”Culture of life with water,” ”culture of water and worship,” ”culture of water and food”… The culture that developed around the precious lake has passed to us in these modern days, while the pure, sustaining water of the lake continues to support the 14.5 million people living around it and in its surroundings.
Shiga Prefecture with Lake Biwa in the center of the Omi basin is blessed with the rich water resources from mountains around it and each region has developed a unique water culture of prayers and lifestyle. (”Japan Heritage” is a qualification of the Agency of Cultural Affairs given to areas that exemplify Japanese culture and traditions to the world through their outstanding history and regional attractions.)
”Culture of life with water”. Harie / Shimofuri surrounding water
The area of Harie and Shimofuri has a system called ”Kabata”, which uses plentiful spring water sumptuously yet humbly. It divides spring water into drinking water and cooking water, and carp are kept to eat leftover food waste from each house so that water can return to the rivers and lake as clean as possible.
”Culture of water and worship” Shirahige shrine
Shirahige shrine is the oldest shrine in the Omi basin and is known for its huge, guard ”torii” gate standing in the water at the edge of Lake Biwa.
Shirahige is a shrine dedicated to the worship of the god of long life. Many people visit this shrine for its amazing scenery, as well. Another interesting thing about this shrine is that there are many monuments engraved with ”waka” poems written by several famous poets.
”Culture of water and food.” Oisade fishing method
The lake hasn’t only affected lifestyle and worship, but also the region’s industries and food culture, too. Around the river mouths one can still witness Oisade fishing, in which bird feathers are used to chase fish into nets in the Spring.
There are 510 first class rivers in Shiga Prefecture and 117 of them flow into Lake Biwa. On the other hand, there is only one river, the Setagawa river, flowing out of Lake Biwa. The Setagawa river changes its name to the Uji river and later the Yodogawa river, which flows out to the ocean through Osaka bay. With the biggest volume of fresh water in Japan, Lake Biwa supports not only the population of Shiga Prefecture but also those of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures, which together number about 14.5 million people (10 times the total population of Shiga Prefecture alone).
Water from Lake Biwa flows out through a manmade canal as well. The purpose of this canal was to rebuild Kyoto, which was in decline after the capital was moved to Tokyo, by building water power plants for improving factories, facilitating transportation, improving irrigation for farms and rice fields, suoolying water for drinking and fighting fires, etc. Construction started in 1885 and ended in 1890. After land transportation expanded, canal ship transportation disappeared, but recently a lake Biwa canal attraction conference was held and a tour boat has running on the canal since 2018.
This page is partly sourced from “Learn about Lake Biwa,” a short handbook of Lake Biwa published by Shiga Prefecture on March, 2018.Some pictures are provided by the Shiga Visitors Bureau.
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