On day 5 we awoke in the beautiful ancient capital of Kyoto. As we have traveled to Kyoto before we weren’t planning on spending much of our time in the city itself, rather using this as a base in central Japan to travel around. Today we wanted to visit another castle, after being so impressed in Matsumoto, so headed to the nearby area of Hikone, on the shores of Lake Biwa.
We used the JR pass on local lines to access Hikone, it took 50 minutes but the scenery was beautiful. I’ve you’ve taken the Shinkansen from Tokyo to or past Kyoto you may have caught sight of Lake Biwa, it almost seems like an inland sea rather than a lake. From the map you can see that the oceans aren’t that far away from the shores of lake Biwa!
Hikone castle is one of the main draws of Hikone. Like Matsumoto castle, Hikone castle is also one of the 12 remaining original castles. Infact Hikone castle was built elsewhere and moved to Hikone!
The grounds are stunning though, the original walls are intact, as are some of the original gardens and ornamental trees. We caught Hikone in full bloom and the still reflection of the pink blossoms was breath-taking. From the castle you get an uninterrupted view of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in all of Japan which almost splits the island in two.
The castle itself is rather squat and unimposing. Of course the architecture and attention to detail is amazing, but I think after seeing one of the most impressive of all Japanese castles, the bar had been set quite high!
If you are visiting Hikone castle the nearby Genkyuen Garden which is not to be missed. Built by a local lord, in 1677, specifically to entertain his exalted guests, the garden was built on the grounds of Hikone castle. The garden contains a large pond, crisscrossed by wooden and stone bridges. At the edge of the pond stands traditional Japanese buildings, designed to entertain all who visit. You can actually enjoy some Japanese green tea there now, imagining you are a guest of the Daimyo of the castle.
More than the pond, the garden also boasts small areas of woodland and some historic aspects which are well explained. The plants and trees in the garden are painstakingly manicured and curated. The pines even look like large bonsai specimen, having been grown so slowly over the centuries.
Following our gentle stroll around the garden we returned to Kyoto, and after a quick dinner walked to Fushimi Inari to enjoy the beautiful shrine at night. The vermillion torii gates are ethereal at night, and it is a magical experience, especially as there were no crowds to be seen, just a few fellow photographers and a sneaky tanuki!