【Shiga】Get-away from the crowds and heat – A trip to Kyoto’s neighboring prefecture Shiga

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Kyoto is for sure a major tourist destination, which is totally understandable since it is considered the cultural capital of Japan. On the other hand, unfortunately, this means the city can be very crowded throughout the year, especially around the top sightseeing spots. A trip to Shiga Prefecture is the perfect opportunity to avoid Kyoto crowds and still have an amazing Japanese experience.

Among Japanese residents this prefecture is most known for its lake, Lake Biwa, which takes up 1/6 of the whole prefecture and is the largest lake in Japan. The lake and altitude always make Shiga 2-3 degrees cooler than Kyoto and therefore the easily accessible neighboring prefecture is a popular escape in summer time.

Here are 4 of the top tourist spots to visit if you plan to make a trip to Shiga Prefecture: Hikone Castle, Mount Hiei, the charming old merchant town of Omihachiman and Shirahige Shrine in Lake Biwa.

Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle

The first attraction is Hikone Castle. The construction of the castle took 20 years until it was finally completed in 1622. Hikone Castle is now one of the very few original castles in Japan that survived without being destroyed by fire or war. In spring, 1200 blooming cherry trees create a fabulous atmosphere from the approach to the hilltop castle until its garden from where you can see Lake Biwa.

By train: 50-minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Hikone Station, JR Biwako Line, 15-minute walk from the station to the castle
(Shiga Tourism Official Website)

Hiei-zan and Enryaku-ji

Enryaku-ji temple

The next big tourist spot is the sacred mountain Hiei-zan and Enryaku-ji Temple on top. Actually Kyoto and Shiga share this attraction, since the mountain is located on the border of both prefectures. Mount Hiei can be reached from both Kyoto and Shiga side via cable car, but only from the windows of Shiga’s nostalgic Sakamoto Cable Car you will get an impressive panoramic view of the enormous Lake Biwa and only this side’s cable car operates during winter as well. In addition Sakamoto Cable Car is the longest cable car railway in Japan.

Sakamoto Cable Car

The main temple and UNESCO world heritage site is called Enryaku-ji Temple. It is said to be the origin of Japanese Buddhism, since it is the head temple of the Tendai sect and founded by the monk Saicho in the year 788. Many influential monks studied here before founding their own sects later. As one of the most powerful monasteries the complex consisted of about 3000 sub-temples, but most of them were destroyed in power struggles with other monasteries. Now 150 temple buildings remain or have been rebuilt within the precincts.  

Enryaku-ji Temple offers various unique experiences including the observation of religious services that are held every day or even participating in Zen meditation and making copies of the sutras yourself.

By train: 17-minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Hieizan-Sakamoto Station by JR Kosei Line, 15-minute walk from there to Sakamoto Cable Car, 11-minute cable car ride and 8-minute walk from Cable Enryakuji Station


Omihachiman is the name of a beautifully preserved merchant town in the middle of Shiga Prefecture on the east side of Lake Biwa and our third recommended destination. Omihachiman Station lies on the same JR line as Hikone Castle, therefore these two spots can be easily combined in one trip.

The town of Omihachiman is connected to the lake through a man-made canal, which, back then before the invention of cars or trains, provided quick and easy transportation. Thanks to its canal and its key position along Nakasendo road connecting Tokyo and Kyoto, Omihachiman was a flourishing trading hub in the old days.

Today, the best way to get a close look on the historic townhouses standing along the canal and experience how Japanese merchants used to live is by taking a boat cruise. You can take a 60min, 80min or 120min tour and learn about the town’s and the canal’s history. By the way, the canal used to separate the rich samurai on one side and the regular citizens on the other side. Can you find out the difference in the architecture?

And don’t forget to treat yourself with some delicious sweets at “La Collina”, an artificial hill where people queue up to buy one of the famous baumkuchen.

AccessBy train: 35-minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Omihachiman Station by JR Biwako Line, then 10-minute taxi or bus ride from there to the old town

Shirahige Shrine

Last but not least on our Shiga recommendation list is Shirahige Shrine, a torii gate in Lake Biwa. It has become popular in the last years as a picturesque photo spot with the sun rising inside the gate in the morning.

If you go there during day time you will see fishing boats or people stand up paddling through the gate. As the name of the shrine Shirahige or “White Beard” suggests, he shrine is devoted to a god of longevity. People come here to pray for long life as well as marriage, child blessing, fortune, thriving business and traffic safety. Be careful when you cross the busy road for visiting the gate in the water from the inland main building.

Access55-minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Omi-Takashima Station by JR Kosei Line, then 5-minute taxi or 12-minute bus ride
(Shiga Tourism Official Website)