On 4 November, Ei Nakayama of The University of Shiga Prefecture made a historic announcement that eight man-made pillars had been found standing upright at the bottom of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.

Despite the country’s long history and relatively changeable landscape due to seismic and volcanic activity, this is actually the first time ruins have ever been found underwater in Japan.

■  Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa is the largest lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world. Due to its location not far from Kyoto and Osaka, it is often referenced in written works dating back hundreds of years. Even today the lake remains a hugely popular spot for camping and cottage vacations.

Due to its notoriety, there are also many folktales of underwater ruins in the area, but little in the way of hard data or evidence of their existence.

■  Lake Biwa Underwater Archeology Research Society

In 1997, Professor Hiromichi Hayashi of The University of Shiga Prefecture began work to find some of these legendary ruins said to be at the bottom of Lake Biwa. By comparing the locations of landmarks and other ruins around the lake, he tried to extrapolate their possible locations in the water.

The problem, however, is far from small, and Prof. Hayashi retired in 2011 without ever finding solid evidence of any ruins. Luckily, his work survived and was carried on by a group of student volunteers represented by the 27-year-old graduate student Nakayama. They call themselves the Lake Biwa Underwater Archeology Research Society.

▼ If you enjoy drawing underwater then the LBUARS may be for you!

■  Lost Shrine

Building on Prof. Hayashi’s work, the team decided to focus their efforts on the area offshore the Nagahama Castle ruins in Nagahama City. It was there that, in August of 2014, the existence of a group of man-made stone columns was confirmed about 100 meters (328 feet) from shore and 1.8 meters (six feet) underwater.

In subsequent studies of the area’s specific environmental and human history the team was able to determine what these columns were and how the arrived at the bottom of the lake.

▼ They also discovered a sweet fishing spot at the ruins site.

In an interesting twist, the ruins are believed to be from a Shinto shrine which housed the god Chinjugami (Tudigong in original Chinese) who protects buildings or areas of land. However, it appears Chinjugami was on vacation when the Bunsei Omi Earthquake hit the area in 1819.

The quake caused soil liquefaction which is when soil loses all stability and begins to act like a liquid. If this happened as evidence suggests it did, the Chinjugami shrine floated off into the lake where it sat, damaged by the earthquake and landslide but undisturbed, for two almost 200 years.

Granted, 200 years isn’t terribly old in the vast history of Japan, but this discovery may be a prelude to many other cultural treasures resting in its many waterways…like my old iPod which I accidentally dropped into the turtle pond in front of Nara Park…

Source: The University of Shiga Prefecture, Lake Biwa Underwater Archeology Research Society, 47 News (Japanese)
Images courtesy Ei Nakayama, The University of Shiga Prefecture