Lake Biwa

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  • Japanese: 琵琶湖 (biwa ko)

Lake Biwa, located within Shiga prefecture, is the largest freshwater lake in Japan, covering some 670 square kilometers in area.[1] Named after the supposed resemblance of its shape to that of a biwa (a lute-like musical instrument), the lake is the subject of numerous notable literary and artistic references throughout Japanese history.

Lake Biwa was often compared to Lake Dongting in China, in poetry and literature, and serves as the center of the thematic set of "Eight Views of Ômi" (an adaptation or borrowing of the classical Chinese theme, "Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang").

The lake has several islands within it. Chikubushima is a sacred island, dedicated to the deity Benten; many Benten shrines throughout Japan emulate this by placing the shrine atop a manmade island within a lake or pond. Another island in the lake, Oki Island, was at times used to home courtiers and others exiled from Kyoto. Imamairi no Tsubone, wet-nurse to the first child of Hino Tomiko, was one such exile.

A significant waterworks project, known as the Lake Biwa Waterways Project, was undertaken in 1890 to bring water from the lake to the city of Kyoto, some 11 km away. The project included construction of the country's first hydroelectric dam.[2] Water from the lake had also been previously used to fill the moats of nearby Hikone castle.


  1. Lee Jeong Mi, "Cultural Expressions of Tokugawa Japan and Choson Korea: An Analysis of the Korean Embassies in the Eighteenth Century," PhD dissertation, University of Toronto (2008),158.
  2. Takashi Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy, UC Press (1998), 87.