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Operated by Shiga Prefecture's Board of Education since Aug. 2, 1983, the Uminoko "Biwako Floating School" is an educational boat going on overnight voyages year-round on Lake Biwa, taking Shiga's 5th graders.
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Uminoko means "Child of the Lake" (湖の子). This expression was made popular by the famous song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song).
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About once a year, Uminoko is open to the public for free while moored at Otsu Port. You can freely go inside and look at most of the rooms. I went on Aug. 18, 2010. This is the flyer for the tour called Kengakukai.
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The open house consisted of two 2-hour sessions, one at 10 am to noon and another from 1 pm to 3 pm. Indoor shoes were required. A total of 616 visitors came in the morning and 468 in the afternoon.
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Otsu Port as seen from Hama-Otsu Station on the Keihan Line. Just a 3-min. walk from the station. The Uminoko can be seen on the right. Same port where the Michigan paddlewheel boat is based.
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Reception counter at Otsu Port for the Uminoko tour (called kengakukai). We just had to sign our name and give a head count. We received a pamphlet and questionnaire.
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The Uminoko boat was moored next to the Bianca (left), Lake Biwa's largest cruise boat. While Crown Prince, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko once visited Uminoko in Aug. 1984. Prince Akinoshino and Princess Kiko visited in Nov. 2001.
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Previously, they held day-trip voyages for the public once or twice a year. We had to send in a postcard to apply. Usually over 500 people applied and only about 115 could get in. Now, due to a tight budget, they only hold these open house tours at port.
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Uminoko is 65 meters long, 12 meters wide, and 20 meters high. It weighs 928 tons and can carry 240 people. It can cruise up to 8 or 9 knots. Hitachi Zosen built the boat in pieces in Kanagawa Prefecture which were then trucked to Lake Biwa and assembled.
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The boat has four floors. The upper three floors are made of aluminum alloy to make the ship lighter. We first entered the 2nd floor where there was a small lobby for us to change into indoor shoes.
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Mother Lake logo on Uminoko. From April 2001, the boat started using BDF (biodiesel fuel). It also has a small elevator (wheelchair accessible). Since the boat is over 25 years old, donations are being accepted for its replacement in several years.
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On the 2nd floor toward the bow is the large Study Room where they hold lectures, tug of war, etc. Usually, 5th graders from two or more schools go on the overnight voyages. Besides learning about the lake environment, the kids get to meet other kids. 学
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Podium in the Study Room.
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Rules on Uminoko: Safety first, Save water, No running, etc. During the current school year from April 2010 to Feb. 2011, Uminoko will go on over 90 overnight voyages.
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Lyrics of Kibo no Fune--Uminoko Shukoka (Ship of Hope--Lake Child Cruise Song). They created a song just for the boat in 1984. 希望の船--湖の子周航歌This is the 1st verse:
朝もやはれて さわやかに
さざ波光る  びわのうみ
ぼくらわたしら 滋賀の子が
湖上たのしく めぐりつつ
郷土の知識 たかめあう
希望の船よ 希望の船よ
湖の子よ
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The number of people who went on an Uminoko voyage this year is on top, and the total number who went on a voyage on Uminoko since 1983 on the bottom. The 432,401 people is equivalent to one-third of Shiga's population.
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Wash basin in the cafeteria.
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Galley staff. Uminoko's crew and galley staff are actually employees of Biwako Kisen Steamship Co. that also operates other cruise boats on Lake Biwa. They are contracted by Shiga Prefecture to work on Uminoko.
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The cafeteria is on the 2nd floor toward the stern. It can hold 112 kids at one time. The chairs are small and immovable, designed for 5th graders. But adults won't have problems sitting.
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Cafeteria menu for the overnight voyage. The Uminoko curry is said to be famous. Too bad no sample meals were served during the open house.
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This corridor has photos of native Lake Biwa fish on the wall.
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Sleeping quarters are on the 1st floor. This room is for 20 girls. They sleep on the floor. There are 12 rooms similar to this one. A total of 240 kids can thus be accommodated.
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Sleeping quarters for girls have a pink carpet. There are six rooms for girls like this one, each one is named after a flower like Ume, Shakunage, and Botan. 宿泊室
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Sleeping quarters has orange life vests and blankets stored in the bins below. It's nice that all the sleeping quarters have real names instead of numbers like in a hotel.
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Sleeping quarters for boys have a blue carpet. There are six rooms like this one for boys, each one is named after a lake fish like Moroko, Ayu, and Funa.
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Sleeping quarters for boys. On the right is their cubby hole. These sleeping quarters can also be used as multi-purpose rooms.
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One activity they held during the tour was plankton observations through a microscope, held in sleeping quarters for girls.
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Looking at plankton through a microscope.
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On the 1st floor toward the stern are these sinks next to the shower room.
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On the 1st floor toward the stern is the shower room. This is the changing area.
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Girls' shower room has pink curtains.
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Boys' shower room with blue curtains.
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Entrance to teacher's quarters (named Kiho 帰帆) on the 1st floor.
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Bunk beds in teacher's quarters. One of my cousins is a school teacher in Shiga who went on Uminoko twice as a chaperone. She complained that you can't even sit up on the bunk bed. Well, I've seen worse on US Navy ships.
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Room with a view in the teacher's quarters next to the shower room.
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Teacher's desk
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On the 4th floor is the bridge of the Uminoko. There is a small observation room behind the bridge where people can watch the captain and crew steer the boat. 操舵室
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Pilot's chair. The Uminoko also has a bow thruster that is a propeller that can turn 360 degrees for easy steering. It doesn't need a tugboat.
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Tying rope is another thing the kids learn on the boat.
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A former student's art work is displayed. Made of corrugated cardboard.
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Yokaichi kite decorates the 4th floor。
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More teacher's quarters on the 3rd floor. This is for two.
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Teacher's quarters for two. Teachers' quarters are named after islands in Lake Biwa such as Chikubu, Okishima, and Shiraishi.
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Spartan desk in teacher's quarters.
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Teacher's (or maybe crew) quarters for four.
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Corridor runs through the center of the boat, with sleeping quarters on both sides.
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Conference Room is toward the bow on the 3rd floor. 会議室
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Conference Room
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3rd floor. It is an interesting boat. The inside is clean and pleasant. Hard to believe that it's considered old at age 27. They should hold these open house events more often and at other ports like Nagahama.
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View from Uminoko moored at Otsu Port. On the right is Aqus shopping mall and left is Biwako Hotel.
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Top wooden deck on the 3rd floor. There was a water transparency demonstration amid cutter boats. 3階甲板
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The water looked quite transparent to me. Couldn't quite understand the demo, and it was too hot under the sun to spend time asking questions.
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On the 3rd floor top deck, Uminoko has five cutter boats for 12 rowers each. There is also a motor boat. The cutter boats are used for rowing excursions. The cutters are named after waterfowl.
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More cutter boats. They accommodate ten kids and two adults. They use these boats only in calm waters. カッター艇
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Infirmary 保健室
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Infirmary for anyone feeling sick. 保健室
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Uminoko floor plan (in English) of all four floors. Uminoko official Web site here (in English).
 
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