Whilst in Kyoto, we took a half day trip out of the city to visit Hikone Castle and its beautiful gardens. Unfortunately, we arrived probably only a few days after the cherry blossoms fell, so we missed the stunning landscape would would have enveloped the castle (the castle grounds are practically lined with cherry blossom trees).
Perhaps not as grand as Himeji Castle (which was unfortunately under renovation during our visit to Japan, thus we did not visit), Hikone has a quaint simplicity about it. We spent the afternoon exploring the castle (you can actually go inside and much of it is still original) and the beautiful gardens across the moat. We also had a grey day, but I can image that the place would have been twice as spectacular had the sun been shining.
Take the train from Track 2 at Kyoto Central Station to Hikone. On the rapid express train, the journey takes about 50 minutes. From the station, traverse the centre of town towards the castle. The centre of Hikone isn’t large at all, but if you lose your way, just ask someone to point you to the direction of the castle.
Before you arrive. We had difficulty finding a decent place to eat. Perhaps we were out of season (there isn’t much to do in Hikone except visit the castle). But 7 Eleven in Japan is always good for some take away nori rolls.
The Hikone town mascot, known as Hikonya, is everywhere and his song gets rather annoying when you listen to it on repeat constantly. Although, he is rather cute.