Sean's Japan Travel Journal
by Sean, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hikone

Moat of Hikone Castle

Taking a special rapid train from Kyoto would take you to Hikone in about an hour. Hikone is a city on the eastern shores of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. It is home to Hikone Castle, one of only four castles designated as national treasures (the other three are Himeji Castle, Matsumoto Castle, and Inuyama Castle).

Like many other castles, Hikone Castle is a great cherry blossom viewing spot. The cherry trees in Hikone tend to flower about a week later than those in Kyoto. This year, the cherry blossoms started to open here on April 2, like they would on the average year. To get a feel of the progress of the cherry blossom season in Kyoto, please read my report written yesterday.

Hikone Castle
April 9, 2014 - full bloom

In about ten minutes on foot from Hikone Station, I arrived at the eastern moat of Hikone Castle. By the moat is the Irohamatsu Pine Tree Path; in the past the feudal lord used this path in his processions towards Edo (present day Tokyo); it is said that pine trees were chosen to provide shade here because their roots do not stick out of the ground and cause obstructions.

Irohamatsu
Arriving at the castle to spectacular views of cherry blossoms at their very best
Blossoms were fresh and pretty all around the castle's precincts

Proceeding towards the inner moat took me to an L-shaped building. This is Japan's only extant original horse stable within a castle. The stable is open to public.

Inside the horse stable
Model of a horse

After a quick visit of the stable, I started my climb towards the main keep. The approach to the hilltop castle keep was interesting. It included a spiral ramp onto a wooden bridge that can be easily destroyed in case of an enemy attack.

Wooden bridge
Tree barks were used to cover up otherwise unsightly pipes

Along the way there was a shop selling merchandize of Hiko-nyan, the popular local mascot cat who dons a samurai hat. Close to the top of the hill is Choshoan Teahouse, where visitors can enjoy a cup of green tea and a snack (500 yen), before carrying on their ascent.

Hiko-nyan merchandize
A cup of green tea at Choshoan

I was greeted by a lovely view of Hikone Castle's donjon as I arrived at the summit. The scenery was excellent, aided by the blue skies and the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Like the other cherry trees I had seen along the way, the trees here were at their absolute best with full crowns of sakura with sturdy-looking petals.

Hikone Castle's main keep
Nice cherry blossoms

I took some time to tour the interior of the castle, and found it to be very authentic and interesting. I particularly liked the curved tree trunks used as beams, which I thought were very unique. Climbing up three stories' worth of very steep stairs led me to the observation floor of the keep, from where I could see Lake Biwa in the distance.

Curved beams
Lake Biwa can be seen from the third story of the main keep

After taking more pictures of the activity taking place around the main keep, I headed west where the Nishinomaru (western circle of defence) was. The short walk took me past another grove of lovely cherry trees, under which people were sitting around and enjoying the surroundings.

Hiko-nyan makes a few scheduled appearances a day
Hiko-nyan entertaining the visitors
Cherry blossoms and castle keep
Rest and repose
Stone walls under Nishinomaru

I descended the hill and exited through the Kuromon Gate, before concluding the tour with a visit to Rakurakuen and Genkyuen, two gardens located north of the main castle grounds. Rakurakuen was formerly called the Keyaki Goten - the Zelkova Palace in English - residence of the feudal lord in the past. Reconstruction works are currently ongoing at the former palace buildings, but visitors can view one of the buildings from the outside.

Genkyuen Garden is a Japanese landscape garden with a nice central pond, built in 1677 by the lord for the entertainment of his guests and his family. It is designed after a palace garden from Tang China. Today, I was able to catch nice views of the garden in combination with Hikone Castle and cherry trees in the background.

Building at Rakurakuen made of zelkova wood
Genkyuen Garden

Fine weather is predicted generally across the country for the next few days, making this period suitable for an outing. If you happen to be in the area, a visit to Hikone is absolutely recommended because great cherry blossom views can be expected through the weekend (the weather forecast as of now says it might rain on Sunday though).

Visitors can also take a boat ride on the castle moat to view the sakura from a different perspective (45 minutes, 1500 yen during cherry blossom period, hourly departures). Illuminations will take place every night from 18:00 to 21:00 till April 20.

Picnics along the inner moat

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List of Posts:
2014/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2014/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumae
2014/04/23 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takato
2014/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fujigoko
2014/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2014/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hikone
2014/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/04/05 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsuyama
2014/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2014/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2014/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2014/03/06 - Shopping around Northern Osaka
2014/01/23 - Nikko in Winter

2013/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2013
2013/12/06 - Kamakura Report
2013/11/26 - Tokyo Report
2013/11/22 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/21 - Miyajima Report
2013/11/19 - Korankei Report
2013/11/18 - Kyoto Report
2013/11/11 - Sakurayama Report
2013/11/08 - Karuizawa Report
2013/10/29 - Nikko Report
2013/10/18 - Nasu Report
2013/10/17 - Nikko Report
2013/10/14 - Mount Fuji Report
2013/10/10 - Oze Report
2013/09/27 - Alpine Route Report
2013/09/13 - Nakanojo Biennale 2013
2013/08/07 - Exploring Tokyo 2: Around the Tokyo Imperial Palace
2013/05/20 - Tottori Sand Museum 2013
2013/05/07 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2013/05/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2013/05/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2013/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2013/04/23 - Northern Kanto Flower Report
2013/04/17 - Cherry Blossom Report: Takayama
2013/04/12 - Cherry Blossom Report: Matsumoto
2013/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2013/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Yoshino
2013/04/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Gunma
2013/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/04/01 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/31 - Visiting Shodoshima for the Setouchi Triennale 2013
2013/03/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2013/03/27 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2013/03/26 - Cherry Blossom Report: Nagoya
2013/03/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/21 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2013/03/12 - Tokyo Early Cherry Blossom Report
2013/02/17 - Tokamachi Snow Festival
2013/02/16 - Zao Snow Monster Report
2013/02/15 - Yokote Kamakura Festival
2013/01/10 - Winter Visit to Manza Onsen
2013/01/02 - Tokyo New Year Report

2012/12/31 - Sean's Travel Highlights 2012
2012/12/11 - Autumn Color Report: Tokyo
2012/11/26 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/25 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Takaosan
2012/11/16 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2012/11/15 - Autumn Color Report: Shosenkyo
2012/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Yamadera
2012/11/06 - Autumn Color Report: Naruko
2012/11/05 - Autumn Color Report: Hiraizumi
2012/11/01 - Autumn Color Report: Kuju
2012/10/26 - Autumn Color Report: Minakami
2012/10/24 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/16 - Autumn Color Report: Norikura
2012/10/12 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2012/10/09 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2012/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2012/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Kurodake
2012/09/27 - Autumn Color Report: Kogen Onsen
2012/09/26 - Autumn Color Report: Asahidake
2012/09/17 - Exploring Tokyo: Gate Bridge
2012/08/20 - Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2012
2012/06/27 - Hiking at Mount Azuma
2012/06/18 - Legoland Discovery Center opens in Odaiba
2012/06/18 - Hydrangea Flowers in Kamakura
2012/06/04 - Tokyo Skytree
2012/05/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sapporo
2012/05/08 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hakodate
2012/05/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/30 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hirosaki
2012/04/29 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kakunodate
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kitakami
2012/04/28 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiraizumi
2012/04/25 - Cherry Blossom Report: Sendai
2012/04/24 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukushima
2012/04/15 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kanazawa
2012/04/14 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/11 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/10 - Cherry Blossom Report: Hiroshima
2012/04/09 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/07 - Cherry Blossom Report: Osaka
2012/04/06 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kyoto
2012/04/04 - Cherry Blossom Report: Fukuoka
2012/04/03 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kumamoto
2012/04/02 - Cherry Blossom Report: Kagoshima
2012/03/22 - Cherry Blossom Report: Tokyo
2012/03/08 - Plum Blossom Report from Kairakuen, Mito
2012/03/07 - Trip to Iwaki, Fukushima
2012/02/21 - Plum Blossom Report from Tokyo
2012/01/30 - Skiing in Inawashiro, Fukushima
2012/01/27 - Kusatsu Hot Springs