The second most significant city in Shiga prefecture, Hikone is notable primarily as the site of one of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles. Dating from 1622, Hikone-jo was the successor to neighboring Nagahama’s castle, dismantled by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early 17th century. The castle grounds are highly popular during sakura (cherry blossom) season, being liberally endowed with the beloved trees. The castle itself is listed as one of Japan’s National Treasures, a designation shared only by the castles of Matsumoto, Inuyama and Himeji. The southwestern approach to Hikone-jo has been recently redeveloped into a long street of boutiques and eateries, built in the style of an Edo-period town.

Late August in Hikone sees the appearance of one of Japan’s more unique festivals: the Japan International Birdman Rally (Toriningen). The focus of the odd event is a competition of numerous ‘flight machines’ and gliders, upon which people launch themselves into the waters of neighboring Biwa-ko.

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