Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hikone Castle

Hubby and I had been to hubby’s ancestral home (jikka) during Obon holidays from 12th to 15th August. Obon is an annual Buddhist event to commemorate our ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the spirits of ancestors return to this world in order to visit their relatives. Last year I had written a blog about Obon, which is posted here. Hubby's jikka is in Ichinomiya city of Aichi prefecture, which is in the suburbs of Nagoya. Hubby and I did a bit of sightseeing before going to jikka. We visited Hikone Castle in Shiga prefecture, met a few of hubby’s relatives in Okazaki city of Aichi prefecture, and then went to jikka. On the morning of 12th August, we took a flight from Akita airport and after about an hour we reached Komaki airport in Nagoya. At Komaki airport, we took a limousine bus and went to Nagoya railway station. Then we took a train to Hikone railway station and reached Hikone at about 2.45 pm. At Hikone station we hired a taxi and went to Hotel Route Inn, where we were going to spend the night. We left our baggage at the front desk of the hotel and then using the same taxi, we went to see Hikone Castle. Before writing about our sightseeing experiences, I will briefly introduce the history of Hikone Castle.
Suit of armor in the Gusoku style of Edo period exhibited at Hikone railway station

Hikone Castle is the most famous historical site in Hikone of Shiga prefecture. The castle is one of the four national heritage castles, along with Inuyama Castle in Aichi, Himeji Castle in Hyogo, and Matsumoto Castle in Nagano. It is an Edo period castle. Ii Naomasa, a Tokugawa daimyo administrator, received Sawayama Castle and surrounding areas as a fief from Tokugawa Ieyasu for his work in the Battle of Sekigahara. But due to its inconvenient location and poor condition due to a fire, he planned for a new castle on a new location that would become Hikone Castle. However, Naomasa died soon after and the castle was actually begun under his son Naokatsu (also known as Naotsugu) in 1603. Tokugawa's policy of destroying all castles except for one in each feudal domain led to the destruction of many castles around the area. Many gates and turrets (yagura) from the remains of those destroyed castles were incorporated into the construction of Hikone Castle. These castles include the Nagahama (which was built using materials from Kotani Castle), Sawayama, and Otsu. The donjon (castle tower) of Hikone Castle is famous for having used several types of gables, unique construction techniques, and various architecture styles to make it well fortified. The main tower (tenshu in Japanese) of the Hikone Castle was originally five floors and part of the Otsu Castle. After Otsu Castle was destroyed, the tenshu was removed and went to the Hikone Castle with only three floors. Also, three moats were constructed around the castle to keep the invaders out. It took 19 years for the construction of the castle, and was finally completed in 1622 under Naokatsu's younger brother Naotaka who had become lord of the castle in 1615. The castle served as the residence of the local Ii daimyo (feudal lords) for 14 generations until the end of Japan's feudal age in 1868. The present day Hikone Castle is an original castle. The castle survived the post feudal era war battles and the castle demolition policy of the Meiji Government. The donjon tower and most of the inner moats, walls, guard houses, and gates remain intact, which gives visitors a good impression of a relatively complete feudal castle.

Our taxi driver dropped hubby and me just in front of the main entrance of Hikone Castle area. There was a stone monument marker sign indicating that Hikone Castle is one of the ‘Omi Hakkei’ or eight views of Omi in the spring. Next to the stone monument was the Omotemon Bridge over the inner moat of the castle. It was a wooden bridge with bronze giboshi (ornamental pillar capping on the bridge handrail). The view of the moat from the bridge was wonderful. After crossing the bridge, we reached the main entrance to the castle area. There was a ticket office at the entrance where we had to pay 600 Yen per person as castle admission fee.
Stone monument sign indicating that Hikone Castle is one of the eight views of Omi in spring

Omotemon Bridge

Me standing on Omotemon Bridge over the inner moat

Sign indicating the entrance to Hikone Castle

After purchasing the tickets, we started walking up the Omotezaka path that led to several gates, turrets, and the main castle tower. It was a rather steep and rugged pathway. We could clearly visualize that getting through the pathway would not have been an easy task for an enemy intruder.
Omotezaka path to castle tower

Omotezaka path and a part of Tenbin Yagura

After climbing for some more time, we reached Tenbin Yagura and Rokabashi Bridge, one of the famous symbols of the castle. Near Tenbin yagura there were several examples of the amazing stone base structures of the castle. There was a very convoluted approach to the yagura. After crossing the path under the bridge, the path looped around to the left. After walking up this looped pathway, we reached the front of Rokabashi Bridge and Tenbin Yagura. Rokabashi Bridge was designed is such a way that it could be easily torn down during a war, and is also so architecturally unique that it remains the only such bridge in Japan. Tenbin means a pair of balance scale in Japanese, and the yagura is named as balance scale tower because of the symmetric design of the turret. It is said that this tower was moved from Otemon front gate of Nagahama Castle, originally built for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This structure is thought to be the only example of its type in Japan. The stones on the right side of the tower wall are built up in the style of gobo-zumi (lower walls constructed of large fitted boulders and resulting gaps filled with smaller stones) but the left side has been reconstructed from the base and layered in the style of otoshi-zumi. Tenbin Yagura is an important cultural property.
Tenbin Yagura and Rokabashi Bridge

Walking up the looped path near Tenbin Yagura

Front view of Tenbin Yagura and Rokabashi Bridge

Hubby standing near the Rokabashi Bridge

Right end of Tenbin Yagura turret

Left end of Tenbin Yagura turret

After crossing the Tenbin Yagura, we again started climbing the steps that led to Taikomon Yagura Gate. Path to the gate was really steep, and we were very tired of climbing up the steps. After climbing for some time, we reached the time signal bell called Jihosho. The bell was recast in 1844 at the time of the 12th lord Ii Naoaki. It was moved to the present position because the bell sound did not reach the northern end of the castle town. Now it is rung five times daily at 06 am, 09 am, 12 noon, 03 pm, and 06 pm. In 1996, Environment Agency selected the time-keeping bell of Hikone Castle as one of the ‘hundred soundscapes of Japan’.
Path to Taikomon Yagura

Steps leading to Taikomon Yagura

Time signal bell Jihosho

Hubby and Jihosho

Next, on our steps up the path was the Taikomon Yagura turret gate. This is the gate just before we reach the main castle tower. The yaguramon gate was to fortify the turret and served as the front entrance of the main castle enclosure. The gate was unusually unique as the back of the building was an open corridor with a banister. Taikomon means Taiko drum gate. It had a taiko drum that was beaten to convey signals to the inner castle. Taikomon yagura is an important cultural property. Inside the Taikomon Gate, there is an exhibition room for photos of Japanese castles and a model of Hikone Castle. However, we skipped going inside as hubby was too tired due to a very hot and humid weather.
Front of Taikomon Yagura turret

Exhibition room inside the Taikomon Gate

After passing through the Taikomon Yagura, we finally reached the Hikone Castle main tenshu tower. The main tower is designated as a national treasure. The castle tenshu looked superb. The stone base of the tenshu is only five meters tall, and the structure itself rises another sixteen meters. The tenshu, while smaller than most others of its era at three stories with a basement, is quite stylish. It is built in the Momoyama style and the structure demonstrates the superior design required of a castle during the periods of war. With its artistic arrangement of different roof styles, different sized windows on the tower with elaborately designed lotus-petal shaped windows on the second and third floors, and the balustrades or railings that surround the verandas on the third floor, the external appearance of the tenshu tower is spectacular, beautiful, and unique. The tenshu tower was originally the five-storied castle tower of Otsu Castle whose lord was Kyogoku Takatsugu. After the Otsu Castle was destroyed, only the upper three stories of the castle were moved here in 1606. Hikone Castle tower with its black roof tiles, white-chalk colored walls, and details decorated in gold, maintains its noble and heroic appearance as a symbol of Hikone city and bewitches everyone with its simple but powerful beauty. We took several photos of the castle tenshu from various angles.
Front view of Hikone Castle main tenshu tower

Me in front of Hikone Castle tenshu

Hubby in front of Hikone Castle tenshu

View of Hikone Castle main tower slightly from the left

Enlarged view of the castle main tower

View of Hikone Castle main tower from the left

View of Hikone Castle main tower slightly from the right

After climbing up to the top of the hill in a very hot (37 degrees Celsius) and humid summer day, hubby and I were both very tired. So before entering the castle tower, we had some cold drinks and took rest for a while. We got some relief from the oppressing heat by entering the semi-dry fog outdoor cooling system that was located at the grounds of the main castle tower for the visitors. The system gave out controlled mist shower, which felt very relieving in the hot and humid weather.
Hubby standing inside semi-dry fog outdoor cooling system and enjoying the mist shower

After taking rest at the grounds of the main castle tower for about 20 minutes, we entered the tenshu tower building. The entrance to the castle tower was rather small. At the first floor of the tower, there was a display of the type of ornamental roof tiles and shachihoko used in the construction and architectural design of the castle tenshu roof. Shachihoko is an animal in Japanese folklore with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp fish and it was believed that this animal could cause the rain to fall. Castles were usually adorned with shachihoko in order to protect them from fire.
Entrance to the castle tower

Display of ornamental roof tiles and shachihoko used in the construction of tenshu

Display of ornamental roof tiles and shachihoko used in the construction of tenshu

The staircase leading to the second floor was extremely steep. I had some difficulty in climbing the steps of the staircase. At the second floor, there was another display of the type of roof tiles used in the construction of Hikone Castle.
Extremely steep staircase inside the tower

Display of roof tiles used in the construction of Hikone Castle

Display of roof tiles used in the construction of Hikone Castle

After climbing another steep staircase leading to the third floor, we both were rather tired. Hubby sat down on the floor of the third floor and took some rest. The interior of the top floor, though small, was very remarkable. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all made up of timber wood. The windows were small but the interior of the tenshu was full of light. We got a beautiful view of the Biwa Lake from the window of the castle tower.
Hubby taking rest at the top floor of the castle tenshu

Top floor ceiling of the castle tenshu

Outside view from the castle tower

Outside view from the castle tower

After spending about 15 minutes at the top floor of the tenshu tower, we came out of the castle tenshu. We went down all the rugged stone steps and after about 20 minutes of walking down the path, we reached back to the main entrance area of the castle premises. Hubby and I really loved Hikone Castle. Next, we went to see the Hikone Castle Museum, which was located adjacent to the ticket office at the entrance area. I will write about our visit to the Hikone Castle Museum in the next post.

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