A Historical Walk Down Northeastern Shiga
ReleaseAugust 18, 2021
Shiga, the often-skipped prefecture when it comes to traveling in the Kansai region, may well surprise you with just as many worthy attractions as its neighbors in Western Japan.
For those of you who are already well-versed with Japan’s endless discoveries, you may have heard of Shiga’s crowning jewel of nature, the majestic Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, or the prefecture’s historic pride, Hikone Castle, which can boast of being one of the only five castles in Japan designated as National Treasures. However, today we are going to get off the beaten track and explore deeper into what this wonderful prefecture has to offer.
On the itinerary today are attractions in the northeast region of Shiga Prefecture, and first we are making a brief stop at Omihachiman, an old merchant town by the riverside east of Lake Biwa.
Known for its scenic Hachiman-bori Canal, which was a major transportation route back in older times, Omihachiman flourished as a commercial hub and gave birth to some of the most successful and wealthy Omi merchants, who played a very important role in the commercial development of the Edo period in Japan.
If time allows, do indulge in a boat tour down the picturesque canal, which is also known as the “miniature Venice” of the region, to explore the historical past of this ancient feudal town. It breathes such an atmospheric charm that it has been used as the filming location for period drama and films such as Rurouni Kenshin.
Another attraction in the area is Himure Hachimangu Shrine, where a fiery festival called the “Sagicho Matsuri” is held in spring to pray for an abundance of crop harvesting in the region. If you are so lucky to catch a future event, you may witness massive colorful floats called “Sagicho” being paraded in a firelight dance. Even if you miss it, altered versions of the floats can be found on display right at the shrine, often featuring the zodiac animal of the year.
Besides an historical stroll, you are also in for a sweet treat in the area, quite literally! La Collina Omihachiman is Omihachiman’s signature and very photogenic confectionery run by Shiga-born company, Taneya Club. Here you can sample their ever-popular baumkuchen cake surrounded by a camera-ready backdrop that will make your Instagram friends highly envious.
Finally, one last relaxing stop before we leave Omihachiman and head north – Chalet Mizugahama, a cafe by Lake Biwa that overlooks the calm waters. You can recharge yourself absorbing that calm energies carried by the gentle breeze out on the terrace seats before moving on to your next adventure.
If you follow me on my social media, you will know that I am an avid seasonal flower chaser. Being a tropical-born Malaysian, I am endlessly fascinated by the myriads of floral surprises that pop up when you least expect it in Japan. While most travelers probably are familiar with Instagram cliches of cherry blossoms, hydrangea and the like, here’s a true rare seasonal gem you may have not yet heard of: baikamo.
Baikamo is so rare that it was my very first time seeing it, and after a quick googling I learned that in English it is called “Water Crowfoot.” These tiny, adorable white petals bloom out of an alga-like cluster from May to August yearly, and only grow in the clearest streams. One of the best places to enjoy Baikamo is Samegai-juku, an old post town along the Nakasendo which connected Edo (now Tokyo) to Kyoto, in Maibara City.
Expect a taste of authentic local life in Samegai-juku, where residents still carry out their daily lives little changed from the past in this charming little town, while enjoying its natural setting, including the very famous water running from the very stream those beautiful baikamo grow in. I couldn’t help but dip my fingers into the clear stream and was very surprised to find that in the mid-summer heat, the water was ice-cold!
Moving on, we have arrived at Nagahama City, an old castle town that is a treasure house of rich history and culture. While there are lots of charms and attractions awaiting you, you definitely would not want to miss out on Keiunkan, a guest house that was built in 1887 by a wealthy merchant to welcome a visit of the Emperor Meiji. This stately accommodation is surrounded by a very impressive garden, and is also the location for hosting the annual Nagahama Plum Tree Bonsai Exhibition, which features unparalleled plum blossoms of trees that are hundreds of years old.
Finally, here’s one last bonus attraction that may excite any “haikyo” fans. Haikyo means “ruins” in Japanese. One will be surprised to learn how these abandoned infrastructures become a playground for enthusiasts of all kinds. The Tsuchikura Mine ruin is hidden in the mountainous district of Kinomoto. While getting there isn’t exactly an easy feat, I heard that many Cosplayers make their way here to complete their dream photography re-enacting their favorite anime scenes. Note that entering the mine itself is not allowed for safety reasons, and also, beware of bats!
Next…[Day 2] A Photogenic Stroll through Western Shiga
*The information herein is as of August 2021.