Last week we were able to hop from South Korea over to Kyoto, Japan while Koreans celebrated the busy holiday of Chuseok – similar to American Thanksgiving. While poking around online for some accomodations in Kyoto, we stumbled upon this place on Airbnb. It was advertised as an eco-friendly, lakeside house right on the beautiful Lake Biwa. After seeing the pictures and location, we were sold. Being the nature-lovers that we are, our plan would be to see Kyoto with our friends for two days, and spend the other two days biking, canoeing, swimming, and of course, HIKING near Lake Biwa.
Having four nights at Lake Biwa was fantastic – there were mountains not too far at all from the lake, making a perfect combo for our canoeing/swimming and biking/hiking desires. The picture above was taken from a little restaurant we ate lunch at, a short walk from our guesthouse. So, where the heck is Lake Biwa? Glad you asked. From Kyoto Station, take the JR Kosei Line 40 minutes to Hira Station. Both the mountains and the lake are very close to this Hira Station.
We borrowed two bikes from our very gracious, welcoming and helpful hosts and we received verbal instructions on where some good hiking trails were. Basically, the idea was to ride up the road towards the mountains until the road runs out, and we’ll see the hiking trail. Seems easy enough! So we pedaled up the relatively steep road, away from Lake Biwa and towards the hovering mountain range.
In our backback we had some drinks, fruit, and the somewhat-famous Japanese-stype Bentobox lunch of sushi. We were ready to tackle some mountains. Unlike the norm, I didn’t have a map with me of the hiking trails, and my cellphone was on airplane mode to avoid those expensive international roaming chargers. But, sure enough, just as our amazing hosts promised, we found the trails easy enough (a no-brainer, really). We pretend-locked our bikes around a tree and began our quest up the trail, the beginning of it looking much like this:
The trail followed a stream for a long time in the beginning. There were frequent man-made dams like this one below. I must admit, hiking while hearing background noise of rushing water and chirping birds was pretty surreal. Better yet, we were blessed with some super-clean air to breathe and an extremely blue sky. The stars were all aligning to have a great day in the woods.
Signage on this particular trail was few and far between. However, rarely where there any questionable spots where we weren’t sure where to go. What caught me by surprise a bit was my inability to read the Japanese script. I’ve grown accustomed to reading Korean fairly easily now, and this definitely helps while navigating trails (and everyday life here in Korea). But, while hiking in Japan, I quickly realized I couldn’t read a thing (duh!)… making me feel a bit silly as I tried to memorize the symbols. I made some pretty funny associations. Anyways, the few signs there were looked like this:
We continued along the trail, heading up, up, up. I loved the gentle breeze and constant shade from the dense forest we were walking through.
Eventually, after roughly two hours, we made our way up the eventual last valley and came to a slight clearing. Looking back towards the lake, Lake Biwa showed herself to us for the first time.
BUT, we weren’t at the top quite yet. We hurriedly walked along, anxious to see the summit and look out over the lake.
Alas, we made it to the top. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a view because lots of trees covered up what would have been an amazing view. I was ok with that though! We found a trail that followed the ridge, so we walked along that for a few minutes and we stumbled upon a nice little clearing where we sat down and observed the result of our efforts and also took some pictures.
Domandake Mountain stands at 888 meters – so we were up there! Looking down we could see some houses, little fields and farmland, and even the train tracks running parallel to Lake Biwa.
While sitting in admiration of the lovely little haven we discovered atop Domandake Mountain, we both realized it was getting well into the afternoon – about 2:30pm to be exact. We definitely weren’t on a time schedule, but suddenly we both had urges to tele-port down and be at the beach. ASAP. It was pretty warm out, and the sun was receeding down towards the horizon. Our beach time was running out. The moderate grade back down the same trail we went up allowed our feet to keep a swift pace. We re-located our bikes, still leaning up against the same tree, and enjoyed the long and drawn-out downhill back towards the pristine waters of Lake Biwa. Within minutes we were in the water, cooling off and enjoying the remainder of our final afternoon in the Kyoto area.
Located on the beach was this Hawaii-themed restaurant and cafe called R-Cafe. Our lakehouse was located just to the left of this picture, right along the road and beach. A very quiet and perfectly beautiful setting, especially with those mountains dominating the backdrop.
I can honestly say I have learned many, many things from traveling. Too numerous to count or list here. Something I will continue to strive for is that no matter where we go, what we do, I want to remember to slow down and ask some local people for advice. Word of mouth referrals go a long way in my opinion. And I am so thankful for the referral we got to head to these trails near Hira Station. It was a rewarding hike up Domandake to see Lake Biwa. A very off-the-beaten-path area for foreign tourists, in my opinion, but oh-so worth it.