Osaka Brand Committee
Biolgical field
Water city
Have a Seat Near the River-- Launching the "Kitahama Terrace" Project (Part 3)
Have a Seat Near the River-- Launching the "Kitahama Terrace" Project (Part 2)
Have a Seat Near the River-- Launching the "Kitahama Terrace" Project (Part 1)
Tourism in the Water Capital--Connecting and Expanding via River Cruises
Cherry Blossom in the Water Capital--A Beauty That Has Returned After a Long Winter of Hardship
Living in the Water Capital--Improving Water Quality to Make Osaka a Better Home (Part 2)
Living in the Water Capital--Improving Water Quality to Make Osaka a Better Home (Part 1)
Enjoy a Cup of Tea at the Water Capital--New Restaurants Transform the Riverfront into a Destination for Fine Dining
Future View of the Water Capital--A Prologue to Revitalization
Osaka Kaleidoscope
Water city
#4 Living in the Water Capital--Improving Water Quality to Make Osaka a Better Home (Part 2)

River as dump sites

A pile of trash retrieved from the river, including a child-size bicycle and an official trash bag for Tokyo’s 23 wards. The boat picks up surface litter and clears the accumulation at the river booms before it takes the collection to the Taisho Waste Plant.

  You don't have to spend much time observing rivers in Osaka to find empty cans and plastic bags drifting on the water. You may, however, also encounter a trash-collecting boat, which is colorfully painted and adorned with a banner saying "Water Capital Osaka: Keep Our Rivers Clean!” Operated by the River Management Office of the Osaka City Environment Association, the boat periodically travels through and cleans up twelve major rivers and canals in the city, including the Dojima River and the Tosabori River. Has the situation of littering in Osaka rivers changed, and what would people today dare to dump into our rivers? "In the past, everything in the river, litter or water, was covered with oil," says a veteran employee who has been cleaning the rivers in Osaka City for twenty-five years. "Compared to those times, I would say that the rivers are much cleaner today. It is mostly plastic bottles and bags that we find now." At the changes of the seasons, however, the cleaning crew often pick up various electronic appliances, including large items such as refrigerators. The aquatic plant known as ‘water lettuce’ has been multiplying year by year. Unusual items ranging from syringes to animals’ body parts are occasionally retrieved as well. According to the river cleaner, what may be dumped in the rivers seems to be far beyond our imagination.

A pile of trash retrieved from the river, including a child-size bicycle and an official trash bag for Tokyo’s 23 wards. The boat picks up surface litter and clears the accumulation at the river booms before it takes the collection to the Taisho Waste Plant.

  One day in January, I was allowed to ride the boat with the cleaning crew as it set out from the city's river management office, on the Kizu River, to the Okawa River for a routine cleaning trip. It was a trip of about an hour, which was long enough for a cold river breeze to chill my body to the tip of my toes. Standing on the windswept deck of the boat, the cleaning crew continued their work without saying a word while maneuvering the long handle of a net to scoop up the trash onto a conveyor-belt on the boat. It was easy to imagine how tough the cleaning job like theirs can be. According to the crew, the most troublesome items are large furniture pieces such as sofas and beds, and corpses as well. The strong smell of rotten fish irritates their noses during the summer. The total amount of garbage they collect amounts to approximately 5,000 tons per year. While the daily average of trash they collect is about 18 tons, they can pick up more than 70 tons in a single day. It is obvious that the rivers of Osaka, without the hard work of these cleaning crews, would soon be overflowing with drifting waste. With the utmost empathy, I sensed their frustration towards a number of anonymous people who still regard the rivers merely as a convenient waste dumping site.

※1About the water lettuce plant
Called botan-ukikusa in Japanese, the plant belongs to the Araceae family and is not indigenous to Japan. The leaves are hollow inside, thus allowing them to float on the water, and their surface is densely covered with fine hairs that repel water. In recent years, the rapid spread of water lettuce in the Yodo River has become a serious issue. While they have become an obstacle to traveling boats, their dense growth also blocks the supply of sunlight and oxygen into the water, causing the death of fish and other underwater life. The photo on the right shows the growing clusters of water lettuce on the surface of the Yodo River. Currently, the only way to dispose of water lettuce is to simply burn it. In spite of efforts to find a way of turning the plant into food or fertilizer, no effective use of the plant has yet been discovered.

The taste of the water of the water capital

Until the Meiji period, the water from the Okawa River was sold as drinking water. Once cherished as a source of clear water, the former Seiwan area has been reclaimed and now serves as a public place for relaxation. The area includes the Kema-Sakuranomiya Park, known for its beautiful cherry blossom and the Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood) avenues.

  Near the Sakuranomiya Bridge on the Okawa River, there stands a monument with an engraving that reads Seiwan, or a small bay of clear water. Before the reclamation work, the area was known as a source of clean water, a fact also recognized by Lord Hideyoshi Toyotomi. In 1895 (Meiji 28), after spending over three years and three times as much money as the city's annual budget, Osaka City developed a public water system and began providing purified water drawn from the Sakuranomiya area to 610,000 households in the city. The system continued to send safe water to the citizens without relying on water from wells or downstream of the rivers until the Kunijima water treatment plant opened in 1915 (Taisho 4).
Opened in 1914 (Taisho 13), the Kunijima water treatment plant today takes in a vast amount of water from upstream of Sakuranomiya on the Yodo River and treats water through its highly-sophisticated purification system (ozone-activated carbon filtration)  to supply about half of the total households in the city. The BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) of the Yodo River(*2) today is 1.2 mg/L, which proves the quality of its water to be comparable to that of the Shimanto River(*3), one of the clearest streams in Japan. Once infamous for its smell and taste, the quality of drinking water in Osaka has made quite an improvement as well. To prove and promote its truly improved quality, the Osaka City Waterworks Bureau started selling city water in bottles under the brand name "Honmaya!" (means "it's true!" in the Osaka dialect). The Honmaya! bottled water is sold at station kiosks and hotel shops and has become known for its clean and mild taste born in Naniwa. According to the Bureau, Honmaya! has been selling especially well at popular tourist destinations such as the Tsutenkaku tower and the Kaiyukan aquarium. Not only to revise the past negative image of Osaka's water, the Honmaya! brand has become a successful tool for the city to promote itself as water capital.

*2.Based on the survey by the Osaka City Waterworks Bureau (2005)

*3.Based on the "Ranking of Water Quality of Rivers in Japan" by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport

The remains of the Sakuranomiya water source still preserve the original intake built with bricks. A monument that marks the remains as the origin of Osaka's water system was added to the site in 1965 (Showa 40) as the commemoration of its 70th anniversary.

The monument of Seiwan, meaning a small bay of clear water. The monument was built in 1862 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing of Baisao, a Buddhist monk who promoted the practice of green tea brewing known as senchado. At the inauguration of the monument, a grand tea ceremony was held at nearby Daichoji Temple.

In addition to the issues of water quality and littering, the rivers in Osaka are facing a number of problems that require solutions. However, they are still an important source of life for the people of Osaka. To be a true water capital, it is essential for the city to become able to securely supply clean and tasty water. It may take time to realize such an ideal, but for me, it looks like the city is steadily getting closer to that goal.

February 12, 2008
Takuji Kobayashi
member of the board of directors, Suito Osaka-Mizubenomachi Saisei Project


■Related links
Osaka Water Museum

The museum is located next to the Kunijima water treatment plant. The museum features a display of freshwater fish living in Lake Biwa and the Yodo River, and also an exhibition of the 100-year history of the city's water system. (only available in Japanese)
The museum's exhibition room is the original block-granite building that was used as the main pump station for the Osaka City from 1914 to 1986.

"Honmaya!" Official Website
An official website of "Honmaya!" bottled water, which was developed and has been promoted by the Osaka City Waterworks Bureau. The water has received positive feedback (about 70 percent of the responses) from a blind taste test.
The Honmaya's eye-catching pink label was received with mixed response. If it were ordinary blue like many other bottled water brands, however, it wouldn't have attracted as much attention as it did. 100 yen per a 500ml bottle (tax included).

Yodogawa Technique Official Blog "Yodogawa Teku Nikki"
Yodogawa Technique is a unit of two young artists who are known for their unique work in transforming trash from the Yodo River into artistic pieces. Their official blog introduces you to the world of environmental art that the unit calls "gomiunication (gomi (trash in Japanese) + communication)." available in Japanese)

*Yodogawa Technique was featured in the article "ART #1" of this Kaleidoscope series.

Author Profile
Takuji Kobayashi
While working as a landscape designer, Kobayashi participates in various activities to stimulate community development and discover and utilize local attractions at the eye level of citizens. He is a member of the board of directors of the Suito Osaka-Mizubenomachi Saisei Project (Mizube NPO) and also a representative of the Amenicity Osaka Network. Licensed professional engineer (architecture: urban and local development, architectural environment).