On the shore of Lake Biwa you will find one of Japan’s gems: Hikone. In this post I’m going to tell you all about it! Before I begin, let me give some context by reminding you what summer is like in Kyoto. Well, it really depends on the day, but usually it’s pretty hot and humid (as I already told you here). There are many ways to survive the heat, most of them include avoidingbeing in the sun for too long. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think summer is a reason to suffer. Quite the opposite – I really encourage you to find the best ways to ENJOY IT!
Many of you will ask: how in the world can anyone enjoy 39 degrees Celsius with 90% humidity? That’s easy – go swimming 😃
Unfortunately, we don’t have a beach in Kyoto, but we do have Lake Biwa just less than an hour away! It’s the biggest lake in Japan, located in the neighboring Shiga Prefecture, and also surrounded by great beaches. Most people that go by train go to Omimayko beach on the West side of the lake. This time, my partner and I went to the East side to explore a new destination. We discovered the charming city of Hikone, a jewel that has not yet been fully discovered by many tourists.
As well as a summer destination, Hikone could be a great day-trip for those who want to go somewhere off the main route, or for those who have an extra day in Kyoto.With convenient transportation, you can be back in Kyoto for dinner! So, let me tell you more about this charming place.
The city lays on the shore of Lake Biwa and enjoys both the fresh water of the lake along with the mountain view on its East side. It’s not very populated, with only around 110,000 citizens. Therefore, I can safely say it’s very quiet and chilled. Travelling from Kyoto took us about one hour and 15 minutes by train, after switching to the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line in Yamashina. It’s perfectly convenient and well-adjusted to visitors, having a tourist-information center (with an English speaking clerk) at the station.
In the past, the city was the administrative capital of the local Daimyo(local samurai lord, if you wish). Hence why there is a castle right in the middle of Hikone. You can feel the presence of the Samurai history; the large samurai statue in front of the train station, old samurai houses, and Hikonyan – the city’s samurai-cat emblem.You will see this cute little creature EVERYWHERE!
HARETO-KETO – Raw chocolate & detox café
By now you will know I always like to explore the vegan scene wherever I go on my travels. Well, I have to say – this time it was an extraordinary experience in many ways.
The first place we visited was the magnificent Hareto-Keto café, which has a very unique concept. Lovely Rie, who runs the place, serves hand-made raw chocolate, along with amazingly beautiful vegan smoothie bowls, desserts, and drinks. The fine ingredients used are organic and local (some are even from the neighborhood garden!). As I’m having a little trial to cut out white sugar and gluten, I was craving these foods, both sweet and healthy.
With so much choice, we found it hard to make a decision. We finally ordered the acai bowl, green smoothie bowl, raw cacao mint shake, and three kinds of homemade chocolate. The acai bowl had home-made granola, fruit, chocolate sauce, and lots of superfoods like goji berries, cacao nibs, and chia seeds.The green bowl was even more ‘healthy’, it also contained the granola and superfoods, as well as seasonal vegetables. The cacao-mint had the sweetest taste – topped with cacao nibs and bee pollen. We asked for a mild chili taste (as recommended by Rie) since the menu mentioned that chili was an ingredient. Rie patiently explained the history of cacao to us, and said that Native Americans used to consume it with corn and chili. We took the chance and it was worth it 🙂.
If you’re not consuming honey or bee pollen, it can be easily removed, so don’t hesitate to ask. The same goes for the chili in the cacao-mint shake.
For the raw chocolate, we picked the Mara Buddha, the Crunch (with superfoods), and the white golden berry (colored pink with beets and dragon fruit).In total, everything we ordered was 3,750 yen and worth every yen. Needless to say, everything we ordered was amazingly delicious.
More info about Hareto-Keto
As the pictures speak for themselves, I don’t really have to mention that all the dishes and chocolates were stunning. Seriously, we couldn’t stop taking pictures! Seasonal flowers were everywhere, and the shapes of the chocolates were so unique. Put it in context with the café itself and you’ll get a magnificent picture.
This place is a fusion of Japanese and modern design. The house itself is a cultural property called “Bukeyashiki”. The fact that it was a samurai house about 180 years ago makes it really special. It has a beautiful Japanese garden and low seating areas, along with two chairs for those who prefer sitting higher. There are many other Japanese elements in Hareto-Keto, the most noticeable are the mugs in which tea is served. These mugs are actually from a local pottery studio, which Rie introduced us to. If you really like them, you can purchase one from the studio’s shop!
Additionally, we were given so much information about raw vegan food! Rie knows a lot, and Hareto-Keto has a few English books on raw vegan recipes. Rie also gave us great advice regarding the local area – shops, places, streets, and food. We were really glad we went there first, before exploring the city. If you’re in Hikone – you have to visit Hareto-Keto!
Please note: the café DOESN’T serve coffee, but welcomes you to bring your own if you would like it with your order.Better to be prepared 😊
More places you can visit in Hikone
Yumekyobashi Castle Road
This road will lead you from Hareto-Keto to Hikone Castle. There are many local shops and monuments you can enjoy while walking. You can buy local pottery, sake and many other souvenirs. I bet you will come across Hikonyan the cat, wearing his samurai-helmet. The traditional style of the houses really sets the atmosphere of an old village rather than a city, making it even nicer to walk around.The road ends at the moat that surrounds the castle.
Sorry for the Japanese, I don’t think it has an English name! This shop was recommended for local pottery; many items are discounted so you might find a bargain. If you wish, you can even participate in a pottery workshop, or pottery-painting if you register in advance. It will be held in Japanese, but in this case you can just mimic what your teacher does 😉. From my experience, you don’t necessarily need to know the language for an art workshop!
Since the 15th century, it was common to build a city around the local castle. It was estimated that at one point there were about 5,000 castles in Japan! Hikone is one of those cities, but more remarkably – it is one of the only 12 originals that are left standing! Hence why it is considered a national treasure.
We bought the combined ticket for 800 yen, this allowed us access to the castle and the garden. We skipped the museum, but this would have cost us 1,200 yen. The castle had a very impressive structure and the view from the top floor, of Lake Biwa and the mountains, was magnificent.
The beautiful garden of Hikone castle. Take your time, stroll around it, and have a really nice view over the castle. In July and August you can see the lotus garden in blossom on the Eastern side. It’s a really nice place to enjoy nature. If you like, you can even sit and drink a cup of matcha in the tea house.
Matsuhara beach on Lake Biwa
This was the last place we visited that day. A wide, beautiful beach on Lake Biwa is there for you to enjoy. There are toilets that can be used as changing rooms (maybe more facilities are open in the middle of summer), and benches where you can sit and enjoy the view. We took a dip and it was really refreshing!
If you’re going back to the station and feel like something sweet, there’s one place that sells vegan ice-cream. I’m not sure of the name, but the pictures and location below will help you find it easily. We were really surprised and happy to find out about this place ☺️.
Hikone was a great surprise for us! We were happy to discover such a beautiful and tranquil city on the shore of Lake Biwa. Besides the Lake Biwa beach, it had so many other attractions to offer. There were also many sakura and maple trees everywhere, so I imagine that autumn and spring would be spectacular. If you wish to be in a place filled with culture, nature, and really great sweet vegan options, don’t think twice! Hikone is a lovely place to spend the day.