Have you been studying all week and need to blow off steam? Or have you visited too many castles and want to go somewhere more casual? Luckily, there’s more to do in Shiga Prefecture than just sight-seeing. Here are a few places students like to go to hang out with friends, relax, and experience some lesser-known aspects of Japanese culture.
You’ve heard of karaoke, now try it for yourself! Karaoke Ban Ban, just down the street from the station, is the closet karaoke parlor to JCMU at about 15 minutes away by bike. You can rent a private room for yourself and your friends, and sing the night away as you enjoy snacks and drinks delivered right to your door. There are thousands of songs to choose from, although random music videos play behind the lyrics when there isn’t an official one. This means that you could be singing Uptown Funk to visuals of high schoolers exchanging love letters.
Viva City Arcade
Minami-Hikone is just one stop down the line from Hikone on the local line, and students often get off there to go the closest big mall, Viva City. With three stories of boutiques, bakeries, and gift shops, there’s lots to see and do. If you follow the sound of shrill music to the second floor, you’ll find a massive arcade, full of bright and noisy games for all ages. There’s claw machines! Drumming rhythm games! Dance dance revolution! Try one you’ve always seen in anime or discover a new favorite.
Is there anywhere better to go to relax than a cat cafe? Come for the staff of furry, cuddly kitties and stay for the pastries and drinks. You can pay by the hour to spend time with the cats, who are very friendly and excited to play with you. Cat cafes are popular among Japanese people living in apartments where they can’t have pets, and they’re a good fix for students missing their animals from home. Just don’t try to take one back with you!
Where can you find second-hand clothes, colored contacts, and weird statues of dinosaurs and human-headed horses all in one place? Bike about half and hour towards Maibara and you’ll find this strange thrift store that feels like it came from another planet. Inside, you can shop for clothes, CDs, anime goods, electronics, and anything else you think of, plus a number of things you can’t. Whether you’re buying or not, you’ll have fun looking through all the bizarre items and wondering how they ended up there in the first place.
If you’re willing to travel a little further, near Ohmihachiman is a bakery complex called La Collina. It’s part of the Club Harie franchise, the same bakery right next door to JCMU, but specializes in baumkuchen made with a secret traditional recipe. You wouldn’t expect a German pastry to find a second life in the Japanese countryside, but you also wouldn’t expect natural art installations or a bakery covered with a grassy roof. Go to see the beautiful landscape, experience the blending of nature with industry, and learn how a well-loved dessert is made.
Bakeries and thrift stores may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think Japanese culture, but they’re a part of it that you don’t want to miss. They’re also great places to go with friends and a way to expand your comfort zone by trying something new. So the next time you need to unwind after studying too hard, take a bike or a train ride to a fun new experience!