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  • Writer's picture Japan Culture Guide

Just a short distance from Kyoto. Hikone is the town of the once-in-a-lifetime tea ceremony.

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Theme: Samurai, Tea Ceremony, Religious Faith

1. Overview

Hikone City in Shiga Prefecture is first introduced as a place to visit where you can avoid the crowds and enjoy Japanese culture leisurely. It is conveniently located between Nagoya and Kyoto on the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo, making it a convenient stopover before heading to Kyoto from Tokyo.

Facing Lake Biwa, Hikone was home to Hikone Castle, where the feudal lord Ii family resided during the Edo period. It is one of only five national treasures in Japan and was built in the 17th century. Ii Naosuke, who served as a Grand Elder of the Edo Shogunate and concluded the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States about 150 years ago, spent his young and unfortunate days in a burial mansion outside Hikone Castle. Naosuke was also an excellent tea master, and his famous tea ceremony spirit of "Ichigo Ichie," or "once in a lifetime meeting," has been handed down to the present day. This samurai residence and tea house is a must-see place to learn about the spirit of the tea ceremony. From Hikone, there is a regular boat service to Chikubushima, an island of ancient faith on Lake Biwa, and from Chikubushima, visitors can travel to the opposite shore of Lake Biwa, where Hieizan is located.

2. Must-see spots

picture of Japanese Hikone castle
Hikone castle

1) Hikone castle

Hikone Castle is a 17th-century castle construction. The castle's lord, the Ii family, was a man of courage and served the shogun as his close aide and held a high position in the Edo shogunate. The castle tower, a national treasure, is perched on a hill, and the curves of the roof and the arrangement of the windows in traditional shapes are wonderful. Inside the castle, the palace, Japanese garden, and Noh stage, which were the living quarters of the feudal lord, remain, vividly evoking the life of the samurai of that time.

Wooden old house for samurai
Umoreginoya (Samurai house)

2. Umoreginoya

Naosuke Ii, the 13th lord of the feudal domain, was a politician who even served as the highest-ranking Oro (Grand Elder) of the Edo Shogunate, but he was not originally a successor to the feudal lord and was supposed to spend the rest of his life in this small samurai residence. By a twist of fate, Naosuke was suddenly welcomed as the feudal lord, but during his impoverished life at Umoreginoya, he devoted himself to the arts, especially the tea ceremony, and left behind his famous words, "Ichigo ichie" ("Once in a lifetime meeting"). Umoreginoya is a quiet place where the spirit of the samurai's tea ceremony is strongly felt. Umoreginoya website

Lake Biwa and a shrine
Chikubujima on Lake Biwa

3. Lake Biwa

Hikone City faces Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, and visitors can take a liner from Hikone Port to Chikubujima, a small island with a circumference of 2 km in the northern part of Lake Biwa. Chikubujima has long been known as an island of faith protected by a mysterious god, and two national treasures are located in temples and shrines on the island. The island itself is designated as a national scenic and historic site.

3. Access

JR Hikone station (7 minutes from Maibara station on Tokaido Shinkansen, or about 1 hour from Kyoto station by train)

When you visit Hikone, it is strongly recommended that you go with an experienced tour guide to learn more about the history and culture.

If you want a private guide, please click the button below and fill in an inquiry form.



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