NORTH SIDE OF LAKE BIWA
“With grand dreams the warring state military commanders faced off on this land. Reminders of this are all over the place as in scarred battlefields where the fate of the whole land was influenced or in the various temples remembered in connection with the warring daimyo feudal lords. However, around the skirt of the mountain the peaceful country expands out and is dotted with villages that lie unaffected by the strife.
The first territory Hashiba Hideyoshi (later known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi) received from Lord Nobunaga was Nagahama. With the construction of Nagahama Castle and the policy of free markets and open guilds, commerce started to develop. At one time the castle was abandoned in the Edo Period but the influence of Nagahama continued as a post station and as a hub for trade and commerce. The old black-walled houses remaining along the Hokkoku Kaido are currently getting a second life as a shopping district called Kurokabe Square, which means “”black wall”” square in Japanese. One such shop makes use of a former bank building constructed in 1900, the Kurokabe Glass Museum, where glass products are on display and for sale. There are various other shops as well, such as the Hikiyama Museum (floats used in festivals) and the Kaiyodo Figure Museum (toy figures).
Floating on the water in the very center of Lake Biwa is an island with a circumference of 2km (1.24 miles) called Chikubushima. If you climb all 165 steps of the rock staircase, you will find Tsukubusuma Shrine (Chikubushima Shrine) and Hogon-ji Temple built as if they were clinging to the slanting surface of the mountain. For a very long time this temple has gained the faith of many travelers as an important stop on the 33-site Saigoku (Western Japan) Kannon Pilgrimage and is counted as one of the 8 most beautiful scenes of Lake Biwa.
At one time, a distinctive Buddhist culture flourished in Kohoku with Mt. Kodakami, a mountain 923m (3,028 feet) above sea level, at its center. Outlasting the many wars and political turmoil, many images of Buddha are still remaining on the mountain. These pieces have never been taken from this location by religious groups or temples because local residents through the generations have wanted to protect and pass the precious pieces down to future generations just where they stand. There are, however, a number of pieces with a connection to Mt. Kodakami enshrined at Kokoukaku and Yoshirokaku in Kinomoto-cho.
Images of the Bodhisattva of Compassion (eleven-faced Kannon) in Kohoku are portrayed in novels by Inoue Yasushi (1907-1991) and by Mizukami Tsutomu (1919-2004). Particularly known is one created in year 736 and kept by the Kogen-ji (Dogan-ji) Temple in Takatsuki-cho town. This statue, adorned with earrings and having the body slightly turned at the waist, conveys the style and manner of India and western China. It is said to be the most beautiful image of the eleven-faced Kannon out of the 7 national treasures of its kind within Japan and loved so much that even back when all temples were on the verge of being wiped out during the warring states period, village people buried their beloved Bodhisattva in the earth to protect it, saving it from destruction.
The eleven-faced Kannon image at the Nishino Yakushi Kannon-do is from the early Heian Period (the 8th-12th century). A solemn, steady sense of comfort can be seen in this statue with the chubbiness of the body, notably the chest and thighs. As for the eleven-faced Kannon image at Shakudo-ji Temple, even now some of the red coloring remains on the lips and makes for a very elegant face. Both statues are designated as important cultural property.
Old houses still remain lining the streets in the prosperous Hokkoku Kaido post station of Kinomoto. Joshin-ji Temple (Kinomoto Jizo-in) is said to offer the grace of healing for those with eye problems and there are many other interesting places to see as well in the town.
It may be a good idea to make use of the rental bicycles and go around touring the various Buddhist statues. You can drop the bicycle off at the station nearest you anywhere within the northern Lake Biwa area and maybe even enjoy some hiking. If you are in this area during the autumn season, the different colors of all the changing leaves is really quite a sight. Speaking of beautiful sights, you can take a cable car up to near the top of Mt. Shizugatake for a full panoramic view of Lake Biwa. Historically, an important battle just after the death of Oda Nobunaga, the Battle of Shizugatake, was fought in this area in 1583 as Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Shibata Katsuie (1522?-1583) vied for supremacy.
Sekigahara, formerly part of the Nakasendo, is now an essential point for the Shinkansen Bullet Train track to run through. In the year 1600, a decisive contest, the Battle of Sekigahara, was fought in this area with the winner, Tokugawa Ieyasu (a founding general of the Edo shogunate), finally grasping real control of the entire land. Today, blessed with pure water wells this area is abundant with nature and also has the highest peak in Shiga Prefecture, Mt. Ibuki at 1,377m (4,518 feet). In the mountains medicinal plants can be found and in the summer around the summit you can see the heavy growth of the alpine plants in fields of alpine flowers. You can also enjoy activities in nature, such as mountain climbing, paragliding, and skiing.
There are many locations of spring water known in Shiga Prefecture and Izumi Shrine is one of these. Many people go to draw water from this spring. Another, the Jizo River, is home to Ito fish and the green sturgeon, both of which can only survive in places with very clean water. This plentiful spring water is also being used to cultivate rainbow trout at the nearby Samegai Trout Farm.”