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Shiga Prefecture and the Lake of My Mind



My name is Bryan Villa. I am originally from Los Angeles, California. I’m on my second year of JET and teach middle school in Omihachiman City.

Why did you apply for the JET program?

I always had an interest in Asia. In University, I studied Asian Languages and was able to go abroad during the 2010-2011 school year to Tokyo. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about living in Japan, but the one thing I had always missed was the international community I was a part of. Everyone who I hung out with had an adventurous curiosity of the world, which led us to an amazing year.

During that year, I met a Shizuoka JET, who was an old friend from LA, and he invited me out to the Shizuoka JETs’ Monday night ramen. I showed up to this tiny ramen shop that was surrounded by rice fields, with not a person in sight. I was positive it was the wrong place but, as soon as I stepped in I felt like I was transported to another country. The shop was full of JETs. We spent the night eating, drinking, laughing, speaking English with sprinkles of Japanese from the chef – just having a good time. It was amazing.

I applied to JET in the hopes that I could find communities like the one I was a part of in Tokyo and, for one night, Shizuoka.

How did you end up in Shiga prefecture? Was it a preference of yours?

I’m pretty sure CLAIR, or whoever assigns us, just picks a prefecture out of a hat. It was not a preference of mine. I didn’t even know of the prefecture. I’m glad it was here though. I’m a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto, or a 30 minute bike ride from some amazing nature.

What has been your favorite memory in Shiga so far?

My favorite memory has got to be the 2014 farewell party we had in Omimaiko. There’s a pension that’s at the shore of the lake. It’s great. We barbecued in the afternoon. Had some drinks – maybe too many drinks – and just partied the night away. For a summer night, having the lake right by us was great. Most of us went in for late night swim and just horsed around in Biwa. Good people, good food, good drinks – there’s not much more I can ask for.

Cycling Lake BiwaIs there a “best” time to visit Shiga?

With most tourism revolving around the lake, I guess I’d go with late spring/early summer. With the weather nice and warm it’s quite refreshing to visit the clear waters we have on the west side of the lake. Hiking, or shower climbing, to see the waterfalls on the west side is pretty nice too when it’s not cold. Cycling around the lake is also pretty nice around this time. Like most of Japan, during the summer there are tons of festivals and fireworks to see.

What are your “Must Do’s” for visiting JETs?

-          Swim at Lake Biwa! I have to say I like freshwater much more than the dirty saltwater of LA. Omimaiko is probably the best spot for tourists since the beach is just a short walk from the station.

-          Barbecue at Lake Biwa! At Omimaiko you can take your own barbecue. Some places rent them too. Each person is supposed to pay about 200yen to barbecue there. It’s relaxing just barbecuing, drinking, and swimming the whole day. It gets pretty packed during the summer so make sure to go early.
FYI, I’ve seen – quite a few times – foreigners, mainly girls, invited by some of the young local men to ride their jet skis, which I think would be a plus if I were a girl. If you don’t like getting hit on, please beware.

-          Cycle around Lake Biwa! This is my favorite. Most experienced cyclists do this in about a day. I prefer taking two days and stopping along the way to enjoy the sights. There are some climbs, but nothing insane. If you don’t bring your own bike you can rent one at many places around the lake. Check out http://pluscycle.shiga.jp/rental/ if you’d like to rent.

-          Eat Omigyu! I think we have 3rd place for best beef in Japan. It’s amazing. There are many places to eat it in Shiga. Tiffany’s in Omihachiman is popular but very expensive. Mawari is a chain that has all you can eat Kalbi Omigyu. There are 6 or so in Shiga and one in Kyoto

-          Sagicho! Every year, each town in Omihachiman constructs a float of that year’s Chinese Zodiac animal. It takes them 3 months, working every night for about 4 hours, to build them. Then during one weekend in March, while drinking lots of sake, they parade the floats around Omihachiman. You could even help out if you ask nicely. The next day they battle all of them together until only one is left standing. The winner is left on display the whole year. The losers are burnt to the ground. It’s probably the one festival that brings in people from all over Shiga and Japan.

What do you feel is unique to Shiga, something JETs can’t find anywhere else?

Lake Biwa. Unlike Omigyu, you can’t export it – unless you put some in a jar and take it with you. The lake is a giant influence on us. It makes this prefecture feel like two. The main train lines go around it, and the further you get from the train lines the more country it gets. So in a way, everything is really centered around the lake. There’s also a ton of cyclists, bikers, and car enthusiasts, who just go around the lake almost every weekend. There are quite a few good restaurants and farmers markets that are set up to cater to them, but they’re spread around the lake.

Bryan VillaAnything else you want to add?

Lake Biwa! :)


Bryan Villa



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