Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県)

Shiga, in the Kinki region, is an inland prefecture that encompasses Lake Biwa (Biwako). The capital of the prefecture is located in Otsu City.


Shiga Prefecture corresponds with Omi Province under the system of 'ryoseikoku' (province). The name, 'Shiga,' was adopted from the name of the county (Shiga County), to which Otsu belonged. The stress is placed on the first syllable in standard Japanese while it is placed on the second syllable in the local dialect ('Omi ben').

The area of Shiga Prefecture is the tenth smallest in Japan, and the third, following Nara and Saitama Prefectures, of the inland prefectures. More than half of the small area is occupied by mountains and Lake Biwa, so the inhabitable land area of Shiga measured in 2001 was smaller than that of Osaka.

As it can be guessed from the facts that 'Omi' derived from 'Chikatsu awaumi (a fresh-water lake near the capital)' and Shiga is called a 'Lake Country,' Lake Biwa, which is located in the center of the prefecture, is a symbol of Shiga. The lake is important as sources for industrial water and drinking water for 14 million people living in neighboringprefectures and as tourism resources. Shiga, in which Lake Biwa is located, is the only inland prefecture that has fishing ports, the number of which is greater than that of other five prefectures that face sea. When Japan Sea was the center of commerce at sea before the Meiji period, goods landed from Wakasa Bay were carried to Kyoto via Lake Biwa, and then to Osaka via the Yodo-gawa River, which meant that there were a lot of important inland water ports in Shiga. Since Shiga was also a meeting point of Tokai-do Road, Tosan-do Road (Nakasen-do Road) and Hokuriku-do Road, it was a strategic stop for land transport. Therefore, merchants from Omi, who were called 'Omi shonin' (Omi merchants) played active roles in various parts of Japan.

After the Meiji period, the development of steamer lines and railroads decreased the demand for transhipment goods drastically, which made Shiga a prefecture through which goods only passed for a long time. After the second World War, because of the maintenance of expressways and the rise of cargo truck transportation, the traffic convenience in Shiga attracted attention again, a lot of transportation bases for the Kinki region and factories were established. Since 1989 (the beginning of the Heisei period), Shiga has attracted attention as a bedtown for Osaka urban zone, and owing to the feature of Kyoto urban area as in the past and the expand of the Urban Network of West Japan Railway Company (JR West) has increased its population, which is quite rare in rural areas. However, only the southern part, which is close to 'Keihanshin' (Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe) has developed and the economic gap between the southern and northern parts, which had been problematic, has widened.


Shiga Prefecture is surrounded with mountainous lands and the center of it is occupied with Lake Biwa. Although some think a large portion of Shiga Prefecture is occupied by Lake Biwa, it is forests that occupy the largest area (approximately half of the total area of the prefecture), and the area of Lake Biwa is approximately one-sixth of the prefecture's total area.


Mountainous lands: Hira mountain range, Nosaka mountain range, Ibuki mountain range, Suzuka mountain range

Mountains: Mt. Ibuki, Mt.Hiei, Mt.Hira, Mt. Mikami (Omi-Fuji)

Basin: Omi Basin

Hills: Minakuchi Hills, Aebano tableland

Lakes: Lake Biwa, Lake Yogo, Nishi no ko Lake

Rivers: Ado-gawa River, Ane-gawa River, Inukami-gawa River, Echi-gawa River, Hino-gawa River, Yasu-gawa River, Yodo-gawa River


The entire area of the prefecture has inland climate, and nothern area and southern area also have climate of Japan Sea area and Seto Inland Sea climate, respectively. A snowy area spreads over the northern area and mountain areas, and 'Yogo-cho' located at the farthest north of the prefecture is counted as the only special snowy area in the Kinki region. The snow accumulation of 6m55cm was recorded in Nakakawachi, Yogo-cho, in 1981.

Natural Parks

Quasi-national parks

Lake Biwa Quasi-National Park

Suzuka Quasi-National Park

Prefectural natural parks

Mikami, Tagami, Shigaraki Prefectural Natural Park(s)

Kutsuki, Katsuragawa Prefectural Natural Park(s)

Koto Prefectural Natural Park


The development of Shiga Prefecture started a long time ago. Shiga has been greatly related with Japanese history by developing as a supply source or a stopping point of materials and/or workforce to Nara, Kyoto and Osaka and as a strategic stop connecting the capital and eastern and northern areas.

From Ancient Times to Medieval Times

When there were a lot of 'Kuni no miyatsuko' (Local ruling families in ancient Japan), Shiga was in the territory of 'Yamato sovereignty' (the ancient Japan sovereignty). Omi no Miya Palace' was established in the Asuka period and 'Shigaraki no Miya Palace' and 'Hora no Miya Palace' were established in the Nara period.
Shiga became the stage for wars several times, including 'Jinshin War' and 'FUJIWARA no Nakamaro's War.'

The Sasaki clan became influential in Omi in the middle of the Heian period. When MINAMOTO no Yoritomo raised his army in the Kanto region, the Omi Sasaki clan took part in it positively and gained Omi shugoshiki (provincial constables of Omi Province). Afterwards the Sasaki clan, dividing into the Rokkaku clan and the Kyogoku clan, governed Omi Province until the Sengoku period (period of warring states). Doyo (Takauji) SASAKI from the Kyogoku clan, famous as 'Basara Daimyo' (a foppery feudal lord) made the Kyogoku clan more influential in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts.

When Rennyo in Hongan-ji Temple started large propagation, the Ikko sect became influention around Otsu. Mt. Hiei's priests did not like that tendency and often attacked the Ikko believers in Otsu. Since Sakamoto (Otsu City), which is located at the eastern foot of Mt. Hiei, was against Katada, where the Ikko sect was influential, in economic and religious ways, the two often had conflicts. Afterwards Rennyo made Otsu a base of the Ikko sect, which led to the prosperity of Otsu.

The Sengoku Period

The Asai clan gained power in Kitaomi (the nothern part of Omi) in the Sengoku period. The Asai clan, who served the Kyogoku clan as a matter of form, fought against the Rokkaku clan, who owned Minamiomi (the southern part of Omi). Although when Nagamasa ASAI had once a military agreement with Nobunaga ODA and drove out the Rokkaku clan, later Nagamasa, joining the Shogun's alliance against Nobunaga, fought against Nobunaga and was defeated in 1573.

Nobunaga, who now controlled Omi Province, established Azuchi-jo Castle in Omi Basin as his base ground. After Nobunaga's death, Omi became the debatable ground between Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Katstuie SHIBATA, whose foundations were laid in 'Kinai' and 'Fukui Domain of Echigo Province,' respectively, and the conflict was settled when Hideyoshi's army won at the Battle of Shizugatake. Partly because Hideyoshi's first territory was Nagahama City, he promoted a lot of people from Omi as the clerical staff. Mitsunari ISHIDA was one of them. The promostion is said to have caused a conflict between the Omi faction and the faction of Owari, Hideyoshi's birth place, which later led to the Battle of Sekigahara.

In Koka County, Omi Province, Koga ninja played important roles over the Sengoku period and the early in the Edo period.

Recent Times

Ieyasu TOKUGAWA had the Ii clan, who led Tokugawa's elite force, enter Hikone-jo Castle so that the Ii clan would control Saigoku (western part of Japan), and Kitaomi belonged to the Hikone Domain. In the Edo period, Shiga had Zeze, Minakuchi, Omizo, Nishioji, Omi-Miyagawa, Yamagami, and Mikami Domains and Omori Jinya (regional government office) of the Mogami family given the title of Kotaiyoriai (high-ranking liege vassals) and Kutsuki Jinya of the Kutsuki family given the title of Kotaiyoriai. In the early Edo period, in Omi Province there were four places where Shogun stayed when he went to Kyoto: Nagahara Goten (palace), Iba Goten, and Kashiwabara Goten in addition to Minaguchi-jo Castle. However, starting with Iemitsu TOKUGAWA, the third Shogun, the Shoguns seldom went to Kyoto, and the palaces became old and ruined.

In the Edo period, trade and manufacture, which started in the Kamakura period, markedly developed and such counties as Inukami, Echi, Kanzaki, Gamo, and Takashima, especially Hachiman (Omihachiman City), Hino-cho (Shiga Prefecture) and Gokasho-cho produced a lot of Omi merchants.

Modern Times (after the Meiji period)

After the Haihan-chiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) on August 21, 1876, Tsuruga Prefecture was devided and Reinan was incorporated into Shiga Prefecture, so at that time Shiga Prefecture faced to Wakasa Bay. However, four and half years later, on February 7, 1881, Fukui Prefecture was established and Reinan was separated from Shiga and incorporated into Fukui, which resulted in making Shiga the present inland prefecture.

Geographical Features

Since Shiga Prefecture has vast Lake Biwa in the middle of it, the features vary according to different areas surrounding the lake.

The Western Part and the Eastern Part of the Prefecture

The western part (Otsu and Takashima Cities) is a key area which connects 'Kinai' and Wakasa Bay/Hokuriku region in the shortest way and Nishiomiji Road and Saba-kaido Road (the highway used to transport fish such as 'saba' [mackerel] to Japan's ancient capital, Kyoto) went through the part in the Edo period. Route 161, Route 367 and Kosei Line, which have adhered to the roads mentioned above, go through the area. There are few plains and Hira mountain range comes very close to Lake Biwa. On the other hand, the eastern part (Kusatsu, Hikone, Maibara, Nagahama Cities) is a key area which connects 'Kinai' and eatstern and nothern regions of Japan; in the days of the ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the ritsuryo code) Tosando ran there and in the Edo period, Tokaido, Nakasendo, and Hokkoku Kaido Road went through the area. Roads and railways that have adhered to the roads mentioned above go through the area: Meishin Expressway, Shin Meishin Expressway, Hokuriku Expressway, Route 1, Route 8, and Route 21, and Tokaido Shinkansen, JR Tokaido Main Line, JR Kusatsu Line, and Hokuriku Main Line. There is a large plain in this area, which has been developed since ancient times.

The Southern Part and the Northern Part of the Prefecture

The southern part (including Otsu, Kusatsu, and Koga Cities), which is close to Kyoto and Osaka, has been culturally influenced by Kyoto and Osaka, and since a lot of people commute to Kyoto and Osaka from this part, they are called 'Shiga Fumin' (those living in Shiga but spend most of their time in Kyoto or Osaka). Especially Otsu is close to Kyoto; it is approximately 10 km from the center of Kyoto City to Otsu City, and it takes only nine minutes from JR Kyoto station to JR Otsu station even by train that stops at every station. On the other hand, the northern part (including Hikone, Maibara and Nagahama Cities), which is distant from Kyoto or Osaka, has a lot in common culturally not only with Kyoto and Osaka but also with the Hokuriku region.
The southern part is more advanced than the northern part in housing-land development, and some say there is 'a gap between North and South.'
There has been an inter-city between Otsu and Hikone, and there were two bidding conflicts over Prefectural Government Office in 1891 and in 1936.

Cultural Properties

The World Cultural Heritage

{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}

National treasures

Onjo-ji Temple

Kondo Hall (Golden Hall), Shinra Zenjin-do Hall

Enryaku-ji Temple

Konponchu-do Hall


Kyakuden (guest hall)

Kongorin-ji Temple

Hondo (main temple)

Mikami-jinja Shrine

Honden (main shrine building)


Kyakuden (reception hall)

Joraku-ji Temple (Konan City)

Three-story pagoda, Hondo

Saimei-ji Temple (Kora-cho)

Three-story pagoda, Hondo

Ishiyama-dera Temple

Tahoto pagoda (a "multi-treasure" pagoda), Hondo

Zensui-ji Temple


Osasahara-jinja Shrine


Choju-ji Temple(Konan City)


Tsukubusuma-jinja Shrine (Chikubushima-jinja Shrine)


Hiyoshi-taisha Shrine

Nishihongu Honden and Haiden (a hall of the offering and the worship), Higashihongu Honden and Haiden

Hikone-jo Castle

Castle Tower, 'Tsuke-yagura' (Connecting Tower), and Tamonyagura (hall turrets)

Namura-jinja Shrine

Nishi-honden (Western main shrine building)

Hogon-ji Temple

Kannon-do Hall (a temple dedicated to Kannon)

Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings

Sakamoto (Otsu City)

Hachiman Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings in Omihachiman City (Omihachiman City)

Gokashocho-kondo (Higashiomi City)

Tangible cultural properties

Hikone Folding Screen (Hikone City)

Dogan-ji Temple (Kogen-ji Temple) Wooden Juichimen Kannon Bosatsu (Eleven-faced Kannon Bosatsu) (Takatsuki-cho)

sightseeing areas

Lake Biwa has various beauty spots including Kaizu-osaki, and especially Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) have been famous as representatives of the most beautiful spots in Japan since recent times. Nowadays, you can enjoy various types of recreation in Lake Biwa, including fishing and cruising.

In addition to visitors to Lake Biwa, not only mountain climbers and skiiers come to Shiga from Keihanshin and Chukyo areas but also quite a lot of people are attracted to 'Satoyama' (farming landscape near the hills and mountains in Japan), rural sites and Harie District from the viewpoints of agritourism and ecotourism.

Partly because Shiga is close to Nara and Kyoto, and partly because Shiga was saved from war damages of the World War II and the after-war overdevelopment, the prefecture is rich in historical sightseeing resources, including temples, shrines, castles and traditional landscapes.

[Original Japanese]