We just returned from a week-long trip from Nagoya and Kanazawa. It was nice to get away and embrace some cool weather after so many months of hazy weather here. It was even nicer to return to haze-less blue skies in Singapore when we came back over the weekend.
We stayed a couple of nights in Nagoya, before moving on to Kanazawa (which we loved!). Before our return to Nagoya for the last leg of our trip, we took a detour to see Lake Biwa 琵琶湖 and one of the lake’s islands Chikubushima. We took the Limited Shirasagi train from Kanazawa, stopped at Maibara then took a local train to Hikone. From Hikone station, there was a free shuttle bus to the port, and at the ferry terminal, we bought tickets for the cruise to Chikubushima.
There are various cruises available departing from Hikone port. In the spring, there is even a hanami cruise – I reckon that would be very lovely! Lake Biwa is huge – it is after all the largest freshwater lake in Japan at 670.4 km² (Singapore is but a little larger at 718.3 km²) – and within its large expanse, sits several small islands. From Hikone port, you can take cruises to two of these islands: Chibukushima 竹生島 and Takeshima 多景島. We opted for the former island, because it allowed for a longer period of time (70 minutes) on the island. The Takeshima cruise, on the other hand, doesn’t allow for any time ashore for the morning cruise; the afternoon cruise at 3pm allows for a brief 30 minutes on the island, but with the sun setting rather early in autumn, we thought it would be a little too chilly.
We planned to be on the 11.15am Chikubushima cruise. We reached Hikone a little after 10 in the morning, and ran a little to catch the shuttle bus. The 10.10am bus doesn’t stop at the port area (see shuttle bus timetable here), but the port was just a short walk from the next stop and the next bus wasn’t for another hour. We ended up at the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare. The weather was fantastic that morning, and we were happy walking around taking pictures.
The ferry ride takes 40 minutes. The lake is massive, and it’s easy to forget that you aren’t exactly out at sea and that this body of water is still surrounded by land on all sides. We saw Takeshima in the distance, passed Mt. Ibuki (identification courtesy of Google Maps), and managed not to drop any of our phones in the lake. The wind was sharp and cold. After twenty minutes, we went down to sit in the lower deck.
When we disembarked, we were briefly surprised at the number of people milling around the port. But Chikubushima is a very small island with only a portion of it accessible, so I guess when you are done with visiting the temples and shrines, there isn’t really any place to be but come down to the port and wait for your ride back to wherever you came from.
We chose to have a quick lunch before sightseeing. There is all but one shop offering food, and we ordered a rather pricey curry rice to share. Despite the restaurant being the only one there, it only had four customers including us. Most people had packed food, and we probably should have done the same too.
After lunch, we started our foray into the island proper. We bought the island admission tickets, then started our ascent. This is a hilly little place, and we wound up pretty damn winded after our first flight of stairs. Sarah made a singsong lament about her knees. I was just busy catching my breath.
Chikubushima is one of Japan’s many power spots – places where you can go to recharge and power up your spiritual and mental energy. We made a wish at the Hogon-ji Temple. It was an interesting process. First, you write your wish on a strip of paper. You then roll it up and insert it into a daruma doll. Together with a fee, you hand it over to one of the temple workers who would seal the doll. Lastly, you place your sealed daruma doll on the altar. Your wish is supposed to have a validity period of one year. We shall see :)
You can also make a wish at the Tsukubushima Shrine with “kawarake-nage” – purchase a small clay dish, write your wish on it and (try to) toss it through the torii gate at the shrine (see pic above). We didn’t try this, but we spent a few minutes watching the tossing. It’s pretty hard! Hopefully the gods of the island would still recognise the effort, regardless of where the clay dishes ended up.
We left the island at 1pm, ahead of schedule. This time, we stayed on the upper deck for the entire journey but kept the hoods on our jackets up to mitigate the wind. Too much wind in head not a good thing.