Omi Hachiman (近江八幡, Ōmihachiman) is a city in Shiga Prefecture that is known for its nicely preserved old town and canal where visitors can enjoy traditional boat cruises through the historic townscape. Omi Hachiman rose to prominence during the feudal era as the base of the local merchants, the Omi merchants, whose trade activities were famed across the country and provided them with great wealth.
The town was originally developed in the late 1500s when a nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi built a castle there. The castle was demolished only a decade later after Hideyoshi ordered his nephew to commit ritual suicide for allegedly plotting a coup; however, the town prospered as a business hub in part due to its location along two of the most important trade routes of the era: the Nakasendo Highway which connected Kyoto with Tokyo (then Edo) and the shipping route that connected the Sea of Japan via Lake Biwa with Kyoto.
The Omi merchants accumulated vast fortunes during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and were able to expand their operations to sell goods across the land. Today the town's mercantile history is reflected around the old town, where there are numerous buildings that in centuries past served as the merchants' homes and shops.
The majority of Omi Hachiman's attractions are located over three adjacent areas, which can roughly be defined as the following:
Excavated to serve as both a moat to protect the castle and as a transport route to connect the town to Lake Biwa, the canal is Omi Hachiman's most unique and picturesque area.
Omi Hachiman's other highlight is the Shinmachi Street which is lined by several well preserved, historical buildings, some of which are open to the public.
Easily accessed via a ropeway, the summit of Mount Hachiman provides visitors with pleasant views of the town and Lake Biwa. Previously the site of Hachiman Castle, the summit now offers a small network of walking trails with viewpoints, a temple and some castle ruins.
How to get to Omi Hachiman
Omi Hachiman Station is located along the JR Tokaido Main Line (also referred to as JR Biwako Line) between Kyoto and Maibara.
JR special rapid trains run twice hourly between Osaka, Kyoto and Omi Hachiman Station. The one way journey from Osaka takes 65 minutes and costs 1520 yen, while from Kyoto it takes 35 minutes and costs 680 yen.
From Tokyo (Tokyo or Shinagawa stations), take a Hikari train on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Maibara Station (130 minutes, one direct Hikari per hour) and then transfer to the JR Biwako Line to Omi Hachiman Station (20-25 minutes, frequent departures). The journey takes about three hours, costs around 12,500 yen one way and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
How to get around Omi Hachiman
Most of Omi Hachiman's attractions are located in the old town area which is about two kilometers from the station. From Omi Hachiman Station, there are 2-5 buses per hour that run to the old town (5-10 minutes, 220 yen one way) where they stop at multiple bus stops, including Shinmachi (新町) and Osugicho (大杉町). Alternatively, a taxi ride between the station and the old town takes under ten minutes and costs around 1000 yen one way. The old town can be explored comfortably on foot.