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About the song and rowing route... この歌について(日本語解説)(日本語はこの下にあります。Japanese follows the English below.)

Shiga Prefecture's most famous and beloved song is called Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌) or "Lake Biwa Rowing Song." I have rendered this song into both pictures and English, according to my own imagination and interpretation.

First composed in 1917 by a bunch of college students from Kyoto, the song has been recorded by many famous Japanese singers and groups. In 1971, it became a major nationwide hit with singer Tokiko Kato's rendition. Today, the song remains a favorite among choir groups in Japan, and a choir singing contest is held for the song every June (since 1997) in Imazu, the birthplace of the song in the northwestern corner of Lake Biwa.

Shiga Prefecture also has stone monuments dedicated to each of the six verses. There's even a museum (Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan) in Imazu dedicated to the song. Okaya city on the shores of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture, the birthplace of the song's composer, Taro Oguchi (小口太郎) (1897-1924), also has a song monument and bronze statue of him.

The song is about a four-day, boat-rowing trip around Lake Biwa undertaken on June 27, 1917 by seven college students. They were in the rowing club at an elite college in Kyoto called Dai-san Koto Gakko (No. 3 High School 第三高等学校) which later merged with Kyoto University. As shown by the red line in the map above, they started at Otsu and rowed to Omatsu (now called Omi-Maiko), Imazu, Chikubushima island, Nagahama, Hikone, Chomeiji, and back to Otsu. They stopped overnight at Omatsu, Imazu, and Hikone.

The dotted blue line shows a longer route taken by earlier members of the rowing club beginning in 1893 when they did it for the first time. Twenty-one of them rowed around the lake in three boats, taking four nights and five days. The school's annual summer tradition of rowing around Lake Biwa thus began.

As the song circumnavigates the lake and mentions famous places in Shiga, the words also express symbolic meanings and sometimes unknown or mistaken meanings. The song is widely interpreted as describing the journey of life itself.

I have visited and photographed all the places mentioned in the song as well as all the song monuments in Otsu, Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Hikone, Chomeiji, and Okaya (Nagano). I also created some digital images to match the scenes mentioned in the song.

More info about Lake Biwa Rowing Song here.

Photo: This map of lake Biwa is part of the Verse 5 Song Monument recently built in Oct. 2005 at Hikone Port. The English captions were inserted by me with my computer.
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Song monument which reads "Ware wa Umi no Ko," the song's first line meaning "We're children of the lake."
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"Umi no Ko" (Child of the Lake) Lake Biwa training boatThe bow of Shiga Prefecture's "floating school." The name of this boat was obviously taken from the song. The boat is owned by Shiga Prefecture and used to educate elementary school kids about the lake. Since 1983, this ship has been serving as a floating school for kids where they stay overnight and spend two days conducting experiments to learn more about the lake. Picture was taken at Hikone Port.
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"Umi no Ko" (Child of the Lake) Lake Biwa training boat for kidsThe name of this boat was obviously taken from the song. The boat is owned by Shiga Prefecture and used to educate elementary school kids about the lake. Since 1983, this ship has been serving as a floating school for kids where they stay overnight and spend two days conducting experiments to learn more about the lake. Picture was taken at Hikone Port.
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Mihogasaki harbor, Otsu. The arrow points to the boat house where Oguchi Taro and crew departed for their rowing trips.Mihogasaki is accessible by bus from Otsu Station. Or just walk west from Hama-Otsu. This is also where water from the lake is drawn into the Biwako Canal's first canal which feeds water to Kyoto.
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Mihogasaki harbor, Otsu. The arrow points to the boat house.
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Boat house where Taro Oguchi and crew departed on their rowing trip. No longer used by the university's boat club. Mihogasaki, Otsu
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Verse 1 Lyrics (Otsu) 一番の英訳(大津). School logo on boat house, a cherry blossom with three stripes for Dai-san Koto Gakko.We're children of the lake, off to wander 'round.
This journey fills my heart with, intense happiness.
Rising mist evaporates, ripples come and go.
Shiga's Miyako dear, bid farewell for now.

われは湖の子 さすらいの
旅にしあれば しみじみと
のぼる狭霧や さざなみの
志賀の都よ いざさらば

Ware wa Umi no Ko, sasurai no
tabi ni shiareba, shimijimi to
Noboru sagiri ya, sazanami no
Shiga no Miyako yo, iza saraba
--
This first verse refers to the start of the journey of life. The lake mist symbolizes the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

The capital of Shiga is Otsu, where they departed from Mihogasaki boat harbor on June 27, 1917. For some reason, the kanji characters for "Shiga" is incorrect for Shiga Prefecture.

The photo above shows part of the stone monument for the first verse of the song. It reads "Ware wa Umi no Ko" (We're children of the lake). This is the song's first and most famous line. The monument is in a small park near the former boathouse in Mihogasaki pier. The photo has been digitally altered (the colors are not real).

All photos and English translation by Philbert Ono
写真・英訳:オノ フィルバート
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"Rising mist evaporates, ripples come and go." のぼる狭霧や さざなみのImage composited by computer. The photo was taken from the boat house looking out toward the lake.
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Reeds bid rowers farewell for now...
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Rear of boat house, now used by a private boat club.
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Verse 2 Lyrics (Omatsu/Omi-Maiko) 二番の英訳(雄松"Pine trees are very green, on sands very white.
Omatsugasato is, a young maiden's home.
Bush of red camellia, hides her teary face.
She's weeping o'er a lost love, much too short to last.

松は緑に 砂白き
雄松が里の 乙女子は
赤い椿の 森蔭に
はかない恋に 泣くとかや
Matsu wa midori ni, suna shiroki
Omatsugasato no, otomego wa
Akai tsubaki no, morikage ni
Hakanai koi ni, naku toka ya

Omi-Maiko is still famous for white sand beaches and pine trees. In summer these beaches are cluttered with people trying to get a tan.

See more photos of Omi-Maiko here.
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"Pine trees are very green, on sands very white." Omi-MaikoSee more photos of Omi-Maiko here.
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White sands of Omi-Maiko (Omatsu), Otsu, Shiga
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Ripples lap white sands of Omi-Maiko.
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Pine trees at Omi-Maiko
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Kyoto University Rowing Club arrive at Omi-Maiko in Aug. 2006 during their annual Lake Biwa rowing trip.
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Omatsu "Famous Place" marker
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Verse 3 Lyrics (Imazu) 三番の英訳(今津) "We drift from wave to wave..."We drift from wave to wave, straying aimlessly.
On shore we see red fire, brings back memories.
With our sights set nowhere, rolling with the waves.
Today is Imazu or, Nagahama huh.

浪のまにまに 漂えば
赤い泊火 懐かしみ
行方定めぬ 浪枕
今日は今津か 長浜か

Nami no mani mani, tadayoeba
Akai tomaribi, natsukashimi
Yukue sadamenu, nami makura
Kyo wa Imazu ka, Nagahama ka
--
The "red fire" might refer to a reddish lamp or a real fire on shore. It may symbolize the guiding light or goal in life where you want to go. But there's always a period in life where you are indecisive or you drift aimlessly, not knowing which path to pursue.

The above image was digitally altered.

All photos and English translation by Philbert Ono
写真・英訳:オノ フィルバート
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"On shore, we see red fire"Imazu was where the song was born. The town has two monuments for the song. One is the lamp monument built in 1985 on the boat pier (top photo) for Verse 3 (written on the lamp post), and the other is a red stone monument in the shape of a fire dedicated to the entire song. The lamp monument lights up in red at night. The above image was digitally altered.

All photos and English translation by Philbert Ono
写真・英訳:オノ フィルバート
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"On shore we see red fire, brings back memories." (Imazu)This is the lake beach at Imazu. While I was walking around this beach, I actually saw a small fire on the beach. Someone was burning rubbish. I immediately took a picture of it and was reminded of the song. However, the fire was really small with little visual impact, so I took this beautiful fire from another picture of mine and composited into this photo.

See more photos of Imazu here.
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Lake shore at Imazu
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Peninsula where Oguchi Taro and crew departed Imazu.On this peninsula at Imazu, Taro Oguchi and crew departed in their boat for Chikubushima island. The large building is a boathouse that stores two reconstructed fixed-seat boats.
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The large boat house houses two reconstructed fixed-seat boats.This is where Oguchi and crew departed Imazu for Chikubushima.
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Lake waters of Imazu, with Chikubushima and Mt. Ibuki in the distance.
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Nagahama Castle as seen from Lake Biwa. More photos of Nagahama here.The castle tower was reconstructed in 1984.

Digitally altered image. The colors (except for the castle) are not real.

More photos of Nagahama here.
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Imazu shore
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Imazu road along the lake shore, near Chojiya inn.
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Chojiya ryokan inn, Imazu. This is probably the inn where Taro Oguchi and crew stayed in Imazu and created the song in 1917. 丁子屋It is along the lake shore and still in business today.

It was on June 28, 1917 in Imazu, after dinner on the second day of their rowing trip, when a boatmate named Jiro Nakayasu exclaimed, "Hey everyone, listen up! Oguchi has written this song," and showed everyone the song. Then another boatmate named Taniguchi, who knew a popular song called Hitsuji Kusa (Water Lilies), began singing Oguchi's lyrics to the melody. Since the melody went well with the words, the seven boat crewmates sang the song together that night. It was the birth of the Lake Biwa Rowing Song. The boys worked on the song further and sang it while rowing.

See more photos of Imazu here.
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Chikubushima as seen from Imazu
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Verse 4 Lyrics (Chikubushima) 四番の英訳(竹生島)Azure blue flower garden, revered coral shrine.
Full of old-time stories, Chikubushima.
In the hands of Buddha, one young maiden lies.
She's sleeping in compassion, resting peacefully.

瑠璃の花園 珊瑚の宮
古い伝えの 竹生島
仏の御手に いだかれて
ねむれ乙女子 やすらけく

Ruri no hanazono, sango no miya
Furui tsutae no, Chikubujima
Hotoke no mite ni, idakarete
Nemure otomego, yasurakeku

Lake Biwa's most famous and sacred island is accessible by boat from Hikone, Nagahama, and Imazu.

Digitally altered image, this is not the real color of the water...
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"Full of old-time stories, Chikubushima."The island has a complex of temples named Hogonji. It belongs to the Shingon Buddhist Sect (Buzan School). It is said that it was first built in 724. It is also the 30th temple in the 33 Temple Pilgrimage of Saigoku (Western Japan).

See more photos of Chikubushima here.
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"Azure blue flower garden, revered coral shrine."
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Broken dishes near the torii
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"Full of old-time stories, Chikubushima."Karamon Gate, National Treasure
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Buddha statue on Chikubushima
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Buddha statue on Chikubushima
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Tsukubusuma Shrine (National Treasure), Chikubushima 都久夫須麻神社
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Benzaiten Goddess with her biwa lute
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Incense burner in the Kannon temple on Chikubushima.
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Incense burner
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Pagoda on Chikubushima. See more photos of Chikubushima here.
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Verse 5 Lyrics (Hikone) 五番の英訳(彦根)Sharp arrows buried deeply, way into the ground.
Abundant summer grasses, a moat still remains.
Standing in an old castle, all alone oneself.
Hira and Ibuki too, only but a dream.

矢の根は 深く埋もれて
夏草しげき 堀のあと
古城にひとり 佇めば
比良も伊吹も 夢のごと

Ya no ne wa, fukaku uzumorete
Natsukusa shigeki, hori no ato
Kojo ni hitori, tatazumeba
Hira mo Ibuki mo, yume no goto
--
This is the only verse where the setting is not specifically mentioned. The only hint is "old castle," which must be either Nagahama Castle or Hikone Castle. It is likely that it is Hikone Castle with its authentic castle tower and moats. Hikone was also where they stopped overnight. (Nagahama was only a lunch stop, and there was no castle tower during their time.) We can call this the "aging and reminiscing verse" with referrals to the past.

Since 1973, various sponsors have been building stone monuments for the song. The respective settings of Otsu, Omatsu (Omi-Maiko), Imazu, Chikubushima, and Chomeiji all have a stone monument for their respective verse. But there has been no monument for this 5th verse, perhaps because no place name is mentioned. Finally, just recently in Oct. 2005, a stone monument for this 5th verse was unveiled in Hikone, near the port. We can now see a stone monument for each of the six verses of the song.

See more photos of Hikone here.

All photos and English translation by Philbert Ono
写真・英訳:オノ フィルバート
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"Abundant summer grasses, a moat still remains"
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Hikone Castle
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More photos of Hikone Castle here.The castle tower is a National Treasure. Hikone Castle is one of only four castle towers in Japan designated as National Treasures. (The others being Himeji, Inuyama, and Matsumoto Castles. Nijo Castle in Kyoto is also a National Treasure, but it does not have a castle tower.)

See more photos of Hikone Castle here.
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Hira mountains
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Mt. Ibuki as seen from Lake Biwa. More photos of Mt. Ibuki here.Digitally altered image.
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Verse 6 Lyrics (Chomeiji) 六番の英訳(長命寺)Saigoku pilgrimage, Chomeiji.
Dispel this world's impureness, very faraway.
Golden waves on which we weave, rowing all we can.
Tell us my friends your stories, with your fervent hearts.

西国十番 長命寺
汚れの現世 遠く去りて
黄金の波に いざ漕がん
語れ我が友 熱き心

Saigoku Juban, Chomeiji
Kegare no utsushiyo, tooku sarite
Kogane no nami ni, iza kogan
Katare wagatomo, atsuki kokoro
--
This verse is said to refer to the Pure Land of Buddhism. The song has strong Buddhist overtones, but interestingly the melody happens to be based on a Christian hymn. Chomeiji was a lunch stop before they rowed back to Otsu.

Calling Chomeiji the "10th Temple" is the song's most glaring mistake. It is actually the 31st Temple on the Saigoku Pilgrimage, a circuit of 33 temples scattered in Wakayama, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Nara, Shiga, and Gifu Prefectures. But "31st" in Japanese had too many syllables to match the song's melody. Therefore, "10th" was used. It goes to show how informally the song was written. They had no idea how famous and beloved the song would become. Chomeiji's stone monument for this verse shows only the last two lines and omits the mistaken "10th Temple" line.

The photo above was digitally altered. The colors are not real.

All photos and English translation by Philbert Ono
写真・英訳:オノ フィルバート

See more photos of Chomeiji Temple here.
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"Saigoku pilgrimage, Chomeiji."
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Chomeiji, 31st temple on the Saigoku Pilgrimage Circuit
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Chomeiji worships the Kannon goddess of long life and good health. "Chomeiji" literally means "Long Life Temple." See more photos of Chomeiji Temple here.
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"Dispel this world's impureness, very faraway."
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Stone monument for Verse 6
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"Golden waves on which we weave..."
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Golden waves
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Regatta on Lake Biwa
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More info about Lake Biwa Rowing Song here.
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"Tell us my friends your stories, with your fervent hearts."
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Kyoto University Rowing Club at Chomeiji in Aug. 2006 during their annual Lake Biwa rowing trip. 写真/尾城徹雄
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Cover of Lake Biwa Rowing Song CD which went on sale on June 16, 2007. Details here.
 
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