Ask The Local Experts
The Beginnings of Omihachiman City: Hachimanbori
The town of Omihachiman was established by Toyotomi Hidetsugu, a nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the most prominent figures in Japanese history. Hidetsugu implemented a number of policies to promote commerce and revitalize the Omi province (former name of Shiga prefecture) after it was devastated in the age of warring provinces (mid-15th century).
Most notable of his achievements is Hachimanbori, or Hachiman moat. Unlike other moats, which were mostly intended to protect castles, Hachimanbori also connected to Lake Biwa and was used as a canal. As a result, great quantities of materials and information assembled from all over Japan around the Hachiman castle, turning the town into a commercial center teeming with people and goods. Traders from Omihachiman later thrived in cities like Edo (now Tokyo) and Osaka, becoming the Omi Shonin, entrepreneurs famed in Japan for having built the foundation of Japan’s modern economy. Not a few Japanese corporations today emerged during that period.
In subsequent centuries, Hachimanbori continued to serve as a necessary venue for human activity, but by around 1970, with the advent of Japan’s high-growth高economy, it became an entirely unnecessary part of daily living, and at one point was dangerously close to being filled in. A grassroots movement developed, however, that questioned how the origin of Omihachiman’s could so easily be erased. As many residents realized the value and significance of Hachimanbori while working with their own hands to clean it, before long the moat was restored to its original appearance.
Today, Hachimanbori is not only visited by many a tourist in search of nostalgic scenes of old Japan. It is also frequently used as a filming location for TV period dramas known by virtually all Japanese people. In fact, it is not uncommon to stumble upon an acting scene while walking along the moat.
Suigo Tours: Nishinoko Lake
Another tourist attraction that ranks on par with Hachimanbori is Suigo, a registered Ramsar wetland and one of the three most popular wetland attractions in Japan. A repository of rich wildlife and memorable landscapes, the Suigo area is home to all sorts of flora and fauna and is also a place of calm and relaxation for us humans. Visitors can get a full taste of this natural environment on a boat tour, or Suigo-meguri. There are a handful of companies that give tours in Omihachiman. Passengers will find that the boats in tours hosted by the Oumi Hatiman Sightseeing Cooperative are propelled the traditional way—by hand—and themselves drifting peacefully forward on the slowest mode of transportation in Japan.
William Merrell Vories was a missionary, social entrepreneur, educator, and architect, and an American most beloved and respected by Omihachiman citizens. Vories was also deeply fond of Japanese people and Omihachiman. He owned no private property, and devoted himself to helping build Japan in the spirit of Christianity. Eventually he became a Japanese citizen and was buried with
his parents in Omihachiman. His vision remains relevant to this day, preserved and passed down in various forms.
Spots around Town
・Shopping and eating in historic Omihachiman
Omihachiman has lots of fascinating shops scattered throughout its picturesque streets, everything from historic restaurants, to newly renovated Japanese-style pubs, to various retailers. Feel free to stop at any of these stores as you stroll through town.
・Borderless Art Museum NO-MA
Located in the historic streets of Omihachiman, the NO-MA art museum is a renovated townhouse that originally dates back to the early Showa period (1926-1989). The museum hosts exhibitions of “art brut,” or outsider art, and a variety of art-based programs. Its activities are of keen interest to the global art scene as well as art enthusiasts in Japan.