Lake Biwa
is the largest freshwater
Fresh water is naturally occurring water on the Earth's surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, and underground as groundwater in aquifers and underground streams. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and...

 lake in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, located in Shiga Prefecture
Shiga Prefecture
is a prefecture of Japan, which forms part of the Kansai region on Honshu Island. The capital is the city of Ōtsu.- History :Shiga was known as Ōmi Province or Gōshū before the prefectural system was established...

 (west-central Honshū
is the largest island of Japan. The nation's main island, it is south of Hokkaido across the Tsugaru Strait, north of Shikoku across the Inland Sea, and northeast of Kyushu across the Kanmon Strait...

), northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

. Because of its proximity to the ancient capital, references to Lake Biwa appear frequently in Japanese literature, particularly in poetry
Japanese poetry
Japanese poets first encountered Chinese poetry during the Tang Dynasty. It took them several hundred years to digest the foreign impact, make it a part of their culture and merge it with their literary tradition in their mother tongue, and begin to develop the diversity of their native poetry. For...

 and in historical accounts of battles.


The term of Biwako was established in the Edo Period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

. There are some theories about the origin of Biwako, but it was generally believed that a stringed instrument Biwa
The is a Japanese short-necked fretted lute, often used in narrative storytelling. The biwa is the chosen instrument of Benten, goddess of music, eloquence, poetry, and education in Japanese Shinto....

 is related to Biwako. Kōsō, a learned monk of Enryaku-ji
thumb|300px|Konpon Chū-dō , Enryaku-ji's main hall is a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hiei in Ōtsu, overlooking Kyoto. It was founded during the early Heian period. The temple complex was established by Saichō , also known as Dengyō Daishi, who introduced the Tendai sect of Mahayana Buddhism...

 in the 14th century, referred to a clue of Biwako in his writing; "The lake is the Pure land
Pure land
A pure land, in Mahayana Buddhism, is the celestial realm or pure abode of a Buddha or Bodhisattva. The various traditions that focus on Pure Lands have been given the nomenclature Pure Land Buddhism. Pure lands are also evident in the literature and traditions of Taoism and Bön.The notion of 'pure...

 of Benzaiten
Benzaiten is the Japanese name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati. Worship of Benzaiten arrived in Japan during the 6th through 8th centuries, mainly via the Chinese translations of the Sutra of Golden Light, which has a section devoted to her...

. Because she lives in the Chikubu Island
Chikubu Island
is an island in Lake Biwa in Japan. The national government has designated it a special historic site.The island's geographic coordinates are 35°25′24″ N, 136°8′37″ E. Its area is 0.14 km² and its coastline measures 2 km. The highest point has an elevation of 197 m...

 and the shape of the lake is similar to Biwa, her favorite instrument."

The lake was formerly known as or and later Awaumi changed Ōmi, an etymology of Ōmi Province
Omi Province
is an old province of Japan, which today comprises Shiga Prefecture. It was one of the provinces that made up the Tōsandō circuit. It is nicknamed as .Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake, is located at the center of the province...

. The lake is also called in literature.

Area and use

The area of this lake is about 670 km², making it larger than Awaji Island
Awaji Island
is an island in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, in the eastern part of the Seto Inland Sea between the islands of Honshū and Shikoku. The island has an area of 592.17 km²...

. Small rivers drain from the surrounding mountains into Lake Biwa, and its main outlet is the Seta River
Seta River
The , also called the Seta River and the Uji River at portions of its route, is the principal river in Osaka Prefecture on Honshū, Japan. The source of the river is Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture to the north....

, which later becomes the Yodo River and flows into the Seto Inland Sea at Osaka Bay
Osaka Bay
Osaka Bay is a bay in western Japan. As an eastern part of the Inland Sea, it is separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Kii Channel and from the neighbor western part of the Inland Sea by the Akashi Strait...


It serves as a reservoir for the cities of Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 and Ōtsu
Otsu, Shiga
is the capital city of Shiga, Japan. The city was founded on October 1, 1898. As of October 1, 2010, the city has an estimated population of 338,629 with an average age of 40.7 years and a population density of 905.28 persons per km²...

 and is a valuable resource for nearby textile industries. It provides drinking water for about 15 million people in the Kansai region. Lake Biwa is a breeding ground for freshwater fish, including trout
Trout is the name for a number of species of freshwater and saltwater fish belonging to the Salmoninae subfamily of the family Salmonidae. Salmon belong to the same family as trout. Most salmon species spend almost all their lives in salt water...

, and for the pearl culture
Mariculture is a specialized branch of aquaculture involving the cultivation of marine organisms for food and other products in the open ocean, an enclosed section of the ocean, or in tanks, ponds or raceways which are filled with seawater. An example of the latter is the farming of marine fish,...


The lake's surface rises as much as three metres in spring due to melting snow and spring rains, and in autumn after typhoon rains.

The Lake Biwa Canal
Lake Biwa Canal
is a waterway in Japan built during the Meiji Period to transport water, freight, and passengers from Lake Biwa to the nearby City of Kyoto.This waterway was also used as Japan's first hydroelectric power generator, which served to provide electricity for Kyoto's trams.As of 2008, the waterway is...

, built in the late 1890s and later expanded during the Taishō period
Taisho period
The , or Taishō era, is a period in the history of Japan dating from July 30, 1912 to December 25, 1926, coinciding with the reign of the Taishō Emperor. The health of the new emperor was weak, which prompted the shift in political power from the old oligarchic group of elder statesmen to the Diet...

 played a role of great importance in the rekindling of Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

's industrial life, after a steep decline following the transfer of the capital to Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...


Lake Biwa is home to many popular beaches along the southwestern shore, in particular, for example, Shiga
Shiga, Shiga
was a town located in Shiga District, Shiga, Japan. It is on the western shore of Lake Biwa and the eastern foot of Hira Mountains.The original village called Shiga was located slightly north of Ōtsu, and merged with Ōtsu on May 10, 1932...

 Beach and Omi-Maiko
Omi-Maiko Station
is a train station in Ōtsu, Shiga, Japan.-Stations next to Ōmi-Maiko:...

. The Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden
Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden
The , also known as the Kusatsu Aquatic Botanical Garden, is a botanical garden specializing in aquatic plants and best known for its extensive lotus display. Mizu-no-mori means "water forest" in Japanese. It is located on Lake Biwa's southeastern shore on the Karasuma Peninsula in Oroshimo-cho,...

 and The Lake Biwa Museum in Kusatsu
Kusatsu, Shiga
is a city located in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. The city was founded on October 15, 1954, and as of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 123,690 and the density of 1,820 persons per km². The total area is 67.92 km².- Overview :...

 are also of interest.

The body of water has a running competition named after it – the Lake Biwa Marathon
Lake Biwa Marathon
The held in Otsu, Shiga, is one of the prominent Japanese marathon races of the year. It is a male only competition and has IAAF Gold Label status. First held in 1946 and having taken place every year since then, it is Japan's oldest annual marathon race...

 – which takes place in Ōtsu near the lake annually since 1962.

Natural history of the lake

Lake Biwa is of tectonic origin and is one of the world's oldest twenty lakes, dating to almost 4 million years ago. This long uninterrupted age has allowed for a notably diverse ecosystem
An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving , physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight....

 to evolve in the lake. Naturalists have documented about 1100 species in the lake, including 58 endemic species. Lake Biwa is also an important place for water birds
Anatidae is the biological family of birds that includes ducks, geese and swans. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring on all the world's continents except Antarctica and on most of the world's islands and island groups...

. About 5,000 water birds visit Lake Biwa every year.

Recently the biodiversity
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions...

 of the lake has suffered greatly due to the invasion of foreign fish
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

, the black bass
Black bass
Micropterus , is a genus of freshwater fish in the sunfish family of order Perciformes. The type species is M. dolomieu, the smallmouth bass...

 and the bluegill
The Bluegill is a species of freshwater fish sometimes referred to as bream, brim, or copper nose. It is a member of the sunfish family Centrarchidae of the order Perciformes.-Range and distribution:...

. Bluegill were presented to the Emperor
Emperor of Japan
The Emperor of Japan is, according to the 1947 Constitution of Japan, "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." He is a ceremonial figurehead under a form of constitutional monarchy and is head of the Japanese Imperial Family with functions as head of state. He is also the highest...

 and later freed in the lake as a food source for other fish. Black bass were introduced as a sport fish
Recreational fishing
Recreational fishing, also called sport fishing, is fishing for pleasure or competition. It can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is fishing for profit, or subsistence fishing, which is fishing for survival....

. In July 2009 a largemouth bass weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces was caught in the lake by Manabu Kurita. It has been officially certified by the International Game Fish Association
International Game Fish Association
The International Game Fish Association is the leading authority on angling pursuits and the keeper of the most current World Record fishing catches by fish categories. Fishermen who are sport fishers are careful to follow their stringent rules for fair play and line requirements in order to...

 (IGFA) to tie the largemouth bass world record held solely by George Perry for 77 years.

Environmental legislation protecting the lake

Various environmental laws cover Lake Biwa:

Legislation to prevent eutrophication
Eutrophication or more precisely hypertrophication, is the movement of a body of water′s trophic status in the direction of increasing plant biomass, by the addition of artificial or natural substances, such as nitrates and phosphates, through fertilizers or sewage, to an aquatic system...

This was enacted in 1981 and first enforced on July 1, 1982; therefore, this day is called "". The legislation established standards for the nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 and phosphorus
Phosphorus is the chemical element that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidized state, as inorganic phosphate rocks...

 levels for agricultural, industrial, and household water sources emptying into the lake. They also banned people from using and selling synthetic detergent
A detergent is a surfactant or a mixture of surfactants with "cleaning properties in dilute solutions." In common usage, "detergent" refers to alkylbenzenesulfonates, a family of compounds that are similar to soap but are less affected by hard water...

s which contain phosphorus.

The Ramsar treaty
The lake was designated as a UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 Ramsar Wetland (1993) in accordance with the Ramsar Convention
Ramsar Convention
The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, i.e., to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognizing the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural,...

. The object of this treaty is to protect and sensibly use internationally valuable wetlands
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

. The Kushiro marsh (釧路湿原, Kushiro Shitsugen) in Japan is under this treaty now.

Shiga Ordinance for the Conservation of Reed Vegetation Zones
Phragmites, the Common reed, is a large perennial grass found in wetlands throughout temperate and tropical regions of the world. Phragmites australis is sometimes regarded as the sole species of the genus Phragmites, though some botanists divide Phragmites australis into three or four species...

 colonies on the shore form give Lake Biwa its characteristic scenery. The reeds play an important role in purifying water as well as providing habitat for birds and fish. At one time there were large areas of reeds along the shores of Lake Biwa, which local government surveys recently found to have halved in size due to encroaching development. This ordinance to protect, grow, and utilize the reed beds has been in force since 1992.

See also

  • Eight Views of Omi
    Eight Views of Omi
    The Eight Views of Omi are the most scenic views of Omi Province, the present-day Shiga Prefecture, Japan. They were inspired by the Eight Views of Xiaoxiang in China...

  • Biwako Line
  • Biwako Quasi-National Park
    Biwako Quasi-National Park
    is a Quasi-National Park in Shiga Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. It was founded on 24 July 1950 and has an area of . In June 1993 an area of 65,984 ha beside Lake Biwa was designated a Ramsar Site and wetland of international importance.-See also:...

  • Birdman Rally
    Birdman Rally
    Birdman Rally is a competition where members of the public build home-made gliders, hang gliders and human-powered aircraft, ranging from very serious aircraft to mere costumes, leap off a river- or seaside jetty, and compete for distance and entertainment value.Birdman rallies occur in multiple...

     (1977–), the yearly televised homemade glider
    Glider aircraft
    Glider aircraft are heavier-than-air craft that are supported in flight by the dynamic reaction of the air against their lifting surfaces, and whose free flight does not depend on an engine. Mostly these types of aircraft are intended for routine operation without engines, though engine failure can...

     and human-powered flight
    Human-powered transport
    Human-powered transport is the transport of person and/or goods using human muscle power. Like animal-powered transport, human-powered transport has existed since time immemorial in the form of walking, running and swimming...

  • Biwa town
    Biwa, Shiga
    was a town located in Higashiazai District, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. It is on the northern shore of Lake Biwa and that was the origin of the town's name. Chikubu Island was under the administration of Biwa....

    , a town on the northern shore of Lake Biwa and its name was named after Lake Biwa.
  • F.C. Mi-O Biwako Kusatsu, football club based in Kusatsu, Shiga
    Kusatsu, Shiga
    is a city located in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. The city was founded on October 15, 1954, and as of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 123,690 and the density of 1,820 persons per km². The total area is 67.92 km².- Overview :...

    , facing the lake.
  • Tourism in Japan
    Tourism in Japan
    Tourism in Japan attracted 8.3 million foreign visitors in 2008, slightly more than Singapore and Ireland. Japan has 16 World Heritage Sites, including Himeji Castle and Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto . Kyoto receives over 30 million tourists annually...

External links

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