The Lake Biwa Canal Plan 1885-1890/ Incline Railway and the Canal

The “Incline” is also called as the “inclined railway, ” comprising the rail, machine and related facilities installed to convey cargo on a sloping surface of canals, mountainside and others. The Kyoto Incline was also a railroad to tow boats using a hydraulic power generation system. The Incline was made as a part of the canal construction (1885-1890) to pull water from Lake Biwa into Kyoto. The overall length of the Incline is 587 meters [1].

Before the Canal construction, people and horses were only means of transportation between Kyoto and Otsu, so it was difficult to transport massive loads. Therefore, people were looking forward to the construction of the Lake Biwa Canal that would open a waterway to transport goods by boat, which was intended to contribute the development of Kyoto, after the capital was relocated to Tokyo. The Canal project was not just a enormous project to connect the distance of 20 kilometers from Lake Biwa to downtown Kyoto through many mountains, but it was also a comprehensive development project to improve waterway transportation in addition to acquire water for the city, irrigation, power generation and other uses. The Canal starts from Otsu where Lake Biwa is located, goes through many tunnels including ones dug under Mt.Nagara, running along the foot of mountains, and arriving in Keage. From Keage, boats go down a steep of 35 meters using the Incline, to enter Kyoto’s city-center through the Kamo River. Boats can not go down a steep slope alone, so the construction of a Incline railway was required to carry the boats on the steep.

Shipping halted on the Lake Biwa Canal in 1948, but the rail line itself was later restored, including the installation of a trolley carrying a small cargo boat, known as a sanjikkoku-bune, which is still on display. Now the area is designated for its historical significance [2].

(Picture and technical drawings of Incline Railway)

(Longitudinal Sectional view and diagrams explain the rationale of the incline railway)

(Past and Now of the Incline Railway: 1920 vs 2010)


[1] “琵琶湖疏水と蹴上インクライン 解説” YouTube video, 18:07, posted by “daizine sir,” October 17, 2019,
[2] Tanabe Sakuro. 京都都市計画. 第1編: 琵琶湖疏水誌 [City Planning of Kyoto: Summary of the Lake Biwa Canal]. Tokyo: Maruzen Group, 1920.

1 Comment on “The Lake Biwa Canal Plan 1885-1890/ Incline Railway and the Canal

  1. It is interesting to see how people back in 1890 are inventing various ways to make life easier – in this case, to ease the transport of people and goods. It is also great to see that the project is successful and preserved as a historical site until today. However, I am also interested to know if the “inclined railway” from Lake Biwa Canal construction set up a breakthrough that would be followed by other cities in Japan, or there is just one “incline” in Japan.

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