Introduction of the Biwako Floating School

The Biwako Floating School:
              ...is employed as a part of school education
              ...is conducted on board the study vessel “Uminoko”
              ...is run on the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko)
              ...is a study camp of 1 day and 2 nights
              ...was started 24 years ago in 1983, and has had over 380,000 student participants
              ...helps to cultivate in children ‘the strength to live life to its fullest.’

The vessel “Uminoko” is 65 metres long, 12 metres wide, 20 metres high, and weighs 928 freight tons.

All primary school students in Shiga Prefecture undertake the Floating School voyage in their 5th year.  This includes students in all primary, handicapped and foreign schools in Shiga  -  approximately 250 schools, 15 thousand students are divided into 90 voyages on lake Biwa yearly.

Depending on the size of the schools, in some cases up to nine schools’ fifth year students will participate in the same Floating School voyage.  Also, large schools can sometimes be split into 2 groups to be taken on 2 separate voyages.  The number of participants per voyage is 120 to 200 children (average 160 children).

Each voyage lasts for two days, a total of approximately 30 hours on board, where the students stay overnight.  On the first day the ship leaves port at 10am and returns at 5pm.  The voyage ends at 3pm on the second day after the ship has returned to port for the second time.

On board the ship, students engage in a variety of learning experiences focused on Lake Biwa and the environment.  These activities include:  water analysis, plankton study, water-plant study, making water-plant bookmarks, bird watching, fishing and lake viewing, among others.  Also, from June through to the end of October, students are able to experience rowing a junior cutter boat on the lake, in groups of 8 to 10 students with two supervisors per boat.

Learning and experiencing new things together as a group is a big focus of the Floating School.  Participants have fun meeting new people and working together in various activities such as: school introductions, various game tournaments, name card exchanging, rope-work practice, town walking, and everyone’s favourite: the on-board tug-of-war tournament in which the students have great fun and develop new bonds with children they have never met before.

All students undertake Floating School orientation, emergency drills, and the two days consist of both small and large group activities.

All of the above are carried out whilst paying special attention to the following three key points: 1. Safety  2. Greetings  3. Cleaning up after oneself.

Whilst out on the lake, students have the chance to observe the four islands on Lake Biwa, Shiraishi, Takeshima, Chikubushima, and Okishima.  The students land on Chikubushima, which is well known for its historical shrines and temples, and the only island on Lake Biwa with people living on it, Okishima.  As they leave Okishima, the local elementary school students send them off with waving flags.