Name in Japanese: 八幡堀
Ōmihachiman developed as a commercial city in the early modern period. It arose from the town at the base of the castle on Hachimanyama built in 1585 by Toyotomi Hidetsugu, the nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Hidetsugu deregulated the markets and guilds of his domain, promoting commerce. The castle moat, Hachimanbori, functioned both as a defensive feature and as a canal. Hidetsugu also required boats traveling on Lake Biwa to pass through Hachimanbori and make a stop, which further encouraged trade.
The moat was connected to Lake Biwa and fairly large ships could enter the canal. Consequently, the town was able to participate in trade with Edo and Osaka, selling tatami mats, mosquito nets, rice, sake, tiles, and other locally produced goods. Large warehouses were built along the canal for storing these goods.
To keep the canal open to boats, it was dredged periodically, and the silt was used as fertiliser on fields in the surrounding areas. The clay in these fields, with their high silt content, combined with organic matter from decaying reeds, was ideal for making roof tiles, and Ōmihachiman became known as a major regional producer of tiles.
After WWII, ships no longer visited, and dredging stopped. The moat began to fill up with silt and rubbish, and the city planned to fill it in and make a park and car park. But citizens groups protested, and volunteers began the work of cleaning up and restoring the waterway.
Today, Hachimanbori is the beautiful heart of Ōmihachiman. The warehouses have been converted into restaurants and shops. A tile museum, designed to harmonise perfectly with the older buildings around it, celebrates the town’s history as a tile producer. And boats once again ply the waters. You can take a little cruise in a covered boat from two places on the moat, choosing motor power or hand power.
The boats pass under the picturesque bridge to Himure Hachiman Shrine, and proceed past Bukkō-ji Temple with its impressive belfry, and on to the site of an old tile factory where the old brick chimney is preserved as a rather unstable looking monument. Here, the boats turn around, offering splendid views of the ancient stone walls that still bear witness to Hidetsugu’s short-lived castle atop Hachimanyama.