Jun 25, 2018
Shiga Prefecture, located in the heart of Japan, has the distinct honour of being home to the largest lake in Japan. Lake Biwa, which covers 670 square kilometers (about one-sixth of the entire prefecture), is only slightly smaller than the entire land area of Singapore.
Also known to locals as the “mother lake”, this moniker probably stems from the fact that Lake Biwa is one of the few lakes in the world with a history that dates back millions of years. Over the millennia, this lake has helped nourish a wide range of living creatures—from flora to fauna and, yes, even human beings. Of course, in the lake itself, marine life flourishes. The lake is teeming with all kinds of fish that feature prominently in the local diet. Some examples include funazushi, a sushi made with fermented funa (Crucian carp), and ayumaki, a traditional snack made with akkeseri (a type of trout native to Lake Biwa).
Apart from seafood, the most popular food export from Shiga is undoubtedly Omi beef. Widely regarded as one of the top three brands of Wagyu—alongside Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef—Omi beef is renowned for its rich flavour and marbling. Omi is the ancient name of Shiga, before the prefectural system was set up. Legend has it that Omi beef was originally presented as gifts to the shogun (military government) during the Edo period (1603-1868), but was soon enjoyed across the country during the Meiji period.
In addition to its distinctive regional cuisine, Shiga offers visitors an authentic Japanese experience—from spectacular mountain scenery to ancient architecture.
However, because of its close proximity to touristic favourites Kyoto and Nara, Shiga often gets overlooked as a tourist destination, which is a shame. But what not many people know is that Omi was briefly the nation’s capital, even before Kyoto or Nara.
Shiga may be quieter and less well known but actually has plenty to offer. In the upcoming pages, we offer recommendations on things to see and do in this criminally underrated prefecture. While Lake Biwa dominates most of the landscape, there are plenty of nooks and crannies in and around the region to explore. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoorsy adventurer or simply enjoy wandering around quaint Japanese neighbourhoods, Shiga will certainly satisfy your wanderlust.
(TEXT Vanessa Tai Photography Koji TSUjimura, Biwako Visitors Bureau)