Archive for Lake Biwa Rowing Song

Water Lilies song by Yoshida Chiaki

Video link:

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

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
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
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.

Kyoto International Photo Showcase 2011


Updated: Our group photo exhibition in Kyoto went very well. It was great meeting people and explaining about our pictures and work. Thank you to all who came to see us.

Photos of the exhibition here:

Exhibition details:
I organized a group photo exhibition in Kyoto held on Nov. 16-20, 2011 at the Kyoto International Community House in Kyoto, near Keage Station (5 min. by Tozai Line subway from Yamashina Station). The exhibition room was open from noon to 7 pm (till 5:30 pm on the 20th). We had a gathering on Nov. 19 (Sat.) at 5 pm – 7 pm and on Nov. 20 (Sun.) at 4 pm – 5:30 pm when the public was invited to meet the artists. Free admission.

The theme was “Home Sweet Hometown.” Many of us foreigners in Japan have lived here for so long that Japan has become our second hometown. We love our hometowns in Japan so much that we often photograph it. We shall now share some images of our beloved hometown. I showed photos based on the Lake Biwa Rowing Song (Biwako Shuko no Uta). I have shown these pictures at various places in Shiga, but this was the first time for me to show them in Kyoto.

Also, Bruce Osborn showed Maibara Oyako (Parent-Child) Portraits. They come from the exhibition he is currently having at Maibara Station until March 2012.

Most of the other artists are based in Kyoto showed mainly Kyoto.

Featured Artists
Micah Gampel: “My Furukiyoki” self-portraits with friends in Kyoto. Very amusing collection of prints.
Peter Macintosh: Huge mural of Kyoto geisha photos taken over the past 10 years.
Motoyasu Matsutani: Pretty pictures of Kyoto.
Peter Miller: Copperplate photogravures of furusato scenes in Japan such as Shirakawa-go and Kamakura.
Philbert Ono: Introduction of Shiga’s hometown song, Lake Biwa Rowing Song. (Biwako Shuko no Uta) created by Kyoto University Rowing Club members in 1917.
Bruce Osborn: Maibara (Shiga Prefecture) Oyako (Parent-child) portraits taken in the four seasons.
John Wells: Mixed media (oil painting, sumie painting, etc.) of Kyoto scenes/objects.

Kyoto International Photo Showcase 2011

The Japan Times inserted a nice announcement for our show in the Nov. 13, 2011 issue:

The Japan Times, Nov. 13, 2011, page 2 (National News)

Spo-rec Shiga 2008

Jamie and Megan Thompson sang “Lake Biwa Rowing Song” (Biwako Shuko no Uta) at Spo-Rec Shiga on Oct. 18, 2008 at Kibogaoka Park in Yasu, Shiga Prefecture. The performance was part of the side entertainment on the opening day of the sports festival. The MC was Chiho Ono, radio personality at e-radio (FM Shiga) which organized this stage entertainment.

Afterward, I went to see the Sports Recreation event at Kibogaoka Park in Yasu. They had the opening ceremony. Many people were there from all 47 prefectures and South Korea too.

It’s a great event and Kibogaoka Park is a perfect place. Many food booths, health/sports booths, stage entertainment, and Caffee. There are new sports which you can try out too. Lots of things for the kids. I highly recommend visiting Kibogaoka Park during Oct. 19-21.


Event notice: Sports Recreation Shiga 2008

The Sports Recreation event will be held in Shiga during Oct. 18-21, 2008. On the first day Oct. 18 at Kibogaoka Park in Yasu, there will be some entertainment on a side stage called スポレク「夢」ステージ near the Nishi-guchi west gate during 9:30 am to 11:15 am. 

During this entertainment time, we will appear and sing “Lake Biwa Rowing Song”(Biwako Shuko no Uta in English) on this outdoor Yume stage at around 10:20 am. Jamie and Megan Thompson will sing the song. If you have time, please come down to see us. 

On the same day, the Spo-rec opening ceremony will start on the center stage at 12:30 pm. From JR Yasu Station, there will be free shuttle buses going to the park every 10-15 min. Note that if the weather is bad, the show will be canceled. Light rain will be no problem though. 

スポレクの開会式の日、10月18日(土)に希望が丘文化公園内に「夢」ステージで色々な団体が9:30-11:20 amに出演します。 私たちは、10:20ごろに出演して「琵琶湖周航の歌」英語版を披露いたします。歌うのはジェイミーとメゲン・トンプソンの双子姉妹。 


会場: 滋賀県立希望が丘文化公園内 スポレク滋賀2008会場内 県民ステージ) 
主催: エフエム滋賀 
Tel: 077−527−0814

3rd Imazu Regatta

The 3rd Imazu Regatta was held on Aug. 17, 2008. Imazu Jr. High and Takashima High rowing clubs and people from Kyoto also rowed. I donated copies of the Lake Biwa Rowing Song CD as one of the prizes. They played the song during the regatta.

Video link:

Photo exhibition at Imazu Public Library

I’m holding a photo exhibition now at Imazu Public Library near Omi-Imazu Station (West exit). It will be until July 30.

I’m showing photos of the Imazu Jr. High School Rowing Club’s rowing trip on Biwako which I took last Aug. (also see the above note). I also have photos of Biwako Shuko no Uta.

Imazu Library site:

Also, on Aug. 17 at Imazu, the 3rd Imazu Regatta will be held. This is a rowing race which anyone can participate, even non-experienced rowers. You can even go there alone, and they will put you together with other people to row on the same boat. The race course is only 500 meters. More details at their site:

Lake Biwa Rowing Song music video

I created a music video for Lake Biwa Rowing Song and now you can see it on YouTube:

Video link:

Event notice: Shiga ALT art exhibition at 琵琶湖文化館

Shiga’s Assistant Language Teachers (mainly English) are having an art exhibition at the Biwako Bunkakan. About 16 teachers are exhibiting paintings, photography, etc., during March 20-23, 2008.

It is on the 1st floor of the museum. Hours: 9 am – 5 pm. Free admission.

I also have my Lake Biwa Rowing Song pictures on display as well. I will be there on Sunday the 23rd (last day) from 3 pm to 5 pm. If you have time, please visit us.

The museum is near Shimanoseki and Ishiba Stations on the Keihan Line.

As you may know, the museum will close down at the end of this month. If you’ve never been to this museum, this is your last chance. It has a lot of Buddhist art, including National Treasures. The top floor also has nice views of the lake. This museum has been a landmark in Otsu for many years (since 1961). I think they will keep the building, but it will be closed to the public.

Web site:

Governor Kada sings in English


On Oct. 20, 2007 (Sat.), an event called Umizukuri Boat Festa 湖づくりボートフェスタ was held. It was a dragon boat and canoe race between Otsu (near Ishiyama) and Ogoto.

After the race ended, a mini concert featuring cute kids playing the よし笛 reed flute (made from reeds in Biwako) was held in Ogoto (Opal) next to the lake shore. Jamie Thompson sang Biwako Shuko no Uta in English as they played the song with the flute. (Her twin sister could not attend and neither could I).

And then a surprise. Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko went on stage and began singing in English with Jamie!! (See photos above.)

Wow, what a great honor. She’s a real people’s governor.

Event flyer:

Emperor and Empress visit Shiga

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.