Thu. Nov 14th, 2019

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Places We Love: Shiga Prefecture in Kansai Region, Japan

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The Kansai Airport connects to each of the cities and Five Star Travels can help you get there by providing you with affordable airfare and customised tours while you are in Japan.

Shiga Prefecture

Shiga Prefecture is home to the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, and Hikone Castle, one of the twelve original castles in Japan. Below are exciting places we love and we think you should visit in Shiga Prefecture.

Hikone

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Hikone

Hikone is a city located in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. It is on the eastern shore of the Lake Biwa. Hikone’s most famous historical site is Hikone Castle. Its construction was begun in 1603 by Ii Naokatsu, son of the former lord, Ii Naomasa, but was not completed until 1622. Naokatsu’s lands had been taken from him in the interval by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and when his brother Naotake assumed control of Omi Province, he was able to complete the castle by collecting stones from the former Sawayama Castle. 

When the Meiji period began in 1868, many castles were scheduled to be dismantled and only a request from the Emperor Meiji himself, touring the area, kept Hikone Castle intact. Today it remains one of the oldest original- construction castles in Japan. The Chosenjin Kaido and the Nakasendo were passed through Hikone. The Nakasendo was one of the most important trading routes during the Edo period, and is home to two former post stations, Toriimoto Post Town and Takamiya Post Town. 

Mt. Sawa, about one kilometer east of Hikone Castle, is where the castle of Ishida Mitsunari, the leader who lost the Battle of Sekigahara, is located. At the mountain foot, you can visit such historical spots as Ryotanji Temple known for its gardens, and Ohora Bensaiten, as well as temples and shrines associated with the Ii family; also there is Tenneiji Temple that enshrines the statue of Gohyakurakan. Hikone makes an easy and pleasant 3-6 hour stop-over on a trip between Tokyo and Kyoto or a side trip from Kyoto.

Omi Hachiman

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Omi Hachiman, that sits at the foot of Mt. Hachiman- yama in the center of Shiga, is a castle town of Hachiman-yama-jo. The castle was built in 1585 on the eastern shore Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa-ko. It is also known as a base town for Omi-shonin, or Omi merchants. The quaint streets with lattice windows, the pine trees stretching out from the gardens of private residence, ‘udatsu’ (roof of unusual shape) and the Hachiman- bori area that was the hub of marine transportation- all are listed and preserved as a national important preservation district for the group of historic buildings. 

Until the mid 19th century, the town of Omi Hachiman was divided by Hachiman-bori, north of which was a residential area for the warriors and south was for the townsfolk. The area for the townsfolk was further divided into the merchants’ and craftsmen’s areas. The current Shin-machi-dori Street marks the former merchants’ area; preserved there, and open to the public, is the former residence of a wealthy merchant family, the Nishikawas. Local Artifacts Museum was built in the grounds of the former residence of an Omi merchant who traveled abroad, Nishimura Taroemon. Next to it is the History and Folklore Museum that shows us the lives of the merchants. Along the Hachiman-bori are white-walled storehouses and old houses like Haku-un-kan, a building where western architecture and Japanese tradition are well- matched; also here is the Kawara Museum (tile museum) that displays tiles from all parts of Japan. 

In the Nishi-no-ko Lake area, from Omi Hachiman to Azuchi, is Japan’s largest waterfront area, regarded as one of the eight most beautiful spots of Biwa-ko Lake and as “a water district of Azuchi Hachiman in spring colors.” There you can enjoy cruising by houseboat through reed beds in a maze of waterways, while listening to the songs of waterbirds and watching seasonal views. Today, it is designated as the first Important Cultural Landscape in Japan, because of the importance of its ecosystem, where reeds have a water purification effect.

Otsu

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Otsu

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Biwa-ko, Otsu is the main city of Shiga, and once flourished as a post station along Tokaido Street (between Tokyo and Kyoto) in the southwestern part of the prefecture. Numerous historical sites and cultural assets, such as the Mii-dera and Ishiyama-dera temples, and seven out of eight scenic spots known as the Omi Hakkei, are found in the city. The best known is Enryaku-ji Temple at Mt. Hiei-zan, the birthplace of Japanese Buddhism.  

Visitors can enjoy a cruise on Lake Biwa-ko by taking a sightseeing boat from Nagisa- koen Park at Hama-otsu, where mirages sometime appear. Off the shore of Otsu Harbor, the “Biwa-ko Hana-funsui,” one of the largest fountains in the world, sprays out water in various shapes making a fantastic sight.  

The Otsu-matsuri Festival is held every fall, and 13 floats covered with rich decorations and ‘karakuri’ mechanisms travel around the city. The Otsu-matsuri Hikiyama Tenjikan Exhibition Hall exhibits full-size floats as well as a reproduction of the bustling city streets on the festival day, where visitors can hear ‘matsuri-bayashi’ or festival music and observe the karakuri mechanisms more closely.

Koka

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Koka

Koka (甲賀, Koka, also commonly pronounced Koga) is a rural city in Shiga Prefecture, not far from Kyoto. Together with neighboring Iga, Koka can be considered the homeland of the ninja, and it features a couple of ninja related attractions that are developed to not be tourist attractions like those in Iga. Since early times, Koka’s proximity to Kyoto, in addition to its rugged terrain, made it a good hiding location for those seeking shelter, such as losing parties of battles. It was from such independently minded, self-governing families that ninja and their skills developed. The prominence of Iga and Koka ninja rose during the age of the warring states (15th and 16th century) when they were hired as mercenaries by various lords for their specialized skills. 

In the 15th century, a clan of half-farmer half-soldiers (dogo) started strengthening their control over local land. In 1487, the dogo of Koka who successfully infiltrated the base camp of Ashikaga Yoshihisa’s Shogunate army at Magari (now Ritto City) were called “the 53 warrior families of Koka,” or “the 21 families of Koka.” The 53 families became known as “Koga Ninjas,” and are said to have later fought in battles all across Japan using their extraordinary techniques, eventually surviving Japan’s war period. The mountains west of central Koka are also home to the Miho Museum, a unique museum whose interesting structures are blended in with the natural environment. Shigaraki is a famous ceramic town with ancient kilns.

Things To Do in Koka

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The Miho Museum

Visit The Miho Museum – The Museum was designed by the architect I.M. Pei to showcase the extensive art collection of the Shumei Family.

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Koka Ninja Mansion

Visit The Koka Ninja Mansion – The mansion is equipped with false walls, trap doors, hidden passages and a shuriken range.

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Koka Ninja Village

Visit The Koka Ninja Village has many ninja related attractions that you can try out like throwing shuriken (throwing star) or walking on water.

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