Known as “Mother Lake,” Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture is Japan’s largest fresh water lake, and the third oldest lake in the world (preceded by Lake Tanganyika at 2nd and Lake Baikal at 1st).
235km around, this ancient lake is a popular destination not only for cycling, but for water sports and fishing as well. Camping grounds and gorgeous hiking is also accessible, and in the winter some surrounding mountains offer ski slopes.
If you have some days to spare and enjoy feeling the breeze against your cheek, circumventing Lake Biwa is a cyclist’s dream. Almost consistently paved with cycling paths and many breathtaking places to stop for a break, it is a comfortable and enjoyable tour at any skill level, especially if you want to do just a portion of the route. For experienced cyclers, expect to take 2 full days (3 comfortably). Although I have met those who have done the entire route in a single day… it is quite possible that they were not human.
During your ride, you will find many attractive spots to stop and catch your breath before continuing on. The following list will give you an idea of your journey if riding counter-clockwise, starting at Ishiyama Temple in the South.
Ishiyama Temple. Murasaki Shikibu is said to have started writing The Tale of Genji here in the year 1004.
Continuing on, you will cross the Lake Biwa Big Bridge, which offers beautiful panoramic views.
As the road becomes less industrial and more peaceful, you will come upon the Sagawa Museum of Art.
Next, you will then arrive at the beautiful old castle town of Omihachiman, followed by another famous castle up the road, the Hikone Castle.
As you come to the North of the lake, past Nagahama, you will begin an exquisitely beautiful leg of your journey. In any season, the scenery here will be unforgettable, but if you are lucky to arrive during cherry blossom season you will accompanied by the blossoms and fragrance of that quintessentially Japanese flower.
As you come around the bend and start travelling down the west side of the lake, you will arrive in Makino, famous for skiing in the winter. Further down is Omi-Maiko, famous for its beaches and camping in the summer.
Further down, past Katata, you can stop at Ogoto Hot Springs for a refreshing soak before heading on.
While most travelers to Japan tend to cram many sightseeing destinations into a short amount of time, as a long time resident, I highly recommend considering a prolonged stay in one place. Whether that be beautiful Lake Biwa, exquisite Kyoto, or a tiny countryside town, I can assure you that Japan goes very deep… if you allow yourself to sink into it.