International Studies & Programs

The Islands of Lake Biwa

Biwako's three islands

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Published: Tuesday, 11 Feb 2020 Author: Michaela Smith

a small island covered in trees and templesChikubu Island (chikubu-shima) is the most well-known of Lake Biwa's three islands. It is the 30th location on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, a pilgrimage of 33 temples throughout the Kansai region, and is a nationally recognized Historical Site and Place of Scenic Beauty. Chikubushima is the home of the 1600 year old Chikubushima Shrine (also called tsukubusuma-jinja) as well as the 1300 year old Hōgon-ji, which are both regarded as a National Treasures of Japan.

A tradition on Chikubushima is to throw ceramic disks (kawarake) through a particular torii gate on the edge of the island. One writes a wish on the disk, and if the disk goes through the torii it is said that the wish will come true. In November, Nagahama holds a kawarake-nage (disk throwing) competition, where you could win free accommodations in Nagahama and a sightseeing cruise!

Getting to Chikubushima: Take the train to Nagahama Station. From there, walk to the Nagahama port (about 10 minute walk). Take a boat at the port to Chikubushima! The 30 minute round trip cruise to the island costs ¥3,070 for adults.

Check out the Chikubushima Cruise website (in Japanese) for more info, or check out the English version of the cruise webpage.


a birds' eye view of buildings and trees on a port on a small islandOki Island (oki-shima) is the largest of Lake Biwa's island, and is the only island in a freshwater lake in Japan with people living on it - about 300 people! Okishima is a registered Japan Heritage site, and, because it is the only place in Japan with a freshwater fishing industry, the island is a Cultural Heritage site as well. Okishima is also full of cats, so you don't have to travel far to visit a cat island!

Getting to Okishima: Take the train to Omihachiman Station. From there, take the 30 minute bus ride bound for Kyukamura via Chomeiji, and get off at the Horikiri Port. Take a ferry from Horikiri Port to Okishima! A one-way ticket to Okishima is ¥500 and takes about 10 minutes.

Check out the Okishima website (in Japanese) for more info!


a small rocky island with trees and a templeTake Island (take-shima) is the smallest island in Biwako. There is a small temple named Ryomuzankento-ji on the island, but there isn't not much else because of its size. It is still a beautiful place to visit! If you are a collector of shuin, seals that one can get at temples and shrines, you need to contact a branch temple before visiting because there is no chief monk at Ryomuzankento-ji.

Getting to Takeshima: Take a ferry from Omi Marine Hikone Port (about a 20 minute walk from JCMU's Hikone campus) to the island. Because it is small, the ferry only lands at a few specific times, so be sure to check the schedule before planning on visiting Takeshima. An adult ticket for the ferry is ¥1,500.

Check out the Takeshima Omi Marine webpage (in Japanese) for information on how to contact a branch temple to receive a shuin and info on getting to the island.


Can't decide which island you want to visit first? Good news! There's a cruise that goes to every island in Lake Biwa, even the "fourth" island, Oki no Shiraishi, which is a couple of big beautiful rocks jutting out of the lake! You can board the ship at either Nagahama Port or Otsu Port (about a 20 minute walk from Otsu Station). The cruise from the Nagahama Port is ¥8,800 and takes about 6 and a half hours, and the cruise from the Otsu Port is ¥9,500 and takes about 10 hours. The prices cover ship fare, entrance to the islands, and food. These cruises are a full day of fun and you only need to bring money for souvenirs! Check out the Gurutto Cruise website (in Japanese) or the English version of the island cruise tour.