Kōka is well known for its ninja history (Kōga ninja clan), unique ceramics and position on the Tokaido Road. The Kōga ninja clan were rivals of the nearby Iga ninjas. Unlike the Iga ninja, whose power was well-known, the Kōga clan are said to have used stealth and deception to mask their size and power, creating fake rivals for themselves. In 1581, the two clans joined forces against Oda Nobunaga, but were defeated by Nobunaga's overwhelming forces, and the surviving members of the Kōga ninja went into retreat.
The ceramics produced in Kōka, known as Shigaraki-yaki, have been prized across Japan for centuries. Today you will see many small pottery shops lining the streets near Shigaraki Station.
The Tokaido Road was for centuries the main route from Kyoto to Edo (present day Tokyo). The road passes through the heart of Kōka, and two famous rest stations, Tsuchiyama and Minakuchi, are located here.
In 2004 the towns of Minakuchi, Shigaraki, Tsuchiyama, Kōga and Kōnan merged to form Kōka City.
Kōka has five stations on the JR Kusatsu Line. The largest station, Kibukawa, is about a 45 minute ride from Kyoto.
From JR Osaka or Kyoto Station, get on any regular, rapid or special rapid train headed for Kusatsu, Yasu, Maibara, Nagahama or Tsuruga. Get off the train at Kusatsu. From Kyoto this takes about 15-20 minutes. Do not exit Kusatsu station, and transfer to any train bound for Kibukawa or Tsuge (Keep in mind that trains bound for Tsuge will stop at all stations in Koka City, while trains bound for Kibukawa will only stop at Kibukawa). The train from Kusatsu to Kibukawa takes about 25 minutes.
Free shuttle buses are available from JR Koka station to the Ninja Village, but prior booking is necessary.
Iga is the other ninja hot-spot in Japan, and isn't far away.