Biwa (Japanese: 琵琶湖, Hepburn: Biwa-ko) is the largest
freshwater lake in Japan, located in
Shiga Prefecture (west-central
Honshu), northeast of the former capital city of Kyoto. Because of
its proximity to the ancient capital, references to Lake
frequently in Japanese literature, particularly in poetry and in
historical accounts of battles.
2 Area and use
3 Natural history
5 Environmental legislation
5.2 Wetlands protection
5.3 Conservation of Reed Vegetation Zones
6 Image gallery
7 See also
8 Explanatory notes
10 External links
The name Biwako was established in the Edo period. There are various
theories about the origin of the name Biwako, but it is generally
believed to be so named because of the resemblance of its shape to
that of a stringed instrument called the biwa. Kōsō, a learned monk
Enryaku-ji in the 14th century, gave a clue to the origin of the
name Biwako in his writing: "The lake is the
Pure land of the goddess
Benzaiten because she lives on
Chikubu Island and the shape of the
lake is similar to that of the biwa, her favorite instrument."
The lake was formerly known as the Awaumi (淡海,
Freshwater Sea) or
the Chikatsu Awaumi (近淡海,
Freshwater Sea Near the Capital).
Later the pronunciation Awaumi changed to the modern Ōmi as in the
name of Ōmi Province. The lake is also called Nio no Umi (鳰の海,
"Little Grebe Lake") in literature.
Area and use
The area of this lake is about 670 km². Small rivers drain from
the surrounding mountains into Lake Biwa, and its main outlet is the
Seta River, which later becomes the Uji River, combining with the
Katsura and Kizu to become the
Yodo River and flows into the Seto
Inland Sea at Osaka Bay.
It serves as a reservoir for the cities of
Kyoto and Ōtsu 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, and for the
pearl culture industry.
Biwa Canal, built in the late 1890s and later expanded during
Taishō period played a role of great importance in the rekindling
of Kyoto's industrial life, after a steep decline following the
transfer of the capital to Tokyo.
Biwa is home to many popular beaches along the north-western
shore, in particular, for example, Shiga Beach and Omi-Maiko. The
Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden
Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden and The Lake
Biwa Museum in Kusatsu
are also of interest.
Biwa Marathon takes place in Otsu, the city at the southern
end of the lake, annually since 1962.
Biwa is of tectonic origin and is one of the world's oldest
lakes, dating to at least 4 million years ago. This long
uninterrupted age has allowed for a notably diverse ecosystem to
evolve in the lake. Naturalists have documented more than 1000 species
and subspecies in the lake, including about 60 endemic. Lake Biwa
is an important place for water birds. About 5,000 water birds visit
Biwa every year.
There are 46 native fish species and subspecies in the lake,
including 11 species and 5 subspecies that are endemic or
near-endemic. The endemic species are five cyprinids (Carassius
cuvieri, Gnathopogon caerulescens, Ischikauia steenackeri,
Opsariichthys uncirostris and Sarcocheilichthys biwaensis), a true
loach (Cobitis magnostriata), two gobies (Gymnogobius isaza and an
undescribed species of Rhinogobius), two silurid catfish (Silurus
biwaensis and S. lithophilus) and a cottid (Cottus reinii). The
Biwa trout is also endemic to the lake, but some maintain that it is a
subspecies of the widespread masu salmon rather than a separate
species. The remaining endemic fish are subspecies of Carassius
auratus, Cobitis minamorii,
Sarcocheilichthys variegatus and Squalidus
Biwa is also the home of a large number of molluscs, including 38
freshwater snails (19 endemic) and 16 bivalves (9 endemic).
Recently the biodiversity of the lake has suffered greatly due to the
invasion of foreign fish, the black bass and the bluegill. Bluegill
were presented to the Emperor and later freed in the lake as a food
source for other fish.
Black bass were introduced as a sport fish. In
July 2009, a largemouth bass weighing 22 pounds, 4 ounces (about
10.09 kg) was caught in the lake by Manabu Kurita. It has been
officially certified by the
International Game Fish Association
International Game Fish Association (IGFA)
to tie the largemouth bass world record held solely by George Perry
for 77 years.
The Awazu site, a submerged shell-midden of Lake Biwa, is an important
archaeological site of Jōmon period. It goes back to the beginning of
Jōmon period (ca. 9300 BP). It lies near the southern end
of Lake Biwa, close to Otsu City, at a depth of 2 to 3m from the
The site shows the use of plant and animal food resources by Jōmon
peoples. It also demonstrates the importance of nut consumption in
Shell Midden No. 3 is dated to the Middle Jōmon period. An abundance
of horse chestnuts was uncovered here (c. 40% of the total estimated
diet). This indicates that, by this later period, a sophisticated
processing technology was mastered in order to remove the harmful
tannic acid, and make this food safe for consumption.
Ishiyama is another such site of early
Jōmon period on Lake Biwa.
Various environmental laws cover Lake Biwa:
Legislation to prevent eutrophication was enacted in 1981 and first
enforced on July 1, 1982; therefore, this day is called "Lake
(びわ湖の日, Biwako no Hi)". The legislation established
standards for the nitrogen and phosphorus levels for agricultural,
industrial, and household water sources emptying into the lake. They
also banned people from using and selling synthetic detergents which
The lake was designated as a
UNESCO Ramsar Wetland (1993) in
accordance with the Ramsar Convention. The object of this treaty is to
protect and sensibly use internationally valuable wetlands. The
Kushiro marsh (釧路湿原, Kushiro Shitsugen) in Japan is under this
Conservation of Reed Vegetation Zones
Reed 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 Shiga Ordinance for the Conservation of Reed
Vegetation Zones to protect, grow, and utilize the reed beds has been
in force since 1992.
Biwa at Chomeiji-cho, Ōmihachiman
Mangetsu-ji temple, one of the Eight Views of Omi
A pleasure boat from the Otsu port
Eight Views of Omi
Biwako Quasi-National Park
Birdman Rally (1977–), the yearly televised homemade glider and
human-powered flight competition.
Biwa town, a town on the northern shore of Lake
Biwa and its name was
named after Lake Biwa.
F.C. Mi-O Biwako Kusatsu, a football club based in Kusatsu, Shiga,
facing the lake.
Tourism in Japan
Lake Hamana, a lake in Shizuoka Prefecture, its old name was "distant
^ The subspecies differentiation may not be recognzed, for example by
the current FishBase.
^ a b c d e f g h i Tabata, R.; Kakioka, R.; Tominaga, K.; Komiya, T.;
Watanabe, K. (2016). Phylogeny and historical demography of endemic
fishes in Lake Biwa: the ancient lake as a promoter of evolution and
diversification of freshwater fishes in western Japan. Ecology and
Evolution 6(8): 2601–2623.
^ "Biwa, Lake". Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.
^ Yoshihiro Kimura (2001). Biwako -sono koshō no yurai- [Lake Biwa,
the origin of its name]. Hikone: Sunrise Publishing.
^ a b c d Kawanabe, H.; Nishino, M.; and Maehata, M., editors (2012).
Lake Biwa: Interactions between Nature and People. pp 119-120.
^ Segers, H.; and Martens, K; editors (2005). The Diversity of Aquatic
Ecosystems. p. 46. Developments in Hydrobiology. Aquatic Biodiversity.
^ a b Francesco Menotti, Aidan O'Sullivan, The Oxford Handbook of
Wetland Archaeology. OUP Oxford, 2013. ISBN 0199573492 p.181
^ Habu, Junko; Matsui, Akira; Yamamoto, Naoto; Kanno, Tomonori (2011).
"Shell midden archaeology in Japan: Aquatic food acquisition and
long-term change in the Jomon culture" (PDF). Quaternary
International. 239 (1-2): 19–27. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.03.014.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lake Biwa.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Lake Biwa.
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
Department of Lake
Biwa and Environment, Shiga Prefecture
Biwa Environmental Research Institute
Ramsar site database
go.biwako - Travel Guide of Shiga Prefecture, Japan
Biwa (World Wildlife Fund)
Review of Criodrilidae (Annelida: Oligochaeta) including Biwadrilus
Live Webcam of Biwako
Japan's Secret Garden NOVA / PBS
Fishing World Records
Lakes in Japan