A short 30 minute train ride from Kyoto, Omihachiman has an air of quiet culture, that belies its history as a samurai stronghold, and a contemporary pilgrimage site for hordes seeking German cake.
Over the last few centuries, the canals have been at different times bastions of castle defense, hubs of busy commerce and sewers before a prescient push by local merchants started the campaign for renewal. The beautiful (much cleaner) canals of Hachiman moat can today be enjoyed on foot, or in a small tour boat.
Times of day and year affect the atmosphere along the Hachiman moat in different ways. Visiting on a late November evening, with the colours of the autumn leaves and sunset is definitely something I can recommend. Mid-November is also when Shichigosan, the Japanese festival celebrating children age 7, 5, and 3, is celebrated and the area was busy with well-dressed families in kimono and suits, visiting the nearby Himure Hachimangu shrine.
Omihachiman’s most recent claim to fame however, and one of the main reasons many Japanese outside of Shiga visit this area is due to one thing: Baum Kuchen from Club Harie.
Baum Kuchen is a cake made from rolling thin layers of cake batter on a spit. Wikipedia observes: “The characteristic rings that appear when sliced resemble tree rings, and give the cake its German name, Baumkuchen, which literally translates to “tree cake” or “log cake”. “
While Baum Kuchen is not a novel snack in Japan, (older Japanese while often give out little individually packaged cubes of the cake as snacks) Club Harie has managed through effective TV and magazine marketing to make it oshare (fancy/trendy). Despite there being Club Harie franchises dotted throughout nearby towns, like Hikone and Nagahama, the aim of many visitors is to visit the first shop, the birthplace, of Club Harie – handily located alongside the Hachiman Moat in Omihachiman.
For those coming on the train, there is a bus from Omihachiman station that takes 5 minutes to reach the canals area. This pdf with a handy walking map recommends taking the bus going towards Chomei-ji Temple, getting down at the Obata Kamisuji stop. This pdf has some more in-depth information about the various temples and historic sights nearby, if you can pull yourself away from Baum Kuchen.
Been to Omi-hachiman, have another place to recommend in Shiga or just want to say hi, please leave a note in the comments!