Completed in the 19th century, the Lake Biwa Canal has provided Kyoto with water from Lake Biwa for over 120 years. It’s located to Keage Station and is popular destination among the locals. The incline in Keage itself, is a valuable heritage that shows the integration of historic civil engineering techniques.
On both sides of this railway incline, cherry trees were planted, as they were known for their magnificent blossoms in spring. Today, Lake Biwa Canal is lined up with Sakura trees, which hover over the canal. It certainly caught my attention as a one of the most beautiful spots in Kyoto and Shiga.
Gazing upon the incline from below, one can easily wonder how the Japanese managed to drag the vessels up through the steep slope. There were actually rails, machines, and facilities to convey the cargo on a sloping surface; as well as tow boats using hydraulic power. The time-honored rail tracks are still there to remind us of what it took to manage the canal back in the days.
When the Japanese capital changed to Tokyo, the population and commerce in Kyoto began to shrink, and a decision was made to revitalize the city through a record-breaking architectural feat. Before the construction of the canal, people and horses carried cargo over the mountains from Kyoto to Otsu manually, so massive loads were difficult to transport.
A generation before that, Matthew C Perry (1794-1858), a Commodore of the Unites States Navy also known as The Father of the Steam Navy, came to Edo with his black ships. This led to a series of events that forced Japan to open itself from its long isolation and large-scale construction work was usually outsources to foreign engineer. However, the Lake Biwa Canal was made solely by Japanese engineers, which they took great pride in.
The canal is viewed today as a modern inheritance that shows the progress of Japanese engineering during the Meiji era, and is designated as a National Historical Site. When finished in 1890 by Sakuro Tanabe, the 20 kilometer long, enormous project connected Lake Biwa to downtown Kyoto through many mountains and tunnels. It supplied the city with water, irrigation, electricity, etc.
The water from the canal is still used today in supplying water for houses, generating electricity, and firefighting. Old as it is, the canal still plays an important role in supporting the everyday life of the people in Kyoto.
The Lake Biwa Canal is always open and free of charge. It’s easily accessible by the subway Tozai Line by exiting from Keage Station. Walk up the road until you see a stone torii. By going through it and up the stairs you will see the old power plant and a small bride over the canal. Follow the canal from there and start exploring!