Shiga Prefecture

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Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県; Shiga-ken)
Shirahige Lake Biwa from Mt. Shizugatake. More Shiga photos here.
Map of Japan with Shiga highlighted in red
Google Map of Shiga here.
Location Honshu island, Kinki region 
Neighbors Fukui Prefecture, Gifu Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Kyoto Prefecture 
Population 1,413,184 (31st) (Oct. 1, 2015)
Area 4,017.36 km² (14.0% water) (38th)
Major Cities Otsu (capital), Hikone, Nagahama, HigashiOmi, Omi-Hachiman, Koka, Maibara 
Major Sights Lake Biwa, Hikone Castle, Chikubushima, Mt. Hiei, Enryakuji Temple, Ukimido Floating Temple, Ishiyama and Miidera Temples, Koto Sanzan Temple Trio, Mt. Shizugatake, Lake Yogo, Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, Nagahama Kurokabe Square, Yokaichi Giant Kite Museum/Festival 
Major Gateways JR Maibara Station, Otsu Station, Kyoto Station and Yamashina Station (Kyoto Pref.) 
Train Lines JR Tokaido Main Line, Tokaido Shinkansen, Kosei Line, Hokuriku Main Line, Kusatsu Line, Ohmi Railways 
Travel Time 2.5 hours from Tokyo to Maibara Station via Hikari shinkansen; 2.25 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto via Nozomi shinkansen, then 10 min. to Otsu via Tokaido Line; 10 min. from Kyoto Station to Otsu Station via JR; 25 min. from Sanjo-Keihan (Kyoto) to Keihan Hama-Otsu Station 
Claim to Fame Lake Biwa is Japan's largest lake
Products funazushi, Omi-gyu (beef), Shigaraki pottery
Old Name(s) Omi (Ohmi) 近江
Keywords Biwako (Lake Biwa), Omi (Ohmi), Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi), Hikone-jo, Omi shonin merchants, Heiwado
Historical Persons Emperor Tenji, Saicho, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Oda Nobunaga, Azai Nagamasa, Ii Naosuke, Oguchi Taro, William Merrell Vories
Related Links Shiga Articles | Shiga Photos
Tourist Links | JNTO
Shiga Prefectural Government
Address 〒520-8577大津市京町4-1-1
4-1-1 Kyomachi, Otsu-shi, Shiga-ken 520-8577 JAPAN
Phone (077) 524-1121 
Official Site English site 
Symbols Flower:  Rhododendron (shakunage)
Tree:  Japanese maple (momiji)
Bird:  Little grebe (kaitsuburi)
Others:  Lake Biwa
Logo:  Created in May 1957. Based on the katakana characters for "Shiga" and the circle in the middle symbolizing Lake Biwa.
Sister States Michigan, USA; Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; Hunan, China. Sister cities here (CLAIR)
Map of Shiga

This page is 95% complete. Last modified: Aug. 12, 2016

by Philbert Ono

Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県; Shiga-ken) is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan located next to Kyoto Prefecture in the Kinki region on Japan's largest island of Honshu. Shiga can be easily spotted on a map of Japan with Lake Biwa (Japan's largest lake) looking like a belly button near the center of Honshu. Shiga's other neighbors are Fukui Prefecture in the north, Gifu Prefecture in the east, and Mie Prefecture in the southeast. Kyoto Prefecture is in the west. The capital city is Otsu in the southern Shiga adjacent to the city of Kyoto. Most people traveling to Kyoto or Osaka from the east (Tokyo, etc.) will usually have to pass through Shiga either by train (including the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train) or expressway.

Shiga has always been overshadowed by its much more famous neighbor Kyoto. Typical tourists have too many things to see in Kyoto and Nara and not have enough time to consider visiting Shiga. This is unfortunate since Shiga has so many sights to see only a stone's throw away (10 min. by train) from Kyoto.

Shiga's most prominent natural feature is Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake and one of the world's oldest lakes dating back 4 million years. It occupies one-sixth of the prefecture's total area. Looking like a belly button near the center of Honshu island, it is easy to spot on a map of Japan in Shiga Prefecture. The lake's long history and diverse habitats such as rocky and sandy shores, cold and pelagic waters, and reed beds gave rise to over 70 endemic fish and mollusk species and subspecies found nowhere else. Bird-watching, fishing, boating, swimming in summer, and bicycling are popular activities. Although Shiga is a landlocked prefecture, Lake Biwa endows it with good swimming beaches. The western and northern shores of the lake along the Kosei Line are generally more scenic with sandy white beaches.

Shiga is enclosed by mountain ranges with the Hira mountains in the west, the Ibuki range in the northeast, and Suzuka mountain range in the east. Shiga is like a giant bowl with Lake Biwa collecting water in the middle from over 110 inflowing rivers. There is only one outflowing river, Seta River and two outflowing canals in Otsu. The lake supplies water to 14.5 million people in Kyoto and Osaka via man-made canals. Shiga is therefore very wary of the nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukui Prefecture. In winter, northern Shiga (Nagahama and Maibara) is substantially colder with higher snowfall than in southern Shiga.

Most of the population is concentrated along the eastern and southern (dominated by Otsu) areas of the prefecture along the Tokaido Main Line (also called Biwako Line between Kyoto and Nagahama). Since the southern and southeastern cities are within easy commuting distance to neighboring Kyoto and Osaka, the population in these areas has been increasing as bedtown communities. The areas along the northwestern and northern shores of Lake Biwa are more rural and the trains are less frequent.

Shiga is easy to get to, especially from Kyoto Station. A 10-min. train ride can get you to Otsu. Up north, Maibara Station is Shiga's shinkansen bullet train station (about 2.5 hours from Tokyo). Maibara Station also has direct train connections to and from Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture and the Hokuriku region (Fukui, Ishikawa, and Toyama Prefectures). For details, see Getting There & Around below.

Major Sights

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Lake Biwa Mt. Shizugatake Katata Ukimido
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Hikone Castle Hiko-nyan Mt. Ibuki
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Enryakuji temple Ishiyama-dera Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine
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Koka ninja house Ninja Village Shigaraki

More Shiga photos here.

*Main article: Shiga Prefecture Sights

For sightseeing, Otsu, Hikone, Nagahama, Omi-Hachiman, and Koka are popular tourist bases. Being next to Kyoto, Otsu is easily accessible and has enough for at least two full days of sightseeing. Nationally famous Buddhist temples Enryakuji (part of a World Heritage Site called Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto) atop Mt. Hiei, Ishiyama-dera, and Miidera all have major structures designated as National Treasures. In Hikone is Hikone Castle, one of only four castles in Japan designated as a National Treasure. With regard to architecture (mainly temples and shrines), Shiga has the third highest number (22) of buildings which are National Treasures, following Nara (64) and Kyoto (48). Omi-Hachiman is another architecturally interesting place with traditional townscapes and buildings designed by William Vories. Koka is famous for Koka-ryu (Koga) ninja. You can visit the world's only authentic ninja house that still remains in its original location in Koka. If you like traditional architecture, visit Shiga.

Shiga has many other National Historic Sites, especially related to the feudal era. Famous daimyo feudal lords such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Nagahama Castle), Yamauchi Kazutoyo (Nagahama Castle), and Azai Nagamasa (Odani Castle) once lived in Shiga (known as Omi Province). The Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603) is partially named after Azuchi Castle that Nobunaga built in the 16th century in present-day Omi-Hachiman. You can easily visit their castle sites whose stone work still remains. So if you like samurai history, visit Shiga.

During the peaceful Tokugawa Period, lodging post towns along the Tokaido Road and Nakasendo Road flourished as traders and VIPs traveled between Tokyo (Edo) and Kyoto. In Shiga, the best preserved lodging towns (called shukuba-machi), romanticized in woodblock prints, include Kusatsu and Tsuchiyama.

  • Lake Biwa 琵琶湖 - Japan's largest lake with white sand swimming beaches along the western shore such as Omi-Maiko, boat cruises, and islands such as Chikubushima. Great views of the lake can also be had from the surrounding mountains such as Mt. Hiei. The best place to learn about Lake Biwa (Biwako) is the Lake Biwa Museum in Kusatsu.
  • Chikubushima 竹生島 - An iconic island in the middle of northern Lake Biwa. Easily accessible by boat from Nagahama, Hikone, and Imazu Ports, the island has a large temple complex called Hogonji which includes buildings designated as National Treasures. In recent years, the island has been suffering from a large colony of cormorants that damage the trees. Map
  • Hikone Castle 彦根城 - Shiga's most famous building and a National Treasure. The castle tower, turrets, and moats are well preserved and they give you a good glimpse into how a real castle looked like (especially the inside). The castle is associated with Ii Naosuke who was the Tokugawa shogunate's Chief Minister (Tairo). He favored and concluded commercial treaties with the Western powers and thus broke Japan's isolation from the world in the 19th century. Foreigners were then allowed to trade with Japan and take up residence in cities like Yokohama and Hakodate. Unfortunately, Ii was later assassinated in 1860 near Edo Castle by samurai radicals who sought to oust the foreign "barbarians." Near Hikone Station. Map
  • Enryakuji Temple 延暦寺 - Headquarters of the Tendai Buddhist Sect atop Mt. Hie in Otsu. Founded by Saicho and one of Japan's largest temple complexes and part of a World Heritage Site which includes the temples of Kyoto. Enryakuji was the cradle of Japanese Buddhism as many founders of Japan's Buddhist sects once trained here, including Shinran and Nichiren. Since the temple is northeast of Kyoto, the temple also served to guard Kyoto from the demons of the northeast. The temple includes buildings designated as National Treasures. Easily accessible from Kyoto or Otsu. Map
  • Ishiyama-dera Temple 石山寺 - Founded in 749 and belonging to the Shingon Buddhist Sect, Ishiyama-dera is another large temple in Otsu. It is situated on a rocky, low hill where you can see the huge rock formation after which the temple was named (Ishiyama means rock mountain). The temple is noted for National Treasure buildings such as the Hondo Hall and Tahoto pagoda, cherry blossoms, and fall leaves. The temple is also where Lady Murasaki Shikibu wrote the famous novel "Genji Monogatari" or Tale of Genji in 1008. Much of the novel was written in a room at Ishiyama-dera temple in Otsu. This room is on display at the temple, complete with a Lady Murasaki mannequin. Ishiyama-dera is also the 13th Temple of the Saigoku Pilgrimage. Map
  • Koka Ninja House 甲賀流忍術屋敷 - The world's only authentic ninja house still in its original location. Revolving doors, trap doors, and underground tunnels helped the ninja escape or hide from the enemy. They avoided direct combat as much as possible. Called Koka-ryu Ninjutsu Yashiki, this house was the residence of Mochizuki Izumo-no-kami, the leader clan of the Koga ninja. Even actor Harrison Ford visited this house once (a picture of him is displayed inside the house). Located in Konan-cho in Koka, the former heart of the Koka ninja, popularly called Koga ninja. JR Konan Station on the Kusatsu Line is the closest train station. Map
  • Azuchi Castle 安土城 - Built in 1579 by Oda Nobunaga, Azuchi Castle was unique for its octagonal castle tower. It was attacked and destroyed only 3 years later. Although no castle structures remain, much of the stone work remains, including the foundation stones of the tenshu castle tower. The castle ruins are on a hill in Azuchi, Omi-Hachiman, Shiga Prefecture. A splendid replica of the top portion of the castle tower is displayed at the House of Nobunaga museum (Nobunaga no Yakata) nearby the castle ruins. Map
  • Odani Castle 小谷城 - Odani Castle in northern Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, was originally built in 1524 atop Mt. Odani (495 m). The Azai clan called it home for three generations until Azai Nagamasa was defeated by Oda Nobunaga in 1573. Nobunaga bestowed the castle to Hashiba (Toyotomi) Hideyoshi. However, Toyotomi built and occupied a castle in Nagahama, abandoning Odani. No buildings have survived, but there are many rock walls and foundations remaining. Odani Castle is set to enjoy the spotlight in 2011 when NHK TV will broadcast a year-long period drama centering on one of Azai Nagamasa's three daughters named Go. Map
  • Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine - Headquarters shrine for all of Japan's numerous Hiyoshi, Hie, and Sanno shrines. Dedicated to the Mountain God. The shrine's two Honden main halls are National Treasures. Its biggest festival is the annual Sanno-sai Festival 山王祭 held in mid-April. Map
  • Gichuji Temple 義仲寺 - Best known for the grave of Haiku poet Basho Matsuo (1644-94). Besides Basho's gravestone, the temple has a myriad of Haiku stone monuments. National Historic Site. Near Zeze Station. Map
  • Kaizu-Osaki 海津大崎 - Picturesque northern lakeshore lined with cherry blossoms in April. One of Japan's 100 Most Famous Cherry Blossom Spots. Rent a bicycle from Makino Station on the JR Kosei Line. Beware of traffic jams on the narrow lakeshore road and dark tunnels. Carry a flashlight if you are walking. Map
  • Harie 針江- Shin-Asahi in Takashima has a neighborhood called Harie where homes draw clean water from an ever-flowing spring directly from the ground into private wells called kabata. A local NPO conducts fascinating tours of the area and homes with kabata. Map
  • Mt. Ibuki 伊吹山 - Maibara One of Japan's 100 Most Famous Mountains and Shiga's highest mountain. Popular in spring and summer when exotic alpine flowers bloom on the summit. Easy hiking trails on the summit also afford grand views. You can catch a bus at Sekigahara Station in Gifu to reach the summit via the Ibukiyama Driveway. Ibukiyama also appears in the legend of Yamato Takeru, a warrior who battled an evil white boar on Ibuki and was subsequently poisoned by a mist, leading to his death. Map
  • Hie-zan Driveway 比叡山 - Scenic mountain road overlooking western Lake Biwa. Buses available from Kyoto. Might as well visit Enryakuji Temple as well. Map
  • Katata Ukimido 堅田 浮御堂 - This temple jutting into the lake in Katata is famous as one of the Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) and thus one of Shiga's most scenic views, even today, despite the concrete (instead of wooden) stilts. Katata is also on the west end of the Biwako Ohashi Bridge. Map
  • Omi merchant homes - During the Edo Period and Meiji Period, Shiga was a hotbed of successful entrepreneurs called "Omi shonin" or Omi merchants. They sold and traded goods all over Japan and were based in areas such as Gokasho, Omi-Hachiman, Hino, and Toyosato where you can tour inside their grand homes. Takashimaya Dept. Store, Itochu Corporation, Marubeni, and Seibu all have Shiga roots. Map
  • Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park - Home of nationally-famous Shigaraki-ware pottery and the tanuki raccoon dog sculpture. See real kilns and a ceramic museum in a park-like setting with numerous ceramic sculptures. You can also try your hand at pottery-making. Miho Museum is also a worthwhile visit if you're in Shigaraki which is in Koka. Map
  • Tokaido Road and Nakasendo Road post towns (shukuba). The Tokaido and Nakasendo Roads connected Tokyo (Edo) with Kyoto and passed through Shiga. These roads had post towns or lodging towns called shukuba where travelers lodged, rested, changed their horses, and replenished provisions. These shukuba have been romanticized and immortalized in woodblock prints by Hiroshige. Although very few remnants of these shukuba remain today, Shiga still has some shukuba buildings dating from the Edo Period. Along the Tokaido Road, Shiga had five shukuba towns: 49. Tsuchiyama-juku (土山宿) (Kōka), 50. Minakuchi-juku (水口宿) (Kōka), 51. Ishibe-juku (石部宿) (Konan), 52. Kusatsu-juku (草津宿) (Kusatsu) (also on the Nakasendō), and 53. Ōtsu-juku (大津宿) (Ōtsu) (also on the Nakasendō). And along the Nakasendo Road, Shiga had ten shukuba: 60. Kashiwabara-juku (Maibara), 61. Samegai-juku (Maibara), 62. Banba-juku (Maibara), 63. Toriimoto-juku (Hikone), 64. Takamiya-juku (Hikone), 65. Echigawa-juku (Aishō), 66. Musa-juku (Ōmi-Hachiman), 67. Moriyama-juku (Moriyama), 68. Kusatsu-juku (Kusatsu) (also on the Tōkaidō), and 69. Ōtsu-juku (Ōtsu) (also on the Tōkaidō). Each shukuba was numbered sequentially as the road got closer to Kyoto. The focal point of the shukuba was the Honjin (本陣), the town's most exclusive accommodations reserved for daimyos and other VIPs including the emperor. The Kusatsu Honjin (now a public museum) and Tsuchiyama Honjin (appointment required to see inside) are the best preserved in Shiga. You can still see the signatures of famous lodgers in the Honjin's guest book. Other shukuba in Shiga might not have a Honjin, but places like Kashiwabara-juku have worked to restore the look of a shukuba from the old days.
  • William Merrell Vories architecture - Vories (1880-1964) moved to Omi-Hachiman in 1905 to work as an English teacher while engaging in Christian missionary activities. He always had an interest in architecture and never had formal training as an architect, but he studied on his own and opened his own architectural firm in Omi-Hachiman in 1908. He and his firm went on to design numerous buildings in Shiga and other places in Japan. Omi-Hachiman still has a good number of Vories buildings intact, including his former residence and Toyosato Elementary School. Map
  • Bicycling along the lake shore - Many lakeside towns in Shiga also offer rental bicycles where you can hop on the bicycle at one train station and ride to another train station to return it. Cycling is a great way to see Shiga and the lake shore roads are very scenic and relatively flat. For a complete list of where you can rent a bicycle in Shiga, see Getting Around below.

Also see National_Treasures_of_Shiga_Prefecture.

Shiga Festivals

*Main article: Festivals of Shiga Prefecture

Shiga has numerous matsuri (festival) to celebrate or worship one thing or another. Most are held by Shinto shrines, and others are held by local organizations. There are float festivals, mikoshi (portable) festivals, fire festivals, processions, rice-planting festivals, and many more. There are festivals every month of the year, but April and May have the most. Even the biggest festivals are not that crowded (except for fireworks) compared to festivals in Kyoto.

The thumbnails below only show a small sample of Shiga's festivals. Click on a thumbnail to see more photos of the respective matsuri.

If you want to see festival photos by city or town, click here. I also have videos of Shiga festivals on YouTube.

Festivals of Shiga Prefecture lists major festivals in an event calendar.

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Sagicho Matsuri Tsuchiyama Saio Princess Kaizu-Osaki sakura Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri
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Sanno-sai Festival Taga Matsuri Kusatsu Shukuba Matsuri Kenketo Matsuri, Ryuo
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Hino Matsuri Sushikiri Matsuri Shichikawa Matsuri Yokaichi Giant Kite
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Hyozu Matsuri Yuki Saiden Rice-Planting Biwako Fireworks Taga Taisha Lantern Festival
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Ibukiyama Taiko Drummers Otsu Matsuri Hikone Castle Parade Koto Sanzan foliage

More Shiga photos here.

*Complete list of major festivals at Festivals of Shiga Prefecture organized in an event calendar.

*More sights at Shiga Prefecture Sights.

Travel Tips

If you're like most tourists visiting Japan, you will likely visit and stay in Kyoto. If so, Shiga is an easy half-day or day trip from Kyoto. If you like visiting temples, Otsu is only a short train ride from Kyoto Station. From Kyoto, there are direct trains which go as far as Nagahama in northern Shiga (or Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture) on the Tokaido/Biwako Line.

However, if you prefer to lodge in Shiga, the following cities are ideal tourist bases with a good number of hotels. Shiga is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle and tourist crowds of Kyoto.

  • Otsu - Kyoto's neighbor and Shiga's capital city stretches a very long way along the southern shore of Lake Biwa. It has a number of important and historical temples and shrines such as Enryakuji atop Mt. Hiei, Miidera, Ishiyama-dera, Hiyoshi Taisha, and Omi Jingu. Otsu Port is also home to the Michigan paddlewheel boat offering lake cruises.
  • Hikone - This is a well-known castle town with Hikone Castle preserved well-enough to be designated as a National Treasure. Next to it is Genkyu-en Garden. Hikone Port has boats going to Chikubushima and Takeshima islands.
  • Nagahama - Shiga's largest city up north has a reconstructed castle, Japan's oldest train station building (now a museum), temples, the Kunitomo Gun Museum, and Kurokabe Square with black-walled shops. Nagahama Port has boats going to Chikubushima island. A short train ride further up north can also take you to nearby sights like Mt. Shizugatake and Lake Yogo.
  • Omi-Hachiman - A former merchant and castle town, this is another historical city which history buffs and architecture fans would love. Mt. Hachimanyama used to be a castle and it still gives great views of the city and lake. Nearby is also Azuchi Castle ruins and Omi merchant homes at Gokasho. The Ohmi Railway also leads to Yokaichi in Higashi-Omi.
  • Kusatsu - A former post town on the Tokaido and Nakasendo Roads is the gateway to southeastern Shiga (especially Koka) with the JR Kusatsu Line starting in Kusatsu.
  • Takashima - Takashima occupies all of western Shiga. It is much more quiet and rural in Takashima and yet very picturesque with lakeside beaches and parks. Omi-Imazu and Makino have hotels with good views.

*See also Budget Accommodations below.

Ideal Itineraries

  • Visit Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei. Enryakuji is accessible from Kyoto via the Eizan Cable Car or by bus. From Otsu via the Sakamoto Cable Car. It's large temple complex, but the main area is Todo.
  • Visit important temples in central Otsu. Should start with Ishiyama-dera, then visit Miidera, Ukimido, and Sakamoto.
  • Go on a lake cruise from Otsu Port. Boats leave a few times a day. The Michigan paddlewheel boat is a longtime fixture on the lake. Sixty-minute and 90-min. cruises are offered.
  • Visit Omi-Maiko beach. Take the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto Station and get off at Omi-Maiko Station to see white sand beaches.
  • Visit Hikone Castle. Easily accessible by train from almost everywhere. From Kyoto, take the JR Tokaido/Biwako Line and get off at Hikone Station. The castle is a short walk from the station.
  • Visit Koka Ninja House and Ninja Village in Koka. Take the JR Kusatsu Line to Konan Station or Koka Station and take a taxi or call the Ninja Village (0748-88-5000) for a free ride. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation between the Ninja Village and Koka Ninja House. Call a taxi at either place to visit the other.
  • Go up Mt. Shizugatake on the chair lift and hike down to Lake Yogo. Buses and taxis to Mt. Shizugatake are available at JR Kinomoto Station. Atop the mountain are grand views of two lakes: Lake Biwa on one side and Lake Yogo on the other side. Hike down to Lake Yogo and rest or eat at the lakeside lodge called Yogoko-so.
  • Visit Chikubushima island. Boats leave often for Chikubushima from Hikone, Nagahama, and Omi-Imazu Ports. Best way to see the lake.
  • Bicycle or drive around Lake Biwa. The road around the lake is quite flat. Allow at least three days to cycle completely around the lake. Or two days if you plan to take a short cut and cross Biwako Ohashi Bridge at the neck of the lake.
  • Visit Kaizu-Osaki cherry blossoms in spring. JR Makino Station on the JR Kosei Line has rental bicycles convenient to ride to the Kaizu-Osaki lake shore. But beware of heavy traffic during cherry blossom season.
  • Visit central Nagahama. Many attractions within a small area around JR Nagahama Station. Toward the lake is the reconstructed Nagahama Castle (local history museum) affording great views of the lake and city. The castle is in Hokoen Park, famous for cherry blossoms in April. On the other side of Nagahama Station toward the mountains is Kurokabe Square (glass shop) and shopping arcade. Visit the Hikiyama Museum and Daitsuji temple.
  • Visit the Koto Sanzan Temple Trio in fall. During the fall colors, buses run between the three temples and Eigenji. Start at either Eigenji (bus from Yokaichi Station) or Saimyoji (bus from Hikone Station). You can buy an Omi Railway train/bus pass for only ¥1,800 to visit all three Koto Sanzan temples plus Eigenji Temple.
  • Visit Konan Sanzan Temple Trio. Another similar trio of temples, but lesser known. The three temples all have National Treasure Buildings, but there is no convenient shuttle bus linking all three.
  • If you have a car or can rent one, driving around Lake Biwa is also highly recommended. It will take a full day, including sightseeing time. Crossing the Biwako Ohashi Bridge at the neck of the lake can also save time. (Buses also cross the lake between Moriyama and Katata Stations.) Besides driving along the lake shore, driving along the mountain roads on Mt. Hiei and Oku Biwako Parkway also affords grand views of the lake.

Other Tips

  • When traveling on the JR Kosei Line in western Shiga, note the train schedule for your return trip. Train runs can be very infrequent.
  • Some train stations in Shiga have rental bicycles. See "Getting Around" below. A few of the luxury hotels in Shiga might also have rental bicycles. Cycling along the lake shore is great during the warmer months. Much of the lake is ringed by a cycling road. You can rent a bicycle at one train station and return it at another. Very convenient. It is also possible to bicycle around the entire lake (It took me 3 days to bicycle around the lake.). The terrain is very flat except for the killer slopes along the northern shore's Oku Biwako Parkway road.
  • On weekends, Ohmi Railways offer the "free kippu" train pass for only 550 yen. You can use it to ride the Ohmi Railways all day. A good deal if you plan to ride the Ohmi Railways train at least twice. Also, during non-rush hours (9 am - 4 pm), you can bring your bicycle aboard the train. This railway line is good for exploring eastern Shiga in Higashi-Omi and Koka.
  • Shiga's most famous delicacies are funa-zushi and Omi-gyu beef. Funa-zushi is fermented crucian carp (nigorobuna) which may smell rotten to the uninitiated. But it goes very well with sake or beer. Omi-gyu is top-grade beef.

Maps of Shiga

Google Maps of Shiga cities and towns with English placemarks (so far):

Aisho Map | Higashi-Omi Map | Hikone Map | Hino Map | Koka Map | Konan Map | Kora Map | Kusatsu Map | Maibara Map | Moriyama Map | Nagahama Map | Omi-Hachiman Map | Otsu Map | Ritto Map | Ryuo Map | Taga Map | Takashima Map | Toyosato Map | Yasu Map

Getting There & Around

Main article: Shiga Prefecture Transportation.

Getting to Shiga is easy via several major train lines including the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train which stops at Maibara Station (Kodama and some Hikari trains) in northern Shiga and Kyoto Station in Kyoto which is only 10 min. away from Otsu Station in southern Shiga. The JR Tokaido/Biwako Line has local and semi-express trains running through eastern Shiga from Nagoya (Aichi Pref.) and Osaka/Kyoto. From the Hokuriku region (Fukui, Ishikawa, and Toyama), the JR (Japan Railways) Hokuriku Main Line arrives at Nagahama and Maibara Stations. Western Shiga is covered by the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto.

By train

By air

Getting Around

Travel within Shiga is easy via JR Lines, private railways, local city buses, and taxi cabs. There is at least one train station in almost all cities and towns in Shiga. It is possible to travel around Lake Biwa entirely by train with the JR Tokaido Main Line and Hokuriku Main Line on the eastern side and the scenic Kosei Line along the western shore. However, since it is not a loop line, at least two train transfers (at Yamashina Station and Omi-Shiotsu Station) will be necessary along the way. Train runs along the heavily-traveled Tokaido Main Line (also called Biwako Line between Nagahama and Kyoto) is frequent, and less frequent along the Kosei Line along the western shore.

In eastern Shiga, the private Ohmi Railways serve a few cities such as Higashiomi and Koka. Unfortunately, the trains (more like streetcars) are quite slow and not that frequent. On weekends, the "free kippu" ticket is available at a bargain price and you can use it to ride the Ohmi Railways all day. A good deal if you plan to ride the Ohmi Railways train at least twice. Also, during non-rush hours (9 am - 4 pm), you can bring your bicycle aboard the train.

Buses operated by Ohmi Railways and Keihan operate from the major train stations. See the routes and schedules here: Ohmi Railways bus routes] (Japanese only).

Rental bicycles are also great for lakeshore touring. Bicycling around the entire lake (about 200 km and nicknamed "Biwa-ichi) is quite popular. You can also bicycle only a few km between train stations. The following train stations in Shiga have rental bicycles: Kusatsu Station, Omi-Hachiman Station, Azuchi Station (North exit), Maibara Station (at Maibara City Hall), Sakata Station, Nagahama Station, Torahime Station, Takatsuki Station, Kawake Station, Kinomoto Station, Yogo Station, Omi-Shiotsu Station, Nagahara Station, Makino Station, Omi-Imazu Station, Omi-Takashima Station, Shin-Asahi Station (West exit), Adogawa Station, Sakamoto Station, Terasho Station, Konan Station, Ishibe Station, Kosei Station, Koka Station, Aburahi Station, and Shigaraki Station. Usually, you can rent a bicycle at one train station and return it at another if it's on the same train line. The bicycles are rented out by the local tourist association or a private vendor. It's usually 500 yen for the day's rental, and the bicycle must be returned by 5 pm or so. A few of the luxury hotels in Shiga might also have rental bicycles.

You can also travel by boat on Lake Biwa. Boats depart from Otsu, Hikone, Nagahama, and Omi-Imazu Ports.

Details at Shiga Prefecture Transportation.


Shiga as seen from space. Inhabited areas look white.

*Main article: Shiga Prefecture Municipalities

As of March 21, 2010, Shiga has 13 cities (-shi; 市), 6 towns (-cho; 町), and no villages (-mura; 村). This is less than half the number of municipalities before the Heisei Municipal Mergers when there were 7 cities, 42 towns, and 1 village in Shiga as of Sep. 30, 2001.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the six northern towns of Torahime, Kohoku, Takatsuki, Kinomoto, Yogo, and Nishi-Azai merged with Nagahama. And on March 21, 2010, Omi-Hachiman and Azuchi merged.

The major cities are Otsu (capital), Hikone, Nagahama, Higashi-Omi, and Maibara.

Shiga also has the following regions: Kohoku (north of lake) which includes Maibara, Hikone, and Nagahama cities; Kosei (west of lake) which includes Takashima city; Koto (east of lake) which includes Higashi Omi and Omi-Hachiman; and Konan (south of lake) which includes Otsu, Kusatsu, Moriyama, Ritto, Yasu, Konan, and Koka cities.

*Annotated list of municipalities at Shiga Prefecture Municipalities.

Municipalities of Shiga Prefecture 滋賀県
Cities & Towns: Aisho-cho | Higashi-Omi | Hikone | Hino-cho | Koka | Konan | Kora-cho | Kusatsu | Maibara | Moriyama | Nagahama | Omi-Hachiman | Otsu | Ritto | Ryuo-cho | Taga-cho | Takashima | Toyosato-cho | Yasu
愛荘町 | 東近江市 | 彦根市 | 日野町 | 甲賀市 | 湖南市 | 甲良町 | 草津市 | 米原市 | 守山市 | 長浜市 | 近江八幡市 | 大津市 | 栗東市 | 竜王町 | 多賀町 | 高島市 | 豊郷町 | 野洲市

Shiga History

The two biggest factors influencing Shiga's history has been Japan's largest lake called Lake Biwa and Shiga's location next to Kyoto, the old Imperial Capital of Japan where the Emperor of Japan resided.

See Main article: History of Shiga Prefecture.


Shiga photos here.


My video clips of Shiga Prefecture are on YouTube. See all my Shiga videos indexed in categories here.


Recent News

The five latest headlines from Shiga Blog are displayed in the animated banner below.

Shiga News - by Philbert Ono

More Shiga news at Shiga News Headlines by Philbert Ono.


  • As of Dec. 31, 2006, Shiga had Japan's lowest ratio of obstetricians and gynecologists per 100,000 women aged 15 to 49 at 26.8 doctors. Tottori Prefecture had the highest ratio at 60.5.
  • According to a 10-year study (starting in 1982) by Shiga Prefecture, the prefecture, formerly known as Omi-no-kuni, has seen a total of 1,328 castles built within its boundaries over the centuries. This makes Shiga the 4th highest in the nation with former castles built within its domain. Koka is the city in Shiga with the highest number of former castles at 223.
  • In Aug. 1876, four counties in western Fukui Prefecture north of Shiga merged with Shiga. For about 5 years up to 1881 while these counties (including Tsuruga and Mikata) were part of Shiga, Shiga enjoyed having a coast facing the Sea of Japan.
  • During a meeting of the governors of Kyoto and Shiga in late 2005, the idea of merging Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures was mentioned.
  • Since Ohmi Railways is owned by the same company which owns Seibu Railways in Tokyo, many of the train cars look like the old Seibu Railway cars brought to Shiga from Tokyo. Local buses also might sport the same color theme or lion logo as the Seibu Railways and bus lines.
  • Takashimaya Dept. Store got its name from Takashima, Shiga. However, there is no branch store in Shiga.

Famous People

  • Yamaoka Magokichi (1888-1962) 山岡孫吉 - Native of Takatsuki-cho in northern Shiga and founder of Yanmar Diesel Co.
  • Tsutsumi Yasujiro (1889-1964) 堤康次郎 - Hailing from Hatasho-cho, founder of the Hakone Tochi Co., the forerunner of Kokudo Co. which operate Seibu Railways and other interests. Father of Tsutsumi Yoshiaki, the disgraced president of Kokudo born to a mistress. The company also operates the Ohmi Railways and bus lines in Shiga.
  • Itoh Chube'e (1842-1903) 伊藤忠兵衛 - Native of Toyosato and Omi shonin merchant who founded one of Japan's largest trading companies, C. Itoh. He even had a shop in San Francisco, California. His second son Seiichi, also born in Toyosato, set up the C. Itoh company (now Itochu Corporation) in 1918 and started importing textiles from England where he had studied abroad. His house in Toyosato is open to the public.
  • Ogura Yuki (1895-2000) 小倉遊亀 - Renown Japanese painter from Otsu.
  • Uno Sosuke (1922-1998) 宇野 宗佑 - Native of Moriyama who was Japan's 75th prime minister in 1989. Unfortunatelty, he was also one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in history, being forced to resign after only three months (June-August 1989) in office. His extramarital affair with a Kagurazaka geisha turned into a widely-reported sex scandal, leaving him no choice but to resign in total disgrace.
  • Take Yutaka (1969- ) 武豊 - Japan's top racehorse jockey from Ritto.
  • Hiro Yamagata (1948- ) ヒロ・ヤマガタ - Print artist, native of Maibara.

See also History_of_Shiga_Prefecture#Historical_Persons.

Foreigners in Shiga

As of Dec. 31, 2009, Shiga Prefecture has 28,422 registered foreign residents from 83 countries. This is 3,810 people less than the year before, or an 11.8% decrease attributed to over 3,000 Brazilians who left Shiga. By nationality, Brazilians are the biggest group in Shiga numbering 11,339 (compared to 14,379 on Dec. 31, 2008). Followed by 5,735 Koreans (North and South), 5,144 Chinese, 1,828 Filipinos, and 1,808 Peruvians. Other nationalities number 2,568.

The number of Americans and other native English speakers are probably in the hundreds. Otsu has the largest number of foreign residents numbering 4,218. Followed by Nagahama's 3,645 (not counting the towns it merged with in Jan. 2010) and Higashi-Omi's 3,489. Brazilians number most in Nagahama (2,447) and in Higashi-Omi (2,137) where there are many factories.

Source: Registered foreigners in Shiga Prefecture

Tourist Information

Tourist information is provided by Shiga Prefecture and the individual cities and towns. Major train stations such as Otsu, Hikone, Nagahama, Kusatsu, and Omi-Hachiman have a tourist information counter or office. Links to Shiga's tourist information Websites are on the home page under "Tourist Information."

International Associations

These associations are geared to promote better understanding and friendship between Japanese residents and non-Japanese through sister city exchanges, language classes, social gatherings, etc. On the prefectural level, Shiga has the Shiga Intercultural Association for Globalization (SIA) based in Otsu. A good number of cities and towns in Shiga has sister city ties as listed here (CLAIR).

Links to Shiga's tourist information Websites are on the home page under "International Associations."

Shiga Kenjinkai

Shiga Kenjin Kai
Shiga Kenjinkai banners
Main article: Shiga Kenjinkai.

A Shiga Kenjinkai 滋賀県人会 is a group or association of people outside Shiga who have ties to Shiga Prefecture. Kenjinkai literally means "native people of the prefecture." Most Shiga Kenjinkai members are originally from Shiga, but members can also be descendants of people originally from Shiga. Anybody interested in Shiga can also become a member. There is a Shiga Kenjinkai in each of the 47 prefectures as well as in 11 countries overseas: USA (Seattle, Southern California, and Hawaii), Canada (Vancouver, Alberta, and Toronto), Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Hong Kong, Indonesia, France, UK, and Germany.

All the Shiga Kenjinkai chapters in Japan and overseas belong to the National Federation of Shiga Kenjinkai (全国滋賀県人会連合会) called Zenkoku Shiga Kenjinkai Rengokai or Zenjiren for short. The national federation has its office in Tokyo Shiga Kenjinkai office.

The Shiga Kenjinkai are very friendly, and they are always looking for new members.

See Main article: Shiga Kenjinkai.

Budget Accommodations

  • Riverhill Oishi - Low-cost accommodations geared for bicyclists in Otsu.
  • Nagahama Cycling Terminal (Hotel Green House) - Low-cost accommodations geared for bicyclists in Nagahama.
  • Omi-Hachiman Youth Hostel - In Omi-Hachiman, near Chomeiji. 10-min. bus ride from the station. TEL: 0748-32-2938, FAX: 0748-32-7593 Official site
  • Omi Kibogaoka Youth Hostel - In Yasu. Within the large Kibogaoka Park 10 min. by bus from JR Yasu Station. TEL: 077-587-2201, FAX: 077-587-2008
  • Wanihama Seinen Kaikan - On the southwestern shore of Lake Biwa, near JR Wani Station in Otsu on the Kosei Line. TEL: 077-594-4203, FAX: 077-594-3197
  • Saikyoji Temple - Famous temple (especially for fall colors) which also has lodging facilities. Perfect base to see Sakamoto and Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei. Near Keihan Sakamoto Station and Hie-zan Sakamoto Station in Otsu. TEL: 077-578-0013, FAX: 077-578-3418 Official site
  • Guesthouse AN - Small Japanese-style cottage in a quiet residential neighborhood in Otsu. Geared for backpackers. Short walk from Nakasho Station on the Keihan Line in Otsu. Nakasho Station is about a 4-min. ride from Ishiyama Station.

Related Articles

External Links

  • - Comprehensive guide to Shiga Prefecture in English.
Municipalities of Shiga Prefecture 滋賀県
Cities & Towns: Aisho-cho | Higashi-Omi | Hikone | Hino-cho | Koka | Konan | Kora-cho | Kusatsu | Maibara | Moriyama | Nagahama | Omi-Hachiman | Otsu | Ritto | Ryuo-cho | Taga-cho | Takashima | Toyosato-cho | Yasu
愛荘町 | 東近江市 | 彦根市 | 日野町 | 甲賀市 | 湖南市 | 甲良町 | 草津市 | 米原市 | 守山市 | 長浜市 | 近江八幡市 | 大津市 | 栗東市 | 竜王町 | 多賀町 | 高島市 | 豊郷町 | 野洲市

Prefectures of Japan
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