Hikone Castle – 彦根城
Hikone Castle is the symbol of the namesake city, located on the north-west side of Lake Biwa, the widest lake of Japan, between Nagoya and Kyōto.
Here you can find, together with a typical Japanese scenario, a place plenty with history and cultural treasures, attracting many tourists from the whole country and overseas.
What’s special about Hikone Castle?
Hikone lays in the 5 km wide area between Lake Biwa and the mountains. This spot has been the meeting point of the Nakayama and Hokuriku Ways since ancient times. Not very far from here we find Sekigahara, were the battle that defined the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate took place.
By looking at the troubled history of Japan, one can find several sites of battles and clashes between clans. The castle was built on one of this areas, becoming the desire of many daimyō and warriors seeking power.
Of course, the castle is the main attraction of Hikone: this is one of the remaining 12 original castles (never rebuilt) of Japan.
Its official name is “Castle of the Golden Turtle” (Konki-jō), it rises of the top of a 50 meter-high hill called “Konki-san”. The structure was ultimated in 1622 (Tokugawa Period) and since then, except for some manteinance works, has remained pretty unalterated.
For this reason it is an important National Treasure. The main tower is not only a wonderful example of architecture, but also an amazing panoramic spot facing the huge lake, well visible on clear days.
In the northern part of the castle we find two famous gardens, Genkyū-en e Rakuraku-en. Both considered truly beautiful, they are also called with the single name of “Genkyū-Rakuraku-en“.
Genkyū-en was designed in the Edo Period, by taking inspiration from Chinese traditional gardens. In a wide pond four small island are connected to each other by bridges. Around the pond, some paths allow you to join this gorgeous view. Also, the castle is right on the background, in perfect harmony with the scene.
Along one of the banks there is a majestic traditional building, now a tea-house. It was once used by the castle guests. We advise you to see these gardens after your visit to the fortress, to take a relaxing break after its several steps.
How to get there
Click here to see how to reach Hikone.
We visited Hikone Castle twice, the first time in June. Despite the rainy season, we had just a cloudy sky that day.
At the entrance we have been greeted by the inevitable mascot, Hiko-nyan, a funny kitten waring a typical samurai helmet.
After the main gate there’s a long stair of stone steps. On the top you find the Tenpyō turret: you come then by a big tree and a wooden bridge, before finally seeing the main tower. This can be reached by passing trhough the Taiko-mon turret, hosting a huge drum.
The main tower is quite small if compared to Ōsaka or Matsumoto castles: it seems that its architects, rather than focusing on dimensions, preferred creating an elegant structure pleasant to the sight.
We visited the bell pavillion Jihōshō (time-keeping bell): this bell is an important one, its sound is part od “the hundred sounds of Japan”.
The view from the castle top is breathtaking, with the majestic Mount Ibuki on one side and the huge Lake Biwa on the other.
That day, unfortunately, we missed the blue sky, but this made us think that this place has seen also grey days 400 years ago. This thought, a bit melancholic, made us understand that we tasted the true atmosphere of this wonderful castle.