Cooling off at Lake Biwa


Climate change has been on my mind this summer here in Japan. Japan is known for hot, humid summers but this year, the government declared a national emergency because of extended temperatures in Tokyo over 40C (104F). 65 people have died, over half being elderly. Typhoon Jongdari or in the Japanese numbering system, 2018-#12 is predicted to pass directly into Osaka this Sunday evening (see map below) ending the heat wave.

Courtesy of Japan Meteorological Agency (my dates added) 

Weather and climate are complex systems and causes of heat waves are from a variety of factors. However, the frequency, duration and higher temperatures that the earth is experiencing are definitely caused in a large part by climate change. The Economist’s excellent science podcast, Babbage has a short piece with a climate scientist that explains the role climate change is having on world heat waves.


My family did what a lot of people are doing in Japan this summer – head to the beach! That is a nice thing about living on an island, the ocean is never far away. However, yesterday, we visited Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It is located in the adjacent prefecture of Shiga. We drove 1 hour and 30 minutes to arrive on Omi-Maiko beach, the most scenic public beach on the lake. Lake Biwa is huge, although not as big as the Great Lakes of my home in Michigan. It has 146 miles (235 km) of shoreline, with a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km) and maximum length of 40 miles (64 km). It is an ancient lake, scientists estimating 4 million years old. It gets its name from the shape, which resembles a biwa, a traditional Japanese instrument. I think it looks like a loon.

We had a delightful, refreshing day at Omi-Maiko beach. Large black pine trees (Pinus thunbergii) provide shade over the beach consisting of a pebble/sand mix. We found a quiet spot on the long beach. We spent the day snorkeling for “treasure” and found a pair of swim goggles, a fake gold watch among mostly glass, plastic and old fishing lures. We had a home run competition, using rocks and a plastic bat. This time we packed tables and chairs which was much more comfortable than our last visit to the beach.

It was our first time swimming in the lake. We did several snow-hiking and ski trips in the Hira Mountains that overlook Omi-Maiko beach last winter, so it was nice to see them in the summer. An interesting observation about Japanese culture. They do not value waterfront the same as Americans and so the lake is not surrounded by private property, which is nice for a change. We will be heading back to the Kotohiki beach today for one more day of water before the typhoon arrives this weekend.