BIWA is the answer to the crossword clue
[Japan’s largest lake]

Autumn Moon at Ishiyama on Lake Biwa, viewable at the Met Museum

Going to break my own rule today and write about an answer that I wouldn’t characterize as crosswordese: [Japan’s largest lake, located NE of Kyoto], BIWA. (By the way, I should mention it was a very nice puzzle today–highly recommended.)

Clearly, BIWA is a short answer that many solvers won’t know, but it appears so infrequently as to not qualify under my definition of crosswordese. I don’t think it has appeared in any major newspaper’s crossword except for the New York Times, and it’s only appeared there twice before: once in 1984 and once in 2006.

Image via Pharaoh_EZYPT

Still, there it is today, and as I wanted to look it up I thought I’d share what I found.

Biwa Lake is one of the oldest lakes in the world. It’s dated here at about 5.5. million years old, making it approximately the same age as crosswords’ favorite lake, the ARAL [___ Sea (mostly dried-up lake)]. And as the clue suggests, it looks like Lake Biwa is going to outlive the Aral Sea

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BIWA is also the name of a short-necked [Japanese lute]. The lake is thought to be named after the instrument,

BIWA, image via Kazuhisa OTSUBO
This is the best comparison I could muster. You’ll have to sort of twist the biwa on the right in your mind so it aligns with the Biwa on the left. Or I guess you could try to twist the 6.6 cubic miles of water on the left into the shape of the three-foot long piece of wood on the right.

Among the fish found in the Biwa is a species called the Biwa trout, though it seems it’s more closely related to a small variety of salmon called masu. People eat the Biwa (the fish, not the lake or the lute) grilled and as shashimi, as well as its ROE.

two Biwa trout salmon

So the instrument also named the fish, in a way. And a marathon. And the biwa, or loquat, tree, as [Plumlike frui] of the LOQUAT alo resemble the lute.

This video of a Biwa trout farm reminds me of something…

If you haven’t yet seen Satoyama: Japan’s Secret Watergarden, a wonderful documentary about the Japanese satoyama narrated by none other than David Attenborough, do so. It’s only about 45 minutes. Here’s the whole thing:

Of course, it was just such a satoyama that Hayoa Miyazaki set My Neighbor Totoro. And to bring it all full circle, there’s the biwa-shaped biwa-bokuboku, one of the the Tsukomogami (household artifact ghosts).

BIWA crossword biwa-bokuboku lake japanese lute
a biwa-bokuboku, image via Toriyama Sekien (鳥山石燕