Any visit to the Shiga Prefecture has to include a tour of Hikone Castle. It is just one of only four Japanese castles to be declared a National Treasure. The other castles are Himeji, Matsumoto and Inuyama. Located near Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, it is one of twelve remaining original castles in Japan; meaning it survived the post feudal era without undergoing destruction and reconstruction.
The castle took twenty years to construct and was completed in 1622. With its beautiful ivory white walls surrounded by a double moat, the castle served 14 generations of feudal lords for nearly 260 years without suffering any attacks. When the Meiji era began in 1868, many castles were scheduled to be dismantled and only upon the request from the emperor himself was Hikone Castle kept intact. Today, it remains one of the oldest original castles in Japan.
Hikone Castle’s three storied castle keep (The Tenshu) is relatively small but displays a unique design that combines multiple architectural styles. The approach to the castle keep is quite interesting. It includes a spiral ramp, which accesses a wooden bridge designed to be destroyed easily in the event of an attack. The castle’s expansive grounds include: the Genkyu-en Garden, the Housho-dai Tea Room, the Tenbin Yagura Turret, the Umaya (Horse Stable), the Jihosho (Time-keeping Bell) and the Hikone Castle Museum.
Like many castles in Japan, the grounds of Hikone Castle turn into a popular cherry blossom viewing spot during spring. Hikone’s cherry trees reach full bloom about a week later than those in nearby Kyoto, around early to mid-April and draw visitors from all over Japan.
Visitors to the castle can take part in the 90-minute castle tour, which covers most of the important parts of the castle area, including the Genkyu-en Garden. The garden was constructed in 1677 and is modeled after a detached palace belonging to Emperor Genso of the Tang Dynasty in China.
The Hikone Castle Museum displays artwork belonging the Hikone Clan, including Hikone Folding Screens and samurai warrior armor.
Hikone City can be reached via the the Tokaido Main Line. Hikone Castle is just 15 minutes on foot from Hikone Station.
Web page: http://www.hikoneshi.com/en/castle/
Address: 1-1 Konki-cho, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture 522-0061, Japan
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission: ¥ 600 (Adults) and ¥200 for children (castle and garden)