The JR Biwako Line runs between Kyoto Station and Nagahama Station in Shiga Prefecture. It connects destinations in eastern Shiga with Kyoto, and beyond Kyoto to Osaka and Kobe. The Biwako Line runs along the east side of Lake Biwa from which it takes its name. Most trains depart from platform 2.
There are 23 stations on the JR Biwako Line. The following are the stations you are most likely to visit.
Transfer here to the JR Kosei Line, the Keihan Keishin Line and the Tozai Subway Line.
Train fare: 190 yen
Train time: 5 minutes
Otsu is the capital city of Shiga Prefecture. There are a number of sites of interest in Otsu, but the city is huge and serviced by several rail lines and stations. Otsu Station is itself not so convenient for the main sites. To visit Miidera Temple, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine or Enryakuji Temple you should continue on to Zeze Station and then transfer to the Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line. To visit Ishiyamadera Temple continue on the Biwako Line until Ishiyama Station before transferring to the Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line.
Train fare: 200 yen
Train time: 9 minutes
Transfer here to the Keihan Zeze Station for the Ishiyama Sakamoto Line which runs between Ishiyamadera Station and Sakamoto Station. Exit at Miidera Station to visit Miidera Temple. From Sakamoto Station you can visit the ancient Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine or take the Sakamoto Cable Car up to the summit of Mount Hiei to visit Enryakuji Temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Sakamoto Cable Car is notable as having the longest cable route in Japan!
Train fare: 240 yen
Train time: 12 minutes
If you wish to visit Ishiyamadera Temple, transfer here to the Ishiyama Sakamoto Line at Keihan Ishiyama Station and exit at Ishiyamadera Station. Legend has it that the world’s oldest novel, Genji Monogatari was written at this ancient temple.
Train fare: 240 yen
Train Time: 14 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Transfer here to the JR Kusatsu Line which runs as far as Tsuge Station in the city of Iga, Mie Prefecture.
Train fare: 410 yen
Train Time: 22 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Omi Hachiman Station
Omi Hachiman is known for its well preserved traditional buildings and canal. There are also a number of late 19th and early 20th century buildings that were designed by the American architect William Merrell Vories. The architecture of Vories is famed throughout the Kansai area for its elegant modernity.
Transfer here to the Ohmi Railway Yokaichi Line which runs a local service between Omi Hachiman and Yokaichi Station where it links back to the Ohmi Railway Main Line.
Train fare: 670 yen
Train Time: 35 minutes by the Special Rapid train
The chief attractions in Azuchi are the ruins of Azuchi Castle, the Azuchi Castle Museum and Nobunaga no Yakata Museum which contains a full sized replica of the top floor of the castle tower.
Train fare: 760 yen
Train Time: 44 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Exit here for Hikone Castle, a listed national treasure and one of only 12 castles in Japan that are original and not reconstructions. In keeping with the history of the town a small area to the south of the castle has been rebuilt in a traditional Edo period style. Transfer here to the Ohmi Railway Main Line.
Train fare: 1140 yen
Train Time: 49 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Here the Tokaido Main Line and the Hokuriku Main Line intersect. Those wishing to climb or going skiing on nearby Mt Ibuki should transfer to the Tokaido Main Line and get off at Omi-Nagaoka.
The Tokaido Main Line continues on to destinations in Gifu and to Nagoya. The Tokaido Shinkansen can also be taken here for Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima, or for Nagoya and Tokyo. Take the JR Hokuriku Main Line for destinations in Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures.
The Ohmi Railway Main Line can also be accessed at Maibara Station. This is a private local railway line that runs between Maibara Station and Kibukawa Station. You can see a full map of the Ohmi Railway’s three lines here.
Train fare: 1140 yen
Train Time: 55 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Nagahama Station is the last station on the Biwako Line. From here you can take the Hokuriku Main Line northward along the Sea of Japan coast for destinations in Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures. Some trains on the Biwako Line actually go further than Nagahama Station as far as Tsuruga Station on the Hokuriku Main Line. The chief tourist attraction in this city is Nagahama Castle which consists of the original ruins, and a reconstructed keep which houses a museum. Not far from the station there is also a craft beer brewpub called Nagahama Roman Beer Brewery.
Train fare: 1320 yen
Train Time: 70 minutes by the Special Rapid train
Traveling to Otsu
If you are traveling to Otsu from Kyoto city center and don’t wish to go via Kyoto Station there is an alternative route from Sanjo Keihan Station. Take the Tozai Subway Line from Sanjo Keihan to Misasagi Station and there transfer to the Keihan Keishin Line. Take the Keihan Keishin Line to Hamaotsu Station in Otsu city. At Hamaotsu Station you can transfer to the Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line. This line gives you access to Otsu city’s chief tourist locations: Enryakuji Temple, Miidera Temple, Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine and Ishiyamadera Temple. The journey from Sanjo Keihan to Hamaotsu costs 430 yen and takes 23 minutes.
To access the Ishiyama Sakamoto Line from Kyoto Station there are two routes: by the Biwako Line or by the Kosei Line. By the Biwako Line you would go to Zeze Station for only 240 yen and in just 12 minutes. By the Kosei Line you would go to Otsukyo Station and then transfer to Ojiyama Station for 240 yen in 10 minutes. However, if you are already in the center of Kyoto city, the extra time and expense of getting to Kyoto Station first might make the Tozai/Keishin route advantageous. To work out the cheapest and most timely route, use English language online route finders like Jorudan and Hyperdia.
Traveling to Maibara
It is also possible to travel to Maibara in 39 minutes for 2320 yen by taking the Limited Express Shinano No. 9 bound for Nagano from Platform 0 of Kyoto Station.
JR Biwako Line Stations
The JR Biwako Line is served by Local, Rapid and Special Rapid services. You can download a bilingual PDF of the guide to stops for this line together with the Kosei Line and the Kusatsu Line. The Biwako Line is colored dark blue.
Strictly speaking the Biwako Line is a name of convenience given to that part of the Tokaido Main Line that runs between Kyoto Station and Maibara Station, and that part of the Hokuriku Main Line that runs between Maibara Station and Nagahama Station. Continuing west from Kyoto Station the line is renamed the JR Kyoto Line, and beyond Osaka Station it is again renamed the JR Kobe Line. Effectively however, the Biwako, Kyoto and Kobe Lines are actually one line running a continuous service. For a bigger picture, you can download a bilingual PDF of the JR guide to stops which includes the JR Biwako Line and other JR Lines that connect with it. The JR Biwako Line and other contiguous lines are colored blue.
Article and photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.