Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Shiga Prefecture for the first time in 13 years during Nov. 10-13, 2007. The main reason was to attend the 27th Zenkoku Yutaka na Umizukuri Taikai (National Convention to Make Bountiful Oceans 第２７回全国豊かな海づくり大会) held in Otsu.
On the first day, they visited a nursing home called Care Town Karasaki in Otsu. Some 20 patients there sang Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) for the Imperial couple and the Emperor demanded an encore for them to sing it again. It is Shiga’s most famous song.
On the second day the 11th, they attended the formal opening ceremony of the National Convention to Make Bountiful Oceans held at the lakeside Biwako Hall in Otsu. In his speech, the Emperor reflected, “It hurts my heart that the blue gill fish I brought to Japan from America for human consumption is now damaging the ecosystem of Lake Biwa.” In 1960 as Crown Prince on a trip to the U.S., the Emperor brought back the blue gill fish given to him in Chicago, Illinois and intended it to be raised in Japan for human consumption.
Some of the blue gill subsequently escaped from a research facility and entered Lake Biwa. The fish multiplied rapidly during the 1990s. Since it eats the baby fish of native lake fish found nowhere else in the world, the blue gill (and black bass) has become a major ecological problem in the lake. After the formal ceremony, the Emperor and Empress went outside the lakeside hall and released baby fish of native lake fish into the lake. Some of the ceremonial pomp included water-spraying fireboats and fishing boats sailing in a procession on the lake. The convention also had pavilions and booths in the Hama-Otsu area for the public to become more aware of fisheries in Lake Biwa.
After the convention, the Imperial couple took a boat ride to Karasuma Peninsula in Kusatsu to visit the Lake Biwa Museum. On the 12th, they visited Shigaraki Ceramic Park and the ruins of Shigaraki-no-Miya which was a detached palace of Emperor Shomu.
On the 13th, they visited Enryakuji temple on Mt. Hiei and returned to Tokyo via shinkansen train from Kyoto Station. It must have been a spectacle to see Shinto’s highest-ranking priest (the emperor) paying a visit to the headquarters of one of Japan’s largest Buddhist sects. Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko accompanied the Emperor and Empress during their tour in Shiga.