Lake Biwa, or Biwa Lake, is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It is also one of the world’s twenty oldest lakes, dating back almost 4 million years ago. The lake appears to have been named after a stringed instrument called biwa, which has a shape similar to that of the lake. Today, the lake in its entirety is a protected Quasi-National Park. Though the lake is loved for its beauty, it is best known for its cultured freshwater pearl production.
Lake Biwa is surrounded by mountains and filled with many fish and plant species. Hundreds of streams feed the large lake, which is visited by many water birds annually. The lake is drained by one river and is home to over 1,100 species of animals and plants. In addition to providing drinking water to 15 million people, the lake is used for many agricultural purposes, which may be interfering with the pearl production and overall environment of the lake.
Process of Pearl Cultivation
Lake Biwa and pearls go hand in hand, thanks to the immense production of cultured freshwater pearls. Japan was actually the first to culture freshwater pearls. After succeeding with cultured saltwater pearls, they tried their hand at cultured freshwater pearls and were successful. In order to create a cultured pearl, the natural process needs to be mimicked. In saltwater, pearls are found in oysters. In freshwater, mussels are used to grow pearls. Instead of the natural process, which includes a parasite entering the shell, incisions are made to the shell, which are sometimes enough to trigger a reaction from the mussel. Other times, small pieces of live mantle tissue are inserted, and as they are thought be intruders, are covered with the calcium carbonate resulting in a pearl.
The entire process of producing these cultured Biwa freshwater pearls can take three years to see great results. This is why the larger pearls are far more expensive, as they take longer to produce. Smaller pearls take less time and are easier to come by.
Biwa pearls are a big name in the pearl industry. Though China was a major competitor at different stages as well as today, Biwa pearls always remained far superior. After all, once a name is established, it’s hard to take it down. True Biwa pearls come from Lake Biwa and are of superb quality.