Finding a quiet retreat is no great feat in the Shiga prefecture. Everywhere you go, you’re bound to be finding yourself surrounded by the soaring hills and vast rice paddies. If you visit Kusatsu City, I strongly recommend the Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden and Lotus Pond. It lies on the southeast edge of Lake Biwa, on the Karasuma Peninsula. Lake Biwa is Japan’s largest freshwater lake and is one of the world’s twenty oldest lakes, nearly 4 million years old. Over time, an incredibly unique and diverse ecosystem has evolved in the lake.
Mizunomori lotus pond at Karasuma peninsula
“Lotus Pond” is a term that doesn’t do the sheer size of the garden justice, as the entire garden of water lilies takes up the entire inlet and surrounds the peninsula. A pathway has been built just along the edge of the water, so it’s easy to walk and sit at the edge of the water. It is best to visit in the summer, when the lilies are in full bloom, making for a spectacular view of violet hues against the aquatic backdrop – a Monet painting come to life.
Mizunomori water botanical garden: an elevated perfection of nature
The Mizunomori Water Botanical Garden is adjacent to the Lotus Pond, just a few steps away. Overhead, the largest wind turbine generator, colossal in size, towers over the garden’s horizon, creating a surreal environment of technology meets carefully cultivated nature, a perfect summation of Japanese culture. The botanical garden itself is not huge, but includes an incredibly diverse variety of aquatic and land plants in such a well-maintained landscape. The garden is composed of an outdoor area, a greenhouse, a small museum, and the obligatory café and gift shop. The museum is dedicated to a condensed history of the lotus flower in Asian culture and contains ancient relics from Japan and Southeast Asia. In the same building as the museum, there is a small area sectioned off as a library comprised entirely of books on gardens and greenery.
A mini-ecosystem in itself
The outdoor garden, like all Japanese gardens, is carefully cultivated to create a contrived perfection of nature. Mimicking the ecological layout of a miniature lake, the areas surrounding the central lotus pavilion transition into a miniature wetland marsh garden on the western edge and an elevated foothill path around the circling the eastern circumference. Pathways wind in and out, sectioning off plots of grass, and there is a foothill path that is leads to an elevated view opposite the Lotus Pond in the peninsula. A hilly plot of land lies next to the central pond, perfect for stretching out and reading under the shaded grass. A raised wooden platform path crisscrosses through the wetland marsh garden, and ends at an arched bridge above the main pond where small plots of grass lie on the outer edges of the garden .Benches are scattered, beckoning visitors to relax.
The greenhouse: ripe with yearlong blooms
Centered on a low standing lotus pond, a sampling of air plants, succulents, tropical plants, coalesce in harmony in the greenhouse dome. There is a distinct mugginess in the air vapors that is composed of the blend of soil and aquatic plants. A stroll around the greenhouse may seem brief, judging by the concentrated size of the dome, but diversity trumps size, and a huge variety of plants and flowers calling out to be closely inspected will certainly be worth your while. Among the assortment of flowers and fauna, one will find species of philodendron, selloum, tilisandia, alpinia, among many others.
The perfect Shiga day trip
The Mizunomori Lotus Pond is free to access by foot or bike, which makes for a nice stroll along the edge of Lake Biwa. The Water Botanical Garden is a 300 JPY (2.4 USD) entrance fee and is open from 9 AM to 5 PM, with the last admission being 4:30 PM. They are closed on Mondays. The gardens can be accessed by the “Ohmi Railway Bus” from Kusatsu Station headed for “Lake Biwa Museum,” where you can get off at “Mizuno Forest”. It is about a 25-minute bus ride in total. If you have time, be sure to visit the Lake Biwa Museum, which is a mere 5 minute walk away from the Botanical Gardens. The museum houses samples of fossils, geological records, an aquarium with various fish and specimen from Lake Biwa, as well as an excellent café serving meals with locally sourced ingredients.
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