Half-way between Kyoto and Nagoya, on the shores of Japan’s largest lake, Biwa, is the castle town of Hikone. The castle is one of the few remaining original castles left, completed in 1622, and was the seat of the Ii family, one of the most important daimyo families in the Edo period. The daimyo were the feudal lords who controlled the provinces on behalf of the Edo bakufu government and were required to travel to Edo (Tokyo) every second year. This arrangement not only kept them under close watch but also, by imposing a huge financial burden (their travelling retinues numbered in the hundreds), kept them subservient to the central government.
The town is fairly small and makes for a very pleasant and relaxing day-trip away from the bustle of Japan’s larger cities. The shopping street that leads up to the castle is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants that have been designed in keeping with the period of the castle which gives it a nice feudal atmosphere.
Just before the castle itself is Genkyuen garden, laid out in 1677, that (to my mind at least) rivals a lot of the more famous gardens:
The approach up to the castle: