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Blessings of water flow to future generations

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Chiyoko Fukuda washes vegetables in the kabata of her house. “It gives them freshness,” she said.

By Yoko Tsujimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer TAKASHIMA, Shiga — Spring water known as “shozu” (living water) bubbles up in many places in the Harie district of Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, on the northern part of Lake Biwa, and local residents have long set up water spots called kabata in their homes. Aimed at protecting the area’s rich water resources, this practice began in the Edo period (1603-1867), and in recent years has attracted attention as a pinnacle of environmentally friendly living.

There are many water channels in the district, and in spring, sweetfish and Biwa trout run up the channels from Lake Biwa. Composed of meltwater from the Hira mountains and riverbed water from the Adogawa river, a total of 3,500 tons of spring water is said to bubble up each day. The water temperature is 13-14 C throughout the year, feeling cool in summer and warm in winter.

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    A waterwheel for generating electricity is installed in a water channel. The electricity generated by the waterwheel is used to power all-night lights.

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Every home used to have a kabata to store spring water. Even today, 100 of the 170 households in the Harie district have kabata in their homes.

Kabata have a three-tier structure. The top tier is called “moto-ike” and is used to store drinking water, while the middle is “tsubo-ike,” and contains overflow used for washing. The bottom tier is called “hata-ike,” where carp and other fish are raised.

Fish raised in hataike are fed cooked rice and other food that flow from the middle tsubo-ike tier, and purify the water. The water from hata-ike eventually runs into Lake Biwa via a shared water channel running among the houses.

“In the past, it was natural that people living upstream didn’t contaminate the water for those living downstream,” said housewife Chiyoko Fukuda, 69.

Fukuda still uses kabata to wash vegetables and prepare funa-zushi, sushi using funa carp indigenous to the lake, and to cool barley tea and beer in summer. She draws the spring water and uses it for drinking.

“The flavor of the spring water is totally different from tap water. It’s sweet,” she said with a smile.

Waterworks were established in the 1960s, and more and more households began using them for taking baths and doing laundry. However, they have continued to use the spring water for drinking.

Proud of being beautiful

The quiet mountainous district attracted attention after it was showcased on a TV program in January 2004. The show featured Mitsuhiko Imamori, 64, a photographer from Shiga Prefecture who was attracted by the coexistence of water and people in Harie and often visited, as well as the daily lives of local people using kabata.

Many visitors flocked to the district, and in May 2004, local residents launched the Harie Shozu no Sato committee. They asked households to show their kabata to visitors, and collected fees from visitors for guide services. The fees collected are used to clean up water channels and rivers, and plant trees in mountains.

The district has also been featured by overseas media outlets, and gets about 5,000 domestic and overseas visitors each year.

“I saw the district on a TV show. The spring water is well integrated into the residents’ lives, and I was impressed by the local people’s enthusiasm to protect the water. I understand why the water of Lake Biwa is so clean,” said Yoshihiro Nakamura, 51, a company employee from Shizuoka.

Committee Chairman Susumu Miyake, 66, said: “We didn’t realize that our lifestyle of protecting the spring water is not common, until people from outside pointed it out. We’re proud to have it praised as a beautiful place.”

The district was designated as a national important cultural landscape in 2010, and recognized as an important composing element of Japan Heritage “Lake Biwa and its Surroundings: A Water Heritage Site of Life and Prayer” in 2015.

Fukuda was given her first bath in a kabata immediately after being born. Ever since she was a child, her parents often told her, “The water deity lives in the kabata, so you must protect it.”

Every New Year, she offers the drawn water to the household altar and puts up kadomatsu pines on her gate. She believes that passing on the lifestyle to protect the spring water to future generations is a mission for her generation. Her grandchild, who is now a university student, presented research on kabata while in high school.

“I was glad I could convey the significance of the lifestyle. I’m happy about protecting it,” Fukuda said with a smile.

■ Harie district of Takashima, Shiga Pref.

The area is about a 20-minute walk from the JR Kosei Line’s Shin-Asahi Station. Visitors should refrain from entering the district without a guide, as this is a place where local people live. A tour visiting kabata and other places in the district takes about 1½ hours. The fee is ¥1,000 per person, and reservations should be made by the day before. Inquiries will be accepted from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. by the Harie Shozu no Sato committee at (0740) 25-6566. The committee office is closed on Mondays.Speech

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