Day 7: Hikone Castle

Saturday 15 April 2017

Continues from Day 6: Toyama & Takayama

Today we were going to see some more cherry blossoms at Hikone Castle!

After enjoying the Takayama Spring Festival last night, we woke up early today and had breakfast at Hoshokan which was the ryokan we stayed at last night.

The breakfast was Japanese style and very nutritious and filling.

After breakfast we checked out, walked to Takayama station, and then caught a series of trains down from the mountains to Hikone in Shiga prefecture. We changed trains at Maibara station and as we were coming back this way in the afternoon we had intended to leave our luggage in one of the lockers at Maibara.

However, we found that despite being a shinkansen station, there were only a  few lockers, and they were all already full. So, we instead took our luggage to Hikone station and were relieved to find plenty of spare lockers.

Hikone Castle is one of Japan's few surviving original castles. Unlike castles in Europe, castles in Japan were primarily built out of wood, which was great for earthquakes but not so good for longevity with only 12 castles from the feudal age remaining in Japan.

The construction of Hikone Castle took twenty years and was completed in 1622. It is designated as a National Treasure which is the highest designation for cultural properties and one shared by only four other castles.

For the last several years Hikone Castle has been suggested as an alternate to Himeji Castle which is by far Japan's largest castle and which recently went through a very long restoration period that involved most of the castle being hidden from view. Although Himeji is now fully open, Hikone castle is still worth a visit and so both were included on our itinerary.

Hikone castle is not too far by foot from the station and we arrived at around 14:00 after a 15 minute walk.

The first thing we saw was that there were a huge amount of cherry blossom petals floating in the castle's moat!

The wind had blown them into pink mats.

We paid 600 yen to enter the castle which included entrance to the garden but not the museum. Inside we found lots of cherry blossom trees! They were a little bit past peak, with some green leaves visible, but still very pretty.

We also found that there was a cherry blossom festival taking place, so we stopped and bought some meat kebabs, nihonshu (sake) and a crepe.

Next we went into the main castle area and climbed up to the top of the keep.

As it was cherry blossom season there were quite a few people visiting the castle and there was a line up to get into the keep. It wasn't too crazy, but I think we had to wait around 5-10 minutes before we could go in.

From the windows we could look out over the top of the castle, the cherry blossoms surrounding the castle and out over the town.

In one direction we could see mountains; in the other was Lake Biwa. This is the largest lake in Japan and looked like the ocean.

After the keep we went and had a look at the courtyard like area just below the keep building.

Next we climbed back down and used our ticket to enter Genkyuen Garden. This Japanese garden was built in 1677 and features a large pond encompassed by a walking path.

Hikone Castle visible from the garden and we had a nice time walking around.

Inside Hikone Castle
After finishing with the garden it was nearly 16:00 and we were already quite hungry. I guess we hadn't eaten much for lunch. We decided to make sure we had dinner before leaving Hikone as our next accommodation was an Airbnb in a very small town, with limited dining options.

We spent way took long on GuruNavi and TabeLog looking for something to eat before eventually deciding on a Chinese noodle place near Hikone station.

We got some noodles, meat, eggs, and vegetables.

After dinner we went and got our bags and caught a train to our Airbnb. The place was an old historic house located on the Nakasendo, which is the old route that joined Kyoto and Tokyo. The house was wooden and quite cool with very steep narrow staircases.

Our hosts told us we could use their kitchen. Since we were going hiking the next day we bought some rice balls from a nearby convenience store. We asked if we could store them in the fridge only the find that they didn't have a fridge! They actually had a dish washer, but no fridge. Interesting.

Another interesting thing was that we got to see our first Kotatsu. We live in Japan now and in winter spent most of our time under a Kotatsu, but this was the first we saw in real life.

Tomorrow, we will be hiking up Mt Ibuki, one of the 100 famous mountains of Japan.

Continue reading: Day 8: Mt Ibuki

Note: You may have noticed that I have decided to try and not intersperce the pictures into the text.  It actually takes a long time to do this and probably isn't so good for readers anyway. Instead I have done what every other blog does and just put them between paragraphs. I did put more than one photo per line though, hopefully that doesn't mess with anything.

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