Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Hikone – A City in Kansai Perfect for a Weekend Getaway

Hikone City on the east coast of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture is a great destination for a historical, cultural, and scenic rich short trip away from the big cities. Even if you only have half a day, you can still have much fun at the national treasure Hikone Castle and the surrounding township. But we recommend planning a two-day trip for more time to explore exciting attractions in other parts of the city.

Below is a list of attractions we reckon might be worthwhile for you to visit. Check them out and start planning!

How to Get to Hikone by Public Transportation

Hikone can be easily reached by taking a JR train to JR Hikone Station (彦根駅).

  • From JR Ōtsu Station (大津駅), it is around a 40-minute train ride by taking the express train.
  • If you are coming from Nagoya or Osaka, take a bullet train to JR Maibara Station and change for the southbound trains to get to Hikone. From Maibara to Hikone, it is just a 5-minute train ride.
    • From JR Nagoya Station (名古屋駅), it is around a 25-minute train ride by taking the bullet train to JR Maibara Station (米原駅).
    • From JR Shin-Osaka Station (新大阪駅), it is around a 35-minute train ride by taking a bullet train.

If you are coming from Kyoto, you can also take a bullet train to JR Maibara Station and transfer to JR Hikone Station. But, considering the waiting time for the connecting train from Maibara to Hikone, it might be a better idea just to take an express train from Kyoto.

  • From JR Kyoto Station (京都駅),
    • It is around a 20-minute train ride by taking a bullet train to JR Maibara Station.
    • It takes around an hour by local train to get to JR Hikone Station. A limited train or an express train will get you to Hikone in around 40 – 50 minutes.

Hikone City Tourist Information Center (彦根市観光案内所)

Once you get off the train at JR Hikone Station, head to the Hikone City Tourist Information Center at the station’s west exit.

The staff there can help you to plan your day. But more importantly, there should be booklets with the city map, which include coupons that can be used in various facilities in Hikone.

So remember to grab one and start saving!

Bicycle Rental at Hikone

In Hikone, several facilities provide bicycle rental services at a reasonable price. For more information, please refer to the official website HERE and translate the page to English using Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

The electric-assisted bicycle can be rented out for as little as 1,000 yen per day!

Daishi-ji Temple (大師寺)

Just a few-minute walk away from Hikone Station, Daishi-ji is a small temple that enshrines something unusual. If you haven’t been to a temple with the main image lying down on a futon bed, it is probably time to visit one!

The Shingon sect (真言宗) temple has the sect’s founder – Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), as the main image. And while there is a statue of Kōbō Daishi sitting on the altar at the far end, the bronze Kōbō Daishi statue lying on the table in front of the altar will surely catch your attention first.

So why is he relaxing on a futon bed? It isn’t because he got too tired, but to illustrate an episode of the temple’s founder.

The starting point of Daishi-ji started in 1931 when a lady donated money to a monk for him to buy a new pair of straw sandals. She later became a nun, and while she devoted herself to Buddhism studies, she received a message from Kōbō Daishi in her dream.

In the dream, she was asked to spread the teaching of the Shingon sect in Shiga Prefecture, which had few believers. Because Kōbō Daishi is said to be falling into a deep meditation lying down, a statue of him in the same position was curved.

Another notable thing about this statue is that inside his head, there is an O-Shari (お舎利). O-Shari is a part of the ashes of Gautama Buddha. Daishi-ji got the ashes from the Tō-ji (東寺) Temple in Kyoto.

A simple ritual you can do when you get there is, while you stroke Kōbō Daishi’s head and say your wishes in your heart, chant ‘Namu Daishi Henjō Kongō’ (南無大師遍照金剛). This way, your prayer is likely to come true!

Another fun thing is lifting the green crystal ball in front of Kōbō Daishi. The stone called ‘Omokaru-ishi’ (おもかる石) is magical. While you make a wish, lift the ball up. If it feels lighter than usual, your wish will likely be granted.

How to Get to Daishi-ji

From Hikone Station (彦根駅), it is a 5-minute walk. Walking towards Hikone Castle, please use the sidewalk on the left.

Chiyo Shrine (千代神社)

The next religious attraction close to Hikone Station is Chiyo Shrine. The special thing about this small shrine is its fortune slips. Unlike the slips in other Japanese shrines and temples that are just a piece of paper, at Chiyo Shrine, we should probably call it a fortune “fan” (´▽`*).

The main god for Chiyo Shrine is Ameno Uzume no Mikoto (天宇受売命). She is the goddess who mastered all sorts of arts.

In Japanese mythology, it is said that if she didn’t dance in front of the rock door of the cave where the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu Ōmikami (天照大神), was hiding, the world would still be in darkness.

Nowadays, people come to Chiyo Shrine to pray for their success in their entertainment-related careers as well as to master all sorts of skills. Therefore, the messages from the god aren’t written on paper. Rather, a properly made fan was ordered from the Maisen-dō (舞扇堂) in Kyoto.

The fan is painted splendidly on one side with your fortune written on the other. It makes the perfect ornament for your home. Or, if you want to treat it as a charm, purchase the ‘omamori-bukuro’ (御守袋) to put your fan in (the pink pouch in the photo)!

Furthermore, you can request someone else to draw the fortune slip for you at Chiyo Shrine. But make sure your representative tells god that the prayer is for you and doesn’t open the package of the fortune slip for you.

In other words, the fan can be a souvenir for your family and friends (^_-)-☆.

A Brief History of Chiyo Shrine

Although the exact founding year stays unclear, according to the shrine’s documentation, Chiyo Shrine was erected during the time of Emperor Kōgen (孝元天皇), who passed away in 158 BC. This makes Chiyo Shrine the oldest shrine in Hikone.

Fast forward to the time when Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成) was constructing Sawa Castle (佐和山城), he relocated the shrine to Mt. Hikone (彦根山) because he thought it would be rude to look down at the shrine from the castle.

However, after the Battle of Sekigahara, when Ii Naomasa (井伊直政) was building Hikone Castle, Chiyo Shrine was moved back to where it was originally.

1638, the shrine was relocated and revived by the 3rd lord of the Hikone Domain, Ii Naotaka (井伊直孝). It was also when the shrine’s main hall was built. The worship hall is decorated with lacquerware and painted in various colors.

Tip: If you wish to check out the exterior of the main hall up close, speak to the staff at the shrine office. They might be able to let you in.

Chiyo Shrine was called Chiyo-gū up until 1869. In 1966, the shrine experienced another relocation because the cement dust from the concrete factory close by gave the shrine a hard time.

The relocation was decided and completed in 1966. At its current location, the main hall designated as an Important National Cultural Property is free from highly polluted air.

Each year, from the 3rd to the 5th of May, Spring Festival is held at Chiyo Shrine. Three festival floats and horses are paraded in the city center, adding another highlight for the visitors of Hikone Castle Town.

Chiyo Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The shrine’s precinct can be entered at any time, but the shrine office is only open from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • From JR Hikone Station (彦根駅), it is less than a 15-minute walk.
  • If you are taking a bus, get off at Kyōmachi Nichōme (京町二丁目).

Hikone Castle (彦根城)

One of the most famous attractions around Japan’s biggest lake, Lake Biwa, is Hikone Castle. The castle that was never under attack maintained its graceful appearance throughout the last 400 years. Because of the beautiful scenery on its ground, even those not interested in castles will pay it a visit when they travel to Shiga Prefecture.

For more information, please refer to our article on Hikone Castle!

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Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road (夢京橋 キャッスル口一ド)

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Because you might spend 2 – 3 hours strolling around Hikone Castle, you will probably need some morning or afternoon tea afterwards.

Stop by the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road, which continues 350 meters from the castle’s Kyōbashi Bridge. It is the perfect area for resting and enjoying some desserts, Japanese or Western, your pick.

Want to know which shop/cafe to head to? Check out our Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road article!

Japanese Sweets Shop Sawaizumi (和菓子処 さわ泉)

If you happen to be ending your visit to Hikone Castle with Hikone Castle Museum, the next place you can head to is Japanese Sweets Shop Sawaizumi.

Especially during the cherry blossom season from mid to late March, you can restfully enjoy the gorgeous scenery through the dining area window. Although there are only a few window seats, the window is large enough for everyone to see Hikone Castle across the moat.

The shop has been in business for four generations. They aim to make sweets they want their children to eat as snacks. This makes our hearts rest at ease because we know only natural ingredients are used.

Their Mitarashi Dango rice cake (みたらし団子) is their signatory menu item (refer to the skewer at the right in the photo). The rice cakes are grilled so that the surface is crispy, and unlike many Dango rice cakes sold in Japan, their Dango is relatively light. With the sweet soy sauce covering the freshly grilled Dango, you will definitely ask for a second skewer!

An advanced version of Mitarashi Dango is the Namajōyu Dango (生じょうゆ団子). This is the skewer at the left in the photo above. After adding the soy sauce, the rice cakes are then grilled again. The burnt soy sauce scent just makes it hard to resist putting another Dango into your mouth!

Apart from the rice cakes sold in the cafe area, you can also grab a few of their traditional confectionaries on your way out. All of them are handmade without preservatives.

Japanese Sweets Shop Sawaizumi’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Sawaizumi is open from 10 am to 5 pm from Tuesday to Saturday, all public holidays and the day before a public holiday.
  • From JR Hikone Station (彦根駅), it is a 10-minute walk.

Takei Island (多景島)

Not too far from Hikone Castle, Hikone Port (彦根港) is where you can board the ferry to a small sacred island with various landscapes on Lake Biwa.

Takei Island is another spot in the city where you can find footprints of the Ii Clan. It is also a sacred place for the Hokkei school of Buddhism.

Moreover, Japan’s only Buddha fasting statue is enshrined on this uninhabited island.

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For more information, please refer to our Takei Island article!

Tennei-ji Temple (天寧寺)

Tennei-ji, situated on the top of a hill, was founded by Ii Naonaka (井伊直中), the 13th lord of the Hikone Domain. The reason for building this temple is quite sad.

In 1819, the Genkyū Rakuraku-en Garden (玄宮楽々園) in Hikone Castle forbade male entry. But, a castle maid named Wakatake (若竹) was found pregnant. Although she was asked to identify the man who broke the rule, she remained quiet. Consequently, she was executed according to the rule at the time.

However, it was later discovered that the guy who made Wakatake pregnant was Naonaka’s first son, Naokiyo (直清). Regretting wronging Wakatake and killing his grandson, Naonaka ordered to build Tennei-ji for Wakatake and the child who didn’t come to the world.

Furthermore, Komai Chōun (駒井朝運), the famous Buddha scalper in Kyoto, was called to make the statues of the Five Hundred Arhats (五百羅漢). It is said that among the Five Hundred Arhats, one is bound to see the face he wants. By having the statues enshrined in the temple, Naonaka was hoping to see his first grandchild’s face.

For us tourists, if you love to examine Buddhist art, you will be amazed by the 527 statues (the main image, the Ten Principal Disciples, the Sixteen Arhats, and the Five Hundred Arhats) placed in the Rakan Hall (羅漢堂).

The Maitreya Bodhisattva at Tennin-ji

At the back of the Rakan Hall, there is a golden statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩薩). This giant wooden statue weighing 300 kg is the biggest wooden Maitreya Bodhisattva statue in Japan, and you get various benefits by touching different parts of him!

It is said that if you touch his belly button, your secret saving will increase in value. Touching his fan will bring you good luck. And the illness that comes your way will be sealed if you touch his bag!

So when you get there, don’t forget to give this statue a good stroke (^_-)-☆.

Tennin-ji’s Gardens

The temple has two gardens. One is between the main hall and the Rakan Hall. The white stone in the middle of the garden represents the Gautama Buddha in the main hall. The 16 stones surrounding the white stone are the Sixteen Arhats (十六羅漢) in the Rakan Hall.

The statues of the Sixteen Arhats were gifted by the feudal lords of 16 different provinces at the time.

The other garden that was also completed in 1819 under Ii Naosuke’s (井伊直弼) supervision is a garden in Chisen Kenshō-shiki Style (池泉鑑賞式), a water garden designed for visitors to appreciate the water features placed in the garden. Unfortunately, with the aging of the Shoin Hall (書院), the garden has been closed to the public.

Tip: You can take a peek of the Chisen Kenshō-shiki garden from Tennei-ji Daikannon Hall (天寧寺 大観音), which is on high ground.

Lastly, after the 13th lord of the Hikone Domain was assassinated in Sakuradamon Incident (桜田門外の変), his blood-stained relics were brought back to Hikone and placed in the pagoda made for him in Tennin-ji.

Tennin-ji’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Tennin-ji is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • The admission fee is 400 yen.
  • From JR Hikone Station (彦根駅), it is less than a 20-minute walk
  • You can also take Ōmi Bus (近江バス) from Hikone Station and get off at Tenninji-guchi (天寧寺口)

Ryōtan-ji Temple (龍潭寺) and the Surrounding Temples Related to the Ii Clan

At the foot of Mt. Sawa (佐和山), not too far away from Hikone Station, there are three temples that have a deep connection with the Ii Clan, which was in charge of the Hikone Domain. Because of their history, these temples are popular tourist destinations after visiting Hikone Castle. If you have more than half a day in Hikone, how about hiking up to the temples and admiring the Japanese gardens and traditional architecture?

For more information, please refer to our article on Ryōtan-ji, Seiryō-ji, and Ōhora Benzaiten!

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The Former Nakasendō Toriimoto-juku and Takamiya-juku Post Town (旧中山道鳥居本宿・高宮宿)

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You might have heard about the Former Nakasendō (旧中山道), one of the five major government routes of the Edo period. Whilst the two most famous post towns are the Tsumago-juku (妻籠宿) in Nagano and Magome-juku (馬籠宿) in Gifu, two of the post towns are in Hikone. And they are surprisingly not too far away from JR Hikone Station!

For more information on the post towns, please refer to our article on The Old Post Towns on the Former Nakasendō in Hikone.

Taga Taisha Shrine (多賀大社)

In the south of Hikone City, Taga Taisha (多賀大社) is one of the most prominent shrines in the region. It is one of those shrines that can still woo you even if you are tired of visiting Japanese shrines. With a history of more than 1,300 years, it is one of the country’s oldest shrines. And what comes with the long history is a unique rice cake that you probably won’t be able to find elsewhere!

For more information, please refer to our Taga Taisha article.

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Jūō Village’s Spring Water (十王村の水)

If, for any reason, you want to taste some fresh spring water, there is a spring source around 15-minute away from JR Minami-Hikone Station (南彦根駅).

In the past, the area where the spring source was located was called Jūō Village. The water gushing out of the fountain is the underground water from the Inukami River (犬上川). Since ancient times, the spring has been known as one of the Top Three Water Sources in Eastern Lake Biwa (湖東三名水).

Even now, the water quality remains suitable for drinking. Chosen as one of Japan’s Top 100 Water Sources in 1985, the locals not only use it for domestic purposes, but some tourists visit this part of Hikone to source some of the spring water!

What is so unique about this water? Apparently, in the good old days, a girl in the Jūō village was married to a distant village. After she gave birth to a child, she couldn’t produce breastmilk. Miraculously, milk started flowing out of her breast after she drank the water from her hometown! Learning the news, the locals began treating the water as having some spiritual power, and a Jizō of Breast Milk (母乳の地蔵様) was enshrined at the spring source. Each year, rituals are held to worship the Jizō.

Nowadays, the spring source is maintained as a pond with the Jizō Bodhisattva (地蔵菩薩) enshrined in the small worship hall in the middle.

Is Jūō Village’s Spring Water Delicious?

Putting whether Jūō Village’s Spring Water has a special power or not aside, is the water delicious?

The short answer is yes!

The water is rich in minerals. Water sampling shows that one liter contains around 56 – 63 mg of minerals.

Moreover, the water’s hardness is at the soft end as well. And because it constantly flows, the temperature is around 14 degrees, making it perfect for drinking, especially in the hot summer.

Recently, it has been used as drinking water and for sake brewing. Carp fish live happily in the pond, too (´▽`*).

Important: It isn’t easy to maintain the water quality here. Please show your manners and don’t leave a mess when you come.

Please note that if you drive, the fountain doesn’t have a car park attached.

Shōsakai Park (庄堺公園)

Although not in the city center, Shōsakai Park is a must-go attraction if you love flowers.

The park is free to enter and is divided into three areas: rose garden, iris garden, and herbs garden.

In the 2,000 square meters wide rose garden, around 78 varieties of roses are planted. The elegant fragrance produced by more than 1,250 plants will surround you if you visit between the 20th of May and the 10th of June or from mid-October to early November.

Shōsakai Park’s iris garden is also spacious, with a size of 1,200 meters. More than 2,000 iris are planted for you to discover the beauty of 28 different kinds of iris flowers that will be blooming from early to mid-June.

In early November, it is the time of the year when both roses and fall colors can be adored at the same time!

How to Get to Shōsakai Park

From JR Minami-hikone Station’s (南彦根駅) west exit, take Kokoku Bus’s Minami Hikone Kenritsu Daigaku Line (南彦根県立大学線) and get off at Shōsakai Park-guchi (庄堺公園口). It will be less than a 10-minute bus ride.

As the number of services is limited, please check the timetable HERE to plan.

Discover Other Exciting Attractions in Nagahama City

Nagahama, the second biggest city in Shiga Prefecture, is rich in history and nature. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s success in becoming the leader of Japan in the second half of the 16th century is said to have started from here.

Apart from the cultural and historical attractions, the city will also excite shopaholics and figurine manias!

For more information, please refer to our article on Nagahama (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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Click the photo to find out where else you might be interested in visiting when you come to Nagahama!

Visiting Mt. Hiei, One of Japan’s Top Three Holiest Places

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Click the photo to find out more about Mt. Hiei!

Mt. Hiei or Hieizan (比叡山) is one of the Three Holiest Places in Japan. The worship halls and pagodas of the World Heritage – Enryakuji Temple are scattered throughout the mountain. The temple that is the headquarter of Japan’s Tendai sect has nurtured well-respected monks in Japanese history.

To find out more about this sacred destination, please refer to our article on Mt. Hiei!

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