The success of the Hokuriku bullet train has helped put Kanazawa city on the map, halving what was previously a 5-hour journey from Tokyo.
This is helping create new travel possibilities up from Kyoto far from the beaten path – which has historically involved taking the bullet train up to Tokyo (for those arriving in Kansai) and going direct, flying by vast swathes of central Japan along the modern Tokaido line.
A journey to Kanazawa from Kyoto involves taking paths less traveled through Fukui and Shiga prefectures, which both promise their own dose of unique sightseeing and culture that can’t be had anywhere else.
In this two-part series, we introduce alternative routes linking up Kyoto and Kanazawa, unlocking largely undiscovered parts of Japan to visitors from overseas. You can reference the sample itinerary—with exact (weekday) timings—for this trip further below.
Starting in Kyoto, today we travel through Shiga around the eastern side of Lake Biwa, taking in a few major sites along the way, including the Koka Ninja House and a cruise along Omi-Hachiman’s waterways before spending the night there.
Our journey begins in earnest as we depart Kyoto Station for Kusatsu Station (20 min) along the east side of Lake Biwa, before changing trains for Konan Station (35 min). From here it’s a 20 min walk to our first destination of the day.
The Koka Ninja House is supposedly Japan’s last surviving ninja house where real ninja actually lived. It was built for the head of the Koka Ninja Clan, Mochizuki Izumonokami, in the late 1600s. As well as hosting a museum, the house hides a number of secrets, with defensive traps and hidden panels waiting to be discovered. It’s a learning experience, and fun to try on the ninja outfits and have a go at the shuriken activity too.
Details: Koka Ninja House
|Place||Koka Ninja House (甲賀流忍術屋敷)|
|Address||2331 Ryuboshi, Konancho, Koka, Shiga 520-3311|
Then we want to head back to Kusatsu Station and continue north to Omi-Hachiman Station (15 min, 2 stops by express). About 10 minutes' walk from Omi-Hachiman Station, it is recommended to stop by Hisago Zushi for lunch – a seafood restaurant serving a variety of freshwater fish dishes.
Then we can catch a bus from Kanchogai-dori before alighting at Hounenbashi Wasen Noriba-guchi (8 min, Chomeiji Line, bound for Kyukamura or Chomeiji). Omi-Hachiman is famed for its picturesque canals and idyllic waterways, so we want to spend the next few hours cruising around this area taking it slow. Each season offers an alternative experience, with the cherry blossom in spring a definite highlight.
Details: Omi-Hachiman Cruise Terminal
|Place||Omi-Hachiman Cruise Terminal (近江八幡 水郷めぐり船乗り場)|
|Address||880 Kitanoshocho, Omihachiman, Shiga 523-0806|
|Opening||9am-4pm *Shared passenger boats run from April 1st until November 30th, though boats can be chartered year-round.|
After the cruise, take the time to stroll through the Hachiman-Bori and Shin-machi Dori area. The Hachiman-Bori canal area, in particular, keeps a very traditional feel of old Japan with its machiya houses and white kura storehouses lining the waterways.
This area is also a convenient 5-minute walk from our accommodation for the night, Guesthouse Mio. This property is a renovated machiya townhouse. While providing modern kitchen and shower facilities, Mio also maintains the classic look and feel of the traditional machiya style. Two tatami rooms offer comfy futons and a Japanese garden out back adds serenity and homely feel. The neighbouring tenant in the townhouse operates a patisserie cafe, Amaimonya AI, so it can be a nice idea to drop by here before they close at 7 pm to grab something sweet.
It’s a good idea to check-in, leave your belongings and then head out for dinner. The nearby Hachiman-Bori area has several dining options—the guesthouse owner can recommend several—though we were attracted to the nearby Rabbit Hutch Craft Beer Cafe, on the second floor of a converted kura storehouse. They serve up classic pub fare with a menu of craft beers by the local Two Rabbits brewery. Between the welcoming guesthouse and craft beer cafe, I felt very much at home here in Omi-Hachiman.
Details: Guesthouse Mio
|Place||Guesthouse Mio (ゲストハウス澪)|
|Address||1-9 Tamakicho, Omihachiman, Shiga 523-0872|
Our goal for today is to explore the mystical small island of Chikubu in the center of the lake, before returning to Hikone to explore its castle and garden, and soaking up the local ambiance. We’ll be continuing our journey north along the east shore of Lake Biwa in Shiga, and staying in Hikone for the night.
After checking-out of Guesthouse Mio, we can grab a bus from Shinmachi bus stop, a few blocks away, to take us back to Omihachiman Station (15 min), before taking a train to Hikone Station (15 min, 2 stops via rapid). Six times a day, a free shuttle bus runs between the station and Hikone Port, timed to arrive comfortably before each scheduled ferry departure to Chikubu-shima Island.
On our trip, we are catching a 10:30 shuttle bus, which gets to the port at 10:38 before the 11:00 ferry. The ferry journey itself is comfortable, offering indoor seating as well as outdoor viewing points for the 40-minute cruise.
It’s exciting to explore this incredibly remote, sacred Chikubu-shima Island and marvel at how its intricate temples must have been painstakingly constructed in the distant past. The Buddhist temple of Hogonji Temple, dedicated to Benzaiten, dates back to 724. Nearby Tsukubusuma-jinja Shrine, a National Treasure, dates back to 420. Return ferries are typically scheduled to depart 70 minutes after arrival, which is plenty of time to explore the temple complex.
Once back at the port, we can forego the shuttle bus and opt for a taxi to the Hikone Castle area to save time. I recommend being dropped at Yume-Kyobashi Castle Road because there are many restaurants here to stop for lunch at.
After lunch, we want to explore the Hikone Castle grounds and moat, but first we’ll head to Genkyuen Garden. Note that our suggested hotel on this trip—Hikone Castle Resort & Spa—is also en route. It might be a little early to check in, but it could be a good option to leave our luggage at this point too. We can then continue the short walk to Genkyuen Garden on the northern side of Hikone Castle.
This Japanese landscape garden was started in 1677 and is said to have been completed by 1679. It offers a vast central pond to walk around. Bridges and wooden buildings help paint a picturesque scene, but the standout view viewpoint has to be Hikone Castle sitting on the hilltop behind the pond – which is now our next destination.
Details: Genkyuen Garden
|Place||Genkyuen Garden (玄宮園)|
|Address||3 Konkicho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0061|
After a short walk across the moat and traversing the steps up to the main keep, we gain access to not just Hikone Castle itself, but also incredible views over Hikone itself, with Lake Biwa in the distance. Hikone Castle is not considered one of Japan’s largest or grandest castles, but it is one of the nation’s few surviving original castles, which fuels its perpetual popularity.
Spend time stepping inside the castle itself, exploring the palace buildings, and visiting the Hikone Castle Museum before heading to our hotel to check-in.
Details: Hikone Castle
|Place||Hikone Castle (彦根城)|
|Address||1-1 Konkicho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0061|
Hikone Castle Resort & Spa provides a top-class stay and scenery of Hikone Castle. Several of the superior room types offer direct views of the castle and moat, making a stay here such an incredibly unique experience that one might not want to leave the comfort of the room. The public bath also offers clear views of the castle so should not be missed.
Details: Hikone Castle Resort & Spa
|Place||Hikone Castle Resort & Spa (彦根キャッスル リゾート&スパ)|
|Address||1-8 Sawacho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0075|
The hotel restaurant is convenient, but we also want to take advantage of being in Shiga, which means trying the local Omi beef—considered one of Japan’s top varieties of wagyu beef. A short walk back to Yume-Kyobashi Castle Road takes us to a speciality Omi beef restaurant, Sennaritei Kyara. Enjoy a decadent course menu of different cuts of succulent Omi-gyu (beef) prepared in different styles, including steak, tataki, shabu-shabu, and nigiri-sushi – the perfect way to close out the day.
Details: Sennaritei Kyara
|Place||Sennaritei Kyara (せんなり亭 伽羅)|
|Address||2-1-7 Honmachi, Hikone, Shiga 522-0064|
|Opening||5pm-10pm (also lunch: 11:30am-2:30pm)|
As we continue north in the direction of Kanazawa, we are ready to say goodbye to Shiga as we enter Fukui Prefecture and explore its nature and activity offerings, from the Mikata Five Lakes area to Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda.
In the morning, we head to the Mikata lakes area. Take the train from Hikone Station to the next stop at Maibara Station (5 min) before changing trains to reach Tsuruga Station (JR Shirasagi, Limited Express, 30 min), then Mikata Station (JR Obama Line, 30 min). From here we’ll take a taxi to follow the Mikata Goko Rainbow Line. This is an idyllic driving route that loops around the northern side of Mikata Lake, Suigetsu Lake, Suga Lake, Hiruga Lake and Kugushi Lake—collectively known as the Five Lakes of Mikata (Mikata Go-ko).
To see them at their best, the Rainbow Line takes visitors to a special park at the summit of Mt. Baijo-dake (Rainbow Line Summit Park). After taking the chair lift or cable car (you can choose) up to the top, here you can see panoramic views over the five lakes to the south, as well as Wakasa Bay out at sea to the north. Fully soak up the views of this magnificent natural environment in all directions, and perhaps take lunch at a cafe here.
Details: Mikata Goko Rainbow Line
|Place||Mikata Goko Rainbow Line (三方五湖レインボーライン)|
|Address||18-2-2 Kiyama, Wakasa-cho, Mikata-Kaminaka-Gun, Fukui|
Next, we continue north deeper into Fukui’s countryside to find a forest paradise in waiting. Once our taxi has returned to Tsuruga Station, take the train along the JR Hokuriku Line up to Takefu Station (30 min), from where we need to taxi out east. Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda is a 30-minute ride, but well worth journey to this secluded valley area populated by rivers, forests and calm. There’s a lot of activities here that should appeal to all age groups, but the Mega Zipline stands out as being the most daring. After getting geared up and a short hike to the starting point, come face to face with a giant forest chasm and ~500 m zipline ready to get you over to the other side, with a further one higher up ready to bring you back. Feel the adrenaline rush and glide like a bird as you soar over rivers and treetops at what is Japan’s largest and highest zipline experience.
Details: Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda
|Place||Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda (ツリーピクニック アドベンチャーいけだ)|
|Address||28-16 Shizuhara, Ikeda, Imadate District, Fukui 910-2523|
|Opening||10am-5pm (entry closes 4pm)|
We’re staying here tonight, which doesn’t just mean an outdoor barbecue under the stars, but also a camping experience like no other. The tents here are elevated between the trees and pitched on wooden decking, providing an incomparable chance to relax and feel at one with nature.
Reflect on your day and retire for the night within earshot of the flowing water of the nearby river.
Our final day sees us complete our journey to Kanazawa, passing by cultural discoveries in Fukui’s Echizen before heading north to the coast to see the Tojinbo cliffs and Oshima island, and then up the coast to Ishikawa’s capital city.
After bidding farewell to the secluded mountain valleys of Ikeda, we head west by taxi into the cultural heartland of Echizen. Our first stop is Echizen Washi Village where you can find paper museums, paper shops and even working paper mills. Echizen washi paper is synonymous with quality, with this region considered one of the largest washi producers in Japan. Papyrus House is a museum offering some history about the region’s craft, while Umeda across the road stocks a good selection of paper products. Down the road, the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum offers gallery space, souvenirs and the chance to try making your own Japanese washi paper under the guidance of skilled artisans, while the Paper & Culture Museum also offers a more artistic take on the craft, and some exhibition space too. It feels magical to experience washi culture at one of Japan’s most significant regions for paper production.
Details: Echizen Washi Village
|Place||Echizen Washi Village (越前和紙の里)|
|Address||8-44 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui 915-0232|
Next, we take a taxi to Echizen Soba Village, not just to see the museum, watch the factory at work and browse the huge range of souvenirs – but also because it is time for lunch. Echizen Soba refers to buckwheat soba noodles served with grated radish (oroshi), commonly topped with dried bonito shavings and green onion too. It tastes amazing fresh, served hot or cold.
Details: Echizen Soba Village
|Place||Echizen Soba Village (越前そばの里)|
|Address||7-37 Makaracho, Echizen, Fukui 915-0005|
|Opening||9am–5pm, open year-round (closed Jan 1-3)|
We’re now ready to venture further north for our final Fukui destinations. Once we get back to Takefu Station via taxi (10 min), we travel by train to Mikuni Station, with one change at Fukui Station (1 hr 20 min). After a short taxi ride (8 min) further along the coast, we reach the Tojinbo cliffs. This 1 km stretch of rugged coastline has been uniquely shaped by centuries of wave erosion, leaving behind unique, rare geological formations of vertical rocks above the sea.
Details: Tojinbo Cliffs
|Address||Antou 64-1, Mikuni-cho, Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture, 913-0064|
If you look over the bay towards the small island to the east, you’ll see it’s connected via bridge to the mainland with a small gate marking the entrance (almost a dot from this far away). That’s Oshima island, our final destination and is easily reached by a coastal trail – about 30 minutes walking.
Oshima is a sacred island just 2 km in circumference and is reached by a beautiful vermillion bridge - it’s worth crossing over and visiting the nearby Ominato Shrine. Feel free to explore but legend has it that it’s bad luck to walk around the island in a counter-clockwise direction.
Details: Oshima island
|Place||Ōshima Island (雄島)|
|Address||25-17 Mikunicho Anto, Sakai, Fukui 913-0064|
From the island, local buses (84, 85) can get you back to Awaraonsen Station in about 40 minutes, before taking the train up to our final stop: Kanazawa Station (43 min).
The aforementioned course follows a customised route through Fukui and Shiga – for your reference we share the exact timings and connections below (correct as of November 2019). Don’t forget to consult our companion article on an alternative reverse itinerary, if you are looking to start from Kanazawa.
|10:16||Kōnan Station||Arrival: walk, sightseeing at Koka Ninja House|
|13:04||Omi-Hachiman Station||Arrival: have lunch|
|14:16||Kanchougaidori Bus Stop||Departure: by bus - Chomeiji Line|
|14:24||Hounenbashi Wasen Noriba-guchi||Arrival|
|17:00~||Hachiman Bori||Walk around canal area (15 min walk from boat terminal), then towards Shinmachi area to check in to Guesthouse Mio|
|2||09:26||Shinmachi||Departure: by bus - Chomeiji Line|
|10:14||Hikone Station||Arrival: shuttle to port|
|11:00||Hikone Port||Departure: cruise to Chikubu-shima Island|
|11:40||Chikubu-shima Island||Arrival: sightseeing|
|13:30||Hikone Port||Arrival, then taxi to Yume-Kyobashi Road area for garden, castle, dinner, hotel (all walkable)|
|3||09:42||Hikone Station||Departure: Biwako Line, for Nagahama|
|09:56||Maibara Station||Departure: JR Tokkyu Shirasagi #3, for Kanazawa|
|10:46||Tsuruga Station||Departure: Obama Line, for Higashi-Maizuru|
|11:15||Mikata Station||Arrival: take taxi along Mikata Goko Rainbow Line|
|16:10||Takefu Station||Arrival, take taxi to Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda|
|4||09:30||Tree Picnic Adventure Ikeda||Taxi to Echizen Paper Village|
|11:00||Echizen Paper Village||Taxi to Echizen Soba Village (Lunch)|
|12:46||Takefu Station||Departure: Shirasagi #53 for Kanazawa|
|13:09||Fukui Station||Departure: Mikuni Awara Line, for Mikuni-Minato|
|13:56||Mikuni Station||Arrival: Taxi to Tojinbou, sightseeing|
|15:59||Oshima Island||Departure: bus to Awara Onsen|
|16:37||Awara Onsen Station||Arrival|
|16:47||Awara Onsen Station||Departure|