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"The town where time passes slowly ". Here is Hikone, the biggest town on the shores of lake Biwa that was responsible for the transportation by boat, during Edo period (1603-1867). Hikone has a rich historic patrimony from the XVIIth to the XIXth centuries. Its castle, in the North of Shiga prefecture, was built in 1622, and change depending on seasons. It's beautiful in spring with cherry blossom, in summer with the luxurious vegetation, in autumn with the yellow to red mapples and in winter with the shining snow. In the moon light, it's really wonderful and classified as one of the 8 picturesque sceneries of the lake Biwa. Try to find Hikonyan, the mascotte of Hikone, who lives in the castle.

Hikone's castle

The Ii clan, whom Hikone's lord belonged, was in charge of the security of Kyoto and if necessary, had the secret mission to evacuate to Hikone the Emperor who lived in Kyoto. That's why they had 120 boats which some of them could rally those 2 towns in less than 3 hours and the others could transport lots of soldiers. As Emperors of Kyoto were never attacked in this period, the lords of Hikone used their boats in the moat for inspection, to receive the nobility or hawk. Protected by 2 moats, Hikone's castle, which is a good example of Japanese architecture, has kept the appearance it had 400 years ago.

The main tower, Tenshu, whose walls are made of chalk, is at the top of the hill and is surrounded by battlements. It's only 21m height. Triangular parts of the roof (hafu), are harmoniously combined, like bird's wings. 4 small rooms, 2 of them in the 1st floor and 2 of them in the 2nd floor, are hidden in those parts. The irregular shape of roofs unable enemies to climb up onto them.

Arrow slits, allowing to fire with a rifle or a bow, are concealed with the plaster of walls to be invisible from outside. There are 75 of those so called zama in this tower. In addition to Hikone's castle, original main towers can only be seen in Himeji's, Matsumoto's and Inuyama's castles.

The most famous person in Hikone is Ii Naosuke. He was born in 1815 in a rich palace, near the castle, currently called Rakuraku-en and Genkyu-en, as the 14th son of the Ii family. Her mother, Otomi, died when he was 5 years old. Disinherited, he left the palace after his father died and lived in a residence near the moat of the castle. He named his residence Umoregi-no-ya, which means "the house of the concealed tree". He was determined to die in this residence and studied zen, litterature, poems, no theatre, kyogen and tea ceremony. Erudite, he became the lord of Hikone at the age of 35, after his elder brother died of illness.

Ii Naosuke is wellknown in Japan because after he became responsible for political affairs during the Edo shogunate, he signed in 1858 the nippo-american treaty of trade arrangement. Similar treaties, that deposed Japan from its sovereignty, were signed the same year with the Netherlands, Russia, England and France. When he was 46 years old, in front of the gate Sakurada-mon of the Edo castle, he was murdered by Jôi-ha, supporters of the deportation of immigrants. It was on the 3rd of march 1860, a snowy day...

The Genkyu-en garden is beautiful with its huge pond of 9 bridges. This kind of Japanese garden, called Kaiyu-shiki, "walkway garden", is designed to admire a wide variety of sceneries, while walking. Japanese gardens respect the natural aspect of landscapes. This garden is said to express the 8 landscapes of China or those of the lake Biwa. The water of the pond comes from the moats that were siphoned off.




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