As one of the only 4 castles in Japan still preserving their original keep, Hikone Castle is a national treasure and frankly speaking the number one attraction in the city. It sits tall at the centre of the city surrounded by moats and gardens, and is visible at a distance during the day and night. Built by Ii Clan during feudal times, the castle has withstood the passage of time, as well as the will of men who dismantled the majority of castles existing at the time of the Meiji Restoration.
The tower and the surrounding grounds are a captivating site no matter what season you
decide to visit Hikone. During the summer, the luscious greens create a vibrant scene around the castle, in the fall the colourful momiji (maple) foliage act like sparkles around the tower, in the colder months of the year snowfall turns Hikone Castle and its gardens into a winter wonderland, and in the spring, the beauty of the cherry blossoms spread all over the area, turning Hikone’s treasure into a mystical place.
The castle domains house several historical landmarks all worth a traveler's attention: Genkyu En Garden, used for tea ceremonies where lords entertained their guests; the Rakurakuen Palace, home of the Ii family; the long stable on the on the bank of the moats; The list goes on. You want to take your time wandering around the roads leading up to the castle, stopping to read about the history, enjoying the plentiful nature, and the views of the the castle tower at a distance. A boat cruise running until after sunset is also available for those who want navigate the winding moats.
Hikone Castle is not only a tourist attraction though. This is also the stage for the everyday life of city residents. Within the outer moat exist a public library, two public schools, the Government Office, and the City Courhouse. While sigthseeing do keep an eye out for the
young people passing through casually on their bicycles, salarymen celebrating the day’s
work, high school students doing laps around the moats as part of a baseball practice, or other quotidian yet wonderful scenes.
As you make your way to the castle tower at the top of the hill, do pause from time to time to
take in the beauty and detail of the landscape. On this journey, it is hard not to imagine what it was life was like for the lords and samurais who walk the same paths. Enter the historical structure, climb the steep stairs, and look relish in the 360 views of Hikone City, Lake Biwa, and the surrounding mountains. The castle tower is open until 5pm, so visiting the castle tower terrace around this time, will result in more memorable experience with the sunset
across the lake. There’s an old poem that reads “ Virtuous men enjoy the mountain. Wise men enjoy the water.” The men who build Hikone and its national treasure must been both virtuous and wise, as they created the Castle from where to enjoy all the elements.
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR