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Omihachiman Guide: Living the Anime Dream on a Merchant Town Boat in Hachiman-bori

Omihachiman Guide: Living the Anime Dream on a Merchant Town Boat in Hachiman-bori

Date published: 17 November 2019
Last updated: 21 August 2020

Omihachiman City in Shiga Prefecture has long been considered an idyllic landscape, especially with its beautiful riverside views.

Yet it is also the place where the unique townscape that was the birthplace of Omi merchants remains. Today, I got a look at this lovely riverside view, along with the scenery of the Hachiman-bori Canal, where people once lived, while enjoying a ride on two different boats.

Table of Contents
  1. Nishinoko: A View of an Important Cultural Landscape
  2. Suigo no Sato Maruyama: Navigating a Maze of Yoshi via Rowboat
  3. Explore Hachiman-bori, Where the Omi Merchants Lived

Nishinoko: A View of an Important Cultural Landscape

Long ago, surrounding Lake Biwa were many small lagoons called "naiko." These stretched all around Lake Biwa, forming waterways through which people were able to freely come and go into Lake Biwa.

In a topographical map from 1908, there were more than 40 naiko listed, however many of these have since disappeared due to reclamation and now ordered paddy fields are spreading in their place.

In the midst of this, Nishinoko in Omihachiman City, which remained in the area affected by water reclamation, now boasts the largest scale among the currently existing naiko, and has formed what is deemed as one of Japan’s rare water districts.

One of the most unique characteristics of this water district is the mass growth of "yoshi," a kind of reed in the grass family. Because this plant helped produce the lush green landscape of this undeveloped land, it has been dubbed the first part of the Important Cultural Landscape in 2006, along with the reservoirs and waterways, paddy fields, irrigation ponds and various rare species.

▲Biwako Hakkei is a famous lakeside scenery on its own (Photo provided by Suigo-no-Sato Maruyama)

"Suigo Meguri" is a leisurely rowboat ride that takes you through the thickly intertwined yoshi. Let's take a peaceful boat ride while chatting up the boat captain!

Suigo no Sato Maruyama: Navigating a Maze of Yoshi via Rowboat

We now boarded onto the "Suigo-no-Sato Maruyama." The boat regularly operates from 10:00AM every day from April through November, and can accommodate up to 8 people. (Ship available for booking daily, year-round; reservations required).

▲It is about 15 minutes away by car from the JR Omihachiman Station
▲The inside of the boat is fairly spacious. The boatman operates the boat with a single rod.
▲The length of the rod is about 4 m. It was pretty heavy.

On this day, it was the 13 year veteran boatman, Mr. Ishibashi (age 73) who would guide us. He became a boatman before the age of 60, and said that there are many times when you may have to operate the boat four to five times in a single day.

▲Captain Ishibashi, head of the ship

Onward to the Yoshi Maze! We continue along the waterway, plodding through a wall of yoshi, thick like mesh. Though it was a hot summer day, the breeze while riding the boat was pleasant and refreshing. The rhythm of the rowing was so relaxing, I felt that at any moment... I just might doze off peacefully.

Yoshi is famous as a material used in bamboo screens and reed screens. It grows rapidly and continues to grow to a height of 4 meters or more in a year.

Mr. Ishibashi explains: "The yoshi here sprout in the spring, grows a lush green in the summer, and turns golden in the fall. After it is cut in the winter, you can get a good view of the lake in the west. If you're concerned about temperature, I recommend coming in the spring and autumn best for the best Suigo Meguri tour."

▲You can hear the sound of the cool breeze blowing through the Yoshi

One of the pleasures of the Suigo Meguri trip is looking out for wildlife. The water districts have a rich ecosystem and are connected to Lake Biwa, so you can also see rare fish and birds.

▲It was fun to see all the wildlife up close, such as ducks and grebes, and yoshikiri (reed warbler, a type of migratory bird).

Also, since the bridge over the water district area is often used for filming period dramas, if you are lucky you may encounter a filming session during your trip.

▲The captain of the boat tells us about the filming locations

The only food items allowed on board are light things like bottled drinks on the regular ship. However, on the charter ship, you can travel around the water lands while enjoying a meal. Whether enjoying the views of the seasons, searching for animals, or eating a luxurious meal, there are so many ways to have fun.

Explore Hachiman-bori, Where the Omi Merchants Lived

We now head to Hachiman-bori, located in the center of Omihachiman City. Hachiman-bori Canal was a popular waterway built to link Lake Biwa with the city areas during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. With water transportation, the number of boats as well as people now using them to get around increased, leading to commercial development and the rise of this famous Omi merchant nation.

▲Around the Hachiman-bori are white-walled storehouses and residences that have remain in their old taste
▲Omihachiman is also a production area of traditional Hachiman-gawara (a kind of tile used in their architecture). You can see various types of these tiles throughout the streets.

The Hachiman-bori Tour covered a total distance of about 5 km over 35 minutes. It begins from the boarding area by the dining area, "Waden," which is a 1-minute walk from the Kawara Museum that lies along Hachiman-bori.

▲The boarding area is down the stairs from the back of the dining area, Waden

The Hachiman-bori Tour holds a capacity of 11 people. Booking is recommended from spring to fall at least one week in advance, but you can also board without reservation on the same day. However, there may be cases when wait time is extended in the event of group reservations, so it is recommended to check the schedule and availability by phone. (December through February can be booked same day.)

▲We advance through the narrow waterway, only about 3 meters wide, with the skillful operation of the engine.

Because of the waterways in the town center, the flow of the water is calm and there is absolutely no shaking. We proceed slowly with the speed of a brisk walk as the sound of engine lightly thumps along the water.

▲Here is where it connects to Lake Biwa

Hachiman-bori flourished as a place for people's daily living and exchanges. Along the canal, you can see the Himure Hachimangu Shrine and old houses. You can enjoy different sceneries depending on the season you visit, such as cherry blossoms in the spring, willows in the summer, colorful foliage in the fall, and a snowy landscape in winter.

While listening to the guided audio inside the ship that talks about the history of Omihachiman, it is nice to imagine what life might have been like at the time as you picture yourself in the scenery.

▲No time to take the walk? You can still enjoy the atmosphere of Hachiman-bori from inside the boat!
▲Shinmachihama was used as a loading place for ships. It is also often used now for television shoots.
▲Seen here is the Meiji Bridge, which also often appears in historical period dramas.

The emotional cityscape of Hachiman-bori. After a period of high economic growth, it is said that the area was soon planned for landfill due to the deterioration of the water quality. However, the emotional scenery still remains thanks to the clean-up work done by local residents.

The Hachiman-bori Festival is held every September or October in Hachiman-bori, and the canals are illuminated with about 3,000 lanterns. In the afternoon there are different things to enjoy, such as a time-limited exhibitions and a stamp rally.

▲The 2018 Hachiman-bori Festival was held on October 13 (Sat) and 14 (Sun) from 6:00PM to 9:00PM. (Photo provided by: The Biwako Visitors Bureau)
  • Hachiman-bori Meguri
    • Address 27 Daiku-cho, Omihachiman-shi, Shiga-ken
    • Phone Number 0748-33-5020
    • Departure Time:
      10:00AM~3:30PM (Spring, Fall)
      10:00AM~4:00PM (Summer)
      10:00AM~3:00PM (Winter)
      Boarding Fee: Adults ¥1,000, Kids ¥500 (tax included, free for children under elementary school age. *Boarding time is 35 minutes)
      Closed: Irregular schedule (May be cancelled due to weather, etc.)

From the seasonally changing watery landscape of the yoshi, to a glimpse of how people lived life in Hachiman-bori, Omihachiman is the only place where you can see so many completely different scenes all from within the same boat. Enjoy the refreshing breeze and amazing experience on this relaxing boat ride!

Text by:Ishihara Ai

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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