Outdoors over indoors, adventure over routine. Life is an excellent place.
Published January 23rd 2016
A walk to the wilder side of Japan
As the pre winter winds blow down from the northern parts of Shiga Prefecture, I find myself disembarking the local train at Shiga station, a station so small it's only manned a few hours each day. Walking out of the gates a sign; 'Mountain hikers beware! Carry a noise making device, here there be bears'. For fear of colder places more than hibernating bears, it's a turn to the right, towards the biggest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa.
Warning: Here There be Bears
It's mid November, and while the sun's rays reach and warm the earth, the only life on the first beach is a few old men, cigarette smoke swirling above their heads, unmoving as they wait for their fishing rods to bend, lines reaching far out into the blue waters. Left over piles of charcoal remind winter walkers of warmer times, the barbecues as spot the beaches of Shiga throughout summer.
Houses line the beaches but the windows are closed, garages locked and no faces in the windows. A holiday location for those living in the built up cities further south, the winter emptiness gives the area a post-apocalyptic feel. Stray cats lie in any spots of sun they can find. Un-kept gardens covered in persimmon lying where they fell. Pulling one from a tree far enough from any house for it to be owned, a fellow traveller, his face a mask of disgust and dismay, learns the relationship between tree health and flavour.
Boats, jet skis, wakeboards and all kinds of water sport related goods scatter the beaches, unused through the winter.
An hour in, we come around a bend in the beach, facing us north. The lake opens up in front of us, the day clear enough we can see the whole way to Nagahama and the mountains beyond. The sheer size of it causing all to pause in their tracks; 'that's a big lake', one of our group says, smiling while we all do our best to ignore his persistently poor humour.
Coming close to Hira station a Hawaii themed restaurant and BBQ spot appears, Carmel Beach Club. The setting sun forces us to face a decision; to finish our walk to Omi Maiko beach or stop in for food. A quick look at the menu shows Hawaiian style pork ribs and craft beer. The walk never stood a chance.
Lunch at Carmel Beach Club, 1300 yen
Boarding our train back at Hira station we watch the sun fall behind the mountains to the west. The sky is lit up red, as though a fire burns behind the clouds. So close to Kyoto, yet a completely different Japan, any traveller who wants to see what it's like outside of the big towns, the leftovers of urbanisation, a glimpse of the over 70% of Japan that is covered by mountains, I couldn't recommend visiting Shiga more.
Sunset over the mountains on the west side of Lake Biwa.
Take the train from Kyoto station, platform 3, Kosei Line. It's a 40 minute ride to Shiga station at 580 yen. From there one can walk as far as their legs will take them, the trains stations are never too far from the beach and easy to spot.
Respect the local environment; take only pictures, leave only footprints.