If you‘re looking for a place to cycle tour in Japan, there is one place I would like to recommend. Omihachiman is a little town that sits on the east bank of Lake Biwa and is very easy to get to from Kyoto.
Omihachiman has a long history dating back to the 16th century as a commercial town, and its old town area is still lined with preserved traditional houses and buildings. The old town is 2 km from the station. There is a bike rental at the station. If you decide to bring your own bike, trains in Japan will let you take your bike onboard, but it has to be a folding bike in a bike bag. Normal size bikes are allowed on the train, but you will have to take it all apart, both wheels off, and bag it.
As I cycled along the back streets weaving through winding little lanes, I did get lost a bit. But in a small town like Omihachiman you don’t have to worry. Getting lost is somehow a good thing.
I got to see houses, temples and shrines that were like hidden gems in the back streets. I saw a big temple with beautiful walls and doors and another temple with a set of stone steep steps adorned with colorful flags that led up to a small quiet temple. One tiny lane was lined with 2 or 3 shrines and a temple, one with a bright red wooden tori gate, the other with a stone tori. Around the corner there was another small temple with a big, beautiful bell house. There were rows of houses both old and new that are unusual and attractive for foreigners like me. Each house is maintained very well.
Shinmachi-dori and Hachimanbori canal are the main attractions here in Omihachiman. Shinmachi-dori is an old merchant street lined with traditional wooden houses. Walking through the street gives you a 'back in time' feeling. Traditional wooden houses line the narrow street with Mt. Hachiman in the back ground. It is a genteel atmosphere. Some of the houses are converted to museums and souvenir shops so you have a chance to go in and look around. At the end of Shinmachi-dori I came upon Hachimanbori canal.
Hachimanbori is a man-made canal. Historically, people used the canal for travelling from the old town to Lake Biwa. The canal is also lined with traditional houses and has some beautiful bridges. There are traditional river boats waiting to take visitors for sightseeing. Not far from the canal is a street leading to the foot of Mt. Hachiman. Before you get to Mt. Hachiman, Himure Hachiman-gu Shrine is also worth a visit. Next to the shrine is a cable car station, Hachimanyama Cable Car, that will take you up to the top. From there you can enjoy panoramic views of Omihachiman town and Lake Biwa. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and had to give it a miss.
You might want to plan a full day to visit Omihachiman. There are a lot of things to see and do. I had planned for only half a day and I regret that decision. If I have a chance to go back to Japan again, I surely will go back to Omihachiman.
To get there from Kyoto station, take the JR Tokaido / Sanyo Main Line and get off at Omihachiman station. It will take about 45-60 minutes. Be careful not to take the express trains, because they don’t stop at Omihachiman station.