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.
So far, over 430,000 5th graders have gone on overnight voyages on this boat. That’s one-third the population of Shiga. The kids learn about Lake Biwa, native species, look at plankton under the microscope, meet kids from other schools, and tour lakeside points of interest.
About once a year, they open the Uminoko boat to the public for free while at Otsu Port. On Aug. 18, 2010, I visited the boat for the first time and was duly impressed. Previously, they held day-trip voyages for the public once or twice a year. Usually over 500 people applied and only about 115 could get in. Now, due to a tight budget, they only hold these free tours while at port.
They held two 2-hour open-house sessions. One in the morning from 10 am and another from 1 pm. Over a thousand visitors toured inside the boat. Many of them were kids. During the two hours, we could freely walk around inside the boat and enter most of the rooms. The boat looks good on the inside as it does on the outside. The rooms are clean, attractive, and pleasant. It doesn’t look that old, but I’m sure the interior has been renovated.
With over 90 overnight voyages during this school year, it operates on a busy schedule. It’s too bad that the voyages are limited only to Shiga’s kids. It would be a great experience for any kid (and adult) in Japan to learn about our No. 1 lake.