Lake Biwa: Your Travel Guide To Japan's Largest Lake | CoolJapan

Sunrise at Lake Biwa

A spectacular sunrise at Lake Biwa. (Photo from: Biwako Visitors Bureau)

Set yourself adrift and reset your mind in the serene Shiga prefecture, located in the heart of Japan.  Just a stone’s throw away from Kyoto, Lake Biwa is the largest lake in all of Japan, covering 670 square kilometres.

For a bird’s eye view of Lake Biwa, head up to The Biwako Terrace. Located 1,100 metres above sea level, this will afford you spectacular views of the lake and its surroundings. It takes just five minutes by ropeway, and there is a cafe at the top where you can enjoy local specialities, such as gelato made with milk from a nearby farm.

Stunning views of Lake Biwa from Biwako Terrace, an observation terrace with a cafe.

Known to locals as the “mother lake”, Lake Biwa is one of the few lakes in the world with a history that dates back to millions of years. The biodiversity is phenomenal.  Over the millennia, this lake was the source of nourishment for both flora and fauna alike. Teeming in the shimmering cerulean waters are all kinds of fish that feature prominently in the local diet. A famous example is funazushi, a sushi made with fermented funa.

Available only in Shiga Prefecture, funazushi is made with nigorobuna, a fish native to Lake Biwa.(Photo from: Biwako Visitors Bureau)

Sakamotoya, which has 150 years of history, has preserved the traditional way of making funazushi. Pickled in salt to draw out moisture, the fish is then compressed with steamed rice to encourage fermentation. While the smell of funazushi takes some getting used to, it is an acquired taste that is said to aid digestion because of the lactic acid produced during the fermentation process.

Another popular food export from Shiga is Omi beef. Renowned for its rich flavour and marbling, Omi beef is widely regarded as one of the top three brands of Wagyu — next to Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef. Omi is the ancient name of Shiga and was even briefly Japan’s capital.

Where you can’t tell where the lake ends and the sky begins stands the Shirahige Shrine in Takashima City, built 2000 years ago.

However, because of its close proximity to Kyoto and Nara, Shiga is often overlooked, despite having plenty to offer. With 235 kilometres of shoreline to explore, Lake Biwa is a complete experience in itself, from swimming to island-hopping. It's ringed by hotels ranging from budget-friendly hostels to luxury resorts, many of which have direct views over the lake one can visit for a relaxing afternoon dip.

One recent attraction is a picturesque avenue stretching from Makino Highland to Makino Pickland, where a row of Metasequoia trees forms a lush canopy over the 2.4-kilometre path. Besides being a photogenic gem, Makino Pickland is also a huge agricultural park where you can pick and bring home fresh local produce, including chestnuts, the crowd’s favourite.

Makino Highland to Makino Pickland

Photogenic in all seasons, these flaming trees in autumn, towering more than 35 metres in height, are indeed a view to behold. (Photo from: Biwako Visitors Bureau)

From Kyoto station, board the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Line heading north and you’re at Omi-Maiko Station in 28 minutes. A one-way ticket sets you back by 670 JPY and the trip is packed with gorgeous landscapes.

A Kyoto escape only half an hour away lies the incredible beauty of Japan’s largest lake.

  1. 1.Lake Biwa
  2. 2.Biwako Terrace
  3. 3.Sakamotoya
  4. 4.Makino Pickland
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