Tradition and gumption.
For a perfect mix of fascinating history and beautiful surroundings, Hikone Castle has become a great side trip to work into your itinerary when you visit Shiga Prefecture, just north of Kyoto.
Appropriately for a castle which started by being taken apart and put back together, Hikone Castle’s history as a site of importance started with the bloody Battle of Sekigahara which was fought to unite a country torn apart by politics and conflict.
As Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged from the violence as the clear leader of Japan, one of his first acts was to reward the noble warrior who took a literal bullet for him in the fighting, Naomasa Ii, with his own castle.
Unfortunately, the property that Naomasa Ii won lasted as long as his remaining life – less than two years. Following the great warrior’s death, the castle was taken apart piece-by-piece and moved onto the nearby Mount Hikone where it became known as Hikone Castle.
While this decision was more strategic than aesthetic, the castle remains popular even for people who aren’t interested in its history thanks to its views over Lake Biwa and the nearby woodland.
One of the reasons why the area was so important strategically was for the transport of goods, thanks to the numerous canals and moats that surround the area. These days, of course, the goods arrive by ship and instead the canals have become a popular spot for young couples to sit and relax.
With all this water flowing into the area and its proximity to Lake Biwa the area has naturally become famous for its plant life, especially its cherry blossoms. There are over 1200 cherry blossom trees in the area and its Chinese-influenced garden known as Genkyu-en (玄宮園), is considered one of the most beautiful of its type in Japan.
While Hikone Castle’s biggest attractions are its more traditional sights, it also has more modern attractions such as the restaurants and coffee shops that are dotted around the area. One of the strangest of these attractions is the local mascot Hikonyan, a cat with a horned helmet similar to the ones that the Samurai that used to defend the town wore. He has proved so popular that a website has been created to keep track of where his furry face will pop up.
While the birth of this legendary castle was anything but simple, after its baptism of fire and warfare, the building has retained its authenticity with nothing except minor repairs being performed on it in the 400 years it has been standing in its new spot.