Water quality to be improved in noted pond

Photos courtesy of the Nara prefectural government
Sarusawa Pond with turbid water is seen in Nara. The same pond is seen after a two-month cleanup experiment.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yomiuri Shimbun

NARA — With Kofukuji Temple’s five-story pagoda reflecting on its surface, Sarusawa Pond is one of Nara’s most famous scenic spots. Unfortunately, the clarity of the pond’s water leaves much to be desired.

From this year on, however, water from a nearby well will be pumped into the pond, and it is expected that the water will become clearer and cleaner.

The Nara prefectural government decided on the move after an experiment showed that the quality of the pond water could be significantly enhanced. The experiment was conducted with a makeshift pump and a water conduit installed from September to November.

Prior to the experiment, it was only possible to see 35 centimeters into the pond. But following the two-month-long experiment, it became possible to see to a depth of 91 centimeters, according to a recent announcement by the prefectural government, which plans to start full-scale water quality improvements after April.

Sarusawa Pond is an artificial reservoir that is thought to have been built in the eighth century. It sits adjacent to Kofukuji Temple and is a popular spot among tourists. However, the pond is relatively stagnant, with only a very small amount of water flowing into it. As a result, plankton and other microorganisms tend to proliferate, particularly in the summer when the temperature rises, making the pond appear muddy.

The prefectural government’s experiment conveyed water to the pond from a well on the grounds of the nearby Nara National Museum. By allowing three liters of water per second to flow into the pond, the water was completely replaced in about two weeks.

In the experiment, chemical oxygen demand — which indicates the level of pollution in the water — dropped from 18.5 milligrams per liter to 7.8 milligrams per liter. Nitrogen and phosphorus — which cause turbidity — also decreased.

The local government will also continue to monitor the effects of the weather and water temperature on the pond’s water quality.

Prior to the experiment in late September, Nara Gov. Shogo Arai told attendees at a regular press conference that he was reluctant to drain the pond. “We want to pursue a way to rehabilitate the environment from a long-term perspective,” Arai said.

Major repairs

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The five-story pagoda on the grounds of Kofukuji Temple in Nara

Meanwhile, the temple’s pagoda is set to undergo major repairs for the first time in about 120 years.

The structure is about 50 meters tall, making it the second-highest existing wooden pagoda in Japan after the about 55-meter-tall five-story pagoda on the grounds of Toji Temple in Kyoto.

The original Kofukuji Temple pagoda was built in 730 at the request of the then empress. However, it was burned down and rebuilt several times, with the existing pagoda being built in 1426.

The repairs — the first such major undertaking since 1901 — are expected to run to about ¥4.7 billion.

The pagoda will not be dismantled, but the roof tiles, which are particularly damaged, will all be replaced. Partial repairs will also be made to corroded wood and plastered areas, including the walls.

A temporary structure to cover the pagoda will be set up during the work, so the pagoda will not be seen reflecting in the pond’s surface for some time to come. The repairs are scheduled to continue until the end of March 2030.