Japan Guides: Uminobe no Michi Hiking Trail, Northeastern Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture
Uminobe no Michi 湖の辺の道
Photos by Michael Lambe
Uminobe no Michi (湖の辺の道 'Lakeside Path') is a little-known historical path that stretches along a small mountain range north of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, central Japan.
Hiking Uminobe no Michi
While thick tree growth prevents uninterrupted inspection of glorious Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, there are a number of lookout spots on the trail.
At Shizugatake Peak, the views are almost 360 degrees. The best seasons to visit are spring and, in particular, autumn, when the leaves have turned a beautiful russet.
The initial climb and final descent are fairly steep, thus decent footwear is required; but the intervening ridgelines undulate fairly gently. Weather can be changeable on the peaks, but is not particularly cold except in winter.
Bring your own lunch and drinks; there is a pricey drinks machine on Shizugatake. Total walking time, including around Lake Yogo, is 4-5 hours. A mid-morning start from one of the stations will mean you'll be able to see the sunset from either the southern or northern peak and descend before twilight.
Getting to Uminobe no Michi
There are three main ways to tackle Uminobe no Michi. You can start from the south by taking a local JR train to Kawake 河毛 Station (80 minutes from Kyoto Station by shinkaisoku special rapid train; 1450 yen) and then switching to a local bus or taxi.
Note that the local buses, while cheap at around 200 yen, are currently in a state of flux, so a taxi at about 1600 yen may be your best bet.
A 20-minute ride brings you to Yamamotoyama-tozanguchi 山本山登山口 bus stop, the Mt Yamamoto trailhead. After climbing for about 30 minutes you'll reach the top of the small mountain (324m), and the trail proper begins.
The second approach is from the opposite, northern, end, which is the route outlined in detail here. Take a train to Yogo 余呉 Station on the JR line. A special rapid train from Kyoto Station takes 90 minutes and costs 1450 yen. One change is usually required at Maibara. Otherwise, make sure you are in the front carriages when you depart Kyoto. Exit Yogo Station and head west along the road, skirting the northern end of Lake Yogo.
You will soon reach the Visitors' Centre, which marks the start of the trail along the eastern side of the lake. It's possible to buy some lunch here. (There is another trail on the western side, but apparently the views are not as good.) Head south from here, passing beside orchard fields. The half-circle of the lake will take 30-45 minutes.
The Shizugatake trailhead is a little past the recently closed Yogoso minshuku. The steep though well-maintained 300-metre ascent will take the best part of an hour. The summit at 421m affords great views of Lake Biwa, Lake Yogo, and the hike ahead, which stretches south to Mt. Yamamoto. This is surely one of the most spectacular low-altitude views in Japan.
Shizugatake Peak is a famous Sengoku Period site, where thousands of soldiers died in a battle between the warlords Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Shibata Katsuie, whose forces retreated to Kita-no-sho Castle in Fukui, where Shibata committed seppuku and burnt down the castle. You can see statues memorialising the participants. Have your lunch here, and take time to enjoy the view before setting out on the trail.
You will pass another way to access the trail on your right: the Shizugatake Lift. This simple ropeway is actually the third, and least strenuous, way to experience Uminobe no Michi. The one-way fare is 400 yen. One can catch a bus from the bottom to and from Kinomoto 木ノ本 Station.
As most people simply come and go on the Lift, you may largely have the southern trail to yourselves. The trail is well maintained. You will see frequent tumuli (burial mounds) to the sides of the trail, as well as the occasional stone marker, remnants of the Uminobe no Michi's historical past.
Depending on your pace, you will reach the steep Mt Yamamoto ascent after about two hours. The summit, at 324m, is considerably lower than Shizugatake's, and the view is not quite as expansive, but the sunset over Lake Biwa is breathtaking if you time it right. You'll see the tiny island Chikubushima, which can itself be visited from Nagahama to the south.
There are two possible descents of about 30 minutes, but I recommend the one to the left that leads to Yamamotoyama-tozanguchi bus stop, as the other is slippery and the nearest bus stop proved hard to find. Even reaching the bus stop is no guarantee of a bus, so be prepared to call a taxi to take you to Kawake Station (Tel: 074 962 0106).
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Mt Yamamoto (southern end of Uminobe no Michi): JR train to Kawake Station, then a bus or taxi to Yamamotoyama-tozanguchi bus stop.
Lake Yogo (northern end of Uminobe no Michi): JR train to Yogo Station.
Shizugatake Lift: JR train to Kinomoto Station, then a bus to the car park at the base of the mountain.