Kyoto University’s Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th anniversary celebration

Unveiling the new song monument at Kyoto University. (記念碑除幕式)

京都大学「琵琶湖周航の歌」誕生百周年記念事業の報告

After the epic 100th anniversary celebration of Biwako Shuko no Uta in Shiga with a Lake Biwa rowing trip and concert in June 2017, it was Kyoto University’s turn to celebrate. On November 25, 2017, they unveiled a new song monument on campus and held a lecture session, music festival, and party. It was an all-day affair from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. coinciding with the university’s annual school festival called “November Festival.”

Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) was created in June 1917 by rowing club members (especially Oguchi Taro) at an old elite university called Daisan Koto Gakko (No. 3 High School, nicknamed “Daisanko” or “Sanko” 三高) which merged with Kyoto University in 1949. Kyoto University has since adopted the legacy of Sanko by absorbing the Sanko campus (now the Yoshida-South Campus right across from the Main Campus), the rowing club, and adopting Biwako Shuko no Uta as one of the university’s official songs.

The Kyoto University Rowing Club (KURC) has a very active and dedicated alumni association called Noseikai (濃青会), which means “Dark Blue Association,” named after the rowing club’s official color of dark blue. (Their oar blades are dark blue.) This association spearheaded the planning and execution of the university’s celebration of the song’s 100th anniversary and also greatly helped with Shiga’s 100th anniversary song celebration in June 2017 which included a four-day rowing excursion around Lake Biwa by KURC alumni. They also helped to raise funds to build a new song monument on campus. Much of the fund-raising was done by the university’s water sports clubs (rowing, yachting, canoeing, and swimming).


Video

I took photos and videos of Kyoto University’s celebration and compiled the highlights in a 66-min. video that includes English subtitles. The video includes excellent concert performances of Biwako Shuko no Uta and Lake Biwa Rowing Song by the Kyoto University Glee Club and Kyoto University Symphonic Band. There’s also flashback footage from the Lake Biwa rowing trip in June 2017.(京都大学「琵琶湖周航の歌」誕生百周年記念事業のダイジェスト版動画)

Video link: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI

Quick Links(動画早送りリンク)
Song monument unveiling(記念碑除幕式): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=3m51s

Lecture (Iida Tadayoshi)(講演会): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=11m

Hitsuji-gusa (Glee Club): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=16m46s

Nara no Miyako (Glee Club): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=17m41s

Introduction of Okaya and Niigata guests: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=19m16s

Lecture (English version 英語版): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=22m21s

Thompsons’ message: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=27m41s

Lake Biwa Rowing Song (Glee Club): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=28m46s

Lecture (Murai Yoshiko 資料館): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=30m9s

Music festival(音楽祭): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=32m50s

Biwako Shuko no Uta (Symphonic Band): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=33m36s

Speeches (Kawazoe Shinsuke, Koshi Naomi, Hiraoka Shoshichiro): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=37m22s

Sanko Alumni and Himawari Choir: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=40m54s

Mandolin Guitar Ensemble Kaguya: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=48m23s

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor (Glee Club): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=50m58s

Biwako Shuko no Uta (Glee Club): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=53m53s

Biwako Shuko no Uta audience finale: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=56m35s

Party(懇親会): https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=1h2m26s

Acknowledgements: https://youtu.be/_b3WrfV0rMI?t=1h4m56s

If you don’t have time to watch the video, you can continue reading to see photos instead. Links to the respective video footage are also provided below.


New Biwako Shuko no Uta song monument at Kyoto University
京都大学の「琵琶湖周航の歌」記念碑
New song monument

Front side of the new Biwako Shuko no Uta song monument at Kyoto University.

Kyoto University’s 100th anniversary celebration of Biwako Shuko no Uta started with the unveiling of a new song monument on the Yoshida-South Campus (the former Sanko campus) at 11:00 a.m. on November 25, 2017. (Video here.) This campus is right across the road from the main campus (and main gate). (See map and directions below.) Built to commemorate the song’s 100th anniversary, the new song monument is a beautiful, double-sided, stainless-steel panel with a brushed-metal finish.

The front side has the Japanese lyrics (all six verses) overlaid on a recent photo of Kyoto University Rowing Club members rowing on Lake Biwa. The uncredited calligraphy of the Japanese lyrics on the song monument was done by Ichihara Atsushi (市原 厚), a KURC alumnus who has been publishing a kiri-e calendar for the song every year (sold at the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum in Imazu). The lower part has a Japanese explanation about the song and a photo of Oguchi Taro (right) who wrote the lyrics and Yoshida Chiaki (left) whose melody was used for the song. This is my English translation of the explanation(記念碑の表面の解説の英訳):

Daisan Koto Gakko (No. 3 High School) rowing club member Oguchi Taro left in June 1917 (Taisho 6) on a fixed-seat boat to row around Lake Biwa. On the second day on June 28, they stayed at a ryokan in Imazu.

That evening, he composed a draft of a rowing song that started with “Ware wa Umi no ko” (We’re children of the lake). They sang it to the melody of Hitsuji-gusa (Water Lilies), a popular song at the time composed by Yoshida Chiaki. The melody matched the song well and they sang it together.

The song was well received at student gatherings. This is how Biwako Shuko no Uta became a college dormitory song of Sanko (Daisan Koto Gakko).

Today, the song continues to be sung by the university’s rowing club when they row around Lake Biwa and by many people at Kyoto University and class reunions.

Also, as a song expressing affection for Lake Biwa, the song is lovingly sung by people in Shiga Prefecture and across Japan.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta, we built this monument here.

Heisei 29 (2017)

From the late 19th century, dormitories at Japan’s elite universities started a tradition of creating their own “dormitory songs” to be performed at their annual dormitory festivals. Dormitory boarders sang the song together at dormitory festivals and student gatherings. While most of these songs fell into obscurity, some dormitory songs like Biwako Shuko no Uta continue to be sung.

Rear side of the song monument.

Rear side with rowing map and English lyrics. 地図と英語歌詞

The rear side of the song monument shows a bilingual Lake Biwa map of the rowing route taken by Oguchi and his rowing mates in June 1917 and my Lake Biwa Rowing Song English lyrics (all six verses).

Members of the KURC alumni association (Noseikai) initially proposed building this song monument for the song’s 100th anniversary. There were already song monuments in Shiga and Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, but none at Kyoto University. So they thought the university should also have a monument.

The university agreed to have the song monument on campus, but it required the monument to also include English lyrics. At first, the alumni association wondered where they could obtain English lyrics, but they soon found my English version of the song. They contacted me in 2016 and asked for my permission to use my English lyrics. I said, “YES, YES!! Please do so!!” “You can use it for free! No charge!!” And so they did.

Kyoto University has been pushing to become more international and more attractive for international students. So they wanted a monument that international students could also understand. I was very impressed to hear this. A song monument in Japan with both Japanese and English lyrics must be extremely rare. I haven’t seen one until now.

The current Kyoto University President is Yamagiwa Juichi who speaks English. He has traveled the world to study primates and gorillas as a way to learn more about early humans and their evolution. So he’s very internationally oriented. Having someone at the top with an international outlook helps a lot.

I’m certainly very honored and delighted to see my English lyrics on a monument. Monuments are usually built to point out something (or someone) that is important. So monuments naturally attract people’s attention. It’s important for a monument to be easy to read and in a good location where people can see it. This new monument meets both of these conditions.

It was the Verse 1 song monument in Mihogasaki, Otsu that first piqued the interest of Iida Tadayoshi, the foremost song researcher (since 1974) who has written a few books about Biwako Shuko no Uta. And I also first learned about the song when I saw a statue of composer Oguchi Taro and a song monument in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture. So song monuments can be very worthy to have. I wonder if there’s any other song in Japan that has this many monuments for it in three prefectures.

I’m very hopeful that this new monument will pique the interest of both Japanese and non-Japanese students in the song and in Shiga. I believe the song’s story, background, melody, and vivid depiction of Shiga can fascinate any young mind. The monument also has a QR code that you can scan with your mobile device to access the rowing club’s official 100th song anniversary website where you can learn more about the song and watch song videos in both Japanese and English.

Map and directions to new song monument

Here’s a map of the exact location of the new song monument (and the other song monuments). Zoom in on Kyoto. From JR Kyoto Station, get out the Karasuma exit (Kyoto Tower side) and go to Bus Stop D2 to board bus No. 206 bound for Kitaoji Bus Terminal. Get off at Kyodai Seimon-mae (京大正門前). The ride takes about 35 min. The main campus will be across the street from the bus stop, and the entrance to the Yoshida-South Campus is across the road facing the main campus.


Lecture Session (記念講演会) (Video here)

After the unveiling of the song monument, we had lunch and moved to the Kyoto University Clock Tower Centennial Hall for an hour-long Lecture Session (including performances by the Kyoto University Glee Club) starting at 12:30 pm.

Iida Tadayoshi

Song researcher Iida Tadayoshi appeared on video as the keynote speaker. 飯田忠義 「琵琶湖周航の歌」研究家、元NHKチーフアナウンサー

The main speaker was song researcher Iida Tadayoshi. He is the foremost authority on the song. A lot of what we know about the song and the composers is due to his research. He talked about how the song was created by Oguchi Taro and how the Hitsuji-gusa melody by Yoshida Chiaki was adapted to it.

Due to health reasons, Iida sensei was unable to appear in person so he appeared in a video lecture. Video here. After his lecture, the Kyoto University Glee Club sang Hitsuji-gusa (Verse 1) composed by Yoshida Chiaki and Nara no Miyako (Verse 1) which was the song whose melody Oguchi originally considered using for Biwako Shuko no Uta. Video here.

my talk

Video message from Jamie and Megan Thompson.

I was the second speaker, taking about 10 min. to mainly show slides of people who helped and encouraged me before and after I finished writing the English lyrics. Since Jamie and Megan Thompson (who sang Lake Biwa Rowing Song) could not make it to Japan in Nov., I showed a one-minute video message in Japanese from them. Video here.

After my talk, the Kyoto University Glee Club beautifully sang the first verse of Lake Biwa Rowing Song. (Video here.)

Yoshiko

Murai Yoshiko talked about the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan.

The third and last speaker was Murai Yoshiko, the director of the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum in Imazu. She used slides to explain about the museum near JR Omi-Imazu Station and encouraged everyone to visit. Video here.


Music Festival (記念音楽祭) (Video here)

After a 30-min. break, the Music Festival (Ongakusai) started at 2:00 p.m. in the same Clock Tower Centennial Hall (capacity 500) as the Lecture Session. Part 1 had the Kyoto University Symphonic Band, Kyoto University Glee Club, Himawari Choir (from Otsu), and Mandolin Guitar Ensemble Kaguya perform or sing Biwako Shuko no Uta and a few other songs.

Part 2 featured a 40-min. talk show by singer Kato Tokiko. The finale had all the performers appear on stage to sing Biwako Shuko no Uta together with the entire audience. The finale was led by Kato Tokiko and the music festival ended at 4:30 pm.

Kyoto University Symphonic Band opened the music festival with Fanfare and played Biwako Shuko no Uta. 京都大学吹奏楽団 Video here.

Short congratulatory speeches were also given by three dignitaries:

Shinsuke Kawazoe, Kyoto University Executive Vice-President (substituting for Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa). 川添信介 京都大学理事・副学長(山極壽一総長の代理)Video here.

Otsu Mayor

Otsu Mayor Koshi Naomi mentioned that Otsu City Hall plays the song to signal the end of the work day, resulting in a decrease of overtime by almost 30%. Video here.

Takashima

Shoshichiro Hiraoka, Deputy Mayor of Takashima (substituting for Mayor Masaaki Fukui), promised to perpetuate the song to the next generation. Video here.

Sanko alumni sing with Himawari Choir from Otsu. 旧制第三高等学校OB + 大津市ひまわり合唱団 Video here.

Sanko alumni wave their school flag. The Sanko logo has a cherry blossom with three stripes.

Mandolin

Mandolin Guitar Ensemble Kaguya. マンドリンギターアンサンブル香久夜 Video here.

Mandolin

Mandolin Guitar Ensemble Kaguya. Great performance.

Kyoto University Glee Club sang What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor (video here) and Biwako Shuko no Uta (video here). 京都大学グリークラブ .

A short break after Part 1.

finale

Led by Kato Tokiko, everyone sang Biwako Shuko no Uta in the end. Video here.

Tokiko

Singer Kato Tokiko and Kada Yukiko on stage during the finale.


Party (懇親会) (Video here)

After the music festival, attendees had the option to attend the party from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on the 2nd floor of the Clock Tower Centennial Hall. This was when we could finally mix and socialize. It was nice meeting and talking with people from Oguchi Taro’s hometown and Yoshida Chiaki’s hometown and rowing club alumni. Very few women though.

Kada Yukiko gave a short speech at the start of the party.

Yacht

Yacht Club showed slides of KURC’s original boat house in Otsu.

alumni

Kyoto University Rowing Club alumni. These three tall men almost represented Japan at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.

everyone

In the end, everyone sang the song with Mandolin Guitar Ensemble Kaguya.

remarks

Noseikai chairman Yoshida Tamotsu gave closing remarks. “Nothing made me happier than rowing…” 吉田 保 京都大学ボート部濃青会 会長

The celebrations of Biwako Shuko no Uta’s 100th anniversary in Shiga and Kyoto were quite spectacular. It has spread awareness of the song as a precious hometown asset. Shiga has so few famous hometown songs, and even its most famous one is in danger of being forgotten since it’s not really taught in schools.

Where I come from, there are many, many beloved Hawaiian songs (and dances) that continue to be sung for generations. I cannot imagine growing up in a place that lacks popular hometown songs. It shapes your identity and affinity with your hometown. It would be a major cultural loss if Shiga allowed Biwako Shuko no Uta to fall into obscurity. It is by far Shiga’s most nationally famous song.

It’s comforting to see more people singing the song in Japanese or English. They are posting on YouTube. Anyone is welcome to sing the song in Japanese or English. I still wish John Denver lived long enough to record it. His voice matches the song extremely well.

Thank you to everyone who made the 100th anniversary celebration a great success.

本当に素晴らしい記念事業でした。皆さんお疲れ様でした。

Related video:

Related links:

感 謝
Acknowledgements

京都大学
山極 壽一 総長
川添 信介 理事・副学長
「琵琶湖周航の歌」誕生百周年記念事業実行委員会
京都大学ボート部
中村 佳正 京都大学ボート部長
京都大学ボート部 濃青会
吉田 保 京都大学ボート部濃青会会長
伊藤 七郎

旧制第三高等学校OB

小島 安紀子
尾城 徹雄
青野 正治

京都大学医学部ボート部・芝蘭会艇友会
京都大学ヨット部
京都大学カヌー部
京都大学水泳部・京泳会
ヨットクラブ神陵・京大神陵会

京都大学グリークラブ
京都大学吹奏楽団

その他の京都大学側の関係者・支援者

琵琶湖周航の歌資料館 全スタッフ(2004年以来)
澤田 浩(琵琶湖周航の歌資料館 元館長)
村井 佳子(琵琶湖周航の歌資料館 館長)
びわ湖高島観光協会

故 前田典夫(みちお)

琵琶湖周航の歌100周年記念事業実行委員会
嘉田 由紀子(代表)
加藤 登紀子
小坂 育子
北川 陽大(〜Lefa〜)

飯田 忠義

小口太郎顕彰碑等保存会(長野県岡谷市)
Naoko Nakamura
吉田ゆき (新潟)
ちあきの会

朗読劇団ムサシ(滋賀県高島市)
森本純一(代表)

中日新聞(滋賀版)
毎日新聞(滋賀版)
その他の報道陣

Jamie & Megan Thompson
日永 真梨子
菊井 了・近藤 ゆみ子(レイクリード)
Chikage Fujii(滋賀県湖南市)

その他の関係者・支援者・協力者・友人・親戚・ファン

小口太郎
吉田千秋

Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th Anniversary

Rowing on Lake Biwa with Mt. Ibuki and Chikubushima in the background. (June 26, 2017)

June 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌 aka Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous song and one of Japan’s best hometown songs.

To mark this milestone, a series of events were held in late June 2017 in Shiga. They included a four-day rowing excursion around Lake Biwa during June 24–27, a choir contest in Imazu on June 25, the unveiling of a new song monument in Nagahama on June 25, and a major concert at Biwako Hall in Otsu on June 30. I didn’t see everything, but I did get a glimpse of the major events.

The rowing excursion was named Nazori Shuko (なぞり周航) which means “Tracer Rowing Excursion.” It traces the rowing route the Kyoto college boys took in 1917 around Lake Biwa, going clockwise from Otsu and on to Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Nagahama, Hikone, Omi-Hachiman, and back to Otsu. The rowers lodged in Omi-Maiko, Imazu, and Hikone. The rowing excursion was largely organized by Kyoto University Rowing Club’s alumni association (Noseikai 濃青会) with the cooperation of water sports organizations and fishing cooperatives in Shiga. About 120 rowing club alumni took turns rowing on three modern boats designed for long-distance rowing.

For four days, they rowed from around 5 a.m. until early afternoon. This is when the lake waters are most calm and air temperatures are cooler. The rowing excursion also had the participation of local people (住民参加). At times, the rowers were escorted by yachts, canoes/kayaks, and even standup paddleboarders. And at each major stop, the rowers were greeted by local folks including taiko drummers, dancers, and other well-wishers. The rowers also sang the song at each song monument around the lake.

The four-day rowing excursion started at Otsu on June 24, 2017. The rowers started out at the Kyoto Univ. Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River at 5 a.m. and stopped by here at Mihogasaki, in front of the rowing club’s original boathouse in 1917. They left Mihogasaki at around 7 a.m. as people cheered.

At Mihogasaki, Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi (center) and former Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada (event committee chairperson) saw the rowers off. The man with the flag is an alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (university) (第三高等学校) that merged with Kyoto University. The old school’s logo with a cherry blossom and three stripes is on the flag and old boathouse.

Rowers pass by Ukimido Floating Temple in Katata, Otsu.

Taiko drummers greet rowers at Omi-Maiko.

Rowers sing “Biwako Shuko no Uta” on the white-sand beach at Omi-Maiko. This is where they lodged the first night.

Official T-shirts were also sold to the public. They came in white, dark blue, and green. Orange T-shirts were reserved only for the rowers. The back says “Ware wa Uminoko” (We’re children of the lake) and the front had a small 100th anniversary logo (insert).

On June 25, the second day, rowers leave Omi-Maiko and head for Imazu up north.

Rowers pay their respects at Shirahige Shrine in Takashima, famous for the torii in the water.

Rowers receive a warm welcome as they arrive at Imazu, the song’s birthplace. The large banner on shore reads, “Welcome to Imazu!” (ようこそ!今津へ)

Imazu’s annual Biwako Shuko no Uta choir contest was also held on June 25. After arriving at Imazu, the rowers went to the concert hall (Takashima Shimin Kaikan) and went on stage with singer Kato Tokiko and Kada Yukiko (in green) to sing the song as guest singers.

Kada Yukiko and singer Kato Tokiko at the center of the singing rowers swaying on stage.

Also attending the choir contest were these three alumni from the old No. 3 High School which merged with Kyoto University in 1949.

After singing at the choir contest, the rowers walked to Imazu Port and sang in front of the song monument. A busy day, but it wasn’t over yet.

Biwako Shuko no Uta song museum (琵琶湖周航の歌資料館) in Imazu had special exhibits about songwriter Oguchi Taro and composer Yoshida Chiaki. The museum sells CDs of the song (including the English version) and the museum staff is very friendly.

Very nice to see yoshibue reed flute players from Takashima greeting visitors at Omi-Imazu Station during June 24–25, 2017. They continuously played only the rowing song. Their flutes are made of Lake Biwa reeds grown in Harie, Takashima. 針江よし笛


New song monument for Biwako Shuko no Uta Verse 3 unveiled in Nagahama on June 25, 2017. (長浜歌碑・除幕式)

Also on June 25, a new song monument in Nagahama was unveiled in Hokoen Park near the lake shore near Nagahama Castle (map here). In summer 2016, a  group of Nagahama residents formed a nonprofit (長濱歌碑でつなぐ会) to plan, design, finance, and build this new monument. They solicited donations to help foot the cost of about ¥8 million. Although they weren’t able to get more than ¥4 million in public donations, they somehow managed to pay for the new monument in full.

Since Nagahama is a noted glass maker, they decided to make the new monument out of glass made in Nagahama. The new monument also functions as a park bench where you can sit and watch the sunset over the lake. It is perhaps Japan’s most expensive park bench. Seating four people, the glass bench is engraved with Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta where it mentions Nagahama. (“Today is Imazu or, Nagahama, huh.”)

The opening ceremony was held at around 5:30 p.m. for sunset, but it was too cloudy. The ceremony was attended by a substantial crowd who came to see singer Kato Tokiko, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko, Nagahama Mayor Fujii Yuji, and local singers Kitagawa Akihiro and Matsuura Yoko help unveil the new monument.

Earlier in the day in Nagahama, they held stage entertainment and boat cruises with local singers. (Couldn’t see any of it because I was in Imazu.)

June 25 (Sun.) was the busiest day because it was the closest weekend to the actual 100th anniversary on June 28. That night, I went back to Imazu and stayed at a hotel near the station.

While holding a copy of the concert program, singer Kato Tokiko gave a few words and mentioned the 1st Biwako Ongakusai music festival to be held on June 30 in Otsu. Holding the PR poster is Kitagawa Akihiro, ~Lefa~ vocalist.

Kitagawa Akihiro and Kato Tokiko sing behind the new song monument and later everyone released balloons.

Verse 3 of Biwako Shuko no Uta is engraved on the center segment of the glass bench. Bolted down in concrete and made of solid glass, it is a park bench shaped like a boat. The top is wavy like water, inspired by nami-makura (rolling with the waves) in the song.


The rowers prepare to depart Imazu at around 5 a.m.

On June 26, the third day of the rowing excursion, I checked out of my hotel near Omi-Imazu Station at 4:30 a.m. and joined the Kyoto University Rowing Club’s official photographers on a fishing boat. We followed the rowers from Imazu to Osaki, Chikubushima, Nagahama, and Hikone and kept our cameras busy.

Alumnus of the old No. 3 High School (第三高等学校) at Imazu to see off the rowers at around 5 a.m. He was also at Otsu. At the center of the cherry blossom is the kanji for “san” (three).

They first rowed from Imazu to Osaki where they would change rowers.

This boat is named “Uminoko” (Child of the Lake). The other two boats are named “Tomari-bi” (Light/Fire on Shore) and “Sazanami” (Lake Ripples). They are named after a key word or phrase found in the song.

The three boats they used belong to the Kyoto University Rowing Club. Thanks to donations from rowing club alumni, they were built in Shiga several years ago and designed especially for long-distance rowing around the lake. The boats have sliding seats and are quite stable in the water. They can also expel water automatically. It’s a far cry from the wooden, fixed-seat boats they used 100 years ago.

The boats are normally used by freshmen members of the Kyoto University Rowing Club to row around the lake every summer.

Rowing toward Chikubushima on a sparkling lake. Luckily, the weather was good during the four days.

On sacred Chikubushima island, non-rowing alumni sing the song in front of the Verse 4 monument while the three boats solemnly look on. This was around 8 a.m. I wish more people could have witnessed this most interesting and unusual scene, but it was well before the arrival time of tourist boats. Besides myself, only a handful of official and press photographers were here to see this. The Mainichi Shimbun reporter hired his own boat just to photograph this.

Mt. Ibuki in view as they row toward Nagahama.

Our friendly boat captain knew well about lake currents and conditions. The waves got a little rough off Nagahama and slightly flooded the boats. Also on our fishing boat was the BBC (Biwako Broadcasting Co.) cameraman. The NHK TV crew also hired a fishing boat to film the rowers. In July, both BBC and NHK aired special TV programs about the rowing trip.

After reaching Nagahama at around 11 a.m., the rowers sing the song next to the new Verse 3 monument at Hokoen Park near Nagahama Castle. Nagahama was also a lunch break.

The song leader (大杉耕一) directs the singing, backed by many local dancers (日本3B体操協会 滋賀支部). The new park bench song monument is behind him.

Rowers pass by Hikone Castle.

In front of the Verse 5 monument at Hikone Port, former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko (event committee chairperson) asserted that the “old castle” mentioned in the song must be Sawayama Castle (Ishida Mitsunari’s castle) instead of Hikone Castle since the latter was never attacked (“sharp arrows buried deeply”). She’s got a valid point, but I’ve always assumed that it included all the old castles in eastern Shiga (Hikone, Nagahama, Sawayama, and Azuchi). This is another thing I love about the song. We can all have our own interpretations of it.

After reaching Hikone Port in the early afternoon, the rowers sang in front of the Verse 5 song monument. They sang here again in the early evening with a local school band and lodged in Hikone.

I had fun following and photographing/filming the rowers on the lake, but I declined to follow them again on the next (last) day. (Too much sunburn.)

On June 27, the fourth and last day of rowing from Hikone to Otsu, they took a break at Omi-Hachiman (near the song monument at Horikiri Port) and even danced the Goshu Ondo (folk dance native to Shiga).

Rowers finally return to the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse on Seta River in Otsu at around 5 p.m. It was a long haul taking about 12 hours. They changed rowers four times.

In front of the Kyoto University Rowing Club boathouse (Seta Karahashi Bridge in the background), rowers sing the song after a safe and successful four-day rowing excursion. Congratulations to all!
*Thanks to Tetsuo Oshiro for providing some of the photos on this page.

Major newspapers like Chunichi Shimbun covered the 100th anniversary events. (Click on image to enlarge.)


The rowing excursion was soon followed by the 1st Biwako Ongakusai (Music Festival) held on June 30, 2017 at Biwako Hall in Otsu. It was organized by a committee led by former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko and produced by singer Kato Tokiko who made Biwako Shuko no Uta a national hit in 1971. Headlining the concert were top artists Miyazawa Kazufumi (Shima Uta was fantastic), Gospellers, the Tokiko Band (great musicians), and ~Lefa~ from Nagahama. The first half had local youth groups and choirs from Shiga, Kyoto, and Osaka. The second half featured the headlining artists and Kato Tokiko herself.

This is the first Biwako Music Festival and they plan to hold this concert annually around Lake Biwa in the places mentioned in the song. So next year in 2018, it will be held in Omi-Maiko at Biwako Seikei Sport College whose president is former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko. Then in Imazu in 2019. Kato Tokiko will be the producer of the annual concerts. It will take several years before the concert is held in each place mentioned in the song.

One major objective of the Biwako Music Festival is to perpetuate Biwako Shuko no Uta to the younger generations since it is not really taught in schools in Shiga. That’s why you will see local youths performing as well.

At the 1st Biwako Ongakusai Music Festival, a short film about the rowing excursion was shown while concert goers entered the concert hall. It also mentioned the English version of the song and showed footage of our mini concert held in Imazu in April. The short film was shot and edited by Biwako Broadcasting Co.

The 45-page Ongakusai program booklet included this two-page article I wrote about Lake Biwa Rowing Song. I was honored to explain why and how I created the English version. (Click image to enlarge. Sorry, I don’t have it in English yet.)

The concert was held in Biwako Hall’s beautiful Large Hall seating about 1,800. This is ~Lefa~ performing in the audience area for their first number.

~Lefa~ vocalist Kitagawa Akihiro (北川 陽大) also sang “Lake Biwa Rowing Song” in English. His partner Kono Hiroyuki (河野 弘行) played keyboard. Performing at Biwako Hall was their biggest venue so far, a dream come true.

At the end for the finale, all the performers got on stage and sang Biwako Shuko no Uta. So nice to see so many young people singing the song. The audience also stood up and sang.

At the center are the former and current Shiga governors, Kato Tokiko, and other headlining artists all singing Biwako Shuko no Uta.

It was a wonderful concert showcasing a wide variety of music and artists, both amateur and famous. We look forward to the next concert next year in Omi-Maiko.

Otsukaresama and thank you to Kada Yukiko, Kato Tokiko, Kyoto University Rowing Club and their alumni association (濃青会), and everyone else who worked so hard to plan, coordinate, and execute these memorable events like never before. It got many local people involved and I was honored and happy to take part.

This hometown song must definitely be perpetuated to current and future generations. It’s an important part of Shiga’s history and cultural heritage and should be designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property (重要無形文化財). I hope that local educators and parents will come around and realize how precious this song really is to Shiga. Showcasing not only pretty scenes in Shiga, but also life itself. And the melody is classic and timeless. The story behind the song and its creators is also most fascinating. At the same time, the song retains an aura of mystery and intrigue.


On April 16, 2017, we at shiga-ken.com also celebrated the song’s 100th anniversary by holding a Lake Biwa Rowing Song mini concert in English in Imazu. Jamie and Megan Thompson visited Shiga for this occasion and we also had Kikui Satoru and Kondo Yumiko play yoshibue reed flutes as a duo named “Lake Reed.” Here are two videos of our event:


Video link: https://youtu.be/9G94IppUiiE


Video link: https://youtu.be/PjnY67sIcqE

Commemorative events in Shiga are largely over, but not in Kyoto. Kyoto University will be celebrating the song’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, 2017 with the unveiling of a song monument plaque on campus and a lecture (by song researcher Iida Tadayoshi) and concert during their autumn school festival. I will be attending as well and looking forward to meeting guests from Okaya, Nagano (songwriter Oguchi Taro‘s hometown) and Niigata (melody composer Yoshida Chiaki‘s hometown).

Update: Here’s my blog post and video of Kyoto University’s celebration of the song’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, 2017.

PR flyer for Kyoto University’s 100th anniversary song event on Nov. 25, 2017.

The Japan Post Office issued a sheet of stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Available while they last at post offices in Shiga.

Related links:

Lake Biwa Rowing Song mini concert in Imazu 2017


Video link: https://youtu.be/9G94IppUiiE

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Shiga’s most famous and beloved song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (琵琶湖周航の歌), shiga-ken.com held a special mini concert in Imazu on April 16, 2017 with the cooperation of the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum (琵琶湖周航の歌資料館) and Imazu Port in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture.

The highlight was twin sisters Jamie and Megan Thompson at Imazu Port singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song (English version of Biwako Shuko no Uta) to the accompaniment of Lake Biwa reed flutes (yoshibue) played by Lake Reed (レイクリード), a duo consisting of Kikui Satoru (菊井了) and Kondo Yumiko (近藤ゆみ子). The result was stupendous and oh so pretty, both in sight and sound on a beautiful day in front of a blue Lake Biwa at Imazu Port. Watch the 5-min. video embedded above and see for yourself.

It was only our second time to perform at Imazu Port. The last time was on June 3, 2006 when we first introduced and performed Lake Biwa Rowing Song in public. For this second time, I decided that instead of staging a repeat performance of what we did in 2006, we should do something different. Having Lake Biwa reed players join us was perfect. It turned out that it was the first time for Lake Reed to perform together with multiple singers.


Video link: https://youtu.be/PjnY67sIcqE

We also held an indoor mini concert at the Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum. The performance of Lake Biwa Rowing Song was repeated and followed by three pretty songs by Lake Reed. Watch the 23-min. video embedded above.

20170416_7244a

Jamie & Megan Thompson together in Japan for the first time in 8 years.

Our mini concert turned out to be a media event with coverage by Asahi Shimbun, Chunichi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Sankei Shimbun, and Yomiuri Shimbun newspapers. I came prepared for the media with these T-shirts I designed and gave to Jamie and Megan to wear. I also gave them Biwa pearl necklaces (closeup photo below).

20170404_6994

Lake Biwa pearl necklaces.

I had these Lake Biwa pearl necklaces custom-made for this day. I found a freelance accessory maker in Otsu named “Malble” (pronounced like “Marble”) who was making earrings using this Lake Biwa-shaped, gold-colored accessory. It says, “Always With You.” (Like Lake Biwa is always with you.) I had her make these necklaces strung together with a medium-size Lake Biwa pearl. They came out very nice at reasonable cost.

20170416_7243

Rehearsing inside the song museum before going to Imazu Port.

Since summer 2016, prominent people and organizations in Shiga and Kyoto announced plans to hold Biwako Shuko no Uta 100th anniversary events in 2017. I also wanted to take part in these events.

So I asked Jamie and Megan (who sang Lake Biwa Rowing Song in English in 2006 while they were working in Japan as JET Program ALTs), if they could visit Japan in 2017 to participate in one of these anniversary events, especially in June (the song’s actual anniversary date) or November (Kyoto University’s main anniversary event).

It turned out that they both could make it to Japan only in April 2017. Since there were no anniversary events in April, we held our own commemorative mini concert on April 16. Couldn’t let such a rare trip to Japan by both sisters go to waste.

The performance at Imazu Port started at around 1:30 pm after all the cruise boats left Imazu Port. It was mainly for me to shoot videos for a music video (embedded at the top). The media also took photos and interviewed us under a somewhat hot sun. We then moved to the nearby Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum for an indoor mini concert and social gathering that lasted until about 4 pm.

The ever so helpful and cooperative Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum allowed us to use their room on the second floor for our indoor mini concert. They also secured permission for us to perform at Imazu Port.

I didn’t really publicize this event since it was intended for only friends and invited guests and the local media. However, during the 2.5 months of planning, the event started to take on a life of its own as it morphed into something more substantial. I knew things like this never go according to plan, so I remained flexible and played it by ear.

As I expected, we ran behind schedule and were unable to do a few things that I had planned. But all-in-all, our event turned out very well with great weather, no accidents or illnesses, great videos and photos, and everyone having a fun time. Many people also went on the 3:30 pm Sakura cruise to Kaizu-Osaki afterward. I’m glad that it was worth coming to Imazu which is quite far for most of us.

20170416_7302

Jamie and Megan talk with the press. Back of the T-shirt is the CD cover and “Children of the Lake” below it.

Talking to the press took longer than expected since so many of them showed up and they had lots of questions. They also kept asking for my age which I declined to say since it was irrelevant. (Japanese newspapers always like to state the age of the people they write about. It has never happened in my case though.)

20150513_0399

Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum, near Omi-Imazu Station. It has panel displays explaining the history and meaning of the song and a listening station where you can listen to many cover versions.

20170416JamieMeganKoryukai

Mini concert inside the song museum.

Our indoor mini concert started with Jamie and Megan singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song with Lake Reed playing Lake Biwa reed flutes.

20170416_7406

Lake Reed playing Lake Biwa reed flutes. They even brought a bundle of reeds (left) as a prop.

Lake Reed then performed three songs: Furusato (Hometown), Miyagete-goran Yoru no Hoshi wo (Look Up at the Night Stars), and Umi no Koe (Voice of the Sea). (Watch the video to hear them play.) They were brilliant. So pretty. Omi-Hachman resident Kikui Satoru was the person who actually invented the Lake Biwa reed flute in 2000. So he’s been playing it longer than anyone else in the world. We were so lucky to have him and his partner Kondo Yumiko perform for us. Everyone performed on a voluntary basis, no one got paid.

20170416_7335

Over 50 people attended our mini concert inside the song museum.

Mr. Kikui was also generous enough to bring 15 reed flutes to hold a sample lesson mainly for the kids who came. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for it. Sounds like I have to plan a follow-up event to make it happen.

20170416_7520

Kiyora playing the shamisen.

Our third performer was Kiyora, a third grader from Moriyama. She played the famous cherry blossom song, “Sakura, Sakura” with her shamisen. As a beginner, she played quite well.

20170416_7561a

Former Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada talks about the upcoming music festival in Otsu. Holding up the PR poster is Kitagawa Akihiro of ~Lefa~.

We were also honored to have former Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko attending our event. Being the president of Biwako Seikei Sport College in Omi-Maiko, she’s very busy. And yet, she made the time to hear us sing. We thank her for coming.

She and singer Kato Tokiko (who made Biwako Shuko no Uta a national hit in 1971) are organizing the 1st Biwako Music Festival (第一回びわ湖音楽祭) at Biwako Hall in Otsu on June 30, 2017. Tickets are still available as of this writing.

20170416_7578

Kitagawa Akihiro sings with Jamie and Megan.

Another special guest was Kitagawa Akihiro, vocalist and one half of the Nagahama-based duo ~Lefa~. Akihiro once studied in Canada, so he does have an interest in singing in English. He sang in English with Jamie and Megan impromptu. He has a very good voice, so I see great potential in him singing in English after I coach his pronunciation. It was the first time for me to meet Akihiro. I saw former Governor Kada’s Facebook video of him singing Lake Biwa Rowing Song in English so I invited him to our event. ~Lefa~ was formed in 2010 and they play all around Japan at shopping malls, local events, etc., and sing Biwako Shuko no Uta. They also often hold mini concerts at Biwako Shuko no Uta Shiryokan song museum. The other half of ~Lefa~ is guitarist and keyboard player Kono Hiroyuki.

20170416_7743

In the end, the few of us who didn’t go on the cherry blossom cruise to Kaizu-Osaki remained to sing Biwako Shuko no Uta in a circle.

We were running an hour late. Most of the audience left at around 3:20 pm to catch the Cherry Blossom Cruise for Kaizu-Osaki departing Imazu Port at 3:30 pm. So only about 15 of us remained until we ended at around 4 pm. Everyone burst into smiles and started clapping after we finished singing the song in Japanese. It’s such a heartwarming song, and being from Hawaii where we have many, many renown hometown songs, I’m so glad Shiga has such a song. It’s been 11 years since we announced the English version, but slowly and surely, I see it catching on.

SongPostcards2017s

Set of six Lake Biwa Rowing Song postcards given as a free memento to all attendees.

20170417_7874s2

Chunichi Shimbun newspaper was one of five papers that covered us (April 17, 2017 issue).

Water Lilies song by Yoshida Chiaki

Video link: http://youtu.be/bfGs7GSdrXE

My friend in Niigata recently posted this video of a choir singing Hitsuji-gusa or Water Lilies. What’s significant about this obscure song from 1915 is that its melody was used in the much more famous song, Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song), Shiga’s most famous and beloved song (read about it here).

The university rowing club boys in Kyoto who wrote Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1917 found that Hitsuji-gusa’s melody matched their lyrics well, and the rest is history.

When you watch this video, you will notice that the melody sounds very similar to Biwako Shuko no Uta. (Or should I say that Biwako Shuko no Uta sounds very similar to Hitsuji-gusa.) Hitsuji-gusa was composed by a very talented young man named Yoshida Chiaki (吉田 千秋 1895-1919) from Niigata Prefecture. The lyrics are his Japanese translation of an old British children’s song called Water Lilies. He then composed a melody to match his Japanese lyrics. The song is about holding firm in times of adversity, just like the water lilies can even in a rainstorm. Chiaki composed the song while he was battling tuberculosis. He later died of the disease at age 24 in 1919.

For many years, no one knew who composed the melody for Biwako Shuko no Uta. When Kato Tokiko scored a national hit with Biwako Shuko no Uta in 1971, people started to wonder who composed the melody. It was known that the lyrics were written in 1917 by Oguchi Taro and his fellow university rowing club buddies in Kyoto. Many people assumed that Oguchi also composed the melody. Every 5 or 10 years or so after 1971, researchers found out a little more about the composer of the music. First they found out which song the melody came from. A few years later around 1980, they found the name of the composer, but didn’t know who he was.

Finally in 1993, after over 20 years of digging, the composer’s identity was brought to light. Chiaki turned out to be the second son of a famous geographer (Yoshida Togo). Chiaki was also found to be a brilliant young man who took interest in many things like astronomy, zoology, botany, and foreign languages. He had a good command of English and several other languages. If he hadn’t died so young, he likely would have become one of Japan’s leading scientists or professors. (Read my article about Chiaki here.)

The video above was taken at a memorial gathering on the anniversary of Chiaki’s death in Feb. 2013 at Chiaki’s birth home in Niigata city. A choir called Koai Gassho no Kai (小合合唱の会) sang a few songs including Hitsuji-gusa and Biwako Shuko no Uta. Chiaki’s home is now occupied by his niece, the daughter of Chiaki’s younger brother. I visited the house in 2007 and the niece showed me the room where Chiaki spent his final days. (Photos here.)

In 2001, an organization named Chiaki no Kai (「ちあき」の会) was formed to perpetuate, preserve, and honor Yoshida Chiaki’s numerous works and legacy.

Here are the lyrics of the original British children’s song followed by Chiaki’s song. There are three verses.

Water Lilies, by E.R.B. (Education & Resettlement Bureau)

Misty moonlight, faintly falling
O’er the lake at eventide,
Shows a thousand gleaming lilies
On the rippling waters wide.

White as snow, the circling petals
Cluster round each golden star,
Rising, falling with the waters,
Moving, yet at rest they are.

Winds may blow, and skies may darken,
Rain may pour, and waves may swell;
Deep beneath the changeful eddies
Lily roots fastened well.

Hitsuji-gusa (ひつじぐさ), by Yoshida Chiaki

1
おぼろ月夜の 月明かり
かすかに池の 面に落ち
波間に浮かぶ 数知らぬ
ひつじ草をぞ 照らすなる
1 (Romanized)
Oboro tsukiyo no, tsuki akari
Kasuka ni ike no, omo ni ochi
Nami ma ni ukabu, kazu shiranu
Hitsuji-gusa o zo, terasu naru
2
雪かとまがふ 花びらは
黄金の蘂を 取り巻きつ
波のまにまに 揺るげども
花の心は 波立たず
2 (Romanized)
Yuki ka tomagafu, hanabira wa
Kogane no shibe o, tori makitsu
Nami no ma ni ma ni, yuruge domo
Hana no kokoro wa, nami datazu
3
風吹かば吹け 空曇れ
雨降れ波立たて さりながら
徒波の下 底深く
萌えいでたりぬ ひつじ草
3 (Romanized)
Kaze fukaba fuke, sora kumore
Ame fure nami tate, sari nagara
Adanami no shita, soko fukaku
Moe idetarinu, hitsuji-gusa

The video below is the same choir singing Biwako Shuko no Uta (Lake Biwa Rowing Song). Listen and compare.

1 2 3 9