You can’t talk about Shiga Prefecture without mentioning Lake Biwa, which takes up one-sixth of its area.

“Even the geography is dominated by the lake, which is situated in the center of the prefecture,” explained Sugako Imai, a staff member at the Shiga Prefecture tourism and product information center in Tokyo. “People refer to locations by calling them ‘kohoku, konan, koto, and kosei’ — meaning north, south, east and west of the lake.”

The information center, located in Chiyoda Ward, sells products made in the prefecture and provides information on Shiga’s history, culture and tourism.

The items for sale at the center represent each of the four regions.

The kohoku northern region is famous for its silk products and is home to one of the nation’s three remaining velvet manufacturers.

The center provides information on a gallery in kohoku opened by a man who makes replicas of old silk noh costumes using the same type of silkworms that were used in the Edo Period.

Important sites in the southern konan region include Mitsuidera Temple and Ishiyamadera Temple.

According to legend, three emperors in the seventh and early eighth centuries — Tenji, Temmu and Jito — had their first baths at Mitsuidera Temple.

Meanwhile, court lady Murasaki Shikibu is said to have formulated the plans for her legendary novel “Genji Monogatari” (“Tale of Genji”) at Ishiyamadera Temple in the early 11th century.

Also famous is Seta no Karahashi bridge, which was burned down several times due to its strategic importance.

“It has long been said that ‘those who conquer Omi (the Shiga region), conquer the world’ because of its proximity to (the old capital of) Kyoto,” Imai said.

The famed Otsu paintings from the konan region can also be purchased at the center.

Although these were originally Buddhist paintings, in time they became satirical works depicting the humorous side of ordinary people’s lives.

It is believed some have magical powers, including one said to prevent children from wetting their beds if attached to the bedroom ceiling.

“There are only two painters who still carry on the tradition, both of them in their 70s,” Imai said. “This situation is similar for ‘obatadeko’ hand-made dolls from koto (eastern region) that have a 300-year history.”

The dolls, also available at the center, are now made by just one man.

“He quit his company 10 years ago to succeed the family business, but he is now in his 60s,” Imai said. “I hope these traditions will be kept in the future.”

The koto region is also known for the luxurious residences of Omi merchants, who were active during the Edo Period (1600-1868) and the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Many of these merchants established the foundations of what are now major department stores and trading firms.

The kosei western region produces 90 percent of the bamboo frames used in fans.

The center sells food, including rice crackers, candy and “funazushi,” carp that is treated in salt and then fermented with rice in wooden barrels for months.

“Although we cannot sell them here due to lack of space, there are many more delicious foods in Shiga,” Imai said.

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