LAKE BIWA and HOKURIKU
Living with a spring
Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko), the largest lake in Japan, is a popular vacation spot. Its surface area is 674 km² for a depth of nearly 100 m. At the southwestern end, Otsu is the lake’s largest coastal town, and the starting point for cruises.
The town of Omi Hachiman is considered the little “Green Venice” of Lake Biwa. This ancient feudal city of merchants was established at the foot of Mount Hachiman in the 15th century. Like Lake Biwa, the main canal of Omi Hachiman was indeed used for the transport of goods. In the shadow of the castle, Omi Hachiman has retained the charm of its traditional wooden architecture. Between the canals, the districts are full of temples and shrines.
Because the region of Lake Biwa is also a great land of pilgrimages. Buddhist culture spread there as early as the 8th century, shortly after its arrival in Japan. Many temples and shrines have been erected on the slopes of the mountains surrounding Lake Biwa. At the gates of Fukui, the Buddhist monastery of Eiheiji invites you to a Zen meditation. Dotted with hot springs, the region even lends itself to shugendō, a form of asceticism in communion with nature.
Exploring the shores of Lake Biwa and plunging into the mountains covered with lush vegetation goes back to the sources of Japanese Buddhism. The region also teaches a whole piece of Japanese history, through remains from the Jōmon period and ruins of castles.
This land of water is finally a blessed land for the distillation of sake.
Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest lake. Since ancient times it has maintained a cultural landscape in which water and human activities are in harmony. Many historic temples and shrines have been built around the lake. The villages and islands in and around the lake have nurtured their own unique food culture and fishing methods. The lakeside mountain top Biwako Valley, around 1,100 meters above sea level, offers a spectacular view of Lake Biwa.
Scenic cruises can be enjoyed at Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. The lake features four islands, Takeshima, Chikubushima, Okishima, and Oki no Shiraishi, three of which can be accessed by boat. From October to March each year, Yurikamome seagulls can be observed from sightseeing boats on Lake Biwa.
The canal lined township of Omi Hachiman developed economically when Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Hachimanyama Castle, and cargo ships from Lake Biwa were brought into the castle’s inner moats leading to the formation of the Omi merchants.
Enryaku-ji is the head temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect, founded over 1,200 years ago by Dengyo Daishi Saicho on Mt. Hiei, the most sacred mountain in Japanese Buddhism. The temple encompasses the whole of Mt. Hiei and offers panoramic views of Kyoto to the west and Lake Biwa to the east. The temple complex covers the Todo and Saito, Yokawa areas, and prays for world peace and tranquility, is a place of study and training, and was registered as a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Eihei-ji Temple is the main temple of the Soto sect of Buddhism, founded by Zen Master Dogen in 1244. Many ascetic monks practice Zen here.
The Eihei-ji’s Hakujukan lodging house offers authentic Zen experiences. An approved Zen concierge will guide you through various Zen experiences including morning Buddhist services and lectures.
Since before Japan’s Nara period, around 710 to 794, the sea-food rich Wakasa Bay area has supported the Kyoto food culture, and provided ingredients for the imperial family kitchens. Mackerel and other marine products harvested in Wakasa were sent to the capital via a series of roads called "Saba Kaido", or the Mackerel Highway.