Hikone Castle

From Jcastle.info

Hikone41.jpg

History

For his participation in the Battle of Sekigahara, Ii Naomasa was awarded the lands surrounding Sawayama Castle. Due to its inconvenient location and poor condition, he soon started planning for a new castle on a new location that would become Hikone Castle.

Unfortunately, Naomasa died soon after and the castle was actually begun under his son Naotsugu. It took 20 years and was completed under Naotsugu's brother Naotaka who had become lord of the castle in 1615. The main keep of Hikone-jo is famous for having used several types of gables and construction techniques to make it well fortified. The main keep and connected yagura are designated National Treasures. I find it amazing that the Ii family maintained their rule over Hikone Castle for over 250 years from the beginning of the Edo Period until the Meiji restoration.


Visit Notes

With the reconstructed lord's palace (castle museum), Hikone Castle is one of the most complete castles in Japan for you to visit and get a feeling for an Edo Period castle. Take your time to go into the gates and yagura that are open and take some time to walk around the outside of the moats. You'll get fantastic views of the castle and all the great stone walls to better understand the scale of the castle too. One of the most impressive features of Hikone Castle is the climbing stone walls (Nobori Ishigaki). Refer to the album below for more information.

Outside the castle grounds, the Hikone Castle Town is full of remnants of the deep history of Hikone. Please be sure to also review the more in-depth article on Hikone Castle Town for more insights than what the albums below may show.

Nearby Sawayama Castle also offers great views of Hikone Castle. You can use the online mapping functions on this panorama photo taken from Sawayama Castle to zoom in and out for more detail.


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Gallery
  • Inside the horse stables.


More Galleries and Feature Pages

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Main Areas

(61 photos)

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Main Keep Interior

(10 photos)

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Outer Moat Area

(31 photos)

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Castle Town

(37 photos)

Castle Profile
English Name Hikone Castle
Japanese Name 彦根城
Founder Ii Naomasa
Year Founded 1603
Castle Type Hilltop
Castle Condition Original main keep
Designations Top 100 Castles, has Important Cultural Properties, has National Treasures, National Historic Site, Special Historic Site
Historical Period Edo Period
Main Keep Structure 3 levels, 3 stories
Artifacts Tenbin Yagura, Taiko Gate and Tsuzuki Yagura, Nishinomaru 3 level yagura and tsuzukiyagura, main keep, Tsukiyagura, Tamon Yagura, umaya, Ninomaru Sawaguchi Tamon Yagura
Features main keep, gates, turrets, bridges, palace, samurai homes, water moats, trenches, stone walls, walls, castle town
Visitor Information
Access Hikone Station (Tokaido Honsen), walk 15 minutes
Visitor Information Open 8:30-17:00; 800 yen (1200 yen including museum and garden)
Time Required 180 mins
Website https://www.hikoneshi.com/jp/castle/
Location Hikone, Shiga Prefecture
Coordinates 35° 16' 35.36" N, 136° 15' 6.26" E
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Admin
Added to Jcastle 1999
Contributor Eric
Admin Year Visited 1996, 2004, 2019, 2021, 2022
Admin Visits April 1996; February 21, 2004; March 1, 2019; October 8, 2021; Nov 3, 2022
Friends of JCastle
Shirobito - Hikone Castle
Kojodan- Hikone Castle
Jokaku Horoki - Hikone Castle
Ken's Storage - Hikone Castle
Malcolm Fairman Photography - Hikone Castle
4.71
(56 votes)
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Matthew WardGunshi

3 months ago
Score 1++

I could gush about Hikone Castle endlessly, but another thing that occurs to me: there is so much of the castle remaining outside of the inner moat. Obvious things are the Ninomaru Sawachiguchi Tamon Yagura, the stable, Genkyuen Gardens, and Keyaki Palace, but there are also so many sections of moat, ishigaki, turret and gate foundations, etc. It really is a big and impressive space.

Lonely Planet describe the castle as 'small,' obviously referring to the keep only (which is more like medium-sized), but when you look at the area that is still occupied mostly by castle remains and related historical buildings, it's really very big!
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RaymondWDaimyo

4 months ago
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Hikone Castle is my most-visited castle as I have been dozens of times, but I never get tired of enjoying this magnificent castle. I went to Hikone Castle during the hot summer. It was a day when the mercury topped 36C in the afternoon. Naturally, I went in the morning, but unlike my previous visit in March, I decided to spend less time walking around the castle and cooled off in the reconstructed part of the Sawaguchitamonyagura before walking back to the train station. While cooling off in the air-conditioned interior of the free museum, I sat in front of a TV which was showing a video about the castle. There wasn’t much new information on the video for me, but it is worth watching if you are a first-time visitor to Hikone Castle (or don’t know much about Hikone Castle) and can understand Japanese.
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RaymondWDaimyo

8 months ago
Score 1++

I rate Hikone Castle very highly, second only to Himeji Castle.

Your comment about Hikone Castle being the most well-rounded Japanese castle is absolutely spot on. It has a bit of everything in terms of extant structures, rebuilt structures, ishigaki, earthworks, two sets of intact moats, and a castle town with many old ashigaru houses still around.

I’m lucky I live in Japanese castle Mecca aka Shiga. Hikone Castle is the castle that I have visited the most followed very closely by Azuchi Castle and Kannonji Castle. In early March this year, I did some “slow castling”, nearly 5 hours, in just the paid areas of Hikone Castle, all enclosed just by the innermost moat.

Right, the afternoon session at Lord’s is about to start, so it’s time to get back to watching the cricket.
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Matthew WardGunshi

8 months ago
Score 1++

I visited Hikone Castle again today, my first visit in 6 years and either the 5th or 6th time I've been there. I've loved this castle for a long time, but it was the most satisfying visit I've ever had there, and really one of the best castle visits I've ever had. It was the first time I went there alone, as opposed to being with family members, and I really enjoyed being able to wander and spend as much time as I wanted on everything.

Anyway, I pretty much saw everything on the castle grounds: the palace, all of the turret complexes (entering all of the enterable ones), the stable, the main keep, the garden, checking out the Keyaki-Goten and Chasashiki behind it from the front and side, walked around the inside of the inner moat, checked out the Ote gate ruins for the first time, and looked at a couple of the yashiki remains inside the inner moat. I had a really nice time inside the buildings, especially the 3-story Nishinomaru Yagura, where I just sat by myself on the 3rd floor for a while and rested... had the whole floor to myself! And I checked out some of the other ruins, especially in the Taikomaru Bailey and the wonderful ishigaki you see when you go down the hill from the Nishinomaru Bailey towards the Kurumon.

I also went in the Umoreginoya for the first time, and checked out a bit of the castle road (which I had been to a few times before), and the outside of the Suzuki Family Nagaya Gate, and walked around part of the outer moat, looking at the ishigaki lining the inside of it. I was hoping to check out more of the castle town, but it got too late... next time, I think I'll go to Sawayama Castle for the view of Hikone Castle, and then focus on the castle town.

Only one little nit-picky complaint: I really like taking pictures out of the windows of keeps, and I wish they didn't have those narrow wire things covering the windows of the main keep... too small to put a camera lens though!

A thought: Hikone Castle really must be the most well-rounded Japanese castle: you get a main keep, various tower turrets and hallway/passageway turrets, two palaces, a garden, a stable, lots of moats and ishigaki, some significant ruins, and then the castle town structures. If you were to go to only one Japanese castle and wanted to experience everything in one location, Hikone would be the best place to do it.

One interesting thing I've noticed about Hikone-jo, though: while most other castles with buildings have individual turrets, gates, etc. that often sit on or in the ishigaki, Hikone is kind of unusual in that all of the extant turrets and gates are part of complexes of several connected buildings. No individual turrets or gates: the only individual buildings are the palaces and the stable. In that sense, it reminds me of Kanazawa Castle, while also has 3 complexes of buildings that dominate the castle grounds.

Finally, an amusing aside: last night, I was looking for pictures of my first visit to Kanazawa Castle, and I looked in a group of photos from 2016, and found these pictures of incredible castle structures. I was thinking 'What is THIS castle? This is incredible! Why I don't I recognize them! And then I flipped forwards a bit and realized 'Ah, it's Hikone Castle!' Weird because I was planning on going there today. The thing is, the pictures were of the Ninomaru Sawachiguchi Tamon Yagura, and when I mentally picture Hikone Castle, it's usually the main keep, the Tenbin Yagura, the Nishinomaru Sanju Yagura, and the garden... I usually forget about the outer moat with the Ninomaru Sawachiguchi Tamon Yagura and how incredible it is. Too bad you can't enter it except for the museum area, because even if that were the only original structure on-site, it would make a worthwhile castle.
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ARTShogun

8 months ago
Score 1++
You may be right about Hikone. Generally Himeji is seen as the best castle, but it does not have any kind of goten.
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EricShogun

8 months ago
Score 1++
It sounds like you had great time. I'm glad you can enjoy it on a weekday without it being too crowded. Hikone is definitely overlooked by many castles fans but I think it's gaining in popularity. I think even with a well planned trip it probably takes at least 3 trips to see everything. I think I've been there 6 times now but I keep finding stuff I need to go back and visit or new sides/angles of the castle I want to shoot. Actually I have a bunch of news pics I need to upload here too.
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Matthew WardGunshi

8 months ago
Score 1++
I'd rate Himeji as the best Japanese castle just based on how incredibly extensive it is, but Hikone really so far behind (I'm also a huge fan of Iyo Matsuyama Castle).
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RaymondWDaimyo

12 months ago
Score 1++

The Hikone Castle profile and the associated sections about the castle town must be the most comprehensive source of information in English about Hikone Castle and the historical buildings from the former castle town. This collection of short articles is even more detailed and informative than many Hikone Castle websites in Japanese that I’ve come across. Eric, this is quite an achievement and thanks very much for putting in lots of hard yakka to get all this information under one roof for castle fans to access and use when they explore Hikone Castle and its environs.

I have seen from the outside / visited (if open) roughly about half of those ashigaru residences that you have listed, but it looks like I still have quite a few more to check out. One fun thing to do while checking these ashigaru residences is to look for kamons or family crests adorning these houses. Like you, Eric, I haven’t checked out all the remnants of Hikone Castle outer moat yet. I’ve seen bits of it, but whenever I visit Hikone, I tend to focus on ishigaki and structures within the two inner moats and in recent years, the ashigaru residences.

Hikone Castle might not be the biggest extant castle in Japan, but if you take into account that two of its original three moats are still intact along with public access to four of the five nobori-ishigaki (not a common feature for many castles), some extant castle structures, and all the historical buildings from the Edo Period in the castle town, it surely must rate in many Jcastle fans’ Top Five Japanese castles. My only complaint about Hikone Castle is that I wish they would open the whole place to visitors, so castle fans can actually access and see the fifth nobori-ishigaki.
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ARTShogun

14 months ago
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Just been through all of the new bukeyashiki profiles. Amazing!
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ARTShogun

23 months ago
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Is that a new picture up top? Nice angle!
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EricShogun

23 months ago
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"new" in 2019...
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ARTShogun

66 months ago
Score 2++
Added Nobori-ishigaki to photo gallery
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ARTShogun

71 months ago
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When I first came to Hikonejō five years ago with friends we basically just went up to the main keep and down again. The castle made a lasting impression on me and I wanted to go back and explore it fully. I spent 4.5 hours exploring Hikonejō. I would have spent even more time here but the museum, which takes the form of the reconstructed omote-go'ten (outer palace), was closed at the time. I'd like to visit someday because the reconstruction incorporated traditional construction techniques and material and looks very nice. I welcome an excuse for a return visit as I'm confident Hikonejō has yet hidden nooks and interesting points I'm yet to discover.
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SnoworionGunshi

76 months ago
Score 0++
I visited this castle on 13 November 2017. This is one of the best original castles I have visited and arguably a better example of a medieval castle than Himeji. From a historical perspective, it is easy to appreciate the thinking and strategy that went into designing this castle. The castle keep is magnificent and the castle grounds are arguably the best I have visited. It really has the effect of creating an atmosphere of stepping back in time. And not to mention the gardens. This castle nestled on the shores of Lake Biwa and about 1 hr by train from Kyoto is definitely worth the trip and not to be missed by anyone who has an affinity for Japanese castles. P.S - the town, small as it is, is also work a walk if for no other reason than to sample the Omi Beef and the Matcha ice cream. Make the trip. You will not regret it.
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FurinkazanDaimyo

82 months ago
Score 0++

I revisited this wonderful castle. It was raining this morning and i was going to an other destination. I still managed to get to the main spots and got in time for the train to my next destination.

In the sanju yagura of the nishinomaru is a nice VR video about the construction of the castle. There are also small videos of other castles. So you can see the tenshukaku of Takamatsujô and the wooden tower of the newly restored stone entrance of Yashima no ki.
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ARTShogun

85 months ago
Score 0++
This is a very special castle facing Lake Biwako. It is one of 12 original keeps. The donjon is a wooden original! You can be in the very same rooms and corridors once patrolled by Samurai and Lords. If you are staying in Kyōto, it's just a short train ride away. Hikone -jō is one of my most favourite castles in Japan. I visited during gentle snow fall. After losing the battle of Sekigahara, being captured by peasants and executed, Ishida Mitsunari’s fiefdom was handed over to Ii Naomasa by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ishida’s castle, Suwayamajō, was however a difficult place from which to rule, plus it had been attacked immediately after the Battle of Sekigahara by Kobayakawa Hideaki because he hated Ishida’s guts, so it was probably in a poor state. For these reasons Ii relocated his base to a new fort on Lake Biwa, Hikonejō. The transition from Sengoku Period to Edo Period, from war time to peace, saw many castles on easy-to-defend but remote mountaintops fall out of use in favour of flatland or hilltop castles along important routes and near towns as such castles could be used as economic and administrative centres. Ii’s sons, Naotsugu and Naotaka, successively built Hikonejō over the next two decades, cannibalising building materials from Suwayamajō, and it was completed in 1622. Much of the castle remains in its original state from this time, including an extensive moat network, and in addition some structures, such as the go’ten (castle palace), have been reconstructed. The Ii clan ruled until the Meiji Period, for over two and a half centuries.
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Anonymous user #1

88 months ago
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Visited 2014
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Kiddus i2003Gunshi

120 months ago
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This is an outstanding castle and garden , the entry through those first gates after you leave the station is insane.
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RaymondWDaimyo

139 months ago
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There is a new exhibition about Sawayama Castle Ruin in the reconstructed concrete tamonyagura on the other side of the Sawaguchi (Sawa Gate) and opposite the original stables and Sawaguchi Tamonyagura. This exhibition includes both displays about Hikone Castle and Sawayama Castle Ruin. It runs from 15th September 2012 to 31st August 2014. Sawayama Castle was Ishida Mitsunari’s stronghold, and after the Battle of Sekigahara, it was dismantled and its materials used in the construction of Hikone Castle. There is an excellent little booklet about Sawayama Castle for sale. I picked this up yesterday after going to Sawayama Castle Ruin.
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BryanbaierPeasant

146 months ago
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Awesome castle. Not much inside but gorgeous from the outside. The grounds and garden are also excellent
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RaymondWDaimyo

151 months ago
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If you are going to visit Hikone Castle in the next month or two, there is a special exhibition of replica suits of samurai armour worn by the warlords and generals who were present at the Battle of Sekigahara. Not all of them are represented in the display, but just about all the major players are there in the exhibition of around 20 suits of armour. It is very interesting to see all the suits of armour side by side. There are detailed notes about each individual, but it is only in Japanese. The exhibition is held in the Tenbin Yagura from 10th September to 6th November.
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A22cricketAshigaru

155 months ago
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Went during Golden Week and waited about an hour to get into the donjon. Interior is sparse but the grounds are gorgeous.
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RaymondWDaimyo

156 months ago
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The second and third floors of the Sanju Yagura (an authentic turret) are now open to public. I was talking to one of the staff there, and she said they had only just made it accessible to the general public. Also, for the Hanami fans, Hikone Castle's cherry blossoms will be in full bloom later this week.
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RaymondWDaimyo

157 months ago
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This is my “local” castle, taking only 40 minutes to get to JR Hikone Station from where I live. I went at the end of March. They are removing some of the trees behind the Tenbin Yagura, so now you can see clearly see a section of wall running up from one side of the Tenbin Yagura up to the Honmaru ishigaki.
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Anonymous user #1

160 months ago
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noemasa li one of the tokugawa seven generals he built this hikone castle looks pretty amazing to me
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Anonymous user #1

161 months ago
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Why I give Hikone five stars: *1 Original castle, *2 Outstanding museum, *3 Beautiful grounds, scenic views *4, Very well maintained, good explanations, *5 Hikonyan. When my brother and his friend visited Japan and said they wanted to 'see a castle' I picked this one. I'll confess part of the motivation was the shopping, but I honestly agree with the comment that it demonstrates the concept of a Japanese castle very well. They were very impressed with the buildings and museum but not so impressed by my behavior regarding a certain famous feline. The mascot, Hikonyan, a cat in a helmet, appears three times daily in the castle ground, usually to be mobbed by crowds of over-excited women drawn to his red helmet, green scarf, yellow bell and cute white face. (He is the only mascot I have ever seen who needed body guards). I believe Hikonyan is responsible for a large part of Hikone city's economy; Hikone is a great place to buy Japanese history goods and the only place you can buy official Hikonyan products. It's also host to the national character mascot festival, held towards the end of October, (something you will either want to see or want to avoid depending on your tastes). The stamp is in an office in one of the yagura, I believe.
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FurinkazanDaimyo

162 months ago
Score 0++
This is really a must. The site is marvelous and the castle is very nice. There is not alot to see in the castle, but the structure alone is breathtaking. There are alot of structures where you can go inside. I paid 1000yen for the castle, museum and garden. If you want to see the castle alone it is 600yen. The museum has some artifacts related to the Sengokujidai, but most of it consists of tea-ceremony, noh-theatre and music instruments. The museum is actually a reconstruction of the goten, so you can feel how it was living in those buildings.
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RaymondWDaimyo

170 months ago
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Just got back to Hikone Castle. I'm pretty lucky that I live in Shiga as Hikone Station is only 40 minutes away by JR train (about an hour from Kyoto JR Station.) Anyway, just a heads up for those who like combining castle visits with some photography. Genkyu-en (Genkyu Garden) is having some work done on it, so the pond is pretty much drained. That means you won't be able to get the nice postcard-like photo of the pond in the garden in foreground with Hikone Castle up on the hill. All you get in the foreground is mud and more mud. On a sign, it said the work being done on the garden is from 22nd December 2009 to 9th March 2010. Also, the Keyaki Goten (The Ii Family Residence), next to the Genkyu-en is being renovated. It is scheduled to finish on 19th March 2010. The castle and the reconstructed palace are fine. No worries there. For anyone thinking of a visit to Hikone Castle, go in the morning. There will be less people, and you have the sun behind you for taking piccies of the castle keep. One more thing, if you want to see a very detailed model (1:300 scale) of what Hikone Castle and the surrounding castle town looked like in Edo Period, go inside the Ninomaru Sawaguchitamon-Yagura (Sawaguchitamon Turret).It is opposite the main entrance to the castle and palace. The cherry blossoms are still around a month away, but there are a few plum blossoms beginning to happen. BTW, hanami time = circus. Go early at 8:30am to avoid the crowds. After 10am, it becomes like a rugby rolling maul trying to get into the castle keep. Same goes for Golden Week at the beginning of May.
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RaymondWDaimyo

181 months ago
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I went to Hikone Castle today. The cherry blossoms have started but they won't be at their best until the middle of next week. There were plenty of people today, but nothing like last Golden Week. A sign was out in the afternoon saying that it takes around 30 minutes waiting in the queue to get into the tenshukaku (keep). The delay is in getting up and down the very steep stairs in the keep.