After a day of rest, where I enjoyed planting flowers in Yuko’s garden and other things, we left Tokyo by car and drove about 5 hours west to the town Hikone. I am always amazed how much the population is protected from noise pollution by the very high walls along the highways – but there is not much to see except new cars and trucks rushing by (because of a policy making older cars more expensive to own). However, one time Mt. Fuji became visible in the distance with its snow covered peak – just beautiful! When we stopped at a rest station, I looked for a trash can – but none was there. The reason, I was told, is to force the people to take their own trash back home. It worked – not one piece of garbage anywhere. Instead, we saw a little grasshopper resting in the grass.
Yuko had made a very detailed itinerary of the hotels we would stay at on our tour. I was very impressed! The Sunroute Hotel was close to the Hikone castle, so we stayed there because we planned to visit the castle next day. We went on an evening stroll to the moat surrounding the castle.
The moat of Hikone castle on a 100 meter high hill
Hikone castle was built during the Edo period (period of peace lasting from 1603 – 1868, ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate) and completed in 1622. It was never intended to be a military castle but used for administrative purposes.
Shigeo and I in front of Hikone castle. The castle is one of twelve historical castles left in Japan which has a tenshu (the highest tower in the castle). For building the castle, other castles were dismantled to use the materials.
When we entered the castle, which is a wooden structure, we had to take off our shoes. The stairways up to the higher floors are incredible steep and narrow. A full armored samurai would have had hard time walking up. We had to grip the railing tightly not to slip.
The view from the top of the castle was great! You see lake Biwa in the distance.
On the bottom of the hill not far away from the castle was the residence and garden where the daimyos lived. (During the Edo period, there were 300 daimyos in Japan). The garden called Genkyu-den (scenic beauty) was breathtaking. It was finished, together with the residence, in 1677.
Residence with Hikone castle in the distance
One of nine bridges crossing the water to an island
One of the houses was a tea house. Shigeo and I had matcha tea and a little sweet served by a charming lady dressed in a Kimono.
We left the area a bit before noon in order to reach the temple Eiheiji north of Hikone city at 2 pm. Several months before my trip to Japan, I asked for permission to stay one night in the headquarters of Soto Zen and I was granted permission. Again, there was only one possible day they offered a meditation retreat (sanzen) for foreigners that I was able to come – I was very happy about that.
Entrance street to Eiheiji with a very small me standing beside the huge column.