Rowing with Imazu Jr. High School Rowing Club

On Aug. 8, 2007, I went rowing on Biwako (琵琶湖周航) with the Imazu Jr. High School Rowing Club from Nagahama to Imazu. It was a very hot and sunny day with little wind. Almost 50 club members and three teachers went on this rowing trip.

I was allowed to join them. Every Aug., they row from Imazu to Nagahama, stopover in Nagahama, and row back to Imazu. This year, they couldn’t row from Imazu to Nagahama due to high waves. So on Aug. 7, they took a bus to Nagahama and stayed overnight.

They used six rowing boats including two fixed-seat boats (フィックス艇) made of wood. These two fixed-seat boats are replicas of the same type of rowing boat used by Oguchi Taro when he wrote the song “Biwako Shuko no Uta” 90 years ago. I really wanted to try rowing on this boat on Biwako to see what it was like. 小口太郎の気分になりたかった。

This fixed-seat boat has long been obsolete so it is quite rare to be able to row on one. Competitive rowing boats today all have sliding seats which make it easier to row. So fixed-seat boats have fixed seats which don’t move. And compared to modern rowing boats which are very narrow and light (made of fiberglass, etc.), fixed-seat boats are wider and heavier (wood), making it harder to row and slower.

But it was fun rowing with the jr. high students (more girls than boys). The fixed-seat boat looks very sleek and beautiful cuttting through the waters of Lake Biwa. I really like the design. It was like rowing on a classic piece of art.

The two replica boats were donated to Imazu where they are stored in a large boathouse. The first one is named “Chiaki-Taro” and the second is called “Yodo.”

Video link:

See more photos here:

Re: NHK Nodo Jiman

My English version of the song, “Biwako Shuko no Uta” (Lake Biwa Rowing Song) was sung on national television for the first time on Nov. 26, 2006 on NHK TV’s “Nodo Jiman” amateur singing contest. This  show is broadcast live on Sundays from a different location each time. This time it was beamed from Mitoyo, Kagawa Prefecture.

The singers were twin sisters Jamie and Megan Thompson whom I met earlier this year and agreed to sing my English song in public on June 3, 2006 when the song was first unveiled.

They applied to appear on the show and lo and behold they were one of the 20 entrants chosen to appear on this show. They sang only the first verse of the song as they had only 1 min. to sing. The next minute was spent chatting with the MC. So they were on stage for about 2 min., which was longer than most other entrants who stood in the spotlight for about 90 sec. or less.

After about 1 min. of singing, a chime is rung once, twice, or three times to rate the singer. Three chimes mean the singer has passed (gokaku) to become a finalist. Two chimes is what most entrants receive. (No one gets a single chime.) Out of the 20 entrants, 5 or 6 of them receive the “gokaku” rating. Out of these finalists, the show’s “Champion” is selected. The Champion of each show later appears in a special “Champion Contest” Nodo Jiman show held later. (Nodo Jiman literally means, “Boastful Throat.”

The show was broadcast for 45 min. from 12:15 to 1 pm. Two guest celebrity singers also appear on the show and this time it was Fuji Ayako and Toba Ichiro. Fuji-san gave the sisters very gracious comments, “Such a beautiful harmony. It was wonderful!” 「とても美しいハーモニーです。素晴らしかったですね!」

I guess I have to run out and buy her CD in appreciation. There was a live audience of 1,500 in Mitoyo gymnasium. At the end of the show, they chose a high school girl from Takamatsu (capital city of Kagawa) to receive the Champion Award.

“Biwako Shuko no Uta” is Shiga’s most famous song and famous nationally. It is about a rowing trip around Lake Biwa where they visit lake’s famous spots. More details about the song is here:

Thanks to everyone who watched the show!

Lake Biwa photo exhibition in Otsu, Shiga

Asahi Shimbun article about my Otsu exhibition.

I will hold a small photo exhibition in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture to show pictures of Lake Biwa based on the well-known song, “Biwako Shuko no Uta” or Lake Biwa Boating Song.(琵琶湖周航の歌)

Made famous by singer Tokiko Kato in 1971, the song is about a bunch of Kyoto University college students in the college boating club in 1917 who rowed in a sleek, wooden racing boat around Lake Biwa starting at Otsu and stopping overnight at Omi-MaikoImazu, and Hikone before returning to Otsu. It was the boat club’s tradition to row around the entire lake every summer.

The song mentions famous places in Lake Biwa and also symbolizes life itself. The song was written by Taro Oguchi (1897-1924), a member of the boating club and native of Okaya, Nagano Prefecture. The melody was based on a song called Water Lilies (Hitsuji-kusa) by Chiaki Yoshida (1895-1919) from Niigata Pref. who never knew that his melody was used for the song.

It was during the second night of their boating trip in June 1917 in Imazu, in the northwest corner of Lake Biwa, when Oguchi first showed his lyrics to his boatmates. One boatmate suggested that the Water Lilies melody went well with the lyrics, so it stuck and they sang the song together for the first time, even while rowing on the lake.

It’s sad that both Oguchi and Yoshida died in their early 20s. Both were extremely talented and would’ve accomplished much if they had lived longer. The song has a very intriguing mystique. Some of the words are incomprehensible, doesn’t make sense, or just plain wrong. It was not a seriously written song.

It nonetheless went on to become very popular in Japan and many famous singers like Peggy Hayama, Miyako Harumi, Frank Nagai, and Kobayashi Akira have covered it. Nini Rosso even played a trumpet version.

The town of Imazu even has a nice museum dedicated to the song. It points out all the mistakes and mysteries of the song, but does not shed much light on all the questions. There’s a listening corner where you can don headphones and listen to all the cover versions of the song (it can take at least an hour). The town also holds an annual choir singing contest in June for that song. Choir groups from around the country enter the contest just to sing that song.

Also, Shiga Prefecture has six monuments dedicated to this song. Each one is dedicated to one of the six verses of the song covering the following six places: Otsu (Mihogasaki), Omi-Maiko, Imazu, Chikubushima, Hikone, and Chomeiji. The song monument in Hikone (for verse No. 5) was recently unveiled in Oct. 2005. And the city of Okaya in Nagano Prefecture also has a monument for the song and its composer, Taro Oguchi, a native of Okaya.

The mysterious meaning of the lyrics, the way it was created, the story behind the people who created it, the nostalgic reflection of a certain time and place in the past, and its national fame all combine to make it a very interesting song to study.

I had never even heard of it (it was before my time) until last year in April 2004 when I was in Suwa, Nagano to see the Onbashira Festival. I stayed in Okaya city on the shores of Lake Suwa. I walked around the lake and came across a statue of Taro Oguchi. It even had a sound box where you could hear the song. The lyrics were also displayed and I immediately found it intriguing.

For this exhibition, I have created my own photographic rendition of the places and scenes mentioned in the song and the six monuments dedicated to the song. I used Photoshop to composite images and to alter the colors into a dreamy condition as the song suggests. I also translated the lyrics into English. Call it “Lake Biwa Boating Song in Pictures and in English.”

Place: Shiga Kaikan Bunka Salon Gallery (滋賀会館文化サロンギャラリー)
5-min. walk from JR Otsu Station.
Address: Kyomachi 3-4-22, Otsu, Shiga Pref.
Phone: 077-525-9995
〒520-0044 大津市京町三丁目 4-22
Web site:

Date & Time: Nov. 21 to Dec. 4, 2005, 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, closed Mon.

The gallery is actually inside a salon-type coffee shop. It’s a nice space (see image below).

Update: I now have an online version of the exhibition:

And video here:
Lake Biwa Rowing Song music video

1 5 6 7