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OMIHACHIMAN, Shiga Pref. — Among the many tours available for enjoying the beauty of Lake Biwa is a ride aboard a small wooden boat rowed by a skilled sculler who also serves as a guide.

The two-hour tour, which starts and ends at Honenbashi Bridge in the southern part of Omihachiman, moves slowly along the nation’s largest lake through reed beds, providing passengers an opportunity to admire the abundance of nature.

The tour actually dates back some 400 years to when Toyotomi Hidetsugu (1568-1595), who ruled the area at that time, held a tea party afloat in imitation of boating at the Imperial court in Kyoto. The tour is now called “the slowest” in the country, according to Omihachiman Wasen Kanko Kyodo Kumiai (Omihachiman Tourist Cooperative Association of Boats), which organizes the tours.

The boatmen from the association are all local senior citizens who have been working to protect the environment.

Among them is Shoichi Hasegawa, 68, who has been plying the lake for 10 years. He said seniors like him are the best suited for the job.

As he slowly sculled the boat along, Hasegawa not only identified historical points of interest but also spoke about the importance of protecting the lakeside environment, especially the reed beds.

“If bank reinforcement work is carried out, it would definitely destroy the quality of water of the lake,” Hasegawa said. “Nature is best left alone, without any human intervention.”

The kind of reeds particular to the area are known as “goshu,” the products of which, including reed panels and ornaments, have been sold across the country. The reed beds also contribute to the purification of the water.

Lake Biwa next March will be the venue for the Third World Water Forum. The organizer hopes the boat tours will draw attention to water issues on the lake.

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