The Mysterious Little Island on Lake Biwa
Chikubushima cruise is a boat ride on Lake Biwa-ko, in the heart of Shiga prefecture in Japan. Departing from Imazu Port in Takashima City, in the north-west of the lake, the sightseeing cruise also includes the visit of the small island of Chikubushima in one of the themed excursions operated all year round by the Biwako Kisen company.
At Omi-Imazu station, one cannot miss the only large road of Takashima City leading to the small Imazu Port. The pier is the start of a nice cruise throughout Lake Biwa’s wonderful blue sceneries unveiled as the boat sails.
The Chikubushima cruise
On the boat, a projection room is dedicated to documentary movies on the history of the Lake as well as on Chikubushima island, the destination. If the weather is not too cold, we recommend enjoying the view of the natural landscape composed of water in the foreground and beautiful Japanese mountains in the background from the deck.
One could admire the view for hours, however, about twenty minutes after departure, the boat berths in Chikubushima Port. Tourists can grab some snack at a small shopping arcade near the pier, then start the visit of Chikubushima Hogonji temple, followed by Tsukubu Suma shrine, the islet’s two major attractions.
Discovery of an island lost on Lake Biwa
The island’s relief is steep, and consequently the stairway to the sacred grounds. Once past the hall dedicated to Kannon (renovated in March 2018), Tsukubu Suma shrine’s main building stands proudly facing the lake. It is recommended to stop here to admire the horizon and look at the stone torii ⛩️ below: one must throw two earthenware dishes through the sacred gate to have one’s wish granted.
The exploration continues through a wonderful wooden tunnel connecting the shrine and the temple. Both Shinto and Buddhist religions are linked by this "corridor" in the same way as they are in the Japanese people’s mind. Another very steep stairway leads to the Buddhist temple’s main pavilion. The fairly original hall shelters countless daruma, small red Japanese dolls bearing the image of the place’s deity: Benzaiten.
On their way back, visitors arrive a little bit higher on the left, near a three-story vermilion pagoda. It was built in 1487 by a carpenter named Abeno-Gonkami, and was thunder struck a hundred years later. Left derelict for about 350 years, it was restored in 1937 using the original construction methods. It is also the highest point of the island.
It is time to go back to the port, from where one can enjoy the coastal landscapes a little bit longer – don’t miss the return boat to Imazu though! This rural and spiritual halt lost in the middle of the largest lake of Japan is truly worth the detour.