EAST SIDE OF LAKE BIWA
“Omi Hachiman is a castle town that was created in the mid-19th century and, as a key point for economic and distribution markets, sent out many Omi merchants into the world to promote and continue its prosperity. Former residences of wealthy merchants from the Edo Period, the former residence of American architect William Merrell Vories as the Vories Commemorative Museum as well as other Western style architecture from the early Meiji Period (1868-1812), and many other great examples in architecture still remain in this area. White-walled earthen storehouses and old prestigious houses line the canal waterways and the Hachiman-bori Moat. You can tour this waterfront community on a “”suigo meguri”” boat with one of the 4 companies currently running tours on motorized as well as non-motorized vessels.
Within the peaceful rural area of Gokasho, another Omi merchant town, you can see white-walled and plank board fenced merchant mansions all lined up. The Nakae Jungoro residence, Tonomura Uhee residence, and Tonomura Shigeru residences were built adjacent to each other and you can buy a combined pass to see all three of the merchant homes. A huge lake sits in the middle of the very large garden in the Fujii Hikoshiro residence and there is a path to follow to view the area. Inside the Western style house, the personal collection of Western furniture and miscellaneous articles of Mr. Fujii are on display.
In the past, Hikone prospered as a castle town but is now known for its national treasure, Hikone Castle. Then again, nowadays focus tends to be on “”Hikonyan.”” This character mascot (a personified cat wearing a samurai helmet) was created in 2007 to usher in the 400th year anniversary of the castle, but has since then taken Japan by storm, becoming the most popular yuru-kyara (this type of institution-created character for marketing purposes) in the country. If you are lucky, you just might run into “”Hikonyan”” and its performance in front of the castle tower.
Centuries ago, as the top of fudai daimyo that were in hereditary vassalage to the Tokugawa house, many successive generations of feudal lords from the Ii family served as Shogunate Chief Ministers. On the outside, Hikone Castle remains today just as it was back in the Edo Period and is one of only four preserved castles designated as national treasures (the other three being Inuyama Castle, Aichi, Himeji Castle Hyogo, and Matsumoto Castle, Nagano). On the south side of Hikone Castle you can find Yume Kyobashi Castle Road, a redesigned street where the buildings look like those from the original castle town with white walls, blackened gable roofs, and black latticework. Nearby Yonbancho Square is a shopping area with stores and houses recreated in an attractive gas-lamp lit Taisho-era style.
In 1937 the school building and auditorium of Toyosato Elementary School in Toyosato-cho town was first commissioned to be designed by Vories, then constructed, and finally donated all by Furukawa Tetsujiro, a graduate of the school himself who had gone on to become the managing director of Ito-Chuubee-Shoten (which would be the predecessor of the Itochu Corporation and Marubeni Corporation). A majestic structure back in those days, it is still definitely worth taking a look at and, as a matter of fact, on May 30, 2009, it was given a fresh new start as the town’s facilities for education and welfare.
In Koka, at the southern tip of Shiga Prefecture, is one of the two main ninja areas, the famous School of Koga ninja village. Iga City of neighboring Mie Prefecture, the second main area, was the birthplace of the School of Iga ninjutsu and both areas once had a large number of ninja houses. At these facilities, it is considered that while ninja performed their daily training, they served the daimyo and feudal lords through acts like stealth surveillance and assassination. Here at Koga Ninja Village you can adorn the garb of the ninja and experience ninja training for yourself. You can also try the different hidden mechanisms in the houses, things like hidden doors, pull-down staircases, and other stuff from scenes you have read in comics and seen on television.
The western part of Koka City is Shigaraki, known for its ceramic and porcelain wares, especially the tanuki raccoon dog. The Miho Museum with its ancient works of art is a famous art museum also in this area. The museum, designed by the same designer of the Louvre pyramid, I. M. Pei, was made to feel like an ancient sacred temple. Integrated into the surrounding landscape and buried in the thick mist of the deep mountain valleys, this mostly underground piece of art in itself attracts numerous visitors from foreign countries as well.
Another museum built well incorporated into the surrounding mountain landscape is the Sagawa Art Museum. In the image of Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, this modern building feels as though it is floating on a water garden. The modern tea house was created in 2007 and is definitely worth visiting. The tea house is open every week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and national holidays (except for the first and third Friday of each month when it is closed) but advanced reservation is always required. These reservations can be made by telephone only, at least one month in advance.”