The Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県 Shiga-ken) is a prefecture of West Japan, which forms part of the Kansai region in the western part of Honshu island. It encircles Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. The capital is Ōtsu. The Shiga Prefecture has a population of 1,261,919 people.
Cultivated areas occupy nearly one-sixth of the prefecture. Rice is the principal crop: over 90 percent of the farmlands are rice fields. Most farms are small, producing only a slight income. Most farmers depend on income from other sources. Eastern Shiga is famous for cattle breeding and southeastern Shiga is famous for green tea. On Lake Biwa, some people are engaged in fishery and freshwater pearl farming.
Since the Medieval Period, especially in Edo period, many Shiga people were active in commerce and were called Ōmi merchants (近江商人 Ōmi shōnin, Ōmi akindo), sometimes Ōmi thieves (近江泥棒 Ōmi dorobō) by other envious merchants. For example, Nippon Life, Itochu, Marubeni, Takashimaya, Wacoal and Yanmar were founded by people from Shiga. In their home towns such as Omihachiman, Hino, Gokashō and Toyosato, their mansions were preserved as tourist attractions.
Beginning in the 1960s, Shiga developed industry, supporting major factories owned by companies such as IBM Japan, Canon, Yanmar Diesel, Mitsubishi, and Toray. According to Cabinet Office's statistics in 2007, the secondary sector of the economy accounted for 44.8% of Gross Shiga Product, the highest proportion in Japan. Traditional industries include textiles, Shigaraki ware, Butsudan in Hikone and Nagahama, medicines in Koka, and fan ribs in Adogawa.
Lake Biwa, Japan's largest, is located at the center of this prefecture. It occupies one-sixth of its area. The Seta River flows from Lake Biwa to Osaka Bay through Kyoto. This is the only natural river that flows out from the lake. Most other natural rivers flow into the lake. There were many lagoons around Lake Biwa, but most of them were reclaimed in 1940s. One of the preserved lagoons is the wetland (水郷 suigō) in Omihachiman, and it was selected as the first Important Cultural Landscapes in 2006.
The lake divides the prefecture into four different areas: Kohoku (湖北, north of lake) centered Nagahama, Kosei (湖西, west of lake) centered Imazu, Kotō (湖東, east of lake) centered Hikone and Konan (湖南, south of lake) centered Otsu.
Plains stretch to the eastern shore of Lake Biwa. The prefecture is enclosed by mountain ranges with the Hira Mountains and Mount Hiei in the west, the Ibuki Mountains in the northeast, and the Suzuka Mountains in the southeast. Mount Ibuki is the highest mountain in Shiga. In Yogo, a small lake is famous for the legend of the heavenly robe of an angel (天女の羽衣 tennyo no hagoromo?), which is similar to a western Swan maiden.
Shiga's climate sharply varies between north and south. Southern Shiga is usually warm, but northern Shiga is typically cold with high snowfall and hosts many skiing grounds. In Nakanokawachi, the northernmost village of Shiga, snow reached a depth of 5.6 metres (18 ft) in 1936.
As of April 1st 2014, 37% of the total land area of the prefecture was designated as Natural Parks (the highest total of any prefecture), namely the Biwako and Suzuka Quasi-National Parks; and Kotō, Kutsuki-Katsuragawa, and Mikami-Tanakami-Shigaraki Prefectural Natural Parks.
Cities and TownsEdit