Getting There


Biwa is centrally located and therefore easier to get to than most places - and surprisingly cheap. Several times each hour, the JR shinkaisoku commuter trains rocket up and down the urban corridor all the way from Himeji to Biwa, going as far as Otsu, Yasu, Omi-Hachiman or even Nagahama. These travel at express speeds, making few stops, but require only a local ticket - making the lake a cheap destination from anywhere in the Kansai. It's also easy to get to from Nagoya; another shinkaisoku goes from Nagoya to Maibara, a few stops south of Nagahama. From Tokyo, overnight tokkyu and kyuko express trains depart from Tokyo Station (or sometimes Shinagawa Station) late at night and arrive early in the morning at Maibara and stations further south on the lake. Most of these trains go on to Kyoto and Osaka, so set your alarm clock if you're fortunate enough to be able to sleep on trains. Check a current schedule for special trains available when you want to travel.


Accommodations


Since you're never far from civilization, accommodations should be no problem. Since I start from the south and my natural inclination is to get the hills over as soon as possible, I tend to stay at the north end of the lake - it's far and away the prettiest part anyway. Check out the tiny hamlet of Kannoura at the base of the climb; there's a kokumin shukusua called Tsuzurao-so (0749-89-0350) and a number of small minshuku that cater to fishermen. A few miles further on is a youth hostel (Kaizu-Tenjin YH, 0740-28-0051) with a hot springs nearby. Lake Yogo also has a kokumin shukusha (Yogoko-so, 0749-86-2480). As I say, accommodations should not be a problem, but if you're hostelling it note that, with the exception of Kaizu-Tenjin, all of the youth hostels are clustered at the south end of the lake.


Sights


Some of the sights on the lake have been covered in the Story section, notably Hikone and Omi-Hachiman on the east shore. The famous Omi Hakkei, or eight views of Omi, are scattered around the shore of the lake: clockwise from the bottom, these are Miidera temple, Karasaki, Katada (with its moon-viewing platform over the water; this may be the most popular these days -- when TV shows want to prove they actually filmed at Lake Biwa, this is the place they show), Awazu, Yabase, Mt. Hira, Hikone (with the castle) and Seta (with a lovely Korean-style bridge). Cruise ships make a circuit of all of these, and also run out to the island in the center of the lake. Otherwise, there are nice beaches on the western shore such as Omi-Maiko; a memorable shrine on the same western shore; and a lovely green, largely wilderness area between Kusatsu and Hikone. Note that the further south you go on the western coast, the worse the traffic gets; at some point before Otsu, you may decide to give it up and train home from one of the stations on the rail line that runs next to the road. Anywhere south of the big bridge, the Biwako-Ohashi, the road is pretty awful on weekends. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Getting Away


"Getting There" in reverse - from Biwa, you can take those shinkaisoku commuter express trains to any destination in the Kansai. They also allow you to reach other interesting places; on one recent trip, I got as far as Gifu early in the morning, then headed up by bicycle to Takayama. That route will be covered in detail on this site sometime in the future.


For other possible getaway destinations, see Alternatives.

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