approach to Miho Museum
Shiga Prefecture covers 4,017 square kilometers (1,550 square miles), is home to about 1.4 million people and has a population density of 351 people per square kilometer. Otsu is the capital and largest city, with about 341,000 people. It is in the Kansai area near Osaka and Kyoto on the central part of Honshu island and has three districts and 19 municipalities.

Kurodani (near Kyoto) is a mountain village famous for papermaking. Many of the families here are related through intermarriage, a custom that once kept the papermaking process a secret. The art of papermaking is dying however. In the 1970s there were about 800 households making paper. Today there are 360. Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture is the home of Maizura Reparation Memorial Museum and the World Brick Museum, with samples of old and new bricks from around the world.

Miyama (two hours north of Kyoto) is the home ofcharming, sleepy rural villages with thatch-roof houses. . The traditional art of thatch, now a dying art in most parts of rural Japan, is very much alive here, especially in the North Village, which has been designated a national preservation site. You spend a relaxing morning wandering the villages and admiring the heavily thatched houses, from where friendly locals appear with a smile as they tend to their immaculately kept gardens. Stop at Miyama-cho Nature and Culture Village where you can try your hand at the local pottery or making Washi, the exquisite hand-made paper of this area, before stopping at one of the relaxing Onsen (hot spring) for a long bath and for a taste of the perfectly presented local cuisine as you look out over the rolling hills of this secret corner of Kyoto. Stop in one of the village shops to pick up some of the local vegetables, grown in beautiful natural surroundings on the sloping hills.

Kitamura (in Miyamacho 50 kilometer north of Kyoto) contains 30 or so of traditional thatch roof houses. The Kita Folk Museum is housed in a 100-square-meter thatch-roof farm and contains and collection of farming tools. There are around 250 thatch-roof houses in Miyamacho. Most are homes. The thatch roofs are thick and carefully clipped, looking as if they were just given a haircut.

Bow Wow Kingdom (Moriyama City on Lake Biwa near Kyoto) was an all-dog theme park for humans with 300 dogs from 80 breeds that has been closed for some time. People paid an entrance fee plus extra for activities such as walking dogs, sunbathing with puppies, belly scratching sessions in the Petting Place. There was a special show featuring dogs riding bikes, walking tightropes, playing ball and rescuing a prince and princess from Bowwow castle.

Miho Museum

Miho Museum (Shigaraki, 32 kilometers east of Kyoto) is a relatively new museum with stunning architecture designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei. Built at a cost of $215 million and opened in 1997, the museum was Pei’s first project in Japan and was inspired by a “Peach Blossom Spring”, a classic 4th century Chinese tale about a fisherman who stumbles into a hidden paradise.

What makes the Miho Museum such an architectural marvel is the way it incorporates the Japanese landscape into its design. Set on a lovely wooded mountain in a 247 acre nature reserve, the museum is reached by a pathway that penetrates a hill through a tunnel and crosses a ravine with an ingeniously-engineered a cable suspension bridge. Designed to harmonize with nature, the main building is 80 percent underground and is lit with light-funneling geometric skylights. Around the museum are gardens and trees.

The path to the museum angles toward its entrance through a tunnel and over the bridge, which spans two mountain ridges. When approaching, you can see glimpses of the glass roofs above the pine-filled mountain slope but as is true poem, "Peach Blossom Spring", most of the museum building is hidden. Inside, sunlight softly enters through the louvered glass roofs into a spacious reception area and illuminates the honey-colored limestone walls, giving them a warm glow. The sense of breadth and distance is further extended by panoramic views of the distant mountains that surround the building. "I think you can see a very conscious attempt on my part to make the silhouette of the building comfortable in the natural landscape." As this remark by Dr. Pei suggests, the museum is a magnificent embodiment of two aspects of architecture: a structure standing in nature and at the same time being a part of nature. [Source: City of Kyoto and Kyoto City Tourism Association]

Location: 300 Tashiromomodani, Shigaraki-cho, Koka-shi, Shiga 529-1814 Tel: +81-748-82-3411; Fax: +81-748-82-3414; Admission: depends on the exhibition; Hours Open: 10:00am-5:00pm (Admission until 4:00pm ); Getting There: 50-minute by bus from JR Ishiyama Station; Websites: Miho Museum site ; Photos

Collection at the Miho Museum

The Miho Museum houses close to 2,000 pieces of art, from Ancient Greek to Roman, and Middle Eastern to Asian works.The Miho Museum was founded by Mihoko Koyama, the founder of Shinji Shumeikai, a Buddhism-based cult with 300,000 members. She began collecting tea ceremony stoneware in the 1950s. In 1993 she donated the collection to a cultural foundation and decided to have a museum built. Pei originally turned the project down but accepted after Koyoma said she was interested in establish an international art museum rather than one devoted exclusively to Japanese art.

Inside Miho Museum
The collection is very eclectic. The North Wing contains tea ceremony utensils collected by Shumeikai. The South Wing contains houses more than 300 pieces from ancient China, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Greece, Rome and Egypt, and includes Chinese bronzes, Sasanian silver drinking vessels, Egyptian wood carvings, Roman mosaics, and Persian lusterware

Among the museum’s treasures are an Assyrian limestone relief of winged deity purchased at an auction for $11.9 million; an A.D. 1st century fresco fragment with a cupid from ancient Rome; a 4th century B.C. a gold and lapis lazuli bracelet with images of ducks; a 3rd century freize and silver ox from Zhou period China; and a 17th century medallion-designed carpet from Iran. The total value of the art, building and land is estimated to be around $750 million.

Shigaraki (near Miho Art Museum) in the Koga area near Kyoto is especially famous for its ceramic tanukis. The first major tanuki-making kiln was started by Tesuzo Fujiwara (1876-1966), who was reportedly inspired bu seeing a tanuki on a river bank beating its belly. Making the facial expressions is said to be the hardest part of making a tanuki statue. See Nature, Animals tanukis.

Koga-no-sato Ninja Village

Koga-no-sato Ninja Village (40 kilometers east of Kyoto) is in Koga, one of the birthplaces of ninja. Facilities in the village include the Ninja Museum, Karakuri House, Water-spider Pond, and Shuriken Dojou. There is an area where visitors can try making their own pottery, wooden craft, or cooking konyaku. Chibikko Ninja Dojo is popular among small children. You can try wall climbing, walking on a rope, and or the karakuri well.

According to Japan Hoppers: “There are various objects: ninja museum, ninja mansion, shuriken practice hall and Shinobi-jinja shrine, dedicated to a nameless ninja. The village is surrounded by virgin forests of Suzuka Sanroku and has a history flavor. Visitors can learn about the history and mentality of ninja in Koga Ninja Museum. Exhibition halls are housed in the old thatched houses. Inside the museum, you can find "Bansenshukan" (ninja secret book), shuriken, water devices, firearms and other ninja weapons. [Source: Japan Hoppers]

“Karakuri Ninja Mansion is located in the old house of Fujibayashi family, descendants of real ninjas. Inside, it is equipped with many ingenious traps and devices, designed to prevent intruders and to provide a means of escape in times of need. Visitors are allowed to explore the house and discover its various trapdoors and secret passages. Other interesting features at the village include wall climbing and a nine-stage obstacle course in which one can, for example, try to walk on water or scale walls with tools devised by the ninja. Ninja costumes are also available for rental. At the shuriken throwing range where visitors can try throwing the weapons at target boards, the fee is 300 yen.

Location: 394, Oki, Koka-cho, Koga city 520-3405, Tel: Inquiries 0748-88-5000; Hours Open: 10:00am-5:00pm, Closed Mondays and in winter Admission: Adults 1000yen, Junior high and high school students 800yen, Elementary school students 700yen, Infants 500yen, Free of charge for 2 years old and younger. Getting There: five minutes by pick up bus from "Koka" (Koga) station on JR Kusatsu line. You can walk from Koga Station to Ninja Village. The free shuttle bus waits at the north entrance of Koka Station. By car Koga-no-sato Ninja Village is 10 minutes from Konan Interchange on Shin-Meishin Expressway. There is plenty of free parking. Website: Official website

Kirin Beer Factory Tour and Tasting

Kirin Beer factories are located in nine places (Chitose, Sendai, Toride, Yokohama, Nagoya, Shiga, Kobe, Okayama, and Fukuoka) . Each factory offers free a tour that last around 80 minutes. The Kirin Brewery Company is one of Japan's four leading beer breweries. It was founded in Yokohama, a city that played a major role in Japan's adopting beer from the West and spreading it the rest of Japan. [Source:]

The brewery tours pass through a gallery with displays regarding the history of beer and Kirin and winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer go shooting through factory machines at incredibly high speeds! According to the guide, 2000 cans of beer are filled and packed each and every minute. Near the end of the tour, a series of panels of Kirin’s history are on display. Tours are usually conducted in Japanese, but an English guide may also be available.

Beer Production involves boiling down barley to make mash and removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer comes from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again. The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Top quality beer are often made using only the first press of the wort. Fermenting takes place inside 129 huge tanks for a period of one or two months. Visitors can try the first and second press of the wort for comparisons as well as up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks.

As the tour nears completion you arrive at the “tasting bar”. Here, you receive tickets that you exchange for three glasses of fresh beer—your choice. The selections on tap are “Ichiban-shibori”, “Lager”, and “Stout” (black beer). Location: 1600 Binmanji, Taga-cho, Inukami-gun, Shiga-ken; Hours Open: Tour Hours: 10:30 14:00 15:00, Closed Monday (but will be open if Monday is a public holiday), year-end-New Year’s holidays, equipment inspection days, etc. If Monday is a public holiday, the facility will be closed on the following weekday. Website: Free; Getting There: By Train: From JR Minami-Hikone Station, board a Kokoku Bus bound for Taga Taisha-mae Station, get off at Kirin Beer-mae (10 minutes). Alternatively, approximately 10 minutes by taxi.Approximately 15 minutes’ walk from Ohmi Railway Screen Station. When you arrive, enter from the Main Gate near the Kokoku Bus Kirin Beer-mae bus stop.

Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa (northeast of Kyoto in the center of Shiga Prefecture) is Japan's largest lake and said to be one of the oldest lakes in the world. Over 58 kilometers (36 miles) long, it has been honored in Japan’s history, literature, kabuki theater and film and is the historical home of Japan's freshwater pearl industry and has excellent carp fishing. Don’t expect the lake to be a haven a tranquility. The shores are highly developed and urbanized.

Lake Biwa was created 4 to 5 million years ago and provides drinking water for 14 million people. The oldest evidence of human communities living along the lakeshore date to about 20,000 years ago. The lake used to be fairly polluted but has seen rel growth come back as a result of water clean up efforts. In 2003, seven people died in a freak boating accident when a sudden wind blew up and caused a sailboat to capsize.

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “According to the origin myth of the lake, Mt. Fuji and Lake Biwa are deeply connected. After a thunderous earthquake and torrential rains, the skies were said to have cleared and revealed an immense sheet of blue covering the land while simultaneously on the distant Suruga plain the mountain we know as Mt. Fuji exploded into existence. From a hilltop in the Omi domain (present-day Shiga Prefecture) amazed observers noticed that the shape of the lake resembled the Chinese four-stringed lute called a "biwa" in Japanese, from which the serene body of water derives its name. [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, January 15, 2012]

“Lake Biwa is home to four islands — Chikubushima, Okishima, Takeshima and Okinoshiraishi. Only the second has a sizable community, while the first, located in the central northern part of the lake, is a major pilgrimage destination. Chikubushima’s eighth-century Buddhist temple of Hogonji enshrines both Kannon and Benzaiten. The latter is a deity of eloquence and music (usually depicted with a lute in hand), and her original Sanskrit name means "one having water." Indeed, today Lake biwa provides water for 14 million people in the region.

“The lake and the region of the Omi domain were immortalized in poetry long before pearls entered their history. By the 17th century, the Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) had become a literary and artistic convention. The ukiyo-e master Utagawa (or Ando) Hiroshige (1797-1858), for example, produced his own Omi Hakkei, a series of landscapes focused on scenic spots along the southern shoreline.

“The subject of art and poetry, and the foundation of human sustenance for millennia, Lake biwa, fed by hundreds of brooks and rivers and home to over a thousand species of plants and animals, is truly Japan’s mother lake. In every season but winter it is possible to ride a bicycle around the entire girth in two days. But in winter, when the snows deepen and the northern passage is forbidding, Lake Biwa can just be admired. It often glows then with the iridescent serenity of a giant pearl.”

Places in the Lake Biwa Area: Sakamoto is a starting point for hikes and cable car rides to Mt. Hiei and Enryaku-ji Temple. Shigaraki is a famed pottery center. The Lake Biwa Museum in Kusatsu has an aquarium tunnel, tanks with various forms of life found in the lake and hands on exhibits. Lake Biwa Museum (Open 9:30am-5:00pm, closed Mondays, From JR Kusatsu Station, take Karasuma Hanto bus, Tel: (077) 568-4811).Kayaking rental and lessons are offered from BSC Waterpsorts Center in the lakeside town of Shiga. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Journey to Lake Biwa ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Shiga-Biwako Tourism (077) 511-1530, biwako-visitors. ; Keihan Biwako Kisen boat tours (077) 524-5000,

Lake Biwa and Freshwater Pearl Cultivation

Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Lake Biwa is synonymous with pearls..... It was here that freshwater pearl cultivation first began. Beginning in the 1890s, a flurry of Japanese researchers began to experiment with pearl cultivation, first with oysters in Mie Prefecture’s Ago Bay and later with mussels in Lake Biwa. [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, January 15, 2012]

”Not until 1910 did the first cultured freshwater pearls of any commercial value begin to appear. Though not the originator of the technique, it is largely because of the commercial genius of Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954) that it is possible to speak of a "cultural revolution" in the jewelry industry that drove pearl ownership out of the domain of the rich few and made the single classic strand of pearls affordable for wife and working woman alike.

”According to sources including the Mikimoto Pearl Island Co., Mikimoto and his associates produced pearls by inserting a piece of tissue (not a bead as in oyster pearls) into the fleshy mantle of a mussel. As would happen with a naturally occurring sand grain, this irritant acts as a catalyst to stimulate the mussel to produce a pearly substance known as nacre or mother of pearl. Mussel shells themselves are made of nacre, visible in the inner iridescent lining of each half-shell. In the case of a pearl, the progressive accumulation of many concentric layers of nacre around the invasive particle creates the distinctive iridescence or rainbow effect known as "orient," which is one of the measures of a pearl’s value.

”Biwa pearls appeared on the scene just when the natural saltwater pearl industry was in a serious global decline. Mikimoto’s new technology dispensed with the need for pearl divers and added an extra advantage in the case of freshwater pearls: A single mussel could be seeded with multiple bits of tissue to produce as many as 20 pearls. From the consumer’s perspective, at least part of the charm of these small freshwater gems called "Biwa pearls" was attributable to their unprecedented colors — mauve, peach, or heather, and their irregularities, though all were variations on a basic rice-grain shape. Designer Paloma Picasso — daughter of Pablo Picasso — was a devotee of Biwa pearls, and helped spread their popularity through her signature pieces of multiple strands twisted into single chunky necklaces known as toussades.

”Even so, Mikimoto initially faced criticism on a global scale. Jewelers and consumers accused his cultured pearls of being "fake" because they were the product of human intervention rather than occurring naturally. But the genuine beauty and affordability of Mikimoto’s pearls ultimately conquered the lingering resistance and for most of the 20th century Japan dominated the pearl industry. Given Lake Biwa’s fame as the mother lake of these pearls, people still often refer to any freshwater pearl simply as a "Biwa" no matter what its place of origin.

”The area of Omihachiman on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa had most of the pearl farms, though today their production is negligible. Most of the naiko or inner harbors where many pearl farms once operated were filled in to produce land for more rice paddies in a trend that started in the 1970s, according to Michio Kumagai, senior research scientist at the Lake Biwa Environmental Research Institute. Aside from reclaimed land, by the late 1970s, the many holiday resorts, agricultural chemicals, and industries surrounding the water began to take their toll on the lake, and the center of gravity of the pearl industry shifted to China."

Alien Fish in Lake Biwa

The problem with foreign species is particularly acute in Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake, near Kyoto. Thirty-five species of foreign fish have been caught by local anglers while numbers of indigenous fish have declined. By some estimates blue gills now make up 80 percent of the lake’s total fish population. One a fishermen who caught 300 fish in one spot said all the fish he caught were blue gills.

The problems has become so worrisome the local authorities have introduced harsh penalties for anyone caught releasing foreign species and set up patrols to look for them. In April 2003, a new law took effect that penalized any fishermen for releasing a foreign fish after it is caught. Fishermen sharply opposed the ban. They say that releasing bass after they are caught is a fundamental aspect of bass fishing and that bass don’t cause a serious problem the blue gills do. About $2 million a year is spent on trying to get rid of blue gills in Lake Biwa.

Catching heaps of black bass and bluegills is fine but what do you do with all the unwanted fish? Recipes for bluegill sushi and fermented bluegill have been introduced on website to encourage people to eat the fish. A company called Suzuki Shofudo has come up with the rather novel idea of carbonating the fish by steaming them for a day and letting them dry out until they are black and selling them as deodorizers that are said to be more effective than even the best charcoal filters.


Otsu (near Kyoto) is the main gateway to Lake Biwa from the Kyoto side. Home to 260,000 people, it has a temple linked with the Tendai School of Buddhism. Otsu is also home to the world’s largest fountain. The Otsu area has some historic sights that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Check out Sagawa Art Museum (Open 9:30am-5:00pm, closed Mondays, Tel:). (077) 585-7800, Get off at JR Moriyama Station.

Tourist Office: JR Otsu Station, 1-3, Kasuga-cho, Otsu City, Shiga Pref. Tel. 077-522-3830, Open: 8:40am-5:25pm. Closed on December 29-January 3 Otsu City Website: Websites: Otsu city site Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Otsu is a short train ride from Kyoto.

Ishiyamadera Temple (Otsu) is located among rock formations on a hill a few kilometers from Lake Biwa. Founded in A.D. 747, it houses an important image of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, was visited by the poet Basho and is said to be the place where Murusaki Shikibu wrote important parts of the “The Tale of Genji”. The temple’s main hall sits on a massive wolastinite rock, which has been designated a national natural monument.

The temple was founded by the first head priest of Todaji temple in Nara who built a cave in a mammoth rock to house a statue of Kannon and had to build a temple for the statue when it became affixed to the rock and could not be moved. The temple houses 300 treasurers related to “The Tale of Genji” and Murasaki, including an inkstone believed to belong to her and Genji manuscripts and a folding screen. A life-size doll of Murasaki Shikibu sits in a room where it said she worked on the novel. Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Autumn Photos Tale of Genji site ;

Otsu: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. According to UNESCO: “ Built in A.D. 794 on the model of the capitals of ancient China, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan from its foundation until the middle of the 19th century. As the centre of Japanese culture for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto illustrates the development of Japanese wooden architecture, particularly religious architecture, and the art of Japanese gardens, which has influenced landscape gardening the world over. [Source: UNESCO]

“The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) consist of seventeen component parts that are situated in Kyoto and Uji Cities in Kyoto Prefecture and Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture. Most of the one hundred ninety-eight buildings and twelve gardens that make up the seventeen component parts of the property were built or designed from the 10th to the 17th centuries. All of the seventeen components of the inscribed property are religious establishments except for the castle of Nijo-jo. Together they cover a total of 1,056 hectares and are surrounded by a buffer zone of 3,579 hectares.

“Kyoto was the main centre for the evolution of religious and secular architecture and of garden design between the 8th and 17th centuries, and as such it played a decisive role in the creation of Japanese cultural traditions which, in the case of gardens in particular, had a profound effect on the rest of the world from the 19th century onwards. The assemblage of architecture and garden design in the surviving monuments of Kyoto is the highest expression of this aspect of Japanese material culture in the pre-modern period.

“Although each of the individual buildings, building complexes and gardens that make up the inscribed property represent various unique periods of history, seen together they illustrate the general historical development of Japanese architecture and gardens. Together the seventeen component parts provide a clear understanding of the ancient capital’s history and culture. In addition, the property gives a very comprehensive picture of Japanese culture over the long period of time. Thus, the integrity of the property is ensured in both its wholeness and intactness. Moreover, each of the seventeen individual parts of the property exhibits a high degree of individual integrity. Because the scattered component parts exist within an urban context, uncontrolled development poses a threat to the inscribed property’s overall visual integrity.”


Hikone (east side of Lake Biwa) is another gateway to Lake Biwa. Home to 100,000 people, it features a fine, mostly original castle built in 1622 and surrounded by trees, and several temples. There are some pleasant back streets to stroll around on. Cruises depart from Hikone to Chikubu-jima and Take-jima Islands.

Merchant houses with white walls, lattice doors and gabled roofs in the area have been restored so that the town retains the atmosphere of a castle town. The Hikone Castle Museum, created from a restored “omote-goten” has a fine collection of traditional armor, helmets and noh costumes and masks. There is a noh theater and tea ceremony room in the museum.

Tourist Office: Hikone Station, 40-7, Furusawa-cho, Hikone City, Shiga Pref.Tel. 0749-22-2954; Open: 9:00am-5:00pm, Closed on December 29-31Websites: Hikone Official site ; Hikone City; Hikone Castle Map: ; Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Hikone is accessible train from Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. From Kyoto Station, it takes 50 minutes by train to reach Hikone. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Hikone-Jo (Castle)

Hikone Castle was built between 1607 and 1622 on top 136-meter-high Mt. Hikone and offers panoramic views of Lake Biwa. One of four castles in Japan designated as national treasure, it has three stories and is 21 meters tall and is sometimes called Konk Castle (“castle of the golden turtle”) because of the way it sits on the hill.. The castle grounds ground are about four kilometers in circumference and embrace parks, gardens and moats.

Hikone-Jo (castle) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Castle architecture of Japan was established in the mid-sixteenth century. Hikonejo belongs to the golden age of castle architecture of the early seventeenth century. It has retained well the entire form of the castle, including its defensive sections and the lord's residential area. [Source: Agency for Cultural Affairs-Government of Japan]

Hikonejo consists of an inner block with a hill facing Lake Biwa in its center and surrounded by a moat and an outer block vvhich surrounds this inner block. The defensive sections and the lord's residence are built within the inner block, making good use of the natural land formation of the hill. Houses of upper-class samurai-are found in the outer block. A moat also surrounds this outer block. Beyond this moat is the joka-machi consisting of a residential district for ordinary people and a commercial district. A third moat surrounds this area.

Castle structures like the castle tower, yagura and gates, as well as Raku-raku-en and Genkyu-en (both gardens in the residential section) remain in the inner and outer blocks, and the two moats as well as the stone block walls (ishigaki) and the castle walls are well conserved. Although the outermost block, the joka-machi, has been changed into a modern urban district, the layout of the streets retain the framework of the old joka-machi.

Conservation measures have been taken today for the inner and outer blocks and parts of the area outside these blocks. Parts of the residential sites have been restored according to old maps, pictures and the results obtained through excavation studies, and these sites are now being used as museums.

Hours Open: 8:30am-5:00pm. Open Everyday; The museum closed December 25 to 31 and a few other days. Admission: ¥ 800 (castle and garden); ¥1200 (castle, garden and museum); Hikone Castle Museum ¥ 500 (museum only) Getting There: Hikone Castle is a 15 minute walk from Hikone Station. Website:

Hikone Walk

Hikone Castle, one of the four castles designated as National Treasures (the others being Himeji, Inuyama and Matsumoto Castle), stands proudly over the town, inviting you to enter its heavy wooden doors. Inside the castle, you climb to the top floor where you are greeted with a breathtaking view of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. Take an hour or so to wander around inside the castle, now a museum detailing the history of this majestic structure, before heading to Genkyu-en, an exquisite Chinese-style garden where you can relax in the delicate surroundings. [Source: JNTO]

Take in the old atmosphere of the town with a walk down Yume Kyobashi Castle Road, an authentic looking replica of a typical street in an Edo Period castle town, an insight into 'Old Hikone', where you can buy traditional souvenirs and sweets or just browse in the doorways with the many other tourists.

To cool down in the heat of summer, head over to the lakeside. If you can make it through the crowds, take a swim in the cool waters of the lake, before jumping on a boat at Hikone Port for a relaxing ride around the tiny Chikubushima Island, a charming nature spot in the center of the lake complete with Hogonji Temple and Chikubushima-jinja Shrine. (The boat ride runs daily, and weekends between December and 2nd Saturday of March) Back in Hikone, stop at one of the small traditional restaurants before making your way back to the station.


Amanohashidate (100 kilometers northwest of Kyoto on the Japan Sea) contains a sandspit that is regarded as one of Japan's "Three Best Views" along with Miyajima Island near Hiroshima on the coast of Western Honshu and Matsushima Bay near Sendai in northern Honshu. Amonohashidate Means "Bridge to Heaven. It a 3½-kilometer-long, tree-covered sandspit with just enough of a channel to prevent Miyazu-wan Bay from becoming a lake. The view from a hillside in Kasamutsi-koe Park is said to be the best view. Websites: Kyoto Tourism ; Amanohashidate Guide ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Getting There: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Amanohashidate in the north of Kyoto Prefecture on the Japan Sea. The main town is Tango. Sights in the area include N Kanabiki Waterfall and Daichoji Temple Tango Tourist Information Center (9:00am- 6:00pm, Open everyday, Te: 0772-22-803, Amanohashidate Station on the Kitakinki Tango Railway (KTR))

Amanohashidate-Miyazu Bay Walk begins at Amanohashidate Station. A white sand bar lined with pine trees stretches elegantly across the bay, giving this magical place its name the Bridge to Heaven. Walk through the shadows of the pines, cool in the gentle breeze blowing across the bay, then return by boat on the still blue waters to the most famous spot–Kasamatsu Park. Copy the many other tourists as they turn away from the bridge, bend over and look through their legs, and you are met with the famous illusion of the bridge winding its way to heaven. Take a leisurely stroll back to the station where you can take your pick from the many hot springs and soak in a steaming outdoor bath before continuing on to the old Edo Period town of Miyazu. [Source: JNTO]

Not far from Miyazu Station is Miyazu Catholic Church. Built in the Meiji Period, this Roman-style church looks distinctly European, until you enter its dimly lit chapel and see the floor around the altar is all Japanese tatami. (There's no sightseeing allowed when a Mass is being held.) Back out in the sunlight, you are once again whisked back in time to the Edo Era. The homes of wealthy merchants are perfectly preserved as an informative example of the life of a merchant in feudal Japan. Only Mikami-ke House, however, is open to the public.

Pick up some local souvenirs or stop for a cup of bitter green tea at one of the traditional shops in the town before heading up to Daichoji Temple for a stunning view of Amanohashidate. Before evening falls, head over to Kanabiki Waterfall–one of Japan's top 100, splendid in the autumn colors of the surrounding trees–and then return tired and content in the gathering darkness.

Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) Miho Museum 4) NASA 5) Take of Genji site 6) Hikone city site

Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization),, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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