"Biwaichi" means "around Lake Biwa," and refers to a bicycle tour around Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. I recently did Biwaichi by car in Shiga Prefecture, which I visited almost for the first time.
Lake Biwa is the largest lake in Japan, occupying about one-sixth of the area of Shiga Prefecture. If you follow the road around Lake Biwa, it is about 200 km around. You can make the round trip by bicycle or car in as little as one day, but to enjoy Shiga Prefecture's abundant nature, gourmet foods, and other side trips along the way, you will need at least one night and two days. Shiga Prefecture is divided into the areas of Koto, Kosai, Konan, and Kohoku, with Lake Biwa at the center. Each area has a different climate, characteristics, and culture, so it is very interesting to travel around Lake Biwa and feel the differences.
Here are some places to stop by. Omihachiman City, which developed as the castle town of Azuchi Castle, is dotted with Western-style architecture while retaining its old townscape. This is because Omihachiman was the favorite and base of the famous architect William Merrell Vories, who also designed the Yamanoue Hotel (introduced the other day) and the Tokasaikan in Kyoto. While walking around the city, visitors can enjoy touring Vories' buildings such as the Old Yawata Post Office and the Vories Architectural Memorial Museum. Also in Omihachiman City, there is a large facility called La Collina Omihachiman, the flagship store of the confectionery store Taneya, which is well known to all Shiga Prefecture residents. Designed by Terunobu Fujimori, this impressive building with its large triangular roof of korai grass blends in with the mountainous landscape, and although it is a confectionery shop, inside it is like a theme park, a place that both children and adults can enjoy.
Hikone Castle in Hikone City on the east side of the lake is home to Hikonyan, and "Kurokabe Square," a glass town in Nagahama City on the north side of the lake, is lined with glass stores and traditional buildings that attract visitors who enjoy strolling and eating. At "Metasequoia Namiki" in Takashima City in the western part of Kosai, when I visited, I could see the autumn trees turning golden in the morning sun, which contrasted beautifully with the blue sky. Shirahige Shrine, where you can see the Otorii (Grand Gate) standing on Lake Biwa, is probably a standard photo spot for Biwaichi visitors, but a small viewing platform has been built to allow visitors to view it safely without crossing the road. Local delicacies are also plentiful: the famous "salad bread" from Tsuruya Bakery, established in 1951, is a must-try, but you won't know what's inside until you try it. You may also want to try Omi beef, one of the three major cuts of beef in Japan, Omi chanpon, which features a golden broth made from shavings and kelp, and lake fish.
Above all, the view of the lake, mountains, and other changing expressions of nature was a soothing and never-ending experience that I thought was unique to Shiga Prefecture. Raging waves in the afternoon when the wind and rain are strong, and the quiet surface of the lake in the early morning with a pale gradation of pink to light blue. Lake Biwa offers a variety of views depending on the time of day, the season, and the weather. As one of the options for outings in the Kansai region, why not try Biwaichi in autumn by bicycle if you are physically fit or a cyclist, by car if you want to relax and have fun, or by bike if you are a biker?