A Weekend Jaunt to Hikone Castle
By Lilin Han. Posted on December 27, 2013
If you are tired of jostling with the downtown shopping crowd and queuing at what seems to be a neverending line for just a cup of coffee or a bite at the cafes and restaurants during the weekends, you might want to consider taking a day trip out to the small, peaceful town of Hikone for – quite literally – a change of scenery.
Situated about a 1.5-hour train ride away from Nagoya on the Tokaido Line, Hikone (彦根) is a beautiful castle town nestled along the shores of the magnificent Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), the largest freshwater lake in Japan. A short 10-15 minute walk from the Hikone Station brings you to Hikone Castle (彦根城). Unlike other castles, Hikone Castle has never experienced warfare. As such, most of the castle’s original architecture has remained intact since its construction in 1622.
The vast castle grounds promise a sight to behold, especially during spring and autumn as numerous sakura and maple trees line the castle moat.
Even during winter, pretty pink winter sakura can be seen in bloom near Genkyuen (玄宮園) , a Japanese Garden built within the castle grounds by the lord of the Hikone domain.
Featuring numerous islets in the pond and nine different bridges, Genkyuen is known for its varied landscape at every turn of the garden path.
This photograph of Genkyuen was taken by Ms Tisha Yeo
For those interested in tea ceremony, do also stop by the oft forgotten Umoregi-n-ya (埋木舎), a simple, serene compound (located right next to the castle ground) where Lord Ii Naosuke devoted himself to the study of tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Zen, poetry and military arts.
A short hike up to the top of the castle unveils a bird’s eye view of Lake Biwa against a dramatic mountainous backdrop.
The castle is best seen on a clear day when blue skies provide a picturesque contrast with the white castle walls. However, do be prepared for a little aerobic exercise should you intend to climb right to the top of the castle, as the stairs are narrow and steep.
If the walk up to the castle and the crisp, fresh air have not already put a little colour into your cheeks, a stop by one of the many restaurants along Yume-Kyobashi Castle Road (夢京橋キャッスルロード) might do just the trick. Restaurants and souvenir shops are aplenty, all quaintly housed in traditional Japanese wooden architecture reminiscent of the Edo period.
In summary, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of city-life, Hikone would be the perfect chicken soup for the soul.
Lilin Han is a Singaporean pursuing a Master's degree in Languages and Culture at Nagoya University. She is also a part-time cookie monster with a weak spot for cakes and desserts. Lilin looks forward to sharing nuggets of information relating to food, culture and the surrounding beauty of the Chubu region with visitors to Japan.