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Biwako and Water Culture

Lake Biwa and water culture

Water has long been worshipped as a medium for purification and healing.
When Buddhism arrived in Japan from East Asia, the Buddha of Healing, Yakushi-Nyorai, was worshipped for his radiant Eastern Pure Land “water paradise” teachings.
Many temples and shrines were built facing the “water paradise” of Lake Biwa and they remain a major attraction today.
Local people have long adhered to a strict set of regulations to protect the cleanliness of Biwa as their daily lives rely on its spring water and traditional mountain-fed water distribution systems.
The spectacular views of the shore and lakeside districts, overflowing with life, have long inspired art and gardens.
Recently, these areas have also been attracting visitors who see in them a representation of the perfect harmony between humans and water.
Here, one finds the essence of the rich history of Japanese “water culture.”
Water is not only resources but also special existence which connects strongly with a spirit for Japan. People have been worshipped water, taking water skillfully into the living, built Japanese life or image of prayers which is only seen in Japan. Shiga prefecture has Lake Biwa in the center of Ohmi basin. Rains caught in mountains around come into the river and go to the lake. Water culture which reflects Japanese life and prayers was borne everywhere and handed down today.

Water and culture of life

Water is well utilized in life. In Takashima city located in the west side of Lake Biwa, water gush out from mountains far away is connected by bamboo pipe, and leaded into a measure in a house. It has been used for more than 400 years. Liquid measure in a house is called “Kabata”.
People use this water in a different way, such as for drink, or cooking, or washing, and at last carps in a water measure rummages through food remains.
In a village in the west side of the lake water a stone fence which protects houses from strong wind and waves is seen. People make washing using the bridge board set in the lake. With buildings remain along the highway, it makes a unique landscape.
There were many inner lakes around the Lake Biwa. Many of them were changed to farmland by reclamation, but Ohmihachiman city has the largest inner lake “Nishinoumi” which remained today. Fishing and reeds industries are carried out, a symbiotic relationship between reed in autumn, maintain and restoration of landscapes is repeated.
In Iba village abutting the Iba Inner Lake water ways go around the houses in all directions. Ever house remains “Kawato” which is a step over the water way. People do scrubbing and washing in Kawato.
Water not only heal people by beautiful water landscapes, but also become material which produce an excellent art.

Water and culture of prayers

People thank the bountiful blessings of water, believe that a spirit dwells in the cleanliness of water, afraid of flood and drought, respect water as God and hold a festival.
“Samegai Stations” in Maibara city has “Izamenoizumi” or a spring of awaking in which Yamatotakeru (God in myth) healed his wounded heat.
In an alluvial fan which is vulnerable for drought a drum dance has been performed today. In Takashima city there are many “Shigobuchi Shrines” which protect sailors go down on a raft in Adogawa river.
Priest Saicho founded “Enryakuji Temple” in Ohtsu city, The principal image was “Yakushi Nyorai” who was the chief of “Water Pure Land” in the east of Buddhist World. Looked down from the mount Hiei, there is shrine gate built around the lake and they are worshiped by many people today.
On the foot of Mount Hiei three head temples of Tendai Buddhism (Enryakuji, Miidera, Saikyoji) or “Sanno Sohongu” are enshrined. A magical fountain which is used for a newborn baby’s bath of emperors is enshrined. A festival in which portable shrines are set out in the lake has been handed down today. In Takashima city, Ohmihachimann city, Ohtsu city temples built on the mountains facing Lake Biwa, we can see unique landscapes and festivals which connects water and prayer. A big red “Torii” or shrine gate standing on the lake, rigorous ascetic exercises in which people dive on to the water from a pole jetting out to the lake, a garden imitated to Lake Biwa are seen.
Chikubujima island is famous for power spot floating on the lake gathers faith widely as an island of “Kannon” and “Benzaiten”.

Water and Food Culture

Water which cultivated people’s life and prayers also nurtured unique life styles and food culture. In the shore of a lake or on the mouth of a river “Oisade Fishing” become a natural scene. People use a rod with a bird feather to drive sweet fish into a net. Young sweet fish came in spring will be captured alive. “Yana Fishing” is to fence bamboo in the form of fan on the mouth of a river, “Eri Fishing” is to spread net in the form of an arrow. This technique of fishing which deeply knows the habit of the fish became the attraction of Lake Biwa as a unique landscape.
Fishes in Lake Biwa supported the life of people, local traditional meals were handed down. “Isaza”, “Honmoroko”, “Biwamasu”, these endemic species are used in a traditional meal today. Fermented sushi such as “Funazushi” is the crystallization of wisdom to keep fishes which rise river at their spawning season for more than a year. It has strong connections with festivals which pray for abundant crop or traditional events.
In Shiga prefecture people use water skillfully, respect water, afraid water, ask for help and peace of mind in pure land of water. It is “water Culture” of Japanese handed down and sustains today. It is one of archetypal images of Japan which mesmerized Masako Shirasu, Yasushi Inoue, or Ryotaro Shiba. In modern Japan where the relationship between water and people has become weak, “Water country” Shiga is the invaluable place where the relationship with water and rich hearts and mind can be recovered.

By Masa

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