Lake Biwa, your Japanese summer paradise in the Kansai region

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View of Lake Biwa from the road.

Lake Biwa (琵琶湖, Biwa-ko) is Japan’s largest lake, located right next to Kyoto in Shiga Prefecture. With crystal-clear freshwater beaches, outstanding nature, and lots of outdoor activities like camping and cycling, Lake Biwa is the ideal summer paradise if you know where to go and what to do. Read on if you want to know more about what to do at Lake Biwa.

A boardwalk lining the shore of Lake Biwa.
Credit: Roman Savchyn

Biwakko Camping

Have you perhaps ever watched the anime Yuru Camp (ゆるキャン△)? If you have, you probably have an idea of what camping in Japan can be like. There are numerous camping spots around Lake Biwa which all offer something a little different. At some places you can rent fishing gear, at others you can go canoeing and swimming. For a summary of the best camping sites as well as links and phone numbers, we recommend the following page (Japanese only).

Many Japanese campsites offer the service of renting all the required gear on the camping spot! However, this often comes with a slightly high price tag so it may be worth considering buying gear and only renting cooking utensils. Some hostels cheaply offer access to a campsite, showers, and restrooms as long as you bring equipment. One example is Biwako J Hoppers.
Remember that camping sites are very popular, especially during autumn and you have to make a booking well in advance!

Spend a day at the beach

If camping is too much of a commitment for you, how about spending a day at the beach, maybe having a barbeque and going for a swim?

Our top recommended destination for having a beach day is Ōmi-maiko. Although Biwa is a lake, not all areas are easily accessible for a dip. Omi-Maiko is the lakes’ most accessible and popular beach, resembling your typical tropical paradise. However, what’s unique about this place is that although it looks like a tropical beach, the water is extremely refreshing and not salty at all, since it’s freshwater! By the way, you can also have a barbeque here, or visit the nearby Hawaiian restaurant for a quick bite.

The beach is very accessible as it’s only a 5-minute walk from Ōmi-maiko station which you can reach with direct trains from Kyoto station.

If you plan to visit this place, just remember that there are no convenience stores nearby so make sure to bring food and water! Oh, and don’t forget sunscreen!

A pedestrian cycle and walkway along the shore of Lake Biwa.
Credit: Roman Savchyn

Cycling

Another great summer activity to do at Lake Biwa is to rent a bicycle and go explore places. Especially the upper parts of Lake Biwa (奥琵琶湖, oku-biwako) are ideal for cycling as you can enjoy nature and don’t have to travel through highly trafficked areas with lots of cars.

If cycling sounds fun for you, it’s recommended to get a can of compressed air from a 100-yen shop to fill the tires if the need arises.

If you are a sporty person you can also attempt doing the ビワイチ (biwa-ichi). This refers to making a lap around Lake Biwa and is a popular activity among people living in Kyoto. If you do attempt to do the biwa-ichi, be aware that depending on your physique, this is a trip that can take several days and be quite exhausting. We strongly recommend dividing the trip up into several days and putting aside some time for sightseeing and relaxing in hot springs rather than pedaling all day long.

Oh and one more thing, do not attempt to travel to Lake Biwa from Kyoto by bicycle. This requires you to either make a long complicated detour or pass a mountain range on a narrow highway with many cars, which is dangerous. It’s much better to rent a bicycle at Lake Biwa instead!

View on the water of Lake Biwa.
Credit: Roman Savchyn

Other activities

There are several fun activities you can enjoy year-round besides sightseeing around the lake. If you’re looking for a more relaxing getaway, why not try SUP or a visit to a hot spring?

Bathing in hot springs

After walking or cycling around all day, taking a relaxing bath in an onsen (温泉, hot springs) overlooking the lake is truly amazing. As you might expect, there are many onsens around Lake Biwa that will allow you to be fully submerged in nature. However, they can be a bit hard to reach unless you have a bicycle or car. One accessible recommendation is to try the affordable yumotokan which is about 20 minutes from the Ogoto Onsen station.

SUP experience

Another popular activity is to try paddling on a stand-up board (SUP) in Lake Biwa. For example, you can paddle out to a torii shrine gate shrine engulfed in water near the Shirahige Shrine (which is an incredible shrine to visit on land as well). A quick Google search on “Biwako SUP” will give you lots of options to choose from!

Want more Japan?

Hope you thought that our article on Lake Biwa was interesting! Have you ever visited Lake Biwa before? Do you have some locations that you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!

If you are interested in learning Japanese or knowing more about Japanese culture and life in Japan, make sure to follow our blog!

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