Lake Biwa Canal

Lake Biwa Canal

nihongo|Lake Biwa Canal|琵琶湖疏水 or 琵琶湖疎水|Biwako Sosui is a waterway in Japan built during the Meiji Period in order 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 not used so much to generate electricity, but rather for water supply, fire-fighting and irrigation purposes.


The waterway takes water from the lake in Ōtsu, Shiga and flows into Kyoto through tunnels under the mountains. Between the two cities, the canal has two routes, the nihongo|Canal No. 1|第一疏水|Dai-ichi sosui and the nihongo|Canal No. 2|第二疏水|Dai-ni sosui.

Due to the 36 meter difference in elevation between the upstream dam and the Nanzen Temple, a Canal inclined plane was built, which allowed boats to travel on land via the use of a flat car on which they were placed. Although it is no longer in operation, part of the structure of the incline has been preserved and is now a tourist attraction, famous for its ornamental cherry trees.


Following the Meiji Restoration and the subsequent transfer of the capital to Tokyo, the city of Kyoto suffered a decrease in population and industrial activity. In order to make up for this problem, the third Prefectural Governor of Kyoto, nihongo|Kitagaki Kunimichi|北垣国道, ordered and supervised the construction of the Biwa Lake Canal, devised to facilitate water and passenger transportation, its use in industry and the generation of electricity.

Construction work for the first canal (which went up to the confluence point between Ōtsu and the Kamo River) began in 1885 and finished five years later in 1890. The whole enterprise accounted for a value of approximately 1,250,000 yen in building costs, which were paid via communal industrial funds, national expenditure, municipal bonds and donations (approximately one third of the costs were covered by the Meiji Emperor himself) and special taxes.

In order to inspect the construction works, nihongo|Tanabe Sakurō|田邉朔郎—the project's chief engineer—was called in from the United States, where he had stayed for the duration of the year of 1888. It was during this visit, and after consulting with North American engineers, that the idea of building a power station, fashioned after the Aspen hydroelectric plant, was put in practice after his return to Japan in 1889—previously the plan contemplated only the use of water wheels"East Meets West: Lake Biwa Canal, Kyoto, Japan" by Louis A. van Gasteren]

The station was operational in 1891. In order to make use of the power generated, construction of what was to become Japan's first streetcar railroad, the nihongo|Kyoto Electric Railway|京都電気鉄道|Kyoto Denki Tetsudō, began in 1895.

In 1894 the Kamo River Waterway—started in 1892—was completed, uniting Kamo River and Fushimi ward. Due to an increasing demand for tap water and electricity, plans were made for the construction of the second route (Canal No. 2), which started in 1908 and finished in 1912. A water treatment plant was also erected in Kyoto.

Following the development of the railway and the road, the role of the canal as a means of transportation was over by the 1940s.

The canal was designated as a National Historical Site in June, 1996.


External links

* [ ja icon The Lake Biwa Canal Museum of Kyoto]
** [ en icon Museum leaflet]
* [ ja icon Waterway Selection]
* [ en icon The Lake Biwa Canal Museum of Kyoto]
* [ en icon Setting an Industrial Tourism Route of the Lake Biwa Canal in Keage, Kyoto]

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