Hikone castle, a stunning fortress in Shiga prefecture, Japan, is a must-visit destination. I was fortunate enough to visit this castle during the Sakura season, when Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms burst into bloom. But even without the added beauty of the Sakura, Hikone castle stands as one of Japan’s most stunning historical sites. Located in Shiga prefecture, the castle boasts impressive architecture, serene gardens, and scenic views of Lake Biwa. In this blog, we’ll explore the history and cultural significance of Hikone castle, as well as the best ways to experience its beauty during the Sakura season. So join us for a journey through time and nature!
Hikone Castle: A Brief History
Hikone Castle was built between 1603 and 1622 by Ii Naokatsu, the son of the powerful daimyo (feudal lord) Ii Naomasa, who served the Tokugawa shogunate. The castle was constructed to protect the strategically vital Tokaido Road, which connected the two major cities of Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo) during the Edo Period (1603-1868).
Unlike many other Japanese castles, Hikone Castle has survived fires, wars, and the passage of time, remaining mostly intact for over 400 years. This remarkable feat has earned the castle the prestigious designation of a National Treasure of Japan.
What to See and Do at Hikone Castle
1. Explore the Castle Keep 天守閣 (Tenshukaku)
The keep at Hikone Castle is a sight to behold, with its towering three stories and narrow, steep staircase that seemed to challenge even the most daring visitors. I have to admit, it was one of the steepest staircases I’ve ever climbed! But for those who love a good challenge, I highly recommend giving it a try. The view from the top is worth the effort, even though you can’t take pictures of the spectacular scenery due to the glass windows or netting. But that just adds to the sense of mystery and wonder surrounding the keep’s interior. And while you’re in the area, don’t forget to visit the bridge in person to fully appreciate the castle’s grandeur and historical significance.
2. Walking in Nishinomaru Bailey
The Nishinomaru Bailey area situated behind Hikone Castle is a place of serene beauty that’s hard to put into words. The peaceful atmosphere that permeates the park, especially during the cherry blossom season, is truly mesmerizing. The park offers breathtaking views of Lake Biwa to the west, and in the evening, if the weather is clear, visitors are treated to a stunning sunset that paints the sky in hues of pink and orange.
2. Stroll Through Genkyu-en Garden 玄宮園
Located at the base of the castle, Genkyu-en is a beautiful Japanese garden with a large pond and water at its center, with islands in the pond and nine bridges spanning the inlet, creating a highly varied circular garden. Construction of the garden began in 1677 by Ii Naoki, the fourth lord of the feudal domain, and was completed in 1679. Today, the garden is called Genkyu-en and the palace is called Rakuraku-en.
3. Meet Hikonyan, the Castle’s Mascot
Did you know that Japanese people like Yuru-kyara mascot? Hiko-nyan, a cute cat-like samurai character, is the official mascot of Hikone Castle. You can often find Hikonyan at the castle grounds, entertaining visitors with lively performances and posing for photos. Don’t miss the chance to snap a picture with this adorable representative of Hikone Castle!
4. Stroll the Castle Town & Grab snacks or have lunch
Strolling the Castle Town called Yumekyōbashi castle road near Hikone Castle is an experience not to be missed. Visitors can explore the quaint streets, traditional architecture, and charming shops of this historical town. And when hunger strikes, there are plenty of options for grabbing a snack or having lunch nearby. From local specialties like Ōmi beef (近江牛) and Lake Biwa fish to more familiar Japanese dishes like sushi and ramen, there’s something to satisfy every appetite. So take a break from your castle adventures and indulge in the delicious culinary offerings of Hikone’s Castle Town.
Access to Hikone Castle
Address: 1-1 Konkicho, Hikone-shi, Shiga Prefecture, 522-0061, Japan
Access: Hikone Castle is a 15-minute walk from JR Hikone Station, which is approximately 50 minutes from Kyoto Station by JR Biwako Line.
Admission: 800 yen for adults, 200 yen for children (includes entry to the castle keep, Genkyu-en Garden, and Hikone Castle Museum)
Opening Hours: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm (last entry at 4:30 pm)
Hikone Castle is a true gem of Japan’s historical and architectural legacy, and as a traveler, I couldn’t help but feel transported back in time to the days of samurai and shogun as I explored its magnificent castle and surrounding gardens. The intricate details of the castle’s design, the breathtaking views of Lake Biwa, and the charming atmosphere of the surrounding town all contributed to an unforgettable experience. Visiting Hikone Castle is not just about admiring its beauty, but also about immersing oneself in Japan’s rich cultural heritage. So for anyone planning a trip to Japan, I highly recommend making time to visit this enchanting piece of history.