This week I had the chance to check out Hikone castle! Although I’ve been in Shiga for about 3 years now, this was my first time visiting the historic site, and I honestly can’t believe it took me this long to visit. These days, Hikone castle is better known as the iconic home of “Hikonyan” but during the Edo-Period it served as the foothold for the Ii clan, which served the Tokugawa Shogunate. Perhaps what stands out as the most important characteristic of this castle is that it is one of only four other castles in Japan designated as national treasures. In fact, during the Meiji-Period, Hikone castle was hand selected by the emperor himself to be preserved, while most castles during that time period were being demolished as part of a number of initiatives to secure Japan’s advancement into the modern world from that of feudalist society.
While most castles in Japan today are either replicas or remnants of what they used to be, Hikone castle shares the rare distinction of being one of the few castles to still retain its original keep. Another distinguishable aspect of it is that it is an exceptional example of curved stone walls, which were built to keep out intruders. Thus, the path to the keep itself is a long sloping trail which runs along the wall itself. Once I made it up the trail, I crossed the Tenbin Yagura (天秤櫓), which is a wide bridge that leads you into the main area of the castle.
Once I arrived to the main courtyard of the castle I was surprised to see that people were allowed to enter and make their way up to the top floor. I jumped at the opportunity and was really glad that I did. From the top floor of the tower I was able to see the entire surrounding landscape from a number of small windows which were originally used by archers to defend the castle. Perhaps the most stunning view was that on the west side of the tower which showed Lake Biwa and its islands.
After I left the tower, I made my way down the path which runs alongside the back of the tower and checked out Genkyu-en(玄宮園). Genkyu-en is a stunning traditional residential complex and garden which was built under the order of feudal lord Ii Naoki. What makes this garden so stunning is not only it’s the maintenance of traditional architecture and landscaping, but also the fact that the garden was built in a manner which replicates the 8 views of Omi, which is one of the mainstays of Shiga’s cultural heritage.
If you ever have a chance to visit Hikone, I highly recommend taking the time to visit Hikone castle simply because its historical significance in Shiga is unparalleled and the views it provides are truly one of a kind.