The Shiga prefecture of Japan is an explorer’s paradise. Almost half of its surface is covered by Natural Parks, places of natural beauty protected by the Japanese Ministry of Environment. One of those areas houses the magnificent Lake Biwa. Its’ surface area of 259 square miles makes it the largest freshwater lake in the Shiga prefecture and the entire of Japan. It has a fairly long shoreline of around 235 kilometers, along which you can find a ton of campsites. This is more than convenient, as camping is one of the best ways to explore the natural beauties of Japan. We’ve put together this guide to help you plan your Lake Biwa camping journey.
But first, a bit of history and fun facts about Lake Biwa
Apart from being the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa is also the oldest. It’s considered to be over 4 million years old, which makes it the 13th oldest lake in the world. Because of its old age, many different ecosystems have had a chance to develop. It also has a very interesting name origin. While many lakes owe their names to influential people and geographical terms, Lake Biwa is slightly different. It has gotten its’ name from the resemblance to the ancient Japanese string instrument, the biwa.
Even though Lake Biwa is located in the Shiga prefecture, it’s also very close to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. Kyoto was the epicenter of culture, which is why the lake is often mentioned in old poems and literature. Lake Biwa is still of great importance to Kyoto, as it serves a purpose of a water reservoir. It is also the main source of drinking water for a big part of the Kansai region. So, not only that Lake Biwa has magnificent nature, but it’s also crucial for the everyday life of a large number of people.
Campsites at Lake Biwa
Moving to Japan can be quite a cultural shock and often requires some time to adapt. Camping is one of the best ways to explore your new home, as you can really connect to nature. There are campsites all around the Lake Biwa shoreline. Still, the locals and the experienced campers agree that the best ones are located in the northern region. The majority of the campsites are easily reachable by car, as the roads are very good in this area. Some of the Lake Biwa camping suggestions include Omimaiko Beach, Makino Sunny Beach, and Okubiwako Campground. Most of these campsites have all the amenities you need for a comfortable stay. You’ll find showers, fire pits, and sometimes even a small convenience store on the grounds.
There are plenty of accommodation options once you start your camping journey. Depending on where you’re staying, you can bring your tent, rent a tent or get a glamping cottage. If camper vans are your thing, they’re also welcome in most campsites. All campsites charge you for staying there. Prices can vary depending on where you decide to stay, but generally, don’t go over 10 dollars per night. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need a sleeping mat. The ground everywhere is mostly covered in gravel, which can make sleeping quite uncomfortable. However, this won’t be an issue if you come with a camper van with comfy beds. If you’re a light sleeper, definitely consider this idea.
Many Lake Biwa camping spots are easily reachable from Kyoto and other surrounding cities
You’ve set up your tent, now what?
Camping in Lake Biwa is a magnificent experience on its own. Still, you should use this opportunity to explore the beautiful nature around and on the lake. There are many hiking and biking trails, boat tours, and diving locations all around. With all those things to do, you’re guaranteed to find something to your liking. Here’s a list of the best activities you can easily get to from the campsites.
Visit the Shirahige Shrine
A 5-mile walk up north from Omimaiko beach campsite will lead you to Shirahige Shrine. This Shinto shrine is devoted to the god of longevity. The thing that separates it from the majority of other Japanese shrines is the fact that the torii gate that leads to the shrine rises from the water. There’s no doubt that you can get beautiful views at every time of the day. Still, we recommend visiting it after sunset, as that’s when the gate lights up.
The Shirahige shrine is one of the most famous attractions in Lake Biwa
Cycle along the Lake Biwa cycling route
This famous cycling route covers the biggest part of the Lake Biwa shoreline. It’s almost 200 kilometers long, and it’s easily accessible from the majority of campsites on the shore. That’s very lucky, as you can experience some of the best views of the lake from this trail. If you choose the right season for your visit, you can easily spend the whole day cycling without getting too hot or cold. Also, if you haven’t brought your own bike, don’t worry! There are plenty of bike rental places where you can easily rent a bike for the day.
Cycling by the lake is a great way to spend your day
Visit the three Lake Biwa islands
There are three lake islands in Lake Biwa that you can visit. Oki Island, also known as Cat Island, is the largest, and it’s only a 10-minute boat ride from the shore. It’s famous for its large cat population, which is how it got its name. If you want to see some unique Shinto shrines, such as the Tsukubusama Shrine, consider visiting Chikubu Island. Finally, the smallest of the three, Takei Island, is famous for its unique and untouched nature. Whichever you choose to visit, you’re guaranteed to have a wonderful experience.
Climb up the Hakodateyama mountain
If hiking’s your thing, don’t skip the Hakodateyama mountain top. You can easily reach it from the campsites in the northwestern region of the lake. If you visit during the summer, you’ll witness around two million local lilies in full bloom. Visiting during the fall will get you views of some amazing foliage, and if you choose the winter, you can make your trip a ski trip.
With so many wonderful campsites Japan has to offer, you may be wondering where to start. A place with rich biodiversity and many available activities is usually the best choice. That’s why the Lake Biwa camping trip would be perfect for both new and experienced campers. With its pleasant climate and plenty of campsites, it’s a great place to spend a few days exploring nature. If you decide on Lake Biwa, we hope you have an amazing time there!