All About Japan

Shiga: Lakes, Ziplines, Water & Castles

| Lake Biwa , Shiga
Shiga: Lakes, Ziplines, Water & Castles

Cradled in the bosom of Shiga Prefecture, Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake at 670 square kilometers (259 square miles). Often immortalized in ancient poetry, the lake has long been the lifeblood of the region, with its enormous water resources and proximity to the old capital of Kyoto.

Lake Biwa remains a symbol of Shiga Prefecture, taking up nearly a sixth of the prefecture. About 37 percent of Shiga's territory consists of natural parks, the highest of any prefecture in Japan. The lake provides drinking water for 15 million people in the Kansai region and is the scenic backdrop for all the towns along its shores, a primary source for the local fishing, textile and pearl industries, and a leisure wonderland for residents and visitors alike.

At Biwako Valley, visitors can ride up Japan’s fastest ropeway to view the lake from 1,100 meters (3,609 ft) above. Recreational options here include hiking, river walking, and skiing in the winter, but one of the most exhilarating is ziplining down the mountain. After being strapped into a harness and attached to a long, strong metal wire by a carabiner and emergency brake line, intrepid visitors step off a platform into the void, flying past spectacular views of the lake and the forest underneath.

Down the mountainside is the village of Harie. This close-knit community offers a glimpse of a water supply system that has worked superbly for over two centuries. Spring runoff flows down from the mountains through the town in open canals and channels along the streets, and is so clean that it's full of fish, crabs and flowering aquatic plants.

Furthermore, homes around the area have water houses, or outdoor sheds fitted with pumps, where families keep vegetables and other perishables in the cool water, alongside pet koi (carp) that consume food scraps and help keep other detritus under control. Most homes use the spring water for nearly everything, only using the city water supply for things like washing cars. Residents are proud of the delicious water and the way the whole community works to keep it clean and safe for everyone.

Overlooking the opposite side of the lake toward Hikone City is majestic Hikone Castle. The castle—with its double moats, stark white walls, and striking black-tiled roofing—is over 400 years old, and one of only a dozen castles in Japan that retain their original keeps. Inside, visitors slide sock-footed over wooden floors polished by hundreds of years of use, from the lords of old to the curious history buffs of the modern era.

The fascinating nature and rich history of Shiga Prefecture—close to Kyoto and dominated by Lake Biwa and its clean, lush surroundings—will draw travelers looking for leisure in a relaxing environment.

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