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 coast via Lake Biwa with Kyoto.
The Omi merchants accumulated vast fortunes during the Edo Period 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:
Originally 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.
Hachiman-bori Canal Boat Cruises
Hours: 10:00 to 16:00 Admission: 1000 yen Typical duration: 30-40 minutes
Two companies offer boat cruises along the canal. One uses man-powered boats that glide through the historical district at a slow pace, while the other uses engine-powered boats that explore not only the historical section, but also a more modern-looking part of the canal. Prior reservations are not required except between December and March. Shoes must be removed on the boats before the cruise begins.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) Closed: Mondays (or next day if Mon is a public holiday), days after public holidays, New Year holidays; no closing days in April, May, October and November Admission: 300 yen Typical visit duration: 30 minutes
This museum is dedicated to Japanese roof tiles with a focus on their history and significance. There is also an exhibition of different roof tiles from all over Japan. The museum consists of multiple buildings that stand on the former site of a roof tile factory.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: New Year holidays Admission: Free
Originally built as a school in the early Meiji Period, this European-style building serves as a tourist information center today and also features a small exhibition space.
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.
Hours: 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00) Closed: Mondays and days after holidays, New Year holidays; no closing days in May, October, November Admission: 300 yen (500 yen with municipal museum) Typical visit duration: 20-30 minutes
The Nishikawa family were among the most prominent Omi merchants during the Edo Period. Today, the building that served as the family's home for generations is open for the public to explore. Serving as a well preserved example of the dwelling of a wealthy Omi merchant family, the home boasts opulent traditional Japanese rooms and a nice garden.
Hours: 9:00 to 16:30 (entry until 16:00) Closed: Mondays and days after holidays, New Year holidays Admission: 300 yen (500 yen with Nishikawa Residence) Typical visit duration: 20-30 minutes
This museum consists of two parts. The first part is a conventional museum that displays various old artifacts including earthenware and old plans of the town. The second part is an old residence that can be explored by visitors and exhibits old everyday utensils.
Hours: 11:00 to 17:00 Closed: Mon (Tue if Mon is a holiday), New Year holidays, between exhibitions Admission: varies depending on exhibition, typically 300 yen
This art gallery is housed in an old residence a few hundred meters away from the Shinmachi Street and showcases a range of art including art pieces created by those with disabilities. The art contributes to the complex's bright, pleasant atmosphere, and at the back stands a much more rustic annex building.
Former post office: 10:00 to 16:30, closed Tuesdays, admission free Former residence: Advance reservations required, closed Mondays, 400 yen
William Merrel Vories was an American missionary, teacher and architect who came to Japan in 1905. While living in Omi Hachiman, he designed various buildings known for their Western-style aesthetic. A number of these buildings, including the old post office (shown on the picture) and his former residence, 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.
Departures every 15 minutes from 9:00 to 17:00 (last departures at 16:30) Fare: 500 yen (one way), 890 yen (round trip)
Departing from next to Himure Hachimangu Shrine, the ropeway provides passengers with nice views of Omi Hachiman and the surrounding area during the short journey up and down the mountain.
At the top of Mount Hachiman there is a short network of trails. A circular walk around the summit takes around 20 minutes and passes several viewpoints with views in all directions, including Lake Biwa.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 Closed: No closing days Admission: 300 yen
At the summit of the mountain, on the former site of the castle's main citadel, stands the atmospheric Zuiryuji Temple which was moved here from Kyoto in 1961. The temple was built to mourn the death of Hideyoshi's nephew Hidetsugu who served as the lord of the former Hachiman Castle. The temple's outer grounds can be entered for free, but an admission fee is required to see the interior
Himure Hachimangu Shrine
Hours: Always open Closed: No closing days Admission: Free
Himure Hachimangu Shrine is an atmospheric shrine standing among tall trees at the foot of Mount Hachiman, a few steps from the lower ropeway station. With its long history, the shrine enjoyed such a high status that the town of Omi Hachiman was even named after it.
Getting there and around
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 entire one way journey takes about three hours, costs around 12,500 yen 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.