Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Ōtsu – A City that Has a History and Stunning Scenery

Ōtsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture, is filled with rich cultural and historical elements. What many aren’t aware of is the fact that Ōtsu was once Japan’s capital. Although it only lasted for five years, we are sure after you admire the scenery of Japan’s biggest lake, Lake Biwa, it won’t be hard to understand why Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) wanted to stay close to it!

Below is a list of attractions that may be of interest to you. Check them out and pick up a couple to throw into your itinerary for your next Japan trip (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Tip: A nice accommodation with a traditional setting is Inase Otsu Machiya Bed & Breakfast. If you prefer a more luxurious option, check out Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel.

Explore Ōtsu With a Guided Tour

If you prefer a guide to introduce you to the charms of Ōtsu, how about joining one of the below tours?

How to Get to Ōtsu City

To get to Ōtsu City by public transport from Kyoto/Osaka, take a JR train and change to JR Kosei Line at JR Yamashina Station (山科駅).

Tip: Below is a JR Pass list covering Shiga Prefecture. Most of the below passes allow you to take the Kansai Airport Express Haruka from Kansai International Airport, and you will be in Kyoto in 75 minutes. Purchase your pass in advance to save on tax!
JR West Kansai Pass (1, 2, 3 or 4 Days)
JR Kansai WIDE Area Pass (5-Day)
JR Kansai-Hiroshima Area Pass (5-Day)
JR Sanyo-San’in Area Pass (7-Day)
JR-WEST All-Area Pass (7-Day)
JR Sanyo-San in-Northern Kyushu Area Pass (7-Day)
JR Whole Japan Rail Pass (Consecutive 7, 14, or 21 Days)

Mii-dera Temple (三井寺)

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

Just a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto, Mii-dera Temple (三井寺), formally Nagarasan Onjō-ji (長等山園城寺), overlooks the gorgeous Lake Biwa and is the headquarters of the Tendaijimonshū sect (天台寺門宗). It has been renowned since its establishment when Ōtsu was the capital of Japan. It houses one of the Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景) and is the 14th temple of the 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.

In spring and autumn, it is a popular and not-so-crowded place for cherry blossoms and a tunnel crafted from its bright autumn foliage.

For more information, please refer to our article on Mii-dera Temple!

Ōtsu City Museum of History (大津市歴史博物館)

For a feast of historical artworks in Ōtsu/Ōmi, head to the Ōtsu City Museum of History just next to Mii-dera Temple.

You will find Utagawa Hiroshige’s (歌川広重) Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景) in Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) style, paintings in Ōtsu-e (大津絵) style, calligraphy, crafts, potteries, and other Buddha statues from the famous temples in the area including the Enryakuji in Mt. Hiei.

Ōtsu City Museum of History’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • It closes on Mondays unless it is a public holiday. The museum will close on the next business day.
    • For the dates that the museum closes, refer to the days blacked out on the calendar HERE.
  • The admission fee is
    • 330 yen for adults
    • 240 yen for high school and university students
    • 160 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • From Keihan Otsu-shiyakusho-mae Station (大津市役所前駅), it is around a 5-minute walk.
  • From JR Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅), it is a 15-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Miidera Chikara-mochi Honke Main Shop (三井寺力餅本家)

A great place to go after your visit to the Mii-dera is the Miidera Chikara-mochi Honke. Apart from the Honke Chikaraken (本家力軒) in Mii-dera, this shop is another famous Chikara-mochi shop in the city.

Even if you have tried the Chikara-mochi at Honke Chikaraken, we still recommend you stop here. The rice cake at Mii-dera is covered by matcha-flavored soybean powder, whereas at Miidera Chikara-mochi Honke, you can taste the soybean powder’s original taste.

From Mii-dera, it is less than a 15-minute walk. And Biwakohama Ōtsu Station (びわ湖浜大津駅) is just at the corner.

This shop was founded in 1869. Just like Honke Chikaraken, no preservatives are used. So it is something that you want to enjoy on the spot (or finish within 2 days).

The mochi is made in the morning each day, one by one. After an order is received, they then dip the rice cakes into a special syrup before sprinkling plenty of Kinako (soybean powder) onto the rice cakes.

Recently, instead of just having rice cakes with a bowl of matcha tea, they also have menus combining traditional Japanese desserts with Western ice cream!

And if you love traditional paintings, don’t forget to head up to their gallery on the second floor for some Ōtsu-e paintings (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Miidera Chikara-mochi Honke Main Shop’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 7 am to 7 pm.
  • From Keihan Biwakohama Ōtsu Station (びわ湖浜大津駅), it is just a 2-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Lake Biwa Canal (琵琶湖疏水)

Ⓒ 滋賀県

If you walk down from Mii-dera to Miidera Chikara-mochi Honke, you should come across this long canal.

What is this canal for? This manmade 9 km waterway was built for Kyoto‘s water supply sourcing from Lake Biwa. The water from this canal is used for a wide range of purposes, from water for daily use to generating electricity. The canal is essential for the citizens of Kyoto to enjoy their life.

The construction of the first part of the canal started in 1885 and was completed five years later. The second part of the canal was completed in 1912.

A special thing about this tunnel is the plaques that are hung above each of the tunnels’ entrances. They were all written by Japanese leaders such as Itō Hirobumi (伊藤博文), the former Japanese prime minister.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Tenson Shrine (天孫神社)

Another great place to stop by in spring is Tenson Shrine. Although it is just a small shrine, you will surely get some gorgeous photos of cherry blossoms from the end of March to early April.

At night, the scenery is equally amazing, if not even more! If it isn’t rainy, the lighting will be on from sunset until around 9:45 pm.

Tip: If you dislike crowds, reserve your spot for the Ōmu Jikan (桜夢時間). An hour from 8:40 pm, the beauty of the illuminated cherry blossoms is enjoyed by the 10 people who have made a reservation! The cost is 700 yen for a 30-minute session and 1,3000 yen for a 60-minute session.

Moreover, Tenson Shrine is the guardian shrine of Ōtsu. The two-day Ōtsu Festival (大津祭), held in early October each year, is one of the three biggest festivals in the city. During the festival, 13 floats made in the Edo period are paraded through the city. The festival, with a long history, is now an Intangible Important National Cultural Property.

In 2023, the festival will be held from the 7th’s night to the 8th of October.

How to Get to Tenson Shrine

From JR Ōtsu Station, it is less than a 5-minute walk. If you are taking a Keihan train, get off at Shimonoseki Station (島ノ関駅). From there, it is around a 5-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Cruising Lake Biwa (ミシガンクルーズ 琵琶湖汽船)

Ⓒ 京阪電車

Lake Biwa, with a size of 670 square meters, is Japan’s biggest lake. The lake is so big that it occupies one-sixth of Shiga Prefecture’s land!

When you get here, how about following suit and hopping onto one of the Michigan Cruise ships to tour the southern part of the lake?

The boat is a paddle steamer inspired by American passenger ships in the 19th century. Its name, Michigan, also originated from the United States.

Because Shiga Prefecture is a sister city of Michigan State. In 1982, when the boat first went into service, it was named Michigan in the hope of maintaining a good relationship with the states.

Depending on when you board the cruise, the length of the journey differs slightly. Please refer to HERE for the departure schedule and cruise fare.

Tip: If you didn’t book for dining on the cruise (which might be a smart choice whether you are a vegetarian or not), it is better if you can save yourself an indoor seat before you head out to the deck (especially if the cruise you are boarding is full). If you go for the dining option, check with the cruising company for a seat with a better view.

The company also provides cruises to access other parts of Lake Biwa, such as Chikubushima Island and the northern part of Lake Biwa.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

A reservation isn’t required if you don’t want to dine on the boat. But to ensure your spot on the cruise you want to board, it is best to make a reservation HERE.

How to Get to Ōtsu Port

  • From Kaihan’s Biwakohama Ōtsu Station (びわ湖浜大津駅) to Ōtsu Port, it is a 3-minute walk.
  • From JR’s Ōtsu Station (大津駅), it is a 15-minute walk.
    • You can also take a bus and get off at Hama Ōtsu (浜大津). From there, it is just a 3-minute walk to the port.

Tips:
☛ Check with the ticket office to see if Mii-dera’s admission ticket will still give you a discount for the cruise fare (or the other way around).
☛ If you hold one of the valid Keihan’s Osaka and Kyoto One-Day sightseeing Ticket (京阪電車 大阪・京都1日観光チケット), show your ticket to get a discount for the cruise fare. Refer HERE for a list of other attractions that you can get a discount for and translate it to English with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Biwako Flower Fountain (びわこ花噴水)

If you happen to be around Ōtsu Port around dinner time, head to the port to see if the water and light show is on at Biwako Flower Fountain!

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Over the 180-meter breakwater, the fountain will eject water beams that reach as high as 40 meters. With water ejecting from 11 openings, the fountain covers the longest horizontal distance in the world.

The water fountain operates almost every night except the second and the fourth Wednesday of each month for maintenance. The show may be on during the day as well.

Important: The show won’t be on if the weather conditions are not ideal.

Tip: You can enjoy the show by boarding the Michigan Cruiseship.

Biwako Flower Fountain’s Operation Hours and Access Information

Important: Biwako Flower Fountain’s water and lighting show is temporarily suspended due to equipment failure.

  • The water fountain’s operation hours vary depending on the time of the year ranging from 6 pm to 9 pm. For the exact hours, please refer to the schedule HERE. If the link doesn’t work, please refer to HERE and translate the webpage to English by Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
    • The blue table is for weekdays, and the orange table is for weekends and public holidays.
  • From Keihan’s Biwakohama-Ōtsu Station (びわ湖浜大津駅), it is around a 3-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Ōmi Jingū Shrine (近江神宮)

You probably would assume that all the shrines in Japan at least have a couple of centuries of history. But Ōmi Jingū, close to Lake Biwa in Ōtsu City, isn’t the case!

Omi-Jingu-Fire-Clock-Otsu-Shiga-Japan
Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

Although the shrine was only erected in 1940, the shrine’s location and the god enshrined here hold some important history of Japan dating back to the mid-7th century.

Recently, the shrine became even more well-known because the movie of a popular Japanese comic – Chihayafuru (ちはやふる), was filmed here.

For more information, please refer to our article on Ōmi Jingū!

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Biwako Ōtsu-kan (びわ湖大津館)

After you visit Ōmi Jingū, you can head towards Lake Biwa to check out the Biwako Ōtsu-kan.

In 1934, the main building of Lake Biwa Hotel (旧琵琶湖ホテル本館) was completed as Shiga Prefecture’s first international tourist hotel to attract more foreign tourists. Up until 1998, before the hotel moved to the modern building at Hama Ōtsu (浜大津), it had been where many Japanese and foreign celebrities, including the Emperor Showa, stayed when they visited Lake Biwa.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

The prestigious hotel has a traditional appearance of Momoyama style. But as soon as you walk into the hotel, it is like entering a facility in a Western country in the early 20th century.

Before you step into the building, take a look at the roof tiles. The Oniwara (鬼瓦) is a roof ornamentation commonly found in traditional Japanese buildings. They are there to keep the evil spirits out.

In the lobby, what might catch your attention is the old-style elevator that uses needles to display the stopping floor. From the third floor, you will get a wide view of Lake Biwa.

Also, in the display room, photos of celebrities who were once guests of the hotel are hung on the wall.

Biwako Ōtsu-kan’s Gorgeous Garden

In front of Biwako Ōtsu-kan, the front garden is divided into different zones. Each zone has a different style, and different flowers bloom according to the seasons. But the main character is the roses. Here is where Shiga Prefecture’s largest rose garden is located. You will find around 3,000 rose plants of about 300 different species here!

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会
Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

In winter, illumination shows are held after sunset.

Then, you can leave this area by hopping onto the Michigan Cruiseship to get to the attractions around Ōtsu Port (obviously, check out the departure time of the cruise first).

Tip: You can also rent out a bicycle to tour around the city from Biwako Ōtsu-kan.

Biwako Ōtsu-kan’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The facility is open from 9 am to 10 pm.
    • The reception is open from 9 am to 7:30 pm.
  • The admission fee to their garden is
    • 330 yen for adults
    • 160 yen for elementary and junior high school students as well as the elderly 65 years old and above
  • From JR Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅) or Keihan’s Ōmi-Jingu-mae Station (近江神宮前駅), it is around a 15-minute walk.
  • You can also take a bus bound for Katata (堅田) from JR Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅) or Keihan’s Biwako Hamaōtsu Station (びわ湖浜大津駅) and get off at Yanagasaki (柳が崎).

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Ōjigaoka Park (皇子が丘公園)

From mid to late March, before you head away to other parts of the city, remember to stop by Ōjigaoka Park, close to Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅), to admire the pink flowers of the 300 or so cherry trees.

In autumn, the foliage color will start changing at the end of October. If you are around the area from mid-November to early December, it is also a great destination for autumn foliage hunting!

Throughout the year, Ōjigaoka Park is a great place for a relaxing stroll. You will also see many locals walking their dogs here.

How to Get to Ōjigaoka Park

From JR Ōtsukyō Station (大津京駅) Keihan Ōtsukyō Station (京阪大津京駅), it is a 5-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Karasaki no Matsu (唐崎の松) and Karasaki Shrine (唐崎神社)

North of the Ōtsukyō area, at a small cape, there is a famous sacred pine tree on the precinct of Karasaki Shrine that was chosen to be one of the Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景).

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

The view of Karasaki no Yau (唐崎夜雨) refers to the rainy scenery at the cape in the evening. The pine tree has branches and leaves flourishing in all directions, making it a good spot for rain shelter.

The tree was first planted in around 633 but collapsed during a strong wind in 1573. Its second generation was planted in 1591 by the lord of Ōtsu Castle. In the late 19th century, it became a huge pine tree with branches stretching more than 70 meters in all directions.

The current tree was planted using the seedling of the 2nd generation pine tree in 1887 as a successor. The Karasaki-matsu in Kanazawa’s Kenrokuen Garden (兼六園) was also planted from a seedling from the same tree.

When you visit this sacred tree, it probably won’t be as magnificent as it used to be.

The 3rd generation has many branches cut off to treat its illness to prolong its life. Around the 3rd generation, saplings and seedlings from the sacred tree were also planted in 2020 as successors.

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

How to Get to Karasaki no Matsu and Karasaki Shrine

From JR Karasaki Station (唐崎駅), it is around a 10-minute walk.

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Sakamoto Area (坂本)

The Sakamoto Area (坂本) is at the foot of Mt. Hiei. In the good old days, this is where the monks of Mt. Hiei’s Enryakuji lived after their “retirement”. Shaping by all the Satobō (里坊), the town has a unique townscape, especially with the ocean-like Lake Biwa sitting on its right.

For more information, please refer to our article on Sakamoto!

Former-Chikurin-in-Light-up-Event-Sakamoto-Shiga-Japan
 びわこビジターズビューロー

Mt. Hiei (比叡山)

Mt. Hiei or Hieizan (比叡山) is one of the Three Holiest Places in Japan. The worship halls and pagodas of the World Heritage – Enryakuji Temple are scattered throughout the mountain. The temple is the headquarters of Japan’s Tendai sect and has nurtured well-respected monks in Japanese history.

To find out more about this sacred destination, please refer to our article on Mt. Hiei!

Mangetsu-ji Temple Ukimi-dō (満月寺 浮御堂)

Another Eight Views of Ōmi (近江八景) is located in northern Ōtsu close to Biwako Bridge (琵琶湖大橋). The view of the worship hall sticking out of Lake Biwa is known as Wild Geese Returning Home at Katata (Katata no Rakugan, 堅田落雁). Because of its fame, it is a spot visited by many famous Japanese poets, including Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉) from the Edo period.

For more information, refer to our Ukimi-dō article.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Biwako Terrace (びわ湖テラス)

At the west shore of Lake Biwa on the Hira mountain range (比良山系), the Biwako Valley (びわ湖バレイ), situated at an elevation of 1,100 meters, is a famous ski resort in Kansai. From spring to autumn, it is also a well-known mountain resort.

In July 2016, a long-waited observatory called Biwako Terrace (びわ湖テラス) was opened!

The facility isn’t an ordinary lookout. There are also a couple of exciting things to do there, such as a zip line.

For more information, refer to our article on Biwako Terrace!

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Seta no Karahashi Bridge (瀬田の唐橋)

Seta no Karahashi Bridge is known as one of the Three Oldest and Most Famous Bridges in Japan (日本三古橋/日本三大名橋). The stunning sunset from where the bridge is located is known as the Evening Glow at Seta (Seta no Sekishō, 瀬田夕照), making it the perfect place to end your visit to Ōtsu City.

For more information, refer to our Seta no Karahashi Bridge article.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Takebe Shrine (建部大社)

Takebe-Shrine-Haiden-Otsu-Shiga-Japan

Takebe Shrine, close to Seta no Karahashi Bridge, was the most important shrine in Ōmi Province. Why? Because it has Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (日本武尊) enshrined as the main god. While that might not mean much to you, Takebe Shrine is still worth a visit. There are a couple of interesting things in the precinct awaiting your discovery. One of them is a banknote now referred to as a dreamlike 1,000 yen banknote (幻の千円札)!

For more information, refer to our article on Takebe Shrine!

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Ishiyama-dera Temple (石山寺)

Traveling further south from Seta no Karahashi Bridge (a bridge that appeared in many historical took place) in Ōtsu City, you will find Ishiyama-dera (石山寺). The temple built on the wollastonite offers natural scenery beyond words. It is filled with gorgeous seasonal flowers that the locals also call it the Temple of Flowers. Especially from mid-November to early December, it is one of the best fall foliage hunting spots in the southern Shiga Prefecture.

For more information, please refer to our article on Ishiyama-dera!

Ishiyama-dera-Kyozo-Otsu-Shiga-Japan

Iwama-dera Temple (岩間寺)

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

If you are driving, you can stop by Iwama-dera Temple after you visit Ishiyama-dera. It is the 12th temple on the 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.

Not only is the temple rich in history, but it is also a great destination for autumn foliage hunting. In particular, the gigantic ginkgo tree, more than 450 years old, is the best attraction in the precinct when its leaves turn golden in autumn.

For more information, please refer to our article on Iwama-dera!

Click HERE to return to a list of attractions in Ōtsu.

Discover the Fascinating Attractions in Takashima City

North of Otsu City, Takashima City is another part of Shiga Prefecture, with attractions that are as awesome as Otsu.

You won’t want to miss out on this destination if you love to visit places with stunning scenery and unique landscapes.

For more information, please refer to our article on Takashima City!

Shirahige-Shrine-Sunrise-Takashima-Shiga-Japan
Click the photo to find out about all the great attractions in Takashima City!

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