Kyoto may be known to many as a cultural destination offering a more traditional glimpse of Japan. However, few know about the natural wonders lying in wait in the neighboring hot spring town of Ogoto Onsen in Shiga Prefecture.
This famous tourist spot was said to be founded by the revered Buddhist priest Saicho from Mount Hiei’s Enryaku Temple around 1,200 years ago. While the view of Lake Biwa’s sparkling waters may be enough reason to visit this historic town on the river’s west bank, the hot springs of Ogoto Onsen are said to offer many benefits like healing properties and radiant skin.
If you have been exploring stops for your Japan adventure or simply want a different look on rural Japan, this read may be the perfect one for you. Read on to learn more about Ogoto Onsen!
The 10 Best Things To Do In (and Around) Ogoto Onsen
Visiting Ogoto Onsen during your trip to Shiga Prefecture? Make the most of your stay by doing any of these hand-picked activities that can be enjoyed right in town or driven to by renting a car.
1. Rejuvenating Hot Springs
No trip to Ogoto Onsen would be complete without experiencing the town’s namesake and claim to fame. Ogoto Onsen waters have a high alkaline level, sitting at pH level 9.0. A dip in any of the town’s many rotenburos (outdoor open-air baths) can balance the acidic nature of our skin, hiding fine lines and wrinkles.
They also give excellent healing properties for inflammation or soreness both within and outside the body. Patients that suffer from acne and skin problems experience a soothing effect, while those that experience neuralgia, body pains, bad circulation, and poor mobility find relief in Ogoto Onsen’s steaming waters.
2. Try Local Shiga Cuisine
Because of its rural location, Ogoto Onsen restaurants often offer dishes made with high-quality local ingredients that include seasonal specialties. These include fresh fish from Lake Biwa, local produce from Shiga, and succulent Omi beef – one of the top three highest-quality wagyu beef brands in all of Japan.
3. Traditional Beauty Treatments
Ogoto Onsen was founded by the Buddhist monk Saicho from Enryaku Temple, so it is no surprise that local beauty treatments incorporate traditional ‘Kampo’ medicine and Ayurveda practices that were referred to in ancient Buddhist texts.
Experience the lightness of being like never before with detoxifying traditional beauty treatments in Ogoto Onsen.
4. Traditional Ryokan Stays
Rotenburos where you can enjoy Ogoto Onsen’s hotspring waters are often located within ryokans. Ryokan are traditional Japanese inns that offer a stunning look at Japan’s traditional architecture, dating back as far as the Edo period.
Ogoto Onsen has plenty of stunning ryokans to choose from, ranging in size, budget, and luxury. You are sure to find the best ryokan to suit you and your travel party’s needs!
We actually recommend 3 great options at the end of this article!
5. Admire the Arts
Just northwest of Ogoto Onsen station is the Biwako-Ohashi bridge, connecting this onsen town to the nearby town of Mizuhocho. Here, art and architecture enthusiasts can admire various mediums of contemporary art being exhibited at the Sagawa Art Museum.
Visitors can go through fantastic painting and sculpture pieces, insect and dinosaur exhibits, and even purchase some gift shop souvenirs.
Additionally, guests can also enjoy some pleasant afternoon coffee or even a light lunch of soba and inarizushi at the SAM Museum Cafe. The cafe provides a wonderful view of the museum grounds, making it the perfect stop for finding inspiration over a cup of coffee, tea, and their beloved cheesecake
6. Seasonal Sightseeing
If you can, schedule your trip to Ogoto Onsen during the spring or autumn seasons. This is because the sakura trees or maple leaves are a stunning sight as you visit nearby local sights. Some good examples of local stops where you can see sakura trees in bloom or the rich reds of autumn leaves are Kiyomizu or Enryaku temple.
Want an extra special view in the fall? Head to the Hiyoshi Taisha for a scenic autumn walk that is Sugoii Japan-approved!
You May Also Like: Best Onsen Towns Near Kyoto
7. A Magical Ukimido Visit
Walk on water by visiting the floating temple hall of Ukimido – one of the famed Eight Views of Omi. This Important Cultural Property is part of Mangetsu-ji temple and has long been the subject of various paintings and photographs. Capture it yourself, as it ‘floats’ ethereally across the surface of Lake Biwa thanks to the stilts that support the structure.
8. Local Sake Tasting
Shiga prefecture is known for its impressive local sake scene. Typically run by small families living in the Shiga prefecture (formerly known as the Omi region), these businesses have long been passed on from generation to generation.
Omi rice is made especially unique by the presence of melted snow and rainwater. These types of water trickle down from mountains and enrich the growth of Omi rice, giving it a unique and clean taste once it is fermented into sake.
The sake scene in Omi is so special in fact that one of Omi’s oldest breweries is given the privilege of providing ceremonial sake for Japan’s Imperial Family, as well as numerous Shinto shrines around the country. Sample this special sake from Fujii Honke while visiting Ogoto Onsen.
You May Also Like: Sake vs Sochu vs Soju
9. Fireworks Festivals
Every year, tourists and locals alike go to Otsu Port to marvel at the annual Lake Biwa Fireworks Festival! Though it was put on hold during the pandemic, the tradition is back in full swing. This takes place every August.
Travelers visiting Ogoto Onsen can also enjoy the famous Ogoto Onsen Fireworks Festival and the Otsu Shiga Fireworks Festival between the months of July to September. Here, they can take in the vibrant colors and nighttime scenery as fireworks are set off from the glimmering waters of Lake Biwa.
10. Sakamoto Cable Ride
Many things in the Shiga Prefecture are certainly a blast from the past, and the Sakamoto Cable is no different! Recorded as the longest railway in Japan, this modern-day relic still functions despite being founded in 1927. The route connects the Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple – a World Heritage Site that is worthy of a visit itself, and the Sakamoto area– a stone-walled temple town.
The rail has two European-style cable cars, the En-go ( the “bond car”) and the Fuku-go ( the “happiness car”). Snap a photo of this vintage wonder and take a ride to enjoy the scenery!
Where to stay in Ogoto Onsen?
Ogoto Onsen is known as a famous vacation spot where tourists and locals can sit back and relax as they enjoy their accommodations and soak up the pure hot spring waters. While there is an endless supply of ryokans for travelers to choose from in the Ogoto Onsen area, these three are our recommendations for a truly relaxing stay in this resort town.
No accommodation in Ogoto Onsen could be finer than the high-end Yumotokan. This famous ryokan in the Ogoto Onsen area is the height of Shiga Prefecture luxury.
Combining traditional Japanese architecture with modern furnishings and conveniences, each guest can enjoy a 5-star view of Lake Biwa as they take a dip into hot spring waters on the rooftop’s outdoor baths. Guests that want a more private bath can also opt for a hot spring experience from the Cypress wood tubs in their own bathrooms.
Travelers that stay at Yumotokan can also enjoy meals with the finest ingredients Shiga Prefecture has to offer. Try the succulent Omi beef, fresh Funazushi using Lake Biwa seafood, and local Omi produce in various dishes that the ryokan chefs have crafted.
Book a stay at Yumotokan for an experience that is as relaxing as it is opulent.
Book It Here: Yumotokan
Looking for a ryokan that combines serenity with modern conveniences? Biwako Hanakaido is a blissful ryokan stay with rock pool-style rotenburo and serene zen gardens around the property.
Guests can immediately relax as Biwako Hanakaido offers a free shuttle service from Ogoto-Onsen Train Station, so you can focus on resting after the long journey. The healing aura of this elevated ryokan may come from their dedication to ‘omotenashi’ – Japanese hospitality at its finest.
Aside from private, open-air baths, each guest room also showcases a different theme. Choose from the Nakagawa Wood Crafts room, a Japanese-Western room, and a true Japanese-style theme. Guests can also enjoy a drink at the in-house bar, as well as the highest quality of ‘Omi’ cuisine, with mountain specialties from Hieizan and Suzuka being a highlight of the menu.
Book a stay at Biwako Hanakaido for a dose of serenity.
Book It Here: Biwako Hanakaido
Perhaps the most contemporary ryokan option on our list is the Biwako Ryokusuitei. This ryokan is the most similar to Western hotel stays in terms of layout, facilities, and furnishings, while still offering the unique charm of a traditional Japanese inn.
Similar to Biwako Hanakaido, some suites come with a private open-air hot spring while still having several room layout options to choose from. Opt for the traditional manyo room for a large Japanese-style suite with futons and a chabudai dining area if you want a more cultural experience.
The Fuga room is a great choice for guests that are more comfortable sleeping on Western-style beds, as the futons used are comfy and elevated high off the ground. Enjoy a fantastic view of Lake Biwa as you soak in the hot spring waters of your open-air bathroom.
Book any of Biwako Ryokusuitei’s 69 rooms today and enjoy a cozy home away from home!
Book It Here: Biwako Ryokusuitei
How to Get to Ogoto Onsen From Kyoto?
Kyoto serves as a central hub for travelers coming from Tokyo to more rural areas in the Japanese countryside, and Ogoto Onsen is just one of the many places you can come and visit in the region.
You can get to this hot spring town from Kyoto with the following methods:
JR Kosei Line Train Ride
From Kyoto Station’s Platform 13 or 14, take the JR Kosei Line on Platform 2 or 3 to the Omi Shiotsu Station. Omi Shiotsu is the central hub for West Shiga. This line also offers a beautiful look at Lake Biwa as it travels along its western coast.
The JR Kosei Line has 22 stops, so be sure to get off at the Ogoto Onsen Station. Keep in mind that the Kosei Line has 3 types of routes: Local, Rapid, and Special Rapid Services. The ‘Special Rapid Train’ route is just a 22-minute ride for passengers that ride to Hiezan Sakamoto before taking the Local Train to the town proper.
Direct Car Ride from Kyoto Station
Though undoubtedly the most direct method coming from Kyoto Station, riding a car directly from Kyoto to Ogoto Onsen can be costly if you are hiring a taxi. Renting a car is also possible, but definitely a risk for tourists that are not used to the area.
Passengers that take a direct car ride can expect to be in transit for 20 minutes as you drive from the Meishin Expressway Kyoto East Interchange towards Ogoto Onsen. Because of its cost and navigational challenges, we recommend this method for traveling groups with plenty of luggage and those traveling with children or elders.
Ogoto Onsen: A Worthy Stop in Rural Japan?
Travelers coming to Japan for the first time may feel that Kyoto is all there is to see outside the nation’s big cities, but saving a day or two for Ogoto Onsen is a great way to immerse one’s self in the rich culture and deep-rooted history of the region.
Ogoto Onsen is the perfect combination of relaxing hot springs and historical beauty. Escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo by adding this stunning hot spring town on the shores of Lake Biwa to your Japan itinerary today!