Immerse yourself in a curated cultural experience by Misato Takahashi, whose late father was an artist from the renowned Otsu-e master family, Takahashi Shozan.
Just a 10-minute train ride from Kyoto Station, escape the Kyoto crowds and unwind in the tranquil lakeside town of Otsu.
Explore the former post station town full of historical treasures, with your knowledgeable guide.
Stroll through a retro shopping arcade and pick up some local treats for later.
Visit the artist shop of the 5th Takahashi Shozan, the present successor of Otsu-e tradition, and learn about the art’s current status.
Experience the unique Otsu-e Lucky Oni Bell or Three Wise Monkeys painting workshop, available for ages 6 or older.
Enjoy an immersive half-day tour into the deep local culture of Otsu and its rich artistic heritage.
Join a unique cultural experience led by Misato Takahashi, an Otsu native and daughter of Wado Takahashi, an Otsu-e artist. Misato is fervently committed to preserving the important local tradition of Otsu-e painting, a form of traditional folk art that originated in this area about 400 years ago. This unique cultural experience provides an excellent opportunity to delve into Japan’s artistic heritage, immersing yourself in the creativity and artistic expression that has enriched Otsu’s local culture for centuries. And with only a 10-minute train ride from Kyoto Station, you can relax in the cozy lakeside town of Otsu while exploring the city’s rich history and treasures.
The tour starts when you meet up with your guide, Misato, either at JR Otsu Station or at your hotel in Kyoto/Otsu before embarking on a 3 km walking tour through the historic town of Otsu. With Misato’s guidance, you will discover the cultural background that gave birth to Otsu-e.
Many Otsu-e lamps crafted by
local Otsu-e lovers are found
along the shopping street.
First, we explore the historic district known as Hyakucho (lit. hundred towns), which was once the largest post station town of the Tokaido Historic Trail between Edo (old Tokyo) and Kyoto. Despite much of the traditional townscape being replaced by commercial districts, Misato will help you discover traces of its ancient past and unique traditional architecture still preserved today. In the shopping arcade area, we’ll visit some of the interesting storefronts like traditional wagashi sweet shops, pickle shops, and dry goods shops, all of which have been running for centuries. Misato can help you communicate with the locals here to gain a glimpse into real Otsu life.
We also visit the studio/shop of the current 5th Shozan Otsu-e master to learn an overview of the Otsu-e tradition and its importance. If you’re lucky, you might even have a chance to see a demonstration by the 5th Shozan.
Finally, the highlight of the tour is the Otsu-e painting workshop. You’ll have two choices for painting. Try your hand at painting the iconic Lucky Oni Bell or the Three Wise Monkeys on shikishi paper. See below for details.
The workshop takes place in a cozy studio with all necessary materials and tools provided. After enjoying tea and snacks that we picked up earlier from local shops, it’s time to unleash your creativity and get a hands-on experience with painting of your choice. The workshop is available for age 6 and older and skill levels, with easy-to-follow instructions. You have the freedom to add your own personal touch and create a unique masterpiece to take home as a special souvenir of your trip to Otsu.
Lucky Oni Bell Painting
Try your hand at painting the iconic Lucky Oni Bell featuring the most famous Otsu-e oni (Japanese ogre) character. You draw oni’s face on an earthenware bell. Oni are believed to expel evil spirits and appear everywhere in daily life. Ringing an earthenware bell is also said to drive off evil since olden times.
“Three Wise Monkeys” as Another Painting Choice
Instead of a Lucky Oni Bell painting, you could opt to paint the Three Wise Monkeys on a Japanese shikishi paper. This “Three Wise Monkeys” or San-en in Japanese is one of the popular Otsu-e motifs. Using a stencil, you depict the three monkeys which tell us the universal wisdom in life.
Optional afternoon tours are available, which start after lunch. The first option includes a visit to Miidera Temple, one of the oldest and most significant temples in Japan, dating back to the 7th century. The tour features a temple visit followed by a special experience program of your choice, such as a meditation or bead bracelet making workshop.
Another option is a visit to Enman-in Monzeki Temple. This revered temple served as a residence for generations of devoted priests whose lineage came from the imperial family. Its elegant Mii Garden and its Otsu-e Art Museum works are a must-see.
*Lunch is not included, but the guide will recommend local restaurants nearby the workshop venue.
What is Otsu-e?
Otsu-e paintings are a form of traditional folk art that originated in Otsu of Shiga Prefecture in the early 17th century. They were created by nameless painters who painted religious imagery, and sold them at inexpensive prices to travelers and locals along the Tokaido Road. Over time, the demand for Buddhist imagery gave way to secular subjects, including caricatures of people, oni (ogres), and animals.
As Otsu was just one stop before the old capital of Kyoto, these works gained popularity and soon spread throughout Japan as souvenirs via the Tokaido Road during the Edo period (1603-1867). It’s said that they served as the inspiration for contemporary Japanese manga and anime. Today, Otsu-e paintings are gaining renewed recognition, and even being exhibited in Paris. These works, born from the people, hold a unique history and are a fascinating reflection of Japanese culture.
Humorous and colorful Otsu-e works by the 5th Takahashi Shozan
The image of Lantern & Hanging Bell（Collection of the Otsu City Museum of History）
About Otsu City
The tranquil shores of Lake Biwa
Located just a 10-minute ride from Kyoto by local JR train, Otsu is the gateway to Shiga Prefecture, known as the “lake province” embracing the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. With over 1350 years of history, Otsu was once the largest post station town among the 53 stations of the Tokaido Historic Trail between Kyoto and Tokyo. Today, the Otsu Hyakucho area still retains some of the post town’s atmosphere and historic merchant residences called machiya. The city is also home to World Heritage site, Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, and famous historic temple, Miidera Temple, as well as the traditional folk art of Otsu-e.
1.Meet your guide at JR Otsu Station or your hotel in Kyoto and take a 10-minute local train ride to Otsu (JR train fees covered by JR Pass if you have). *If you are already in the Otsu area, meet at JR Otsu Station.
2.Explore the historic Hyakucho area and visit local shops in the charming shopping arcade.
3.Visit an Otsu-e artist and his studio/store (Otsu-e-no-mise).
4.Enjoy a refreshment, then start an Otsu-e workshop at the Ichie Wado Seminar House.
Pricing for this private tour will be determined by the size of your party, and any optional services such as meet-up at your hotel in Kyoto. Basic pricing is as follows. Please fill out the inquiry form at the bottom so that we can provide you with a quote.
|Price per person (Children
(6 – 15 yrs old))
2 guests minimum attendance policy. In case of 1 adult and 1 child, the adult price is applied to both. Adult price starts from 16-year-old or older.
Children under 6 are free of charge. The painting workshop participants must be of age 6 or older.
Children of age６-15 are JPY1,000 off from an adult price pp.
If an adult does not paint but only observes the painting workshop, s/he will still be charged the same attendance price.
Meeting service to your hotel in Kyoto is additional JPY5,000 per group. Your train fare to Otsu isn’t included in the tour price. You’ll be given a description in the quote before payment.
English-speaking professional guide with deep interest in Japanese culture.
The Otsu-e “Lucky Oni Bell” or “Three Wise Monkeys” painting workshop
Original Otsu-e souvenirs
Welcome tea and sweets
Some local snacks
Fridays & Saturdays: booking must be completed 7 days before (6 pm JST)
Approx. 3.5 hrs. (starts at 9:30 am)
Meet-up will either at the North Gate of JR Otsu Station or at your hotel in Kyoto or Otsu. The tour will conclude at Ichie Wado Seminar House in Otsu, the venue for the workshop.
The tour involves walking approximately 3 km, so we recommend wearing comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
The tour will still proceed in the event of rain, unless severe weather alert or warning issued.
In case of severe weather conditions or significant train delays which may adversely affect the tour, it may be cancelled. A decision will be made no later than 7 pm on the day before the tour.
If you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, please inform us at the time of reservation.
We strongly recommend purchasing appropriate travel insurance in advance, although minimal insurance is included (ask for details).
If you have physical limitations, please notify in the comments section of the booking inquiry form at the bottom.
Bookings must be made at least 7 days prior to the tour day.
We will reply to your email within 24 hours to confirm availability, price and details.
Please be aware that your tour reservation is not finalized until you receive confirmation from us.
No deposit is required, but full payment in advance by credit card is necessary once your enrollment is formally accepted. In the event of a cancellation by us, the tour fee will be fully refunded.
AFTERNOON TOUR OPTION 1
Explore Buddhist Culture at Miidera Temple: A Serene Journey
Discover more of Otsu in the afternoon with a unique cultural program at the tranquil Miidera Temple, just a short walk from the workshop venue. After lunch, we’ll regroup and make our way to the temple along the scenic Lake Biwa Canal, connecting lake to Kyoto. Miidera Temple, one of the Four Most Prestigious Temples in Japan, offers an array of cultural programs for you to choose from, including Tendai meditation (Shikan), bead bracelet making, sutra copying (Shakyo), Buddhist statue tracing (Shabutsu), or viewing of national treasures that are not typically accessible to the public. Pricing varies based on the number of participants and the chosen programs. For more information, please inquire about the available workshops.
AFTERNOON TOUR OPTION 2
Enman-in Monzeki Temple
Mii Garden seen from Shinden
For another fantastic afternoon tour option, join our knowledgeable guide who will lead you through Enman-in Monzeki Temple, steeped in art and culture and conveniently close to the workshop venue. With a history spanning over 1000 years, this revered temple served as a residence for generations of devoted priests whose lineage came from the imperial family. Our guide will highlight notable features of this heritage, including the Shinden, an imperial hall designed in the elegant shoin-zukuri style. Step inside and the serene atmosphere will captivate you as you enjoy a breathtaking view of the traditional Japanese garden. This garden was granted by the Imperial Palace in Kyoto in 1697, and is now a national historic site and scenic treasure. Additionally, our guide will take you to the Otsu-e Art Museum located on the temple grounds. The small-scale yet unique museum showcases a diverse collection of Otsu-e art, including hand scrolls and unique genre paintings.
The temple also offers a range of enriching cultural programs, such as zen meditation, tosenkyo (a Japanese noble game similar to darts), kimono fitting, shakyo (sutra copying), and shabutsu (Buddhist statue tracing). Please inquire for more information and availability. Early booking is required.
Otsu-e Art Museum in Enman-in
Tosenkyo (a Japanese noble game similar to darts)
The price for the optional tours is determined by the size of your group. We will provide you with a quote for your party when we reply to your inquiry.
ABOUT THE GUIDE
TOUR DESIGN ICHIE WADO
Tour Design Ichie Wado is a travel agency based in Otsu specializing in local tours and experience programs in and around Lake Biwa and nearby cities. Our programs include a variety of activities such as the Otsu-e Lucky Oni Bell and other painting workshops, a historic Otsu town walking tour, a Miidera Temple visit and workshop, bi-weekly table-style tea ceremony classes, etc. We invite you to join us in experiencing the unique culture and traditions of our beautiful region.
Tour Design Ichie Wado is a tourist agency at the Ichie Wado Seminar House.
Office hours: 10 am- 6 pm (Any changes will be posted)