Deep in the Heart of Japan:
Hikone By Bike
Ii Family Historical Shrine and Temple Guided Cycling Tour review
In early April, I enjoyed a guided cycling tour with Jon in Hikone. Both of us had arrived from Hawai’i just a few days prior, but we were fresh and ready to explore when we met up at Strada Bicycles a little before 9AM.
A five-minute walk from Hikone station and about 30 minutes from Kyoto by local train, our meeting point at the bike shop was convenient and easy to find. We were introduced to our guides, Hisashi and Matsu, who also helped us set up our rental bikes. We both opted for road bikes but Strada also have cross bikes and mountain bikes that beginners and the less-experienced may find easier to ride.
tucked away from the hustle of Kyoto and the tourists, Hikone is a picturesque town known for its significance in Japanese history and the beautiful Hikone castle
Before our ride, Hisashi and Matsu gave us a short briefing about Japanese traffic rules and cycling safety. They also introduced us to some of HIkone’s history and the spots we would visit. It didn’t take long before we strapped on our helmets and began gliding through the local streets to begin our journey through Hikone.
Our first stop was at the Sawayama Castle Ruins. As the name might suggest, the Sawayama Castle is not that exciting because most of the castle was removed about 400 years ago to aid in the construction of Hikone Castle. Using a mini model of the Sawayama Castle, Hisashi explained all of this, which was useful since everything was written in Japanese.
After a quick stop by Ryotanji Temple, we continued to pedal from concrete roads through bamboo forest before stopping in front of a simple building. We got off our bikes and sat down in the meditative zazen style as our guide explained that the building was called kyozo, which in Japanese Buddhist architecture is a repository for sutras and chronicles of the temple’s history.
Having fully enjoyed the sights and scents of Edo era (1603-1868) history, we then began cycling southboung through more of Hikone town.
The scenery began to change as we made our way besides the Seri River towards Taga town. Here, you can see beautiful water and native birds hanging out in the river. Among the winged creatures, the most common are shirosagi and aosagi (herons) looking for small fish called ayu.
As we pedaled along, we rode past a sake brewery and several rice paddy farms. I have no doubt the rice paddies make great rices…which makes tasty sake…I wish we had swung by the sake brewery!
Before boarding the cycle train, we had to do something about our hunger so we stopped by at an old but famous soba restaurant. They served an awesome handmade soba – Jon especially loved the tempura soba which comes with a big shrimp tempura. So oishi!
All Aboard: A Ride for My Ride!
I am not sure what I was expecting with the cycle train but what happened next was impactful. We rode on a very local train operated by Omi-Tetsudo. It runs once an hour and the most amazing part is that you can bring your bike aboard the train for free between 9AM and 4PM on weekdays. No rinko bag or cover is necessary!
Most of the train stations are mujin-eki, meaning there is no station master. You simply ride up to the station on your bike, pick up a ticket, and pay the train fare at your destination. We only rode for 15 minutes but I loved the vintage vibes and local feel of the Omi-Tetsudo train.
After getting off the train, we rode through a part of town called Hikone Ginza, which is a main shopping street before coming back to the shop. On the return route, I noticed that no matter where we were, you could see the symbol of Hikone – Hikone Castle – from anywhere in town. We made sure to visit Hikone Castle the next days as bicycles are not permitted inside the castle.
I was very grateful for our guides who provided appropriate historical and cultural context throughout the cycling tour. I was also very pleased with the Cannondale carbon frame bicycle that I rented from Strada Bicycles.
The Ii Family Historical Shrine and Temple Guided Cycling Tour was a fantastic experience and the course made for an excellent bicycle ride. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider, the day is spent cruising along with no sense of rush. It’s hard to believe that I could learn so much about a quieter side to Japan just 30 minutes from Kyoto.
I look forward to further exploring Japan and discovering new shades of Japan from locals. I want to go again!
Sights and Schedule
9:00 AM | Start at Strada Bicycles Hikone
9:30 AM | Umoregi-no-ya
9:45 AM | Kitano Shrine
10:30 AM | Castle Road and Yon-bancho Square
・Hanashobu Street (Street of Irises)
1:00PM | Taga Taisha Shrine
3:25 PM | Board train from Taga Taisha-mae station to Hikone-Serikawa station
4:00 PM | End at Strada Bicycles Hikone