The Lake Biwa Canal Memorial Museum

The Lake Biwa Canal Memorial Museum

An artificial waterway which created a scenery of modern Kyoto.

Photo : Kenta Baba / Text : Yu Muta

As ’Thousand-year-old capital’, a number of tourists visit Kyoto from all over the world. Kyoto is well known from Heian-era to Edo-era, but people don’t pay attention to after Meiji-era somehow.
In the period of Meiji and Taisho era, the completion of Biwako Canal changed everything in Kyoto. At , visitors are able to follow the process of modernization of Kyoto through the sources from the state of the art and the society in those days.

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‘The Lake Biwa Canal’ is an artificial waterway from Lake Biwa to Kyoto. The construction started in 1885 and finished in 1890.

Because of The Meiji Restoration, a capital city moved to Tokyo and Kyoto lost its own power. In order to flourish again, the city needed to modernize  its own culture. A construction plan of the Lake Biwa Canal was their answer to survive. The purpose of making this canal was to provide electricity to factories and houses by using hydroelectric power generation and also to energize a distribution between Shiga, Kyoto and Osaka by connecting all the cities together.

Surprisingly, this Lake Biwa Canal was the first hydroelectric power generation for the public use in the world. By using this electricity, the first tram in japan was opened to traffic.


 A water mill which was used at a power plant.



A diorama which duplicates Taisho-era in Kyoto. People can recognize a use of canal.

The total length of the canal is about 8.4 km (5.2 miles). The first tunnel is about 2.4 km (1.5 miles) and it was the longest tunnel in Japan at that time. It is amazing that all this big constructions were done by hands without using machines at all. I was shocked to see a photo that an ox carrying earth because it is totally different from what we saw today.

Not only photos, but also they have a number of paintings as well. It is interesting to see a picture of work inside of pit like a deep well on a long and narrow paper. Some record drawings by Soryu Tamura, an oil painter, and Shoryo Kawada, a Japanese style painter, are very valuable in a history of art.

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Main floor exhibition hall. Sources of a construction plan of the Lake Biwa Canal is exhibited.

It’s not used for a water transport anymore, but it becomes a part of a beautiful scenery in Kyoto such as cherry blossoms whirling in the wind in spring time and tinted autumnal leaves are very beautiful in fall season. Suirokaku (a high-rise waterway red brick structure) is well known for having a canal going through in Nanzen-ji Temple, but we all see this canal unconsciously when we travel around in Kyoto, especially at Burin-an garden.

City-water that people in Kyoto use is coming from the second Lake Biwa Canal which was completed in 1912 and still supports people’s lives in Kyoto.

A scenery from the premise of

If you are going to walk around Nanzen-ji Temple, we would like you to stop by and see a history of water in modern Kyoto.


ADDRESS : 17 Kusakawa-cho Nanzenji, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city (MAP)
HOURS : 9:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (March 1st ~ November 30th) 9:00 a.m. ~ 4:30 p.m. (December 1st ~ at the end of Feburary) ※ Admission is allowed 30 minutes before close.
CLOSED : Monday (If Monday is a holiday, next day will be closed)
PHONE : +81 (0)75-752-2530