Castles played an important role in Japans history, right up until the Meiji restoration and the modernisation of Japan. Sadly, through war, fires, and in the name of progress, many Japanese castles were destroyed. Today, although Japan boasts a large number of castle keeps, only 12 are those that have remained through the years. Hikone was saved as a decree by the Emperor of Japan when visiting the area. Situated on the eastern edge of lake Biwa, north east of Kyoto in Shiga prefecture. Hikone is easily accessed from Kyoto station on the Tokaido shinkansen line (so free with a JR pass!).
A short walk from the station and you will begin to see the entrance to the Hikone castle complex. There is not only a castle here, there are also gardens, moats, temples and shrines all on the castles grounds. Historically Hikone castle is a little like Howls moving castle, as it was originally constructed in 1575, but as part of Otsu Castle! The castle keep was moved to its current position in 1603 and completed almost 20 years later.
Hikone castle has a lot to offer, with an important natural treasure, cultural assets and landscaped gardens. On walking towards the castle keep you will see Tenbin-Yagura, the tower seen below, with the corridor bridge. You will only see this style of tower and bridge at Hikone castle!
If you have visited any other castles in Japan you might find Hikone looks a little odd. In comparison it is quite a small castle, and looks almost squat on the top of its hill.The view from the top of the keep is lovely though, you can see the surrounding mountains and also a view of Lake Biwa.
Perhaps one of the cutest things about Japan is their love of mascots, and Hikone is no exception. Meet Hikonyan (a play on words- nyan is the sound that a cat makes in Japanese!). At set times of the day Hikonyan will emerge and do a short performance, people flock to Hikonyan and it was only standing on a tree trunk I was able to get a picture!
The grounds of Hikone make up for the smaller castle, there is a plum orchard and a landscaped garden. Below is a photo of an area of stunning weeping blossom trees.
Hikone, as with many castles, has been landscaped to compliment each season. Cherry blossom trees and planted to get framed views, as are maple trees to give colour in the autumn.
I’d really recommend a trip to Hikone castle. Although it is small it is still packed with history, and the gardens are really worth the trip!