It’s a bold statement to nominate just one destination as the best place to visit in Japan. It’s such a diverse country, where vibrant cities mix with traditional culture and stunning natural landscapes. But if there was one person up to the job, it would be Japan expert Russ Hewick. Here Russ reveals where he believes is the best place to go.
As a long-term resident of Japan, and as one dedicated to the travel industry of the country, often the third question I get asked, after the standard ‘Where are you from? and ‘Why did you come to Japan?’ is ‘where’s your favourite place in Japan?’ It’s one of those ‘How long is a noodle?’ type of questions and the answer is, ‘it depends’.
But, when pressed for a specific answer, I always name my personal best place to visit in Japan as Shiga. It’s Kyoto’s neighbouring prefecture to the northeast, where we used to holiday when we lived in Osaka and where we moved to bring up our family.
Shiga has everything we need. We have both mountains and a lake (Lake Biwa – the biggest in Japan). There’s also snow in the winter, blossoms in spring, a proper summer, and some great autumn foliage when the fall sets in.
We live on the northern side of the lake, the more rural side, but there are kindergartens, schools and hospitals. So although it may be countryside, it’s not completely in the boonies. We grow a lot of our own food, but the supermarket is only a 10-minute drive away and our nearest ski field is even closer than that.
In the winter we can look out the window and decide if we’ll shred a couple of lines before breakfast, or perhaps wait till the afternoon. In contrast, in the summer, the lake is the absolute best way to cool down. And with it being a freshwater lake you come out feeling clean, as well as refreshed!
There’s a lot of history wrapped up in Shiga. The fabled Tokaido Highway dating back deep into the feudal era runs on the south side of the lake. It was the main road from Kyoto to Edo, the old name for Tokyo. We also have Hikone Castle (not to be confused with Hakone!), as well as beer breweries, sake distilleries, and even our own brand of beef – Omigyu. Reason alone to consider Shiga the best place to visit in Japan in my opinion!
To top it all off, we are just 40 minutes away from Kyoto by train. This makes Shiga an excellent place for a day trip out of Japan’s cultural capital and a great getaway from all the hustle and bustle of city life. So, for some lake-beach and BBQ action in summer, or snow sports in the winter, head to Omi-Maiko on the Kosei line from Kyoto Station, platform number 3!
Day Trips to Shiga
Whilst it’s undoubtedly clear that Shiga makes a great place to live, it’s also a worthy destination for day trippers or to fill a few days of your Japan itinerary. Packed with activities, visitors can enjoy cruises on Lake Biwa, discover the local temples or explore museums such as the Miho Museum.
As one of Japan’s national treasures, Hikone Castle is also a must-see. Not only is the castle itself impressive, but visitors can also enjoy a stroll around the ornamental grounds and discover the treasures of its museum.
If you’re interested in visiting Shiga, speak to our tailor-made team. They will be able to organise your stay, so you can experience the best place to visit in Japan for yourself.
After backpacking around the globe for over a decade picking up work as he went, Russ Hewick finally settled in Japan, a country that kept calling him back time after time. He’s been working within the tourism industry in Japan since 2005.