Hikone Travel Guide: Top 33 Things to Do in Hikone, Japan

Welcome to Hikone! Ready to explore one of Japan’s best-kept secrets? Nestled on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Hikone might not be on every traveler’s radar, but it sure packs a punch with its rich history, serene beauty, and charming streets. This quaint city, with its iconic Hikone Castle standing proudly since the Edo period, invites you on a journey through time, nature, and culture. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or just in search of a peaceful retreat from Japan’s bustling cities, Hikone offers a slice of tranquility and tradition that’s hard to find elsewhere. Let’s dive into the allure of Hikone and discover why this city is a must-visit on your Japanese adventure.

Hikone architectural details macro in Japan

Time Travel to Hikone Castle

A Step Back in Time: Hikone Castle isn’t just another Japanese castle—it’s a national treasure. With its original structures beautifully preserved, a visit here feels like stepping back into the samurai era. Explore the castle grounds, admire the ancient architecture, and soak in panoramic views of Lake Biwa from the castle tower.

Stroll Along Yumekyobashi Castle Road

Edo-Era Vibes: Wander down Yumekyobashi Castle Road, a charming street lined with shops and eateries that evoke the ambiance of old Japan. Here, traditional lanterns light your way to finding the perfect souvenir, sampling local snacks, and maybe even trying on a kimono for the perfect photo op.

Unwind by Lake Biwa

Serene Waters: Lake Biwa, with its crystal-clear waters and picturesque islands, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Enjoy a leisurely boat ride, try your hand at fishing, or simply bask in the tranquil surroundings. The lake’s beaches offer a peaceful escape, while its cycling paths promise adventure and stunning vistas.

Discover Hikone’s Culinary Delights

Flavors of Hikone: No trip to Hikone is complete without indulging in the local cuisine. From freshly caught Biwa trout to the savory goodness of Omi beef, one of Japan’s top wagyu varieties, Hikone’s culinary scene is a delight. Don’t miss out on trying local specialties at a traditional ryokan or a lakeside restaurant.

A City of Festivals

Cultural Festivities: Hikone comes alive with festivals throughout the year, offering a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural traditions. The Hikone Castle Festival, with its samurai parade, and the vibrant Genkyuen Garden illuminations are just a couple of events that make Hikone’s cultural calendar special.

Hikone might be modest in size, but it’s brimming with experiences that resonate with the heart and soul of Japan’s storied past and present. So, pack your bags (and perhaps a sense of curiosity), and let Hikone be your gateway to exploring the rich tapestry of Japan’s heartland.

Hikone Travel Guide: Things to do in Hikone, Japan

Hikone City Guide: A Brief History Of Hikone, Japan

Ever wonder what secrets lie within the walls of an ancient Japanese castle town? Hikone, with its storied past and timeless charm, offers a fascinating glimpse into the samurai era, wrapped in the tranquility of Lake Biwa’s shores. From the construction of its iconic castle to its enduring cultural heritage, Hikone’s history is as captivating as the city itself. Let’s embark on a journey through time and uncover the tales that make Hikone a hidden historical jewel in Japan.

The Birth of a Castle

Foundation of Power: It all started in the early 17th century when Ii Naokatsu, son of the legendary samurai Ii Naomasa, laid the foundation for Hikone Castle. Constructed using materials from dismantled castles of defeated enemies, Hikone Castle wasn’t just a fortress; it was a symbol of power and resilience. This impressive structure, completed in 1622, has stood the test of time, witnessing the rise and fall of shogunates and the transformation of Japan.

A Town Emerges

Life Under the Castle: With the castle as its heartbeat, the town of Hikone began to flourish. Samurai warriors, merchants, and craftsmen settled in its shadow, creating a vibrant community. The town’s strategic location along trade routes contributed to its prosperity, allowing cultural and economic exchanges that enriched Hikone’s heritage.

An Era of Peace

The Edo Period: During the peaceful Edo period, Hikone thrived under the rule of the Ii family. The town became a center for education and culture, fostering a refined way of life that integrated the way of the samurai with the arts. This era left a lasting imprint on Hikone, with traditions and practices that continue to this day.

Modern Transformations

Into the Present: As Japan opened to the world and modernized, Hikone adapted while carefully preserving its history. The castle and its surrounding structures have been meticulously maintained, allowing visitors to step back in time. Today, Hikone is a testament to Japan’s ability to harmonize its rich past with the dynamic present, offering a living history lesson to all who wander its streets.

Preserving the Legacy

Cultural Heritage Alive: Hikone’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage is evident in its festivals, museums, and daily life. The Hikone Castle Festival, with its samurai parade, and the serene beauty of Genkyuen Garden, are just a few examples of how the city keeps its history alive, inviting everyone to partake in its story.

So, take a moment to listen to the whispers of history that echo through Hikone; they have incredible tales to tell.

Hikone city views from a distance in Japan

Hikone Top Attractions and Best Places to Visit in Japan

A small city of just 100,000 people, Hikone is home to an Edo Period castle. One of the few original structures left (not reconstructions completed using inauthentic methods), it draws its share of tourists during the year.

This doesn’t take away from its tranquility, though – if you live in nearby Kyoto, a trip to Hikone makes for a wonderful city break/day trip.

Come check out our Hikone intrepid travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Hikone, Japan.

After getting settled in Hikone, make Hikone Castle your first stop in this historic city. Unlike the many Japanese castles that succumbed to the ravages of the Meiji Restoration or the many wars of the past, this specimen has made it through to the present day in one piece.

Set on a hill high above the surrounding area, this Edo Period keep has been around since 1622. It served its purpose until 1868 when the Meiji Restoration mandated its closure. Thanks to the diligence of its caretakers (and luck, especially during the Second World War), most of its buildings have gotten through the years with only preventative maintenance being done to them.

More Attractions

Thanks to the multiple styles of architecture contained within this structure, it has been named a national treasure, so be sure not to miss this attraction during your time in Hikone.

Once you have finished exploring the main structure, spend some time learning about this keep’s history at the Hikone Castle Museum. Situated in the structure where the local lord both lived and conducted official government business, this institution contains exhibits which show off armour, weapons, decorative crafts, books, and documents that were used throughout the Edo Period.

In addition to this, several rooms have been made up to appear as they would have during the time when the lord of the castle called this place his home. One of these spaces contains a performance stage, where plays are held during the spring months.

Further Attractions

Hikone Castle wasn’t the royal keep in the Hikone area. Another once stood nearby, but now, only ruins mark where Sawayama Castle once existed. Once the domain of Ii Naomasa, a shogun that ruled the region before the start of the Edo Period, it was razed after the forces of this castle lost a decisive battle at the turn of the 17th century.

Located a 10-minute walk away from Hikone station, the paths that lead to and through these overgrown ruins are lined with trees that are ablaze with colour in fall. If you are in the area during this season, be sure to pay a visit.

Those looking to drop by a religious point of interest during their time in Hikone should put Ryotanji Temple on their to-see list. Although it does cost roughly 400 yen to enter, the peaceful ambience of this Buddhist temple is worth the price of admission.

Within, you’ll find a simple interior with a tatami floor, but it is the exterior that makes this temple special. With a well-kept Zen garden, cemetery, carved artwork, and best of all, a lack of crowds, you’ll be able to find balance if you were having a hectic day prior to your visit.

Lake Biwa coastal views in Hikone, Japan

Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Hikone, Japan

Looking to take in a Shinto hall of worship before moving on from Hikone? Make room in your schedule for the Shiga Prefecture Gokoku Shrine. Dedicated to the souls of departed soldiers in the wars of the past two centuries, it is a place where locals come to pray for peace in the world.

Remembering everyone from the 19th century Boshin War straight through to World War II, it is a place that temple lovers and war history buffs won’t want to miss.

After your visit to Hikone Castle, ensure that you stop by Genkyuen Garden before leaving the area. Located adjacent to the castle grounds, it was created back in 1677 by the lord after a visit to China inspired him.

Other Attractions

Created in the Japanese style, it features a pond with islets, with each being connected by bridges. After you have finished enjoying the brilliance of this place, there is a tea house that serves pots of the steaming drink for 500 yen, so be sure to partake if you have the time.

On your walk back down from Hikone Castle, stop to take in the Ii Naomasa Statue. Built to honour the shogun who ruled over the area prior to the Edo Period, it is a beautiful monument located in the middle of the main shopping area of Hikone.

That neighbourhood is known as Yume Kyobashi Castle Road. Featuring shops and restaurants styled to appear like buildings that would have been common during the Edo Period, it is a wonderful place to shop or enjoy a meal before retiring for the night or heading home.

source: japan-guide.com on YouTube

Top 33 Things To Do in Hikone, Japan For Visitors

Here are the top 33 things to do in Hikone:

Hikone Castle is a must visit attractions for visitors to Japan

1. Visit Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle is one of the few original castles in Japan, boasting stunning architecture and a rich history. Visitors can explore the castle keep, offering breathtaking views of Lake Biwa and the surrounding city. The castle’s grounds are especially beautiful during cherry blossom season. It’s a must-visit for history buffs and those interested in samurai culture.

2. Stroll Around Genkyu-en Garden

Genkyu-en Garden, located at the foot of Hikone Castle, is a beautiful Japanese landscape garden designed for strolling. It features traditional tea houses, a large pond, and meticulously maintained flora. The garden is designed to represent famous scenes from Chinese and Japanese literature. It’s a serene spot for reflection and enjoying nature’s beauty.

3. Explore Hikone Castle Museum

The Hikone Castle Museum showcases artifacts related to the castle and the Ii family, who ruled the Hikone domain for generations. The museum displays samurai armor, swords, and other historical items. It offers insights into the life and culture of the samurai class. The museum building itself is a modern interpretation of traditional Japanese architecture.

4. Enjoy Lake Biwa Cruise

Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, offers scenic cruises that provide stunning views of Hikone and the surrounding landscapes. The cruise is a relaxing way to experience the beauty of the lake and its islands. Sunset cruises are particularly popular, offering picturesque views of the setting sun over the lake. Seasonal cruises during cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons are also available.

5. Visit Yumekyobashi Castletown

Yumekyobashi Castletown is a charming district designed to replicate a traditional samurai and merchant town near Hikone Castle. Visitors can wander through the streets lined with shops, restaurants, and traditional houses. It’s an ideal place to shop for souvenirs, try local food, and experience the atmosphere of old Japan. The area also hosts cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

6. Take a Walk on Seri River Promenade

The Seri River Promenade is a picturesque walking path along the Seri River, leading towards Hikone Castle. The path is lined with cherry trees, making it a stunning spot for cherry blossom viewing in spring. It’s a peaceful walk that allows visitors to enjoy the natural and historical beauty of Hikone. The promenade is also illuminated at night, offering a different yet equally beautiful experience.

7. Experience Traditional Tea Ceremony at Soan-tei Tea House

Soan-tei Tea House in Genkyu-en Garden offers visitors the opportunity to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The tea house overlooks the garden’s pond, providing a serene setting for enjoying matcha and sweets. It’s a cultural experience that allows visitors to immerse themselves in Japanese traditions. Advance reservations may be required for the tea ceremony.

8. Visit the Ii Naomasa Statue

The statue of Ii Naomasa, a prominent samurai general and the founder of the Ii clan’s dominance in Hikone, stands proudly near Hikone Castle. Naomasa is celebrated for his bravery and contributions to the city’s history. The statue is a popular spot for photos and offers a glimpse into Hikone’s samurai heritage. It’s located in a scenic area, providing a perfect backdrop for learning about Japanese history.

9. Explore Shiga Prefecture Local Products Center

The Shiga Prefecture Local Products Center is a great place to discover and purchase local specialties from Shiga Prefecture, including food, crafts, and souvenirs. The center offers a wide range of products, from Lake Biwa pearls to Omi beef. It’s an ideal spot for finding unique gifts and tasting local delicacies. The center also provides information on tourist attractions throughout Shiga Prefecture.

10. Enjoy Cherry Blossom Viewing at Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle is a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing, with hundreds of cherry trees blooming in spring. The combination of the historic castle and the delicate pink blossoms creates a picturesque scene. Visitors can enjoy hanami (flower viewing) picnics in designated areas. The castle and its surroundings are illuminated at night during the cherry blossom season, enhancing the magical atmosphere.

11. Relax at Konki Park

Konki Park is a tranquil green space near Hikone Castle, offering walking paths, a pond, and a playground for children. It’s a lovely spot for a leisurely walk or a family outing. The park is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves change colors. It also offers a quiet escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.

12. Visit Ryotan-ji Temple

Ryotan-ji Temple is a historic Zen Buddhist temple known for its beautiful garden and serene atmosphere. The temple’s rock garden is a highlight, designed for contemplation and meditation. Visitors can experience the peacefulness of Zen culture and architecture. The temple occasionally offers Zen meditation sessions for those interested in learning about Zen practices.

13. Take a Bicycle Tour Around Hikone

Exploring Hikone by bicycle is a wonderful way to see the city and its surroundings at your own pace. Rental bicycles are available near Hikone Station, allowing visitors to tour the castle, gardens, and Lake Biwa. Cycling along the lake shore offers stunning views and a refreshing breeze. It’s an eco-friendly and enjoyable way to discover Hikone’s charm.

14. Learn at the Hikone City Museum of History

The Hikone City Museum of History is dedicated to the city’s history, from its early days to modern times. The museum features exhibits on the castle’s construction, the Ii family, and the daily life of people in Hikone. Interactive displays and models make the museum engaging for all ages. It provides a deeper understanding of Hikone’s cultural and historical significance.

15. Attend the Hikone Castle Festival

The Hikone Castle Festival is an annual event celebrating the city’s history and culture with parades, samurai processions, and traditional performances. The highlight is a reenactment of the arrival of Ii Naomasa and his troops to Hikone. The festival offers a lively atmosphere and a chance to see traditional Japanese attire and customs in action. It’s a fantastic opportunity to experience local culture and festivity.

16. Shop at Viva City Hikone

Viva City Hikone is a large shopping mall offering a variety of stores, restaurants, and entertainment options. It’s a convenient place to shop for fashion, electronics, and household goods. The mall also features a cinema and a food court with a range of dining choices. It’s a great destination for families and visitors looking to enjoy shopping and leisure activities.

17. Enjoy Local Cuisine

Hikone is known for its delicious local cuisine, including Omi beef, one of Japan’s top three wagyu varieties, and funazushi, a traditional fermented sushi made from fish from Lake Biwa. Visitors can enjoy these specialties at local restaurants and izakayas. Tasting Hikone’s local dishes is a must-do for food enthusiasts. The city offers a range of dining options, from high-end restaurants to casual eateries.

18. Visit Daishiji Temple

Daishiji Temple is a beautiful temple complex with a history dating back hundreds of years. It features stunning architecture, a peaceful garden, and several important cultural properties. The temple provides a quiet space for contemplation and spiritual renewal. It’s a lesser-known gem that offers a glimpse into traditional Japanese temple life.

19. Explore Umoreginoya

Umoreginoya is a traditional Japanese house that has been converted into a museum showcasing the lifestyle and crafts of the Edo period. Visitors can see how people lived during this time, with displays of household items, tools, and traditional clothing. The house is set in a beautiful garden, adding to the historic atmosphere. It’s a fascinating visit for those interested in Japanese history and culture.

20. Take a Day Trip to Lake Biwa

Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, offers numerous recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. The lake’s shores are dotted with beaches, resorts, and historical sites. Taking a day trip to explore the lake’s natural beauty and attractions is highly recommended. The area around Lake Biwa also features hiking trails, hot springs, and cultural landmarks.

21. Attend Sawayaka Festival

Sawayaka Festival is a local summer event that celebrates the season with fireworks, traditional dances, and food stalls. It’s a lively and colorful festival that brings the community together. Visitors can enjoy the festive atmosphere, sample local street food, and watch stunning fireworks displays over the castle. The festival is a great way to experience Japanese summer traditions.

22. Visit Mentai Park

Mentai Park is a unique attraction dedicated to mentaiko (spicy cod roe), a popular Japanese delicacy. Visitors can learn about the production process, sample various mentaiko products, and purchase them to take home. The park includes interactive exhibits and a play area for children. It’s an interesting and tasty experience for food lovers.

23. Explore Serikawa Park

Serikawa Park is a picturesque park known for its seasonal flowers, tranquil ponds, and walking paths. It’s a lovely spot for nature walks, photography, and relaxation. The park is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season and autumn when the leaves change colors. It offers a peaceful retreat within the city, perfect for a leisurely afternoon.

24. Discover the Hikone Screen Museum

The Hikone Screen Museum houses a collection of Japanese folding screens, showcasing the art and craftsmanship of this traditional form. The museum displays screens from various periods, featuring scenes of nature, history, and daily life. It’s a unique cultural experience that highlights an important aspect of Japanese art. The museum also provides information on the history and techniques behind screen making.

25. Visit the Shiga Prefecture Intangible Cultural Heritage Center

This center is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the intangible cultural heritage of Shiga Prefecture, including traditional crafts, performances, and culinary arts. Visitors can see live demonstrations, participate in workshops, and learn about the efforts to keep these traditions alive. It’s an educational visit that offers insights into the rich cultural fabric of the region. The center plays a crucial role in cultural preservation and education.

26. Relax at Hikone Onsen

Hikone Onsen is a hot spring resort area offering a variety of bathhouses and ryokans where visitors can enjoy relaxing hot spring baths. The mineral-rich waters are known for their health benefits and provide a soothing experience. Some onsen offer views of Lake Biwa or Hikone Castle, enhancing the relaxation experience. It’s an ideal way to unwind after a day of exploring Hikone.

27. Participate in a Koto Workshop

Hikone offers workshops on playing the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument. Participants can learn the basics of playing the koto and appreciate the beauty of Japanese music. It’s a unique cultural experience that allows visitors to engage with traditional Japanese arts. No prior musical experience is necessary, making it accessible to all.

28. Hike Mt. Hikone

Mt. Hikone is a small mountain offering hiking trails with scenic views of Hikone, Lake Biwa, and the surrounding countryside. The hike is relatively easy, making it suitable for families and casual hikers. The trails are especially beautiful in spring and autumn. Hiking Mt. Hikone is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and get a different perspective on the city.

29. Visit the Hikone Byobu (Folding Screen) Festival

The Hikone Byobu Festival is an annual event where historic and artistic folding screens are displayed throughout the city, including in temples, shrines, and traditional houses. It’s a unique opportunity to see these exquisite works of art up close. The festival highlights the importance of folding screens in Japanese culture and art. Guided tours are available, offering insights into the history and symbolism of the screens.

30. Enjoy Night Views from Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle offers spectacular night views of the city and Lake Biwa, with special illuminations on certain evenings. The illuminated castle creates a magical atmosphere, offering a different experience from daytime visits. It’s a romantic spot and a favorite among photographers. The night view of Hikone is a must-see, showcasing the city’s beauty in a new light.

31. Explore the Old Hikone Merchant District

The Old Hikone Merchant District is a historic area with preserved Edo-period buildings that once housed merchants and craftsmen. Today, the district is filled with shops, cafes, and galleries, offering a glimpse into Hikone’s past. Visitors can wander the narrow streets, shop for traditional crafts, and enjoy local snacks. The district hosts cultural events and traditional performances, adding to its charm.

32. Attend Hikone’s Plum Blossom Festival

Hikone celebrates the plum blossom season with a festival in Hikone Castle’s plum grove, featuring over a thousand plum trees. The festival includes tea ceremonies, cultural performances, and plum-themed food. The plum blossoms, with their delicate beauty and fragrance, are a herald of spring. It’s a picturesque event that showcases traditional Japanese celebrations of nature.

33. Experience Hikonyan Performance

Hikonyan, the mascot of Hikone, is a charming cat character inspired by the samurai history of Hikone Castle. Visitors can watch Hikonyan performances at Hikone Castle, where the mascot entertains with cute antics and photo opportunities. It’s especially popular with children and adds a fun, modern twist to the historic setting. Meeting Hikonyan is a memorable experience for families and fans of Japanese mascots.

Hikone must try dish in Japan

What To Eat and Drink in Hikone, Japan

Here’s a tasty lineup of what to eat and drink while exploring this charming city, ensuring every meal adds to your Hikone adventure.

Fresh from the Lake

1. Funazushi: Dubbed the original sushi, Funazushi is a rare delicacy made from fermented Biwa trout. This dish, with its unique sour taste, has been cherished in the Shiga region for centuries.

2. Biwa Trout: Lake Biwa’s crystal-clear waters are home to delicious trout, served grilled, sashimi-style, or in soothing soups. Its freshness and subtle flavor make it a must-try.

Local Specialties

3. Omi Beef: Renowned as one of Japan’s top three Wagyu beefs, Omi beef is celebrated for its marbling, tenderness, and rich flavor. Enjoy it as steak, sukiyaki, or shabu-shabu for a luxurious dining experience.

4. Kabura-zushi: A winter specialty, this dish consists of pickled turnip wrapped around sushi rice and a piece of mackerel, offering a delightful blend of textures and flavors.

Street Eats and Comfort Foods

5. Yaki Soba Pan: A novel snack found in Hikone, it’s essentially a sandwich filled with yakisoba (fried noodles), offering a carb-on-carb delight that’s surprisingly satisfying.

6. Hikone Ramen: While Hikone might not have its own distinct style of ramen, local ramen shops serve up bowls of this comforting noodle soup tailored with rich, flavorful broths and a variety of toppings. It’s perfect for refueling after exploring the city.

Sweet Treats

7. Matcha Sweets: Given its proximity to Uji, one of Japan’s premier tea-growing regions, Hikone’s cafes and sweet shops excel in matcha-flavored desserts. From ice cream to cakes and traditional wagashi, the deep, umami-rich taste of matcha is a highlight.

Sipping on Tradition

8. Sake: No culinary tour is complete without sampling local sake. Breweries in and around Hikone craft sake that beautifully complements the local cuisine, with the pure waters of Lake Biwa contributing to its clean taste.

9. Biwa Tea: Not as well-known as other Japanese teas, Biwa tea made from the leaves of the loquat plant offers a unique taste and is believed to have health benefits.

For the Adventurous Palate

10. Lotus Root Dishes: Lotus roots, with their distinct appearance and crunchy texture, are used in a variety of dishes, from salads to stir-fries, showcasing the versatility of this local ingredient.

Hikone castle rooftop views in Japan

Tours For Visitors To Hikone, Japan

Here’s a compilation of tours that promise to enrich your visit, providing insights into the essence of this charming city and its surroundings.

1. Hikone Castle and Museum Tour

Discover the history and significance of Hikone Castle, a national treasure, with a guided tour that takes you through its well-preserved grounds, towering keep, and the adjacent museum. Learn about the castle’s role in Japan’s feudal era and get a glimpse into the life of samurai.

2. Lake Biwa Boat Cruise

Embark on a scenic cruise on Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. This relaxing tour offers breathtaking views of the lake’s islands, the surrounding mountains, and a unique perspective of Hikone Castle from the water.

3. Historical Hikone Walking Tour

Stroll through Hikone’s historic streets with a knowledgeable guide to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage. Visit landmarks like Yumekyobashi Castle Road and Genkyu-en Garden, and discover the stories behind traditional tea houses and samurai residences.

4. Culinary Experience Tour

Indulge in Hikone’s culinary delights with a tour focused on local cuisine. Sample regional specialties like Omi beef, funazushi, and matcha sweets, and learn about the traditional techniques used to prepare these dishes. Some tours may include cooking classes or sake tasting sessions.

5. Cycling Tour Around Lake Biwa

For the active traveler, a cycling tour around Lake Biwa offers an invigorating way to explore the area’s natural beauty. Ride along lakeside paths, visit peaceful shrines and temples, and enjoy the serene atmosphere of Japan’s countryside.

6. Samurai and Ninja Experience

Immerse yourself in Japan’s warrior culture with a tour that lets you step into the shoes of a samurai or ninja. Don traditional attire, learn about the martial arts practiced by these legendary figures, and even try your hand at using a katana or shuriken.

7. Tea Ceremony and Culture Workshop

Experience the art of the Japanese tea ceremony in a traditional setting. This tour not only introduces you to the ritualistic preparation and enjoyment of matcha but also offers insights into Japanese aesthetics and philosophy.

8. Seasonal Festivals and Events Tour

Depending on the time of your visit, join a tour that explores Hikone’s seasonal festivals and events. From cherry blossom viewing in spring to autumn leaf peeping and the Hikone Castle Festival, these tours celebrate the city’s seasonal beauty and traditional festivities.

9. Nature and Wildlife Photography Tour

Capture the stunning landscapes and wildlife of Hikone and Lake Biwa with a photography tour guided by a local expert. Whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned photographer, this tour offers unique opportunities to photograph the region’s scenic vistas and endemic species.

10. Local Craft and Artisan Tour

Explore Hikone’s artisanal heritage with a tour that takes you behind the scenes of local crafts. Visit workshops where traditional Japanese paper, pottery, and textiles are made, and learn about the skills and dedication behind these crafts.

Hikone Genkyuen Garden in Japan

Hikone Accommodations Guide: Hotels, Guesthouses and Hostels

Here’s a travel guide to some of the best places to stay in Hikone, ensuring a comfortable and memorable visit.

Luxury and Mid-Range Hotels

1. Comfort Hotel Hikone: Conveniently located near Hikone Station, this hotel offers comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and a complimentary breakfast, making it an excellent base for exploring the city and the surrounding Lake Biwa area.

2. Hikone Castle Resort & Spa: For those looking to indulge, this resort provides luxury accommodations with stunning views of Hikone Castle. Enjoy the spa facilities, fine dining restaurants, and the unique experience of staying in a room designed with traditional Japanese elegance in mind.

3. Hotel Sunroute Hikone: Just a stone’s throw away from the main attractions, Hotel Sunroute Hikone offers cozy rooms, friendly service, and all the essential amenities for a relaxing stay, including an on-site restaurant serving local and international cuisine.

Traditional Ryokans

4. Ryokan Beniayu: Situated on the shores of Lake Biwa, this ryokan offers a traditional Japanese stay experience with modern comforts. Enjoy tatami floors, futon beds, onsen baths, and kaiseki meals featuring local ingredients.

5. Hikone View Hotel: This ryokan combines traditional Japanese hospitality with spectacular views of Lake Biwa. Guests can relax in the hot spring baths and savor meals that showcase the region’s bounty.

Budget-Friendly Options

6. Guesthouse Muga: Offering both private rooms and dormitory-style accommodations, Guesthouse Muga is an excellent option for budget travelers. It’s located in the heart of Hikone, within walking distance of the castle and other major sights.

7. Hikone Station Hotel: With its convenient location near the train station, this hotel is ideal for travelers on the go. It provides basic, clean rooms at affordable prices, making it a great option for those looking to explore Hikone and the wider Shiga Prefecture.

Unique and Boutique Stays

8. Hotel Lakeland Hikone: This boutique hotel offers a unique stay experience with rooms that have direct views of Lake Biwa. It’s perfect for travelers seeking tranquility and a chance to connect with nature.

9. Cubes Hikone: A minimalist hotel offering a modern, design-focused stay experience. Cubes Hikone caters to travelers looking for a chic and comfortable base with easy access to the city’s main attractions.

Hostels for Backpackers

10. Kotonoha Hostel: With its friendly atmosphere, clean facilities, and communal spaces, Kotonoha Hostel is a favorite among backpackers. It’s an excellent place to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories over a cup of tea.

Lake Biwa is a great day trip from Hikone, Japan

Day Trips From Hikone, Japan

Here’s a selection of day trips that offer a deeper dive into the heart of Japan.

1. Kyoto

Just a short train ride away, Kyoto is the heart of Japan’s traditional culture, with its ancient temples, serene gardens, and timeless streets. Visit the iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine with its thousands of torii gates, explore the historic Gion district, and marvel at the golden Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto’s culinary scene, from matcha sweets to kaiseki dining, is a delight for food lovers. Each season, whether it’s cherry blossoms in spring or autumn leaves, transforms the city into a vibrant tableau of color.

2. Nara

Nara, Japan’s first permanent capital, is home to historic treasures including the Todai-ji Temple with its giant Buddha, the deer-filled Nara Park, and the lantern-lit Kasuga Taisha Shrine. It offers a glimpse into Japan’s early history and the foundation of its cultural heritage. Nara’s quaint streets and traditional teahouses provide a peaceful retreat from the modern world. Don’t miss the chance to feed the friendly deer, considered messengers of the gods.

3. Osaka

Known for its dynamic food scene, Osaka is a bustling metropolis where you can indulge in culinary delights such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki. The city’s vibrant atmosphere is best experienced in the neon-lit Dotonbori district or the historic Osaka Castle Park. For families, Universal Studios Japan offers a day of entertainment and adventure. Osaka’s blend of modernity and tradition makes it a fascinating contrast to the historical ambiance of Hikone.

4. Lake Biwa

As Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa offers numerous recreational activities, from cycling along its shores to cruising on its waters. The lake’s islands, such as Chikubu Island, are home to ancient shrines and breathtaking natural scenery. Enjoy the beaches in summer or the serene beauty of the lake in quieter seasons. Lake Biwa is a haven for nature lovers and those seeking a peaceful escape.

5. Koka

Known for its connection to ninja heritage, Koka offers an intriguing look into the world of these shadow warriors at the Koka Ninja Village. The area is also renowned for its pottery and the tranquil Miho Museum, which blends art, architecture, and nature. Explore the rural beauty of the Koka countryside, with its waterfalls and hiking trails. Koka provides a blend of adventure, culture, and natural beauty.

6. Ishiyama-dera

This ancient temple, located on the outskirts of Otsu, is known for its stunning architecture and scenic location on the side of Mount Ishiyama. It’s famed as the place where Murasaki Shikibu began writing “The Tale of Genji,” the world’s first novel. Ishiyama-dera’s gardens are especially beautiful in autumn when the maple leaves turn vibrant shades of red and orange. The temple offers a peaceful retreat and a chance to delve into Japan’s literary and spiritual history.

7. Uji

Famed for its high-quality green tea, Uji is a delightful town where you can learn about tea production, participate in tea ceremonies, and explore tea-themed shops and cafes. Visit the Byodoin Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its Phoenix Hall depicted on the 10-yen coin. Uji’s serene riverside setting and historic sites make it a charming destination for a leisurely day trip. The town’s blend of natural beauty, history, and tea culture is uniquely captivating.

8. Omihachiman

This historic merchant town, known for its beautifully preserved canal area and traditional buildings, offers a glimpse into Japan’s Edo period. Enjoy a boat ride on the Hachiman-bori Canal or explore the old merchant houses and museums. Omihachiman’s panoramic views from Mount Hachiman are breathtaking, especially during cherry blossom season. The town’s rich history and scenic beauty provide a quiet contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern life.

9. Mt. Hiei

A sacred mountain bordering Kyoto and Shiga, Mt. Hiei is home to the Enryaku-ji Temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site that has influenced Japanese Buddhism for centuries. Hiking trails offer stunning views of Lake Biwa and Kyoto, making it a perfect destination for nature enthusiasts and spiritual seekers. The mountain’s serene atmosphere and rich history offer a peaceful retreat. Mt. Hiei’s cable car provides easy access to its summit for those seeking the views without the hike.

10. Nagahama

Famous for its historic Nagahama Castle and the Kurokabe Square, this charming city offers a blend of history, culture, and craftsmanship. Explore the traditional glass workshops and quaint shops in Kurokabe Square. Nagahama’s local brewery and vibrant food scene offer a taste of local flavors. The city’s seasonal festivals, particularly the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival, are a vibrant display of local traditions and community spirit.

Hikone station in Japan

Hikone Transportation Guide

Here’s a complete travel guide to transportation in and around Hikone, ensuring you make the most of your visit to this enchanting city.

Arriving in Hikone

By Train: Hikone is well-connected by Japan’s extensive rail network. The city is served by the JR Biwako Line, offering easy access from major cities like Kyoto and Osaka. The Tokaido Shinkansen stops at Maibara Station, just a short local train ride away from Hikone, making it convenient for travelers coming from Tokyo or Nagoya.

By Bus: Long-distance buses from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka can be a cost-effective alternative to trains. Buses stop at Hikone Station, placing you right in the heart of the city.

Getting Around Hikone

Walking: Hikone’s compact size makes it a pedestrian-friendly city. Many of its attractions, including Hikone Castle, Genkyu-en Garden, and the Yumekyobashi Castle Road, are within walking distance of each other, making walking a pleasant and practical way to explore.

Rental Bicycles: For a bit more speed and flexibility, consider renting a bicycle. Hikone is bike-friendly, with rental shops near the train station offering daily rentals. Cycling is a great way to enjoy the city’s scenic beauty, especially the lakeside paths along Lake Biwa.

Taxis: Taxis are readily available in Hikone and provide a convenient option for direct travel to specific destinations, especially if you’re traveling in a group or with heavy luggage. They can be hailed on the street, found at taxi stands, or called in advance.

Local Buses: While Hikone’s main attractions are centrally located, local buses are available for trips to destinations that are further afield or to connect to nearby cities and towns around Lake Biwa. Bus routes and schedules can be obtained at the Hikone Station tourist information center.

Exploring Beyond Hikone

Trains for Regional Travel: The JR Biwako Line and Tokaido Main Line connect Hikone with other destinations around Lake Biwa and the wider Kansai region. For farther destinations like Kyoto, Osaka, or Nara, trains offer efficient and scenic travel options.

Rental Cars: If you plan to explore more remote areas around Hikone or Lake Biwa, renting a car might be a good option. Rental agencies are available in Hikone, offering flexibility to visit off-the-beaten-path sights at your own pace. Remember, driving in Japan requires an international driving permit.

Boats and Ferries on Lake Biwa: Take advantage of Hikone’s lakeside location to explore Lake Biwa by boat. Sightseeing cruises offer a unique perspective on the area’s natural beauty, and ferries connect to islands within the lake, offering day trip opportunities to explore more secluded spots.

Travel Tips

  • Japan Rail Pass: For international travelers planning extensive travel by train, the Japan Rail Pass offers unlimited use of JR trains for a fixed period, including the shinkansen (excluding Nozomi and Mizuho trains) and could be a cost-effective option.
  • IC Cards: For ease of use on public transport (trains, buses, and even some taxis), consider purchasing a rechargeable IC card like ICOCA or PASMO.
  • Stay Informed: Check for any travel advisories or schedule changes, especially during holiday periods or inclement weather, to ensure smooth travel plans.

Ise is a place to visit after Hikone, Japan

Where To Visit After Your Trip To Hikone?

Here’s a curated list of destinations to consider for your next journey, each offering its unique charm and a plethora of experiences that promise to enrich your travel narrative.

1. Kyoto

A short train ride from Hikone, Kyoto is the heart of Japan’s traditional culture, with over a thousand temples and shrines, including the golden Kinkaku-ji and the serene Kiyomizu-dera. Wander through the historic streets of Gion, where you might spot a geisha, or enjoy the tranquility of the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Each season transforms the city, from cherry blossoms in spring to vibrant autumn leaves. Kyoto’s culinary scene, from kaiseki dining to street food in Nishiki Market, is a delight for any food lover.

2. Osaka

Known for its vibrant atmosphere and hearty cuisine, Osaka offers a lively urban experience with its bustling Dotonbori district, iconic Osaka Castle, and the expansive Osaka Aquarium. Food enthusiasts will relish in takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) from street vendors. The city’s nightlife is among Japan’s best, with endless bars, clubs, and karaoke rooms. For families, Universal Studios Japan brings Hollywood magic to life with thrilling rides and entertainment.

3. Nara

Nara, Japan’s first capital, is home to historic treasures like the Todai-ji Temple, housing the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, and the friendly deer of Nara Park. The city’s ancient temples and shrines are interconnected by peaceful parks and gardens. Nara’s traditional neighborhoods offer a glimpse into Japan’s past. Don’t miss the chance to try kakinoha-zushi, sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves, a local delicacy.

4. Kanazawa

A bit farther but worth the journey, Kanazawa features beautifully preserved samurai and geisha districts, Kenrokuen (one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens), and modern art museums. The city is known for its crafts, including gold leaf production and Kaga yuzen silk dyeing. Seafood lovers will enjoy the fresh catches at Omicho Market. Kanazawa’s slower pace and rich cultural offerings make it a perfect next stop for those who appreciate the quieter side of Japan.

5. Takayama

In the heart of the Japanese Alps, Takayama is renowned for its well-preserved old town, morning markets, and traditional sake breweries. Explore the historic streets, sample Hida beef, and take a day trip to the nearby Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its gassho-zukuri farmhouses. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is considered one of Japan’s most beautiful. Takayama offers a blend of natural beauty and traditional Japanese culture.

6. Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a city of peace and resilience, with the Peace Memorial Park and Museum offering poignant insights into the effects of the atomic bomb. Miyajima Island, just a short ferry ride away, is home to the iconic floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine. The city’s culinary scene is famous for okonomiyaki, a savory layered pancake. Hiroshima serves as a powerful reminder of peace while offering beautiful landscapes and rich history.

7. Kobe

Kobe, nestled between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, is famous for its namesake beef, vibrant multicultural districts, and the scenic Harborland. The city recovered remarkably from the 1995 earthquake, showcased at the Earthquake Memorial Museum. Enjoy a panoramic view of Kobe from the Shin-Kobe Ropeway. The Kitano-cho district’s historic Western-style homes reflect Kobe’s cosmopolitan past.

8. Matsumoto

Matsumoto’s crowning jewel is its original black castle, one of Japan’s most beautiful. The city offers easy access to the Japanese Alps for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. Matsumoto is also a hub for artists and musicians, with galleries and venues throughout the city. Try soba noodles, a local specialty, in one of the many traditional restaurants.

9. Ise

Home to the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine, Ise is a city steeped in spiritual significance. The shrine’s serene atmosphere is enhanced by its surrounding ancient forests. Nearby, the Okage Yokocho and Oharai-machi districts offer a journey back in time with their Edo-period architecture and traditional shops. Enjoy the local seafood, particularly Ise-ebi (lobster), a regional delicacy.

10. Mount Koya

Mount Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, offering a unique spiritual experience with the opportunity to stay in temple lodgings and participate in morning prayers. The Okunoin Cemetery, with its moss-covered tombstones and towering cedar trees, is eerily beautiful. The journey to Mount Koya, involving cable cars and forested pathways, is as memorable as the destination itself. This sacred mountain offers tranquility and a deeper understanding of Japanese Buddhism.

Hikone bridge in Japan

Hikone Travel Guide: Final Thoughts

And just like that, our journey through the charming streets of Hikone draws to a close. Whether you came seeking a slice of samurai history, a peaceful lakeside retreat, or simply a quiet corner of Japan to explore, Hikone offers it all.  Let’s wrap up with some final thoughts on why Hikone will beckon you back, time and again.

A Castle That Stands the Test of Time

Unforgettable Silhouette: Hikone Castle, with its imposing structure and historical significance, isn’t just another checkpoint on your travel itinerary; it’s the soul of the city. Its survival through centuries stands as a testament to the endurance and beauty of Japanese heritage, inviting history buffs and curious minds to explore its depths.

Gastronomic Delights

A Feast for the Senses: From the savory satisfaction of Omi beef to the unique flavors of funazushi, Hikone’s culinary scene has taken us on a delectable journey. Each dish tells a story of the region’s bountiful produce and the meticulous care that goes into Japanese cuisine.

Nature’s Embrace

Lake Biwa’s Serene Beauty: The city’s proximity to Lake Biwa offers an escape to nature that rejuvenates the soul. The gentle lapping of the waves, the lush greenery, and the picturesque sunsets over the lake create moments of peace and contemplation that are hard to find in the bustling cities.

Cultural Immersion

Living Traditions: Hikone’s festivals, local crafts, and the warmth of its people give us a glimpse into the living culture that thrives in this small city. The experience is a reminder of the beauty in simplicity and the joy of slowing down to appreciate the finer details of life.

Parting Words

So, here’s to Hikone — a small city with a big heart, waiting to be rediscovered on your next visit. Safe travels, and until next time, keep the spirit of exploration alive.

Hikone flag in Japan

Ode To Hikone

In Hikone’s embrace, time takes flight, A castle’s grace, a garden’s delight. Through ancient streets, with tales untold, A city’s heartbeat, a story unfolds.

Hikone Castle stands tall and proud, Its walls echo whispers of history’s shroud. Samurai spirits linger within its keep, Guarding the secrets they eternally keep.

Genkyu-en Garden, tranquil and serene, Nature’s artistry, a picturesque scene. Cherry blossoms bloom in hues so fair, As we wander, entranced by the beauty we share.

Yume Kyobashi Castle Road’s nostalgic embrace, Whispers of the past, in each cobblestone trace. Traditional houses and shops line the way, A step back in time, to a bygone day.

From Hikone’s shores, Lake Biwa’s expanse, A tranquil retreat, a natural dance. Boat rides and vistas, a peaceful retreat, As the waters reflect nature’s serene feat.

Hikone, a city with a heart so warm, Where history and charm effortlessly swarm. Let us wander its streets, with eyes wide open, Discovering treasures, in this land unbroken.

So, travelers, venture to Hikone’s embrace, Where past and present find perfect space. Let its beauty and stories guide your way, As you create memories that forever will stay.

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