A hiking journey through a cultural landscapes deeply influenced by the flows of the water, the mountains and spiritual ascetic training undertaken here. Immerse yourself in the beauty of an unspoilt natural world, with excellent Japanese accommodations and cuisine along the way.
Heading northeast from Kyoto along the western side of Shiga, Mt. Hiei and the Hira Mountains head north to Fukui, and offer many of the best views of beautiful Lake Biwa, with the picturesque scenery here having been the setting for many important pieces of Japanese art and literature over the centuries. The area is also home to the important mountain-top temple complex of Enryakuji, which is the center of the Tendai School of Buddhism since it was founded by the influential monk Saicho in the 8th century. Since then, many eminent monks have trained at Mt. Hiei, including the Zen Master Dogen who went on to found the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism several centuries later, and located his head temple at Eiheji in the mountains of Echizen province (present-day Fukui prefecture). Both institutions went on the have a significant influence on wider Japanese history and culture.
The mountainous regions of western Shiga and Fukui also has distinct seasonality, receiving vast amounts of snowfall in the winter, which makes way for pure spring water which collects in rivers, and flowing out into the Sea of Japan and Lake Biwa. This topography has allowed communities to develop based around pure water, creating a culture and landscape unique to the region. Over time, the mountains which nurtured this abundance of water became objects of worship. The mountainous terrain also became the basis for ascetic training, and offers great hikes out to this day.
Our tour also takes in beautiful sections of the northern Japanese coastline in Fukui. Situated between these two regions lie the areas of Wakasa and Obama, in southern Fukui along the Sea of Japan. Once an important hub connecting sea trade to Kyoto and Nara, and from China and Korea to the inland trade routes within Japan, they areas still form an important connection with Shiga and Kyoto to the south, with Fukui and Kanazawa further north.
This tour offers more advanced hiking. Please see here for trips best suited to families.
Please ask for information about our tour extensions to the mountain-top temple town of Mount Koya with its monastery lodgings, or the peaceful, agricultural community of Asuka at a charming Japanese inn or with a local family for a unique homestay experience.
Our tour includes train tickets for your journey from central Osaka or central Kyoto to the foothills of Mt. Hiei, and gateway to the historic Enryakuji Temple complex situated atop Mt. Hiei. The railway line runs close to the foothills for part of the journey and offers fine views out over the surrounding Higashiyama mountains, where the walk to Mt. Hiei begins. From trailhead the forest path climbs steadily to the mountaintop temple complex of Enryakuji, and takes around two to three hours up. Enryakuji Temple dates back to 788 and played a significant role in Japan's Buddhist history. The various trails linking the wider temple complex area of Enryakuji and Mount Hiei are part of a circular pilgrimage route with a unique ascetic practice called the Sennichi Kaihōgyō 千日回峰行 (walking the trail 1,000 times in 1,000 days) and the practice is only undertaken by the most rigorous ascetic monks. Here a selected monk is required to travel on foot about the distance equal to a trip around the equator, over a 7-year period, in seeking to achieve a state of enlightenment.
Overnight at a premium Machiya Townhouse in the historic town of Otsu alongside Lake Biwa. The architectural structure of the Machiya Townhouse features wonderuly preserved elements distinct to the areas historic past as a former post-town along the Old Tokkaido Road.
Walking distance: 11.7km / 7.3 miles (6.9km on the shorter version walk)
Elevation gain: 824m / 2,704 feet of ascent and 256m / 840 feet of descent
Time required: About 3 hours
A shorter version of the trail skips the first 4.8km and most of the ascent, providing a gentler, more comfortable walk for those wishing to shorten the journey on foot. You can choose which option you prefer on the day, so no need to decide in advance.
Our recommended inn for the first night in the region does not include dinner, which enables guests to experience a local restaurant from our suggested options. In addition, an option to upgrade to an exclusive premium temple stay lodging in the area is also available upon request – please enquire for further details on this option, or if you wish to include dinner on the first evening.
Accommodation: Premium Machiya Townhouse
After breakfast you travel a forty-minute rail journey to the foot of Mt. Horai, short bus transfer, and ride the scenic ropeway up to the summit station to begin todays hike to the nearby summit of Mt. Horai and onward Kojorogaike pond – Shiga’s highest elevation pond. The mountaintop hike features grand panoramic views over the whole of Lake Biwa - Japan’s largest freshwater lake and one of the world’s great ancient lakes - and the rows of mountains around northern Kyoto. On a clear day, Mt. Hakusan (in Fukui prefecture) can be seen far away to the north, beyond Lake Biwa. The paths re clearly defined and trail markers have been laid in some places to make the hike easier.
After the hike, ride the ropeway down and travel onward by local train and bus to Kumagawa-juku village in the mountains of Fukui prefecture. Situated in the Wakasa region of southern Fukui, the former post-town of Kumagawa-juku has a grand history and flourished especially during the Edo-period (1603-1868) as a key location along the Saba Kaido (Mackerel Highway) trade route between the Sea of Japan and old capital of Kyoto and Nara. Later in the afternoon travel by bus to arrive in the peaceful seaside former trading port town of Obama at an authentic Japanese accommodation in the historic district, in time to relax before dinner which features delicious seasonal Japanese dishes.
Walking distance: 5km
Elevation gain: 171m / 561 feet of ascent and descent
Time required: About 2 hours
If you prefer a more challenging hike, the ropeway up can be skipped in favor of starting the hike from the base to ascend to the top of Mt. Horai, increasing the walk to 8.3km / 5.2 miles and 1,148m / 3,766 feet of ascent. You can choose which option you prefer on the day - no need to decide in advance.
*As an alternative to the morning walk ascending Mt. Horai, we can also arrange a unique private guided visit to a local craftsman in Shiga who is deeply inviolved with the art of making traditional Japanese Kawara roof tiles – pieces of art in their own right and produced from fired clay, Japanese Kawara roof tiles are one of the most noticeable architecual elements of traditional Japanese buildings. Please enquire in advance and we will happily look into availability for this unique experience.
Accommodation: Premium Machiya Townhouse (or Ryokan lodging in Wakasa)
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Leaving the Wakasa area of Southern Fukui, travel by train and pre-paid taxi to a rewarding hike in Northern Fukui in the Oku-Echizen region. Hike through natural forest and beautiful mountain scenery to arrive on foot at Eiheiji Temple tucked away deep in the mountains, and the birthplace of Soto Zen Buddhism.
Follow in the footsteps of Dogen Zenji 道元禅師 (1200-1253, Zen Master and founder of Soto Zen Buddhism), as he made his way into this remote region long ago in the 13th century. The impressive temple complex stands in a natural mountainous setting with a history of over 750 years. It is the main training temple of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism, and around 200 young monks in training (known as Unsui 雲水 ) who devote themselves to uninterrupted Zen practice day and night live here. Visitors have the opportunity to glimpse the authentic way of life of a Zen practitioner.
Stay overnight close to Eiheiji Temple with a premium Japanese Shukubo accommodation featuring delicious, authentic Japanese Shojin Ryori dinner and breakfast served by your hosts at your accommodation, and excellent Japanese baths.
Walking distance: 7.5km / 4.6 miles
Elevation gain: 151m / 495 feet of ascent and 580m / 1,903 feet of descent
Time required: About 3-4 hours
Longer hiking option
For confident hikers, we also offer a longer hiking option as follows:
Walking distance: 12km / 7.4 miles
Elevation gain: 907m / 2,978 feet of ascent and 815m / 2,674 feet of descent
Time required: About 5-6 hours
*To skip today’s hike completely, the morning may also be spent enjoying a leisurely cycle around Lake Mikata near the Sea of Japan, on mostly level, well-maintained countryside back roads with excellent views of the surrounding countryside, lake and mountains.
Optional cycling distance: 15-30km / 9-19 miles on mostly flat, gentle lakeside paths
Accommodation: Premium Japanese Ryokan-Temple Stay
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
In the morning, you will have time to enjoy an optional one hour hike to a hilltop viewpoint overlooking Eiheiji Temple, with excellent views of the whole temple complex, before traveling onward to Kanazawa or the Kansai region in the mid afternoon. There may be time to visit nearby Maruoka Castle - one of the oldest remaining original castle keeps in Japan – before traveling onward by train from Fukui.