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Otsu, Shiga

Core city
大津市 · Ōtsu City
Lake Biwa

Shiga Prefecture
Location in Japan

Coordinates: 35°1′N 135°51′E / 35.017°N 135.850°E / 35.017; 135.850Coordinates: 35°1′N 135°51′E / 35.017°N 135.850°E / 35.017; 135.850

Country Japan
Region Kansai
Prefecture Shiga Prefecture
 • Mayor Naomi Koshi
 • Total 464.10 km2 (179.19 sq mi)
Population (November 1, 2012)
 • Total 341,684
 • Density 740/km2 (1,900/sq mi)
Time zone Japan Standard Time (UTC+9)
- Tree Prunus serrulata
- Flower Viola eizanensis
- Bird Black-headed Gull
Address 3-1 Goryō-chō, Ōtsu-shi, Shiga-ken
Phone number 077-523-1234

Ōtsu (大津市 Ōtsu-shi?) is the capital city of Shiga Prefecture, Japan.[1] Ōtsu is known as the main port of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. It briefly served as a capitol of Japan from 667 to 672 AD during the Asuka period (538 – 710).[2] The city is home to numerous sites of historical importance, notably the temples of Mii-dera, Ishiyama-dera, and Enryaku-ji and the Hiyoshi Taisha shrine. Enryaku-ji is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)".[3] Ōtsu was incorporated as a city on October 1, 1898.

As of November 1, 2012, the city has an estimated population of 341,684 and a population density of 740 persons per km². The total area is 464.10 km².[4]


Ōtsu is located at the southwest of Shiga Prefecture.[5] The city is "L"-shaped and stretches along the southwest shore of Lake Biwa, Japan's largest lake.[4] Ōtsu ranges from the densely populated alluvium depressions near the shore of Lake Biwa to sparsely populated hilly and mountainous areas to the west (Hira Mountains and Mount Hiei) and south of the city.[5]

Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, covers 673.9 square kilometres (260.2 sq mi) and is located at the center of the Shiga Prefecture.[6] The north part of the lake reaches a depth of 50 metres (160 ft), and the south part of the lake near Ōtsu is much shallower and reaches a depth of 5 metres (16 ft). Lake Biwa provides water for the industrial areas of the Kansai Region, irrigation and drinking water in the Shiga area. The lake has been a travel destination since ancient times, and continues to support the tourism industry of the prefecture.[7] The lake is protected as part of Biwako Quasi-National Park.[6] Lake Biwa is home to the Lake Biwa Marathon, which started in Osaka in 1946, and moved to Lake Biwa in 1962. It is considered to be the oldest marathon in Japan.[8]

Yodo River

The Yodo River (120 kilometres (75 mi)) emerges from the south of Lake Biwa.[9] The portion of the river that emerges from the lake is called the Seta River; the portion of the river in Kyoto is referred to as the Uji River; and the portion in Osaka as the Yodo River. The Setagawa Dam was constructed in 1961 to regulate the level of Lake Biwa, is located in the Nangō district of Ōtsu.[10] The Yodo River is noted for having the largest number of tributaries of any river in Japan, and for supplying water for the Hanshin Industrial Region.[11][12]


Early history

Ōtsu, meaning "big port", was a center of inland water transportation since ancient times. The city was an important port on Lake Biwa, and a center of trade by water and land to other areas of Japan.[4] Ōtsu was part of Ōmi Province, an old province of Japan until the modern period. The port is referred to in the Man'yōshū as Shiga no Ōwada (志賀の大わだ?) and Shigatsu (志賀津?).[13] In the years 667 to 672, the Ōmi Ōtsu Palace was founded by Emperor Tenji (626-672).[1] The Jinshin War devastated the Ōmi Ōtsu Palace, and Ōtsu was renamed Furutsu (古津?, "old port").[13] A new capital, Heian-kyō, (now Kyoto), was established in the immediate neighborhood in 794, and Ōtsu was revived as an important traffic point and satellite town of the capital. With the establishment of the new capital, the name of the city was restored to "Ōtsu".[5][13]

Edo period

Ōtsu prospered during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) because of the port on Lake Biwa and for its role as a shukuba, or post town (see also Ōtsu-juku). The city was under direct administration of the Tokugawa shogunate, both for its strategic location and for its role as a center of travel and trade.[4] Two of the Gokaidō, or five routes that connected the capitol at Edo (now Tokyo) with other parts of Japan, converged in Ōtsu: the great Tōkaidō connecting Edo with Kyoto, the Nakasendō connecting Edo with Kyoto via an inland route.[1][4] Additionally, the ancient Hokurikudō, which connected Kyoto to the provinces of northern Honshu, ran through Otsu.[4] The Tokugawa Shogunate established several han domains in the Ōtsu area. The Zeze Domain was based in Zeze, a neighboring castle town of Ōtsu-juku, and the smaller Katada Domain occupied the northern area of the present-day city.[14][15]

Modern period

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw the establishment of a new central government in Tokyo and the abolition of the han system. Numerous prefectures under control of the Meiji government were created, and part of the old province of Ōmi was designated as Ōtsu Prefecture in 1868. Several smaller prefectures were merged into Ōtsu Prefecture in 1871, which became part of present-day Shiga Prefecture on January 1, 1872. Ōtsu, then a town, was named the prefectural capital of Shiga.[16][17]

The Ōtsu incident, a failed assassination attempt on Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich of Russia (1868 – 1918, later Tsar Nicholas II), occurred on 11 May 1891. Nicholas, returning to Kyoto after a day trip to Lake Biwa, was attacked with a saber by Tsuda Sanzō (1855 – 1891), an escort policemen. Nicholas survived the assassination attempt, but the incident caused national outcry against Tsuda and was seen as a crisis in Japanese-Russian relations.[18][19]

The Lake Biwa Canal (8.7 kilometres (5.4 mi)) was constructed in the 1890s between Ōtsu and Kyoto. The canal, which was later expanded during the Taishō period, the played an important role in connecting the cities, facilitating water and passenger transportation and also providing electrical energy to power Japan's first streetcar railroad services. The canal was designated a Historic Site in 1996.[20][21]

Ōtsu was incorporated as a city on October 1, 1898. On March 20, 2006 the town of Shiga (from Shiga District) ceased to exist after merging into Ōtsu.[4]


Ōtsu was historically noted for the production of several products, including Ōtsu-e, a form of folk drawing purchased by travelers in the Edo period; the Ōtsu soroban, an abacus used widely in Japan from the early 17th century; Zeze-yaki and konan-yaki, forms of ceramics produced in the Edo period; and Zeze-cha, the first Japanese tea to be exported to the United States.[22][23][24][25]

Ōtsu, while not an agricultural city, is home to the production of edible chrysanthemums, used in Japanese cuisine in tempura and decoratively on platters of sashimi.[26]


The mayor of Ōtsu is Naomi Koshi (1975 –), who became the 23rd mayor of the city in 2012. The city council is composed of 38 members, who serve a term of four years. The council elects a council president and council vice president, and operates under the laws on regional administration as outlined in the Constitution of Japan. The city hall of Ōtsu is located in the central Goryō-chō district of the city.[27][28]



Ōtsu Station is the central railroad station of the city, but the busiest station of the city is Ishiyama Station: 48 thousands users per a day as of 2007.[29] Ōtsu and Ishiyama are major stations of the West Japan Railway Company (JR West) Biwako Line, a subsection of the Tōkaidō Main Line that runs between Maibara Station and Kyoto Station. The Keihan Electric Railway runs two interurban lines, the Keihan Keishin Line from Ōtsu to Kyoto, and the Keihan Ishiyama Sakamoto Line, which runs entirely within Ōtsu.[30][31]

The JR Central Tōkaidō Shinkansen runs through areas of Ōtsu, but stops at no stations in the city.[32]

Arts and culture

Ōtsu is home to numerous museums. The Shiga Prefectural Lake Biwa Culture Museum, founded in 1948, has exhibits on the culture of the Lake Biwa region.[33] The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga, was founded in 1984 and is located in the Setaminamigaya-chō district of the city.[34] The Ōtsu City Museum of History houses exhibits on the history of the city, as well as operating as a repository for cultural assets of Ōtsu. The museum is in the central Goryo-chō district directly north of Mii-dera.[35]

The city is home to two major libraries. The Shiga Prefectural Library, which houses approximately 1.2 million volumes, is located in the Setaminamigaya-chō district and operates as the central prefectural library. The library opened in 1943.[36] The Ōtsu Municipal Library operates as a general public library for the city. The Municipal Library has a main building in the Hama-Ōtsu district, as well as three branch libraries and several bookmobiles.[37]

Noted places

Ōtsu is home to numerous historical sites, temples, shrines, and other buildings, many of them designated as National Treasures of Japan.

Historic sites

The site of the Ōmi Ōtsu Palace, the site of the imperial court under the Emperor Tenji (626 – 672) and capital of Japan from 672 to 794, is said to be in the Nishikori district of Ōtsu. The site is adjacent to the Ōmi Shrine and protected as a national treasure.[2][38]

Ōtsu was the site of at least four castles: Sakamoto Castle, Ōtsu Castle, Zeze Castle, Ōsakanoseki Castle. None of the castle structures remain.[13]


Ōtsu is home to three temples with structures designated as National Treasures.

Enryaku-ji is a Tendai monastery is located on Mount Hiei and overlooks Kyoto. The temple was founded by Saichō (767 – 822), and remains both the headquarters of the Tendai sect and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)".[39] Mii-dera, formally known as Onjō-ji, is the head temple of the Tendai Jimon sect. Mii-dera, which sits near the central area of the city, is one of the four largest temples in Japan. It has 40 buildings within its sprawling temple precinct.[40]Ishiyama-dera, a Shingon temple, was founded in 749 by the monk Rōben (689 – 773). Ishiyama-dera is traditionally thought to be the site where Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 – c. 1014 or 1025) began writing The Tale of Genji. The temple is noted for its large collection of early Buddhist manuscripts.[41][42]

Eight Views of Ōmi

The Eight Views of Ōmi refer to a series of scenic views of Ōmi Province, the present-day Shiga Prefecture. The eight views were chosen in 1500 by a court noble and poet of the Muromachi period, Konoe Masaie (1444 – 1505). The views were inspired by the Eight Views of Xiaoxiang, China, and are located at the southern end of Lake Biwa. Six of the sites are within the city of Ōtsu, and two are located just beyond the borders of the city. The sights were depicted by Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) in several different series of ukiyo-e pictures, and served as an inspiration for other artists and literary figures.[43][44]

Ōtsu Matsuri

The Ōtsu Matsuri is the largest festival in the city. It takes place on the second Sunday of October and is connected to the Tenson Shrine in the Kyō-machi district of the city. The Ōtsu Matsuri is similar to the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, and features thirteen tall lantern floats, which resemble those of the Gion. The floats feature karakuri ningyō, or mechanical dolls which operate via special mechanisms.[45] The thirteen floats each have their own tradition, customs, and lineage, and are paraded through the city from 9:30 am until 5 pm on the day of the festival.[46] The Ōtsu Matsuri is thought to have begun in the early Edo period, and the first written record of the festival dates to 1624. Many of the hikiyama in use today date from the Edo period, and are accompanied by matsuri-bayashi festival music unique to the city.[45] The Ōtsu Matsuri is designated a Prefectural Intangible Folk Treasure by Shiga Prefecture.[47]

Sister cities

  • United States Lansing, Michigan, USA (since 1969). Both Lansing and Ōtsu are capitals of their respective states/prefectures, which have been sister states since 1968.
  • Germany Würzburg, Germany
  • Switzerland Interlaken, Switzerland
  • China Mudanjiang, China
  • South Korea Kumi, South Korea


External links

  • (Japanese)
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