While not as popular as its neighbors like Kyoto, Shiga is still a prefecture full of places to visit regardless of the goal of your visit. While many tourists travel to Kyoto each year to experience classical Japan, many people living in Kyoto love to travel to Shiga for vacations, particularly Lake Biwa and the surrounding area. Here, we’ll be showcasing some of Shiga’s best places to visit for first-timers. Hikone Castle
Hikone Castle is a the most famous building in Shiga, and is one of Japan’s rarer original-construction castles from before the Meiji Restoration. When the Emperor toured through the country, he specifically requested that the castle be kept intact, while others were demolished. Originally, the prefecture’s main castle was the Otsu Castle, until moved in 1622. The architecture itself is interesting, in that it combines multiple styles. Now, it is one of the oldest original construction castles, and is designated a National Treasure by the government of Japan.
Lake Biwa is a freshwater lake in the middle of Shiga Prefecture, and is Japan’s largest freshwater lake. Its name could come from the Japanese instrument “Biwa”, and how the lake is similar in shape. It is also one of the world’s lakes, which could be why there are so many diverse species of life. It is also the subject of many traditional Japanese texts and poems, due to its proximity to Kyoto. Even today, many people from Kyoto come to Lake Biwa for vacations, as the lake is also a popular beach spot.
The Enryakuji Temple is a large temple complex, that has existed since 807, led by the monk Saicho. Originally a secluded mountain temple with a hundred monks in training, the temple steadily grew and gained power after some monks rose to high political and religious positions. At one point, the temple even had warrior monks, and some individual temple sects began feuding with each other, resulting in mercenaries being hired and threats being made. Eventually, Oda Nobunaga ended these disputes by burning buildings and killing monks, and the buildings that survived are the ones left today.
The Hachiman-bori Canal is an old-fashioned castle town that was home to the famous Omi Merchants that traded through the canal and Lake Biwa, which is connected to the canal. Like many traditional canal towns, you can enjoy boat tours through the canal, as well as visit the various Edo-era buildings and store houses that line the canal.