It was like love at first sight. From the breathtaking sights to the small shops and local community, everything was just perfect about the city of Hikone. I personally liked the size of the Castletown and how it was not as crowded or busy as Kyoto. Yet, it still preserved the ambience and nostalgia from the Edo period. As I walked deeper into the Castletown, it felt like time had stopped and I forgot about our constantly changing and busy society that we live in now. Find out more about what I mean by exploring the fascinating city through my experience below and find your love for the city.
Hikone Castle is one of five castles in Japan designated as a National Treasure along with Himeji Castle, Matsumoto Castle, Inuyama Castle, and Matsue Castle. It was built by Ii Naotaka, the second lord of Hikone, after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The main building is three stories and stands magnificently on top of a hill overlooking Lake Biwa. Hikone Castle is admired year-round for its landscape and seasonal beauty, from cherry blossoms in the spring to a snow covered castle in the winter.
I purchased a ticket for 1,500 yen at the entrance (1,000 yen for the Hikone Castle and 500 yen for the museum). I first visited the museum to learn about the historical artifacts from the Ii Family and the different artworks that are considered as a National Treasure. My favorites would have to be the famous red armor and helmet (picture) called the Akazonae and the traditional Japanese folding screen with intricate designs from the Edo period.
I was lucky to catch a Noh performance and I have to say…the choreography was very moving and made me step back in time.
And now, off to the Castle tower!There’s a scenic stretch of a mountain trail before getting to the Tenbin Yagura, literally meaning a ‘balance scale turret’ because of its symmetrical shape of the turrets at each end with a gate in the middle. It is considered as an Important Cultural Property because it is the only one that exists in Japan with its unique shape. In times of emergencies or attacks, the bridge was destroyed to avoid invasion into the main keep. Very clever.
As you all know, Japan is known for their cute characters and they even represent the city! Look for 「Hikonyan」, a cat wearing the Ii Family’s red helmet. Many people (including myself) went to see the adorable 「Hikonyan」 in front of the castle tower.
And back to the exciting and serious stuff. I was looking forward to seeing the main keep the most. As I walked up the iconic (not to mention steep) case of uneven stairs, there were windows in all direction that overlooked Lake Biwa and Mt. Ibuki. There are many features of the castle that you cannot see from the outside. I was intrigued by the 「Yazama」, which is a small hole used to point guns and arrows at the invaders. I was truly amazed by all the strategic defense systems that were built in the castle at the time.
When looking at the older maps, you can see the complicated system of the three moats (inner, middle, and outer) that helped keep the invaders out. Although the outer moat is now filled and does not exist, that is where the samurai, soldiers, and commoners lived and protected the castle.
Another fun and unique way to sightsee is in a Yakatabune (literally meaning home style boat) that takes you around the moats of the castle. Seeing the beautiful views of the stone walls and Yagura (turrets) from the outside will surely complete your Hikone Castle experience. The tour costs 1,300 yen and operates between 10:00am and 6:00pm on weekends and until 5:00pm on weekdays.