Lake Biwa & Kyoto
Around Lake Biwa to Kyoto
Cycling to Kyoto via Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is a popular option among cyclists in Japan and with a cycle path running nearly all the way along the lake’s eastern coast it is an easy and fairly safe way to put some good kilometres in the legs.
When I first made the journey I cycled from Inuyama (just north of Nagoya), past Mt. Ibuki (伊吹山) in Sekigahara (関ヶ原) (an historic town famous for one of Japan’s most famous battles), around the northern shore of the lake, through Takashima (高島市) and over the mountains to the west, before the long descent from the north into Kyoto. I spent a weekend in Kyoto with a friend before cycling back along the eastern shore staying on the cycle path whenever possible.
From Nagoya the shortest route is around the lake’s southern shore through Kusatsu (草津市) on to Otsu (大津市) and then Kyoto. If you cross the bridge in Moriyama (守山市) you can ride on both shores on the same ride. To avoid the mountains in northern Mie it’s probably best make your way via Hikone (彦根). Hikone has a popular castle built in the Edo period and will more than likely be the place where you’ll reach the eastern coast of Lake Biwa to join the cycle path.
If you are coming from Takayama and the north you have the option of cycling down either coast. There are a couple of tunnels on the northern shore that you’ll have to pass through if you want to avoid cycling up and over Mt. Higashiyama, but if you don’t mind a bit of climbing then the ride along the R513 and R557 makes for a good option as you’ll take in small fishing villages and quaint fishing ports of the northern shore.
While most of the western shore is a pleasant quiet ride some parts are downright dangerous, especially along the R161 near the famous Shirahige Shrine (白髭神社), so it’s best to stick to the paths closest to the shore whenever possible.
Wind direction can be a serious issue along Lake Biwa. If you have a tailwind you’ll make your way around the lake in no time, but if it’s a headwind it can be quite miserable. If you are riding with a partner or friend then it’s probably best to rotate shifts riding at the front so that you all get a chance to get out of the wind and rest.
There are a number of campsites along the shore so finding a place to pitch a tent shouldn’t be an issue. If you are riding outside the camping season then as long as you pitch up late in the day and don’t mind roughing it then there should be ample places along the lake to sleep. Watch out for the wind though - It can be bitterly cold in winter and there is occasional snow too.
Distance - Approximately 100kms for each shore
Total elevation - depends on the route
Campsite - numerous along the shores
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