Omi-hachiman: Historic Merchant Town on Sacred Lake
Omi-hachiman is an old castle town that flourished as a transportation hub on Lake Biwa. It retains the remnants of the olden days, including grand merchant homes and the Hachiman-bori moat, which served as a logistics base. William Merrell Vories, who came to Japan from the United States before World War II and designed 1,600 significant buildings across Japan, made Omi-hachiman his home for over half a century. His residence in Omi-hachiman has been converted into a museum. On this episode of Journeys in Japan, James Kohlman, a musician and actor from the United States, traces the footprints of Omi Merchants, who crisscrossed Japan from their base in Omi-hachiman, as well as the remarkable William Merrell Vories. And he meets people in whom their spirits live on.

Shinmachi-dori Street

Museums on this street feature the history of Omi Merchants, who peddled goods around the country from their base in Omi-hachiman, as well as their tools and other artifacts.

Vories Memorial Hall

The former residence of Vories is open to the public. In the large reception room, which has iconic features representative of Vories' architecture, many mementos are displayed including his favorite books, 2 pianos and his calligraphy work. Reservations required.


This fermented food has been enjoyed in Shiga Prefecture for over 1,000 years, and is considered a delicacy today. It's made with Nigorobuna, a type of carp, which lives only in Lake Biwa. It was born of the wisdom of earlier people who sought to preserve the fish, a source of protein that was hard to come by at the time. It has a distinctive smell and sourness, and the flavor differs from family to family. Usually, it's prepared for guests.


From Tokyo, it takes about 2 hours by Shinkansen to Maibara. From there, it's a half-hour train ride on a local line takes to Omi-hachiman.