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Shiga Travel Guide Breathtaking Views and Natural Wonders

Shiga Kogen In Autumn

Shiga prefecture is an area rich in natural beauty, and because of its location on an ancient trading route, it also hosts several prominent historical sites, including beautiful shrines and castles. Shiga prefecture is probably most famous for Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. A full sixth of the prefecture is covered by the Biwako Quasi-National Park, which includes several beautiful lakes and mountains. If you’re looking for a break from the course, Shiga prefecture makes a great choice: with so much rich history and so many beautiful sites, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Things to do

Omihachiman canal street

Lake Biwa Cruise

The best views of Lake Biwa aren’t available on the shore; take a steam boat style lunch cruise and grab breathtaking views of the scenery while enjoying lunch.

Bunraku Puppet Theatre

Founded in the 1830’s, the Tonda Traditional Bunraku Puppet troupe is one of the most active Bunraku puppet shows currently performing outside of the National theater in Osaka. For a memorable cultural experience, see a traditional show here.

Ninja House

Could you cut it as a ninja? This preserved original ninja house in Koku allows visitors to put their ninja skills to the test. They would certainly know: this 300 year old house was the home of a famous ninja leader!

Hikone Castle  

Hikone is one of the best preserved original castles and a fantastic example of traditional Japanese castle architecture. The garden is a great spot to enjoy tea ceremony.


This edo-period castle city is a relic from a more dangerous time period- the entire city is walled, allowing the city to become a heavily defended fortress if under attack.

Events and Seasonal Happenings

There are Hikiyama (floating) festivals throughout Shiga prefecture, but the one held in Nagahama in April, widely considered one of the best in Japan, has been deemed an ‘important Important Intangible Cultural Property’ and should not be missed. Intricate floats are built with stages to host Kabuki plays, which are pulled throughout the streets.

Higashiomi hosts a kite festival every May, with attendents invited to help fly the beautiful kites.

In Fall, the Otsu-matsuri Festival is held on Otsu, with 13 richly decorated floats carried throughout the streets to the joyous sounds of music and drums.

Photo: Otsu Matsuri from the website Explore Shiga

Flavors of Shiga

kamo nabe

Every prefecture has its own spin on noodle soup, and Shiga is no exception: their flavorful version, yaki-saba sōmen, tops somen noodles with grilled mackerel in a rich fish broth. For cold weather, warm up with kamo nabe, or duck hot pot. Since the largest lake in Japan is located in Shiga, it makes sense that there are many delicious fish dishes to try: one very traditional course you can try is Funa zushi, a dish made with fermented crucian carp. However, the region is also very famous for the particularly high quality of wagyu beef available: Omi beef, named after an earlier term for Shiga prefecture, has been known for its high quality since at least the Edo period. It was frequently given as a gift to visiting nobility.  

What to Bring Back

Shigaraki is by far the most traditional souvenir you could bring back from your stay in Shiga- travelers have been buying Shiga-made pottery for centuries, and it hosts one of the oldest kilns in all of Japan. A traditional choice would be a tanuki figurine, a type of raccoon-dog native to Japan and popular in folklore.


Where to Stay

Biwako Hanakaido is a traditional ryoken, or Japanese inn, hosting beautiful views of Lake Biwa. There is in-room massage and aromatherapy available, as well as a traditional onsen, hot springs bath, as well as open air tubs in upgraded rooms.

Another traditional and authentic option is Ryoutei Yasui, located near Hikone Castle. All rooms face a garden view, while some come equipped with cypress wood bathtubs.

Wrap up

From being a historic home to ninjas in the 16th century, to the birthplace of Japanese buddhism, to inspiring Lady Murasaki in a chapter of ‘The Tale of Genji,’ Shiga prefecture has many surprises in store for visitors. While the trip is worth it for the breathtaking views of Lake Biwa and of the nearby mountain range alone, you are sure to be charmed by the history and culture of this tradition-rich prefecture.

Photo: Hikone Castle Shiga from Flickr cc by yeowatzup

Getting there

From Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line (2h15) to Kyoto. Transfer to the JR Tokaido Line to Otsu Station.

From Osaka, take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto Station. Transfer to the JR Tokaido Line to Otsu Station.

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