If there was one destination in Japan that surprised me for its tranquility and beauty that was Lake Biwa in Shiga prefecture, right outside Kyoto. Known by the locals simply as Biwako.
Biwako is the largest freshwater lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world dating to some 4 million years ago.
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At a size of 670 km², you can expect to find plenty of wildlife, from birds to fish and I even saw some turtles!
I was camping there at the end of June which I think it’s the best time of the year as from July the crowds start arriving to this peaceful place.
MY CAMPING ESSENTIALS
If you’re backpacking around Japan and have a tent or a hammock you should definitely put Lake Biwa on your list!
How to get there?
As with pretty much everywhere in the country, you can easily hitchhike your way in Japan to any destination. Lake Biwa is very close to Kyoto.
Alternatively, you can take a train from Kyoto Station towards Omi-Maiko. The one-way trip cost just over USD $5.
From Omi-Maiko station you can walk about 10 minutes towards the lake shore where there’s a designated camping area with toilets, fresh water and bbq facilities.
The Camping Areas
By late June there was no one around to be seen, just one of the nights I spent there a couple of families arrived to camp as well.
I understand that during July-August you may have to pay about USD $2 per night to camp at Lake Biwa.
The surface is small gravel all over the place so if you don’t have a sleeping mat be prepared for a bit of a harder sleep.
There are also some restaurants but they were closed by that time, with just a couple of the many vending machines plugged and working.
Some 15-20 minutes from the camping area to town there’s a 7-11 to buy some drinks, food and snacks in case you don’t bring any cooking utensils.
When you arrive to the lake and walk 100-200m by the shore, you will find a sign showing where the two designated camping areas are located.
I chose to stay on the first area you find as you walk from the station as I considered it to have much nicer views and was by a small pine forest which makes it really beautiful (judge by the pics!)
What to do in Lake Biwa
The very first thing to do upon arrival is just to chill and enjoy this incredible scenery which is off the beaten path of Kyoto’s crowds.
If you’re lucky as me and have the lake for yourself, you face the task of just finding the very best spot to pitch your tent. Always a nice problem to have!
Once settled it was time to go for a refreshing swim and enjoy the views!
In summertime the sunrise is pretty early and even that I didn’t wake up in time, I still got a wonderful view once the glare woke me up! This pic was taken at 5am from my tent:
Although there are different areas in Biwako where you can camp, I stayed always in the same area, but traveled a little bit around during my three days camping there.
Besides the camping area there’s also a small pond where you can find quite a few fishermen.
Some 7 Km away on foot (or just a few minutes hitchhiking) you can find the Shirahige Shrine which has one of the typical Torii Gates on the water.
Kayaking and SUP’ing in Lake Biwa
During all my solo backpacking adventures in Japan I only met incredible people, really open and friendly. But one of the luckiest encounters for me was actually in Biwako as I intended to hitchhike north and the helpful person that stopped to offer me a ride ended up being an outdoor lover as myself, he’s a tour operator mainly around Lake Biwa.
What started just as another hitchhike in Japan ended up on 4 days of adventures around Shiga and Nara prefectures and the great Khatsu eventually became a good friend of mine.
If you’re looking to do some Kayaking or SUP you should definitely have a look on his site goodtimes88.jp,on his Tripadvisor’s page you can check some reviews as well! if you have any other outdoor activities in mind send him a message as he is super helpful.
I was lucky enough to discover more of this stunning area through some fun outdoor activities and great people.
If you book a tour with Khatsu you’re guaranteed to have some laughs and learn more about Japan in general as he has many stories to tell!
Are you in Kyoto or planning to go there?
You should definitely go to the small town of Omi-Maiko and camp at the beautiful Lake Biwa.
You will be refreshed after all the sightseeing from the cities and it’s a perfect place to relax.
After Biwako you could keep hitchhiking North by the coast towards Kanazawa or Niigata or back down to Kyoto for an eastern or southern route.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Biwako!
Checkout the rest of my posts backpacking in Japan for more ideas on your next adventure!