Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 34 : May/June 2010  > Columns  >  Cycling Japan  >  Lake Biwa Loop – A Journey Back to the Sengoku Era


Cycling Japan

By Takashi Niwa

Lake Biwa Loop – A Journey Back to the Sengoku Era


Lake Biwa Loop – A Journey Back to the Sengoku Era

Total Distance: 158.3 km.
Best Season: April to November / 4~11月


Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko), is Japan’s largest lake with an area of 670 km. square. There are many fishing ports along its shore, and the other side of the lake looks so far away, you may wonder if it is a larger body of water. In the 16th century, this area was hotly contested among warlords and abounds in historical structures, monuments and other remnants of the past. It’s time to get your feet on the pedals and start a journey around the lake…and back to the Sengoku Period.

What are the most “bikeable” (i.e. easily accessible and less trafficked) biking routes in the Kansai area? The top candidates are a loop around Awaji Island and one to the north of Lake Biwa’s Ohashi Bridge. Coincidentally, both loops are about 160 km. long. It’s possible to cover the distances in one day, but an extra day or two allows you to visit some interesting places along the route or simply make occasional stops to make the ride more memorable.

The Biwako Ohashi Bridge connects the eastern and western shores at the narrowest section of the lake and divides it into Hokko (North Lake) and Nanko (South Lake). Our route circles Hokko only and skips Nanko (about 46 km. long) due to heavy traffic.

The coastal route is generally flat with a few hilly sections in the north, where you can enjoy riding in a peaceful mountain setting. The scenic waterfront ride itself is fun, and the route is dotted with many historical towns, ranging from the widely known cities of Omi-hachiman, Hikone and Nagahama to small hidden gems such as the old post town of Shiotsu-juku.

Back in the 16th century, Sengoku warlords such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu fought many battles to gain control of this area, then called Omi. It was an important geopolitical corridor for the ancient capital of Kyoto stepping closer toward national unification. These past figures have been immortalized on battlefields and in towns they built, and you can soak in the history as you explore the area by bike.

There are many historic sites along the route including Hikone Castle. The 17th century castle is one of Japan’s “Top 100 Castles.”