Chikubu Isle, Lake Biwa, c. 1940.

1940sAmusements & RecreationsKyoto-Nara-Osaka-KobeTransportation
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Ferry boat, Chikubu Isle, Lake Biwa, c. 1940.

Ferry boat, Chikubu Island, Lake Biwa, c. 1940. On the small island, there is a Shinto shrine first built in 724, Hogonji Temple, and rebuilt in 1942, dedicated to Benzaiten. The temple is located on Chikubu island because it is believed that Benzaiten first came down to visit earth at that location.

“The Lake of Omi, also called Biwa-ko, from a fancied resemblance of its outline to the Chinese guitar, is about 37 m in length and 12 m wide at its greatest breadth. Its area is about equal to that of the Lake of Geneva. Its height is about 288 ft above the level of the sea and its greatest depth is said to be the same.

“From Katada towards Seta it becomes very narrow while the northern part is oval in shape. On the W side, the mountain ranges of Hiyeizan and Hirayama descend nearly to the shore, while on the E a wide plain extends between Musa and Toriimoto towards the boundary of Mino.

“There are a few islands in the N part of which Chikubu-shima is the most celebrated. According to the legend, the lake was produced by an earthquake in the year 286 BC while Fuji rose out of the plains of Suruga at the same moment. Much mention is made by the Japanese of the Omi-no-Hakkei or Eight Beauties of Omi. These are the Autumn Moon from Ishiyama, the Evening Snow on Hira-yama, the Blaze of Evening at Seta, the Evening Bell of Miidera, the Boats sailing back from Yabase, a Bright Sky with a Breeze at Awadzu, Rain by night at Karasaki, and the Wild Geese alighting at Katada. It is evident that in order to enjoy these Beauties the places named must be visited at the proper hours and seasons.”

A Handbook for Travellers in Central & Northern Japan, by Sir Ernest Mason Satow & A. G. S. Hawes, 1884

Chikubu island, Lake Biwa, c. 1940.

Chikubu Island, Lake Biwa, c. 1940.

“During the reign of Emperor Daigo, a courtier goes to the island in the center of Lake Biwa: Chikubu Island. When he arrives at the lake shore, an old fisherman and a young woman are just setting out in a fishing boat, he calls out to them and asks if he can go with them. After the boat arrives at Chikubu Island the old man gives the courtier directions to the shrine.

“As the young woman is going the same way, the courtier asks if there is a prohibition against women like many other shrines. The old man and young woman reply that, as Benzaiten (Sarasvati) is a woman herself, she does not discriminate. They tell the tale of the formation of Chikubu Island’s Shrine and it becomes apparent that these two are not human, the old man dives into the ocean and the young woman disappears behind a door into the shrine. After a short while, Benzaiten appears and dances. Before long, the Dragon King of the Sea also appears and dances.

“Afterwards, Benzaiten returns to her shrine and the Dragon King returns to the waters.”

Japanese Nō Dramas, Royall Tyler, 1992

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