NAGANO '98 Kids' Info Center



Suwa: High-Tech City by the Lake

Suwa is a city of 52,000 people in central Nagano Prefecture that grew up along the eastern shore of the lake of the same name. Lake Suwa, with a surface area of 14 square kilometers (5.5 square miles), is the third-largest lake in Japan.

Many hot springs well up in this city, which in times past flourished around inns catering to travelers along the Nakasendo, a major east-west road across the mountains. Even today, hot spring water is so abundant that it is fed to ordinary households, saving residents the trouble of heating up tap water to take baths.

Suwa was a major silk-producing region for centuries and evolved into one of the country's leading production centers of raw silk in the early 1900s, when the material was Japan's biggest export. During World War II, abandoned raw-silk plants were converted into watch factories, which moved there to escape the bombing of the large cities. This gave rise to Suwa's precision-instruments industry, a major part of the city's economy today.

Suwa is located at 754 meters (2,475 feet) above sea level, and during severe winters the lake freezes over in a single sheet. When this contracts, it splits into two, making a great noise. This rift in the surface often runs the length of the lake, lifting the ice as high as one meter (40 inches). An ancient legend has it that this phenomenon, known as omiwatari, occurs when a god crosses the lake.