Ōtsu (大津市) is the prefectural capital located in the southwest of Shiga prefecture in the Kansai region, Japan. As of March 2021, Ōtsu had a population of approximately 344,000 people.
Cherry Blossoms at Miidera Temple.
With its northeast section facing Lake Biwa, the city is long and thin, curving like a bow. In ancient times about 1350 years ago during the Asuka Era, Emperor Tenji relocated the capital to Ōtsu (then known as Omi-Ōtsu), allowing the city to control important trade routes through the Kansai region. Its position as a bridge between the north of the country and the capital meant numerous wars were fought for control of the city. After the establishment of Heian-Kyō as the new capital (now Kyōto), Enryakuji Temple was constructed on Mount Hiei, and with the subsequent construction of the Mii-dera Temple, the head temple of the Tendai Jimon sect of Buddhism, the region can be said to be an important religious center in Japan. On top of this, the city prospered as a result of its position along the Tōkaidō trading route, and on the shores of Lake Biwa, where commercial shipping could flow through. Ōtsu is also home to the legendary Eight Views of Omi, but while numerous poems and paintings have been made in its honor, today one of the views 'the Breeze at Azusa' has been lost. At present, Ōtsu mainly functions as the administrative capital of Shiga Province, a gateway to the Kansai Region (Kyōto, Ōsaka, Kobe, Nara, Himeji) and as a residential district.
Ōtsu is very close to Kyōto, and during the busy sightseeing seasons can make an excellent alternative for accommodations that cost less and are not overrun by tourists.
Ōtsu does not have its own airport. The nearest airport is Osaka's Itami Airport (ITM), but Kansai International Airport (KIX) is an equally viable option. There are no shuttles or limousine buses from either airport to Ōtsu however, From Itami Airport you can take a limousine bus to Kyoto (¥1280) or Osaka (¥490) and then continue to Ōtsu by train. From either airport, you can travel from the airport to Ōtsu by train.
From Kyoto, take the JR Biwako Line from Kyōto Station to Ōtsu. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan Keishin Line to Biwako-Hamaotsu Station. From Kyōto Station, the JR line will be most convenient, but from eastern Kyoto on the subway Tozai Line, it's possible to take the subway to Yamashina Stn and then take either the JR train or the Keihan train, depending where you are going.
The Kyōto subway connects Ōtsu to eastern and central Kyoto. From Kyōto's Higashiyama area, Keihan Railway connects to the subway from Sanjo Station (the subway station is Sanjo Keihan-Mae).
There are night buses available from the Kansai region.
Keisei Buses (Kyōto Class) - 9 hours from Chiba Central Station, or 8 hours from Tokyo Disneyland, fares are ￥5500（Return ￥10,000). 6 hours 35 min from Keisei Ueno Station, fares are ￥5000（Return ￥9500).
Seibu Kankou Buses/Nishi Nihon JR Buses (Biwako Dream Class) - Buses go to Hamaotsu Station. 9 hours 40 min from Omiya Station, fares are ￥8250 (Return ￥14,850). 8 hours 50 min from Ikebukuro Station, fares are ￥7650 (Return ￥13,770).
Traveling around Ōtsu by train is quite convenient. The Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line connects each end of the city, so no matter where you are, there will likely be a station nearby.
- Enryakuji Temple (延暦寺), 4220 Sakamotohonmachi, ☎ 077-578-0001, . 9-4:30 (Jan-Feb), 8:30-4:30 (Mar-Nov), 9-4 (Dec); (except the Saito and Yokawa areas opening 30 minutes later and closing 30 minutes earlier). This is the head temple of Tendai Buddhism, established in 788, and a World Heritage Site located atop Mount Hiei. There are 3 sections — the eastern area (Tōdo), the western area (Saito), and the Yokawa area. Most of the main sights are in the eastern area, and there is a 4 km walk to get to the Yokawa area. The area is reached from Otsu by the 11-minute Sakamoto Cable Car (2x/hr, 8AM-5:30PM Mar-Nov, 8:30AM-5PM Dec-Feb, ¥870 o/w, ¥1660 r/t), or a 3km mountain hike. NB: There are renovations currently underway on the temple's main hall, until 2026 - while you can still go inside, the outside is being redone and scaffolding spoils the view. ¥1000 whole complex or ¥500 for Kokuhoden Museum. edit
- Kyū-Chikurin-in (旧竹林院), 5-2-13 Sakamoto (10), ☎ 077-578-0955, . 9-5 Closed Mon; if national holiday, the next day. One of the region's most beautiful traditional gardens is here, 3300 sq. meters and with tea houses and a delightful atmosphere. ¥330. edit
- Shigain Monzeki Temple (滋賀院門跡), 4-6-1 Sakamoto, ☎ 077-578-0130, . 9-4:30. A beautiful temple where monks reside, with a wide elegant garden and beautiful cherry blossoms as well as autumn colors - and free from the Kyoto tourist mobs. ¥450. edit
- Hiyoshi Taisha (日吉大社), 5-1-1 Sakamoto, ☎ 077-578-0009, . 9-4:30. One of the most important shrines in Japan, with a history going back over 1200 hundred years and mentioned in one of Japan's earliest chronicles — the Kojiki, and both its West and East Halls are designated as national treasures. edit
- Saikyoji (西教寺), 5-13-1 Sakamoto (25 min walk north of Sakamoto Hiezanguchi Stn), ☎ 077-578-0013 (fax: 077-578-3418), . 9-4:30. Head temple of the Tendai Shinsei sect. Highlights include some impressive wooden architecture, nice pond garden, and beautiful autumn colors in late November. edit
- Ishiyama-dera (石山寺), (Go to the Keihan Ishiyama-dera Stn, walk south about 15 min), ☎ 077-537-0013, . 8-4:30. This temple was founded in 749 and the hondo (main hall) is the oldest building in Shiga Prefecture built 850 years ago. Inside the hondo, in the room on the right, is the "Genji Room" where it is believed Murasaki Shikibu wrote her famous book "Tale of Genji", considered to be one of the world's first novels. The temple precincts are quite large, with a 750 year old pagoda and Muyuen Garden among other things. The pathway leading to the temple is lined with cherry trees, making it especially beautiful in the spring. For those traveling on the Saigoku 33 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage, Ishiyama-dera is number 13. ¥500. edit
- Miidera Temple (Onjōji Temple) (三井寺 (園城寺)), 246 Onjojicho, ☎ 077-522-2238, . 8-5. Head temple of the Tendaijimon Buddhist sect, and famous for its garden, 1200+ year old bell, pagoda, cherry blossoms, and dragon carving. ¥600. edit
- Omi Shrine, 1-1 Jingūchō, Ōtsu, ☎ 077-522-3725, . Featured in the manga series "Chihayafuru" as the home of national competitive karuta tournaments, Omi Shrine was constructed in 1940 and is dedicated to Emperor Tenji. A small clock museum is also located on the shrine grounds. (35.032111,135.852460) edit
- Takebe Taisha Shrine (近江國一之宮 建部大社), 1-16-1 Jinryo (950m east of Karahashi-Mae Stn), ☎ 077-545-0038, . 9-4 (Treasure Hall). This is the former Omi Province's head Shinto shrine with a history going back to Japan's Heian Period (794-1185). Easily reached from Karahashi-Mae Stn., on the east side of the Seta River. It was featured on Japan's first ¥1000 bill in 1945, and also has a long promenade and nice pond garden. Free (Treasure Hall ¥200). edit
- Gichuji Temple (義仲寺), 1-5-12 Banba, ☎ 077-523-2811. The burial place of famed haiku poet Matsuo Basho, of Narrow Road to the Deep North fame. The temple is 300m away from JR Zeze Station (膳所駅), one stop from Ōtsu on the JR Tokaido Line. ¥200. edit
- Otsu City Science Museum (大津市科学館), 6-50 Honmarucho, ☎ 077-522-1907, . 9-4:30 Closed Mon & 3rd Sun of the month, year's end. A small but interesting place especially if you have small kids in tow. Focuses on local Biwa biology, planterarium, optics, and earth sciences. ¥100 (planetarium ¥400. edit
- Kuzukawa Forest Camping Village (葛川森林キャンプ村), 237-37 Katsuragawabo-mura, Ōtsu, ☎ 077-599-2222, . Offers hiking, outdoor activities and camping in the mountains just west of Lake Biwa. Open from mid-April to mid-October. edit
- O'pal (オーパル), 5-265-1 Ogoto, Ōtsu (Near Ogoto Onsen area), ☎ 077-579-7111 (fax: 077-579-8135), . Provides various activities like rental bicycles, and watersports such as canoeing, water balling, kayakking, stand up paddling, and water bicycling. edit
- Michigan Cruise (ミシガンクルーズ), 5-1-1 Hamaotsu, ☎ 077-524-5000, . Operates 60-120 minute day and evening cruises on Lake Biwa, on an American paddle riverboat. Meals available onboard. Prices vary. edit
- BSC Watersports Centre (BSCウォータースポーツセンター), 4-1 Minamifunaji, Ōtsu (600m south of Hogai Stn), ☎ 077-592-0127 ([email protected], fax: 077-592-1531), . 9-6. Offers summer lake activities like kayakking, and stand up paddling, with classes for beginners. Reservations accepted on day of visit or 1 day prior. edit
- Friendship Adventure, 6-1215-5 Nango, Ōtsu City, ☎ 077-533-5112, . 9-8. Ōtsu might not be the first place to think of white water rafting, but you can do that here too, plus other river activities like water tubing and water bugging. ¥5600. edit
- Biwako Valley (びわ湖バレイ), Kido, Otsu (West of JR Shiga Stn), ☎ 077-592-1155, . 9:30-5. Biwako Valley in the mountains on Lake Biwa's west side offers skiing in the winter, plus in warmer months hiking in the area and magnificent views from the top (782m) at the Uchimiyama Observation Deck. Ropeway ¥1700 o/w, ¥3000 r/t. edit
- Shizukarou (しづか楼), 2-17-13 Honkatata, Ōtsu, ☎ 077-572-1111, . 11-7. A place for traditional local foods using ingredients from the region, including eel, duck, gudgeon and sweetfish. edit
- Kanekichi (かね吉), 1-10-18 Banba, ☎ 077-522-3744 (fax: 077-522-9344), . 11:30-10. Local Omi beef specialist going back to 1955. edit
- Matsukiya (松喜屋), 14-17 Karahashicho, ☎ 077-534-1211 (fax: 077-537-6201), . 11:30-3, 5-10. Another restaurant specializing in Omi beef. edit
- Hiyoshi Sansō (日吉山荘), 4244 Sakamotohonmachi, Otsu, ☎ 077-578-0065. 12PM–6PM. Within the Hiyoshi Taisha shrine is a traditional teahouse in an extremely scenic little river gorge, particularly popular in fall. Food prices are quite steep (¥800 for soba), but you can also bring your food for a ¥300 charge per person. edit
There is one local sake brewer in the city, Naminooto Sake Brewery, going back 200 years.
- Toyoko Inn Ōtsu Biwako Kyoto (東横INN京都琵琶湖大津), 2-1-28 Nagara, ☎ 077-510-1045. checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Japan's largest business hotel chain has one here as well, about 10 minutes on foot NNW of the JR Otsu Station. ¥5800~. edit
- Super Hotel Ōtsu Ekimae (スーパーホテル大津駅前), 3-2-7 Kyomachi, Ōtsu (3 min walk from JR Ōtsu Stn), ☎ 077-522-9000, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Business hotel with your choice of pillows and free breakfast. ¥5000~. edit
- Hotel Tetora Otsu (ホテルテトラ大津・京都), 1-1-1 Osaka, Otsu, ☎ 077-527-6711, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Basic no frills hotel very conveniently located. Next to JR Otsu Stn, south exit. ¥4600~. edit
- Inase Otsu Machiya (大津町家 粋世), 3-3-33 Nagara, ☎ 077-510-0005, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Nicely decorated traditional Japanese inn close to Miidera. ¥12,400~. edit
- Ogoto Hot Spring (おごと温泉), ☎ 077-578-3750, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Clearinghouse for 9 different onsen establishments offering alkaline hot springs going back 1200 years near Mt. Hiei, and with overnight accommodations. edit
- Biwako Hotel (琵琶湖ホテル), 2-40 Hamamachi, ☎ 077-524-1531, . checkin: 15; checkout: 10. Lakeside upscale hotel with sauna and hot spring. ¥16,000~. edit
While it's not a particularly unsafe place, as the shops tend to close early, streets get dark very fast, so it may be wise to be cautious at night.
For the latest info on events, happenings, and things to do, have a look at the Biwako Ōtsu Tourism Association.
- Kyoto - Japan's ancient capital for over 1000 years, with over 2000 temples, shrines and geisha.
- Osaka - Biggest city in Kansai and famous for its nightlife, unique culture and food.
- Nara - An even more ancient capital (than Kyoto), centered around its beautiful park and with some of Japan's best temples.
- Hikone - Offers one of Japan's surviving original castles and garden, off the beaten track in Shiga.
- Himeji - City in Hyogo famous for Japan's most beautiful castle Himejijo, stunning Kokoen Garden, and mountaintop Engyoji Temple.
- Ise - Home to the eponymous Ise Shrine, the most important in Japan.
- Kobe - Maritime city known for its beef, sake, cosmopolitan atmosphere, and Japan's oldest Chinatown.
- Mount Koya - One of Japan's most surreal places, with its Okunoin necropolis of over 200,000 residents and overnight temple stays.
- Yoshino - A UNESCO World Heritage site and the Mecca of Japanese cherry blossoms every year.
- Omihachiman - Hometown of old merchant culture, rural boating, and western buildings by Vories.
- Maibara - A major train junction city and close to several feudal battleground sites.