Hikone may be a small town, but it’s by no means a boring one! There are lots of things to do without even getting on a train. Here are some recommendations from past students and community members of places to go and things to see, all accessible by foot or bike.
Every JCMU student is given a bike to use while they’re enrolled in a program, and many Japanese people use them as a major form of transportation. From the JCMU building, you can bike into downtown Hikone and the surrounding area in less than 20 minutes. That means nature, shopping, food, and entertainment are all within reach!
In ten minutes, you can bike to the foot of Sawayama, a mountain once crowned by a castle occupied by the Ishida family. It was conquered and destroyed by Ii Naomasa, who built Hikone castle soon afterward. These days, not even ruins of the original structure can be seen. But it’s a short hike to the top of the mountain, and a great view of Hikone town from above. There are also a Buddhist temple and cemetery at the start of the hiking trail. It’s a steep climb, but not very long, and walking sticks are provided!
In fifteen minutes, you can visit Hikone Castle and Genkyuen garden. The castle is one of the few original structures of its age still standing in Japan, and the adjoining garden is also well-known. At Hikone castle, prepare for more climbing! There are many steps leading up the hill to the castle tower, and several extremely steep staircases inside. Also prepare to go barefoot, as it’s not allowed to wear shoes inside this kind of historic building. Genkyuen garden, on the other hand, has gently rolling slopes divided by streams and ponds. There’s also a traditional tea house, where you can sit and appreciate the natural beauty all around, as you enjoy handmade green tea and a Japanese sweet. While you’re in the area, make sure to catch one of Hikonyan’s daily performances!
In twenty minutes, you’ll be able to reach Hikone’s center for souvenir shopping and traditional goods. Castle Road is a pretty collection of flagstone streets, trendy restaurants, and Hikone-themed stores. It’s a great place to buy gifts for friends and family, whether they live in America, Japan, or elsewhere. Ranging from kitschy to chic, you’re sure to find something for everyone! You can also sample some of Hikone’s best food, including the recently created Hikone-don, a rice and meat bowl made from local ingredients and representing the town’s traditions.
You don’t need a bike to have a good time in Hikone. Although you may be limited in what you can see by how long you want to walk, there are plenty of things to do nearby the JCMU dorm. This is great if you don’t know how to ride a bike, or you have friends visiting who don’t have access to one.
In two minutes you can reach what you can see from most of the windows in the JCMU building: the shores of Lake Biwa. It may be worth strolling a little further, as part of the shore closest to the building is a concrete dock. Pollution, in the form of washed up trash and debris, is also common on many parts of the lakeshore. However, the view of the mountains on the other side of the lake and the setting sun make this an unskippable spot. It’s also a well-known bird habitat, and if you’re so inclined, you can sit and watch the cranes, crows, and Eurasian coots.
In six minutes, you can find the nearest Shinto shrine, Isozaki. It’s technically within Maibara city limits, so you can add visiting another town to your list, as well! Seemingly cut out of the cliff, this sacred area is home to a few small shrines and wooden buildings, constructed around the existing rocks and landscape features. For determined pilgrims, the true main body of the shrine is at the top of a small mountain, which you can hike up to as you purify your soul by the journey. Along the way to Isozaki, keep your eyes peeled for miniature shrines and small statues of Buddha; as well as a rock, split in two, that is said to bring good luck to couples.
In twenty minutes, the furthest you’ll be walking according to this list, you can experience a man-made hotspring. The onsen bath at the Kanpo no Yado hotel is a favorite with students and citizens of Hikone alike. Located on one of the top floors, this onsen features two different mineal waters, and a wall of windows looking out over Lake Biwa. The calming heat and steam relaxes your mind and body, and can also soothe sore muscels and soften skin. Whether you go for the medicinal properties or just to unwind, it’s a great way to get in touch with Japanese culture. Visit alone or with friends, but don’t be surprised if the other bathers strike up a conversation with you!
There’s lots to see and do in Shiga, and the nearby cities of Kyoto and Osaka. But little Hikone is full of adventure, and so much of it is easy to find! What local spots did you discover and grow to love in Hikone?