“Those who control Omi control Japan”
This old Japanese saying refers to the area known today as Shiga prefecture. “Omi” is the ancient name for the area around Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world. The importance of Shiga is tied up with the lake and with its strategic location at the “cross roads” of eastern and western Japan. Omi-Hachiman is situated on the eastern shore not far from the roads west to Kyoto, south to Nara, north to the Japan Sea and access to Korea, and east to Tokyo. This position was vital to Omi-Hachiman’s creation as a castle town in 1585 by the overlord Hidetsugu Toyotomi, and again later as it rose to be one of the most famous merchant towns in Japan.
The Omi Shonin (Omi Merchants) started out as traveling salesmen. Their travels introduced them to a wide variety of regional products and an understanding of the trade needs of the different regions across Japan. Omi Merchants used the connections and business knowledge gained on their travels to create a new sales system of product distribution. The system consisted of a head office in Omi-Hachiman and branch stores in Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto. This facilitated the redistribution of products according to the supply and demand of the different regions across Japan.
The Omi merchants were involved in the creation of financial and manufacturing businesses in Japan. Many of today’s well known businesses were started by Omi Merchants. For example: trading companies–Itochu, Marubeni and Tomen; department stores–Takashimaya, Daimaru and Seibu; the spinning industry–Nisshinbo and Toyobo; and others– Nihon Seimei, Yanmar Diesel and Seibu Group.
Hachimanbori (Hachiman moat):
The moat was built as part of the castle defense as well as to separated the elite Samurai warrior neighborhood from the rest of the townspeople. It was later used as a canal to transport goods from Omi Hachiman town to Kyoto via Lake Biwa, and was very important to the developement of commerce here. Over the years, the canal became obsolete and in the 1960’s the people of Omi Hachiman considered reclaiming the area for parking. This rekindled interest in the canal and it was restored to preserve its historic heritage. Today, it is one of the tourist attractions of Omi Hachiman and you can still see many of the old merchant houses along the canal. The wealth of these merchants can be seen in their homes, some of which are open to the public.
“Azuchi Hachiman no Suigo”:
Lake Biwa is renowned for its “Eight Scenic Views of Lake Biwa”. The view in Omi Hachiman was the favorite of Shogun Nobunaga Oda (Azuchi-Momoyama period 1568-1600) who came here often during the Age of the Civil Wars. He is also credited with originating boat rides through the riverside district that are still popular today.
Hachimanyama is the site of the ruins of Omi Hachiman Castle. You can reach the top of the mountain by a ropeway. Although the castle is in ruins, you can visit the Murakumo Gosho Zuiryuji Temple. It was originally built in Kyoto during Omi Hachiman’s castle period, but was moved to Hachimanyama in 1962. It is especially nice to visit here during the fall when the leaves change color. From the summit there is a good view of the city, the countryside and Lake Biwa.
Home to many of the Omi merchants, the houses along this street will take you back in time to the late Edo and Meiji periods.
If you are interested in Meiji architecture this building will be especially interesting to you. It was built in 1877 to house the Hachiman Higashi Gakko (school) and is currently used as a center for information about the Hachiman Culture.
Rekishi Minzoku (Historical Museum of “Anthropology”)
This museum was once a private home from the Edo period. It was restored and shows exhibits about Omi merchant life. For more information about hours: (0748-32-7048)
This is the site of the Sagicho and Hachiman Festivals. You can see the festival floats and other festival items that are stored here.
This island has its own culture and traditions, and is one of the biggest fishing ports on Lake Biwa.
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