In line with the Japan tourism campaign of “Hands-Free Travel”, that is to travel without the encumbrance of large luggage, we had our luggage sent directly to our next hotel, Biwako Hotel in Shiga Prefecture by using the forwarding services provided by Kansai Tourist Information Centre at Kyoto Tower.
While Kyoto and Osaka are famous cities in Kansai region, Kansai region comprises of other prefectures such as Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Shiga, Fukui, Tokushima and Tottori. On the second day of my Japan trip, we went to visit Mount Hiei, which is located at the northeast of Kyoto, on the border of Kyoto and Shiga.
Then, we took the bus from Kyoto Station to Mount Hieizan, which lies on the border of Kyoto Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture. The bus station was just 5 minutes’ walk from our Kyoto Century Hotel. We took the Keihan Kyoto Kotsu bus line bound to Mt Hiei from Platform C6. Leaving from the same platform are buses heading to Arashiyama. Please ask around to make sure you are on the right bus. The trip to Mt Hiei took approximately 1 hour.
The English translation of bus information is very helpful!
Home to Unesco World Heritage Site’s Enryakuji Temple, it is the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. It was founded in 788 during the early Heian period (794-1185) by Saicho (Dengyo Daishi), who introduced the Tendai sect of Mahayana Buddhism to Japan from China.
The Great Lecture Hall
As the main hall was under renovation and we did not visit most parts of Enryakuji Temple, the useful blog post on day trip to Enryakuji is that of https://www.2aussietravellers.com/enryakuji-day-trip-kyoto/
Apart from visiting one of the most important monasteries in Japan history, we had the opportunity to try the Shojin Ryori at Enryakuji Kaikan, a temple lodging.
Ernyakuji Kaikan, the temple lodging
Shojin Ryori is a meal eaten by Buddhist monks in Japan following the basic principles forbidding the killing of animals for human consumption and abstaining from the use of pungent flavours such as garlic and onion.
In preparing the shojin ryori, the monks use the “rule of five” when cooking. Every meal has five colours (green, yellow, red, black and white) and five flavours (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami). The colours and flavors are drawn naturally from the ingredients without any flavor enhancer. The common food served as shojin ryori are vegetable tempuras, tofu, fried soybean curd, dried tofu, fermented soybeans and konnyaku, a thick gelatin-like food from the konjac plant.
And the best part of this Shojin meal, is to enjoy it with the panoramic view of Lake Biwa.
From Enryakuji Kaikan, we walked to the Hieizan Sakamoto Cable Car Station to ride the longest cable car route in Japan at 2,025m. The ride takes approximately 11 minutes where you can enjoy the view of Lake Biwa. The cable car departs every half an hour with the nearest public transportation being Keihan Electric Railway Ishiyama Sakamoto Line, Sakamoto Station, which is 15 minutes by foot.
From Sakamoto Station, we continued the journey to Hamaotsu Station, where we took a taxi to Otsu Uochu to consume the delicacies unique to Shiga. Shiga was previously known as “Omi” more than 1,000 years ago.
When in Shiga, try the sukiyaki at Otsu Uochu served with Shiga’s unique local product of Omi chicken, the free-range chicken created by Shiga Prefectural Animal Farming Technology Centre by crossing three purebred chickens. The tasty lean meat of Omi Shamo is due to the chickens being reared in its natural course.
My first experience on eating sukiyaki was nothing like my imagination. While the sliced chicken was slowly simmered at the table together with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin, the ingredients are dipped in a small bowl of raw eggs after being cooked in the pot and eaten. The other ingredients normally cooked in sukiyaki are seared tofu, leek, mushrooms and wheat udon and mochi.
After our hearty luncheon, we boarded the cruise from Otsu Port to enjoy the scenic view of Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa. With the size of about 670km², Lake Biwa or Biwako Lake serves as a reservoir for the cities of Kyoto and Otsu. We took the south lake route cruise which took us to Yanagasaki Lakeside Park Port. The Okishima, the largest lake island on Lake Biwa is inhabited and the Takeshima Island appears to change shape from different angle. You can choose a range of cruise route served by Biwako Kisen Company, depending on your interests and time.
Farmer’s Market Ohminchi
For a city which promotes agriculture and organic farming, a visit to the farmer’s market Ohminchi is a must. Ohminchi is one of the largest direct retail farm produce markets in Shiga where all the organic products harvested locally are on sale.
Apart from shopping for fresh products, the visitors can also take part in the seasonal farming activities such as picking blueberries and digging sweet potatoes. Upon request, Ohminchi also caters for halal cuisines and sushi making experiences using halal products. Before leaving this organic farmer’s market, try the gelato from the café.
Address: 2785, Sumoto-cho, Moriyama City, Shiga
Funa Sushi at Shiseian
Little did I know that I would be discovering the origin of my favourite food, sushi on my first trip to Japan. In Shiga, a traditional dish of funa zushi, is believed to be vestiges of the oldest sushi in Japanese history. Funa zushi is the fermented sushi made of crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa. Due to pickling of the carp in steamed rice and salt, a lactic acid is produced giving the carp a sour taste.
With the pungent smell protruding the nostril, the taste can be reckoned as acquired taste, a similar case for other food with strong distinct aroma. The owner of Shiseian took out the wooden tub in which she stored the carp in fermented rice. The funa zushi can either be eaten as it is or accompanied by other products of Lake Biwa. The funa zushi is believed to entail secrets to healthy body and youthful look, as is the case of the owner of Shiseian who looked way younger than her actual age.
Teppanyaki @ Biwako Hotel
Back to the Biwako Hotel where all the rooms are lake-view, we enjoyed a teppanyaki dinner with a choice of Omi beef or prime steak fillet. The teppanyaki chef bowed to the guests who were eager to watch the cooking live from their seats. After asking our preferences on our cuisine, the teppanyaki chef commenced the cooking with exceptional perfection and rigid discipline. Every ingredient was cut in the same size and watching the chef attending to the food with such focus made one more eager to devour the teppanyaki food.
The Japanese-styled omelette, tamagoyaki, was prepared as we watched the chef rolled several layers of cooked egg on the iron girdle. After watching another round of live food preparation, we devoured the Teppanyaki grilled eel and kumiage yuba bean curd served with a bowl of locally grown salad. The mouth-watering juicy steak fillet and Ohmi beef sirloin were very delicious. Excellent food and visual delight of the food preparation are the perfect way to end our day.
The above is written in conjunction with a familiarization trip courtesy of Kansai Gastronomy Tourism Promotion Council Office, Japan Railway Company, Keihan Group, Don Quijote Group, Sakai Tourism and Convention Bureau, and Wendy Tour.