along the canal seeing the traditional townscape. Cruises along the canal are offered by two companies. One uses traditional man-powered boats, that travel at a gentle pace through the town. The other uses a more modern engine-powered boat, which not only explores the historical parts of the canal but also the modern parts as well.
7. Shirahige Shrine
Shirahige Shrine in Takashima City, Shiga features a magnificent torii gate, offering a spectacular backdrop to Lake Biwa. It is similar to Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, with both giving the illusion the torii is floating in the water. In recent years it has become a popular photo spot because of its picturesque setting, which is especially beautiful during sunset. It is also highly recommended to visit after sunset, when the torii is illuminated for 2 hours, until around 10 pm.
The shrine was built around 2,000 years and is said to bring good luck, including longevity and marriage. In English, the name Shirahige translates as white beard, with the god of this shrine being known as a god of longevity.
8. Azuchi Castle Ruins
Azuchi Castle is the remains where warlord Lord Nobunaga Oda once resided. This was the first castle in Japan to feature a tower keep, marking the start of a new type of castle design in Japanese history.
Construction began in 1576 and took 3 years to complete. The castle was both a fortress as well as a mansion for Oda. Unfortunately due to a fire, the castle was destroyed after the Honnoji Incident. Today all that remains are the stone walls and deep foundations of the keep. Visitors can get some idea of the size of the castle at the Nobunaga No Yakata Museum, which has a replica of what the castle was believed to have looked like. For those with an interest in ancient castles and history, it is a great place to explore.
9. Hieizan Enryakuji Temple
Located at the top of Mount Hiei is Hieizan Enryakuji Temple, one of the most powerful shrines in Shiga. The mountain is 848 metres high and considered to be the grounds to Enryakuji, which is dived into 3 areas. In total there are around 100 buildings in Mount Hiei, which can be accessed via cable car, taking you to the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy a spectacular view.
With over 1200 years of history, the shrine has been revered since ancient times and continues to be worshipped as a site of Buddhist practice and world peace. In 1994 it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
10. Koka Ninja Village
Koka City, Shiga is the birthplace of ninja and here you will find the Koka Ninja Village, a theme park built on the idea of ninjutsu (ninja arts). Inside you will find The Koka Ninjutsu Museum, the largest museum dedicated to the knowledge of ninjutsu. The museum displays information and the history of ninjutsu as well as showcasing the tools used by a ninja. There is also a ninja training hall where you can train like a real ninja and practice throwing ninja stars or try to cross water with shoes called mizugumo. You can even rent ninja outfits and imagine being a ninja, which adds to the experience.
Many events take place at the village which is popular for fans of ninjutsu, including competitions between real ninjutsu. In summer there are popular events such as the ninja dojo. The village can be enjoyed by everyone, not just ninja fans.
As you can see Shiga has a lot to offer and is a great place to explore with many things to do, especially at a calmer pace compared to Osaka or Kyoto.
See you again next time!
Alex is a graduate of photography from London. He has a strong interest in visual arts and culture. Alex is half Japanese and has a great knowledge of Japan, having spent several years living there, visiting many parts of the country.