Hikone Castle, nestled in Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture, is categorized as a hirayama-jiro, a castle strategically built on a low hill with the surrounding flatlands integrated into its design. Remarkably, it stands as one of Japan's twelve castles with its original tower keep intact, proudly holding the distinction of being one of only five designated as National Treasures. The castle's inception dates back to 1603, commissioned by Ii Naomasa.

Originally, the Hikone region fell under the control of Ishida Mitsunari, who fortified his main castle on nearby Mt. Sawayama. However, following his defeat by Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, the Ishida domain faced turmoil, with Sawayama suffering partial destruction. Seizing the opportunity, Ieyasu bestowed the strategically vital lands upon his trusted ally, General Ii Naomasa. Disdainful of the associations with Ishida Mitsunari, Naomasa opted to build a larger, more formidable castle closer to Lake Biwa's eastern shores, a decision that birthed Hikone Castle.

Though Naomasa passed away before its completion in 1602, his sons, Naotsugu and later Naotaka, oversaw the twenty-year construction period. Given the ongoing military conflicts, many structures within Hikone Castle were repurposed from other castles, exemplifying resourcefulness amidst turmoil. For instance, the main keep of Hikone originated from Otsu Castle, dismantled after the Battle of Sekigahara. Hikone's keep, adorned with 18 sets of hafu (triangular roofing devices), stands as a testament to its architectural magnificence.

Renowned for its defensive prowess, Hikone Castle boasts ingenious features to thwart potential attackers. The sloping path leading to the central bailey, although appearing gentle, is deliberately designed with varying step dimensions to impede momentum and balance. The castle's Rokabashi Bridge, collapsible and strategically positioned, further deters intruders, enhancing the stronghold's impregnability.


Moreover, Hikone Castle harbors hidden secrets within its walls, including a small triangular-shaped chamber within the hafu. This clandestine room, accessible through a discreet hatchway, is believed to have been designed for ritual suicide in dire circumstances, ensuring the lord's dignity in defeat.

Beyond its defensive fortifications, Hikone Castle's allure extends to its picturesque surroundings, including the tranquil Genkyu Rakuen gardens and the historic Keyaki Goten palace residence. A visit to the castle museum offers insights into the legacy of the Ii clan, showcasing original artifacts and weaponry used by the family.


Shiga Prefecture's National Treasure, Hikone Castle, stands as a testament to Japan's feudal heritage and architectural prowess, inviting visitors to explore its rich history and timeless beauty.


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