The Lake Biwa Canal Plan 1885-1890/ Technical Invention in Construction: Vertical Shaft Method

The Lake Biwa Canal is an urban revitalization construction proposed to save the declining situation of Kyoto in the face of the political and economic center transfer of Japan under the background of Japan’s capital transfer in 1869. As early as in the time of Hirakimoto and Hideyoshi, some people proposed to bring water from lake Biwa to Kyoto, but they could not overcome many engineering problems and gave up [1].

Until the Meiji restoration, the third generation of Kyoto prefecture governor Kunimichi Kitagaki saw the engineer school (Predecessor of department of engineering, university of Tokyo) students Tanabe Sakuro graduation thesis “Plans and Diagrams of the Lake Biwa Canal” and decided to open this large scale water conservancy project construction.

Though there were many hardships such as insufficient materials and the labour environment counting on manpower, technical inventions such as introducing a construction method using vertical tunnels were carried out to overcome the obstacles of mountains stood along the canal path. This invention was the first attempt in Japan.

Around 2,436 meters, the Higashiyama tunnel in Shiga prefecture was the longest tunnel in Japan.In addition to digging from the sides of the mountain, Tanabe Sakuro also used the vertical shaft method, which allows vertical digs from the top of the mountain to facilitate construction [2].


(Measured map from kyoto to otsu by Tanabe Sakuro)

(Longitude sectional drawing show the section of the Canal by Tanabe Sakuro)

(Tunnel Sectional Drawing by Tanabe Sakuro)

(Photos of Vertical Shafts)

[1] Kyoto Shimbun. 琵琶湖疏水の100年. [One Hundred Years History of Lake Biwa Canal]. Kyoto. Kyoto: Kyoto City Supply and Sewage Bureau, 1990.
[2] Tanabe Sakuro. 琵琶湖疏水工事圖譜 [Plans and Diagrams of the Lake Biwa Canal]. Tanabe Sakuro, 1891.



1 Comment on “The Lake Biwa Canal Plan 1885-1890/ Technical Invention in Construction: Vertical Shaft Method

  1. As mentioned in your article, the revitalization project happened in 1869. Kyoto’s government had a prospective understanding of the construction of the Lake Biwa Canal. This reminds me the importance of subsequent planning of urban projects. In present days, there are many urban designs failed because of the ignorance of subsequent effects of them.

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