Once at the castle I paid about 1000 yen for the full combination ticket, at first I thought it was quite expensive but with the amount of things I managed to see with the ticket I think the price was worth it. At the entrance of the castle there was nobody who asked to see my ticket, so I simply walked in.
Hikone Castle's tower is pretty small inside. The stairs may be best called ladders because of how steep they were (I've learnt to take my socks off when I visit a castle in Japan, or else I always slip!), but I was the only person there. Someone who worked at the castle stopped to talk to me and offered to take a few photos of me with the castle as a backdrop.
While the tower empty, much like Inuyama’s tower (I should probably give more attention to the fact that the Ii clan itself had stepped on those exact floorboards!), there were great views of Lake Biwa! Most of my reason for going to Shiga instead of Gujo-Hachiman or Magome was because I wanted to see the lake. I don’t really consider lakes, beaches and other bodies of water as “sightseeing”, considering there are plenty lakes at home for me to enjoy, but Lake Biwa has always been a special spot for me because of the many legends surrounding it.
The most famous speaks of a warrior (who was, by the way, from the Fujiwara clan, I’ll talk about them at a later date) who slayed a giant centipede with glowing eyes. A giant carp is thought to lurk beneath the surface, eating the bodies of those who drown. There are also those of us who also believe the Ryuji Kingdom, the Dragon King’s Palace (such as the one from the Urashima Tarou legend), could hide beneath the mysterious waters of the lake. They actually found pillars belonging to an ancient castle under the lake so it’s easy to imagine what else may lie down there. In the end I didn’t walk over to touch the lake, but I gazed at it from the tower for a long time, remembering these stories that first sparked my interest for Japan.
Done with the main tower, I went for a bit of a stroll around the grounds, coming across a turret with a video playing the history of the castle. It was interesting to watch and I was completely alone there, it would be quite easy to miss since it’s at the far side of the park. Actually, Hikone has a couple other history museums too; one had some old prehistoric pottery they'd excavated and the bigger museum (called Hikone Castle Museum), next to the castle's entrance, had numerous kimonos, armours, swords and other artefacts that I spent a long time looking over. It was a very good history museum with an attached residence with many cranes decorating the sliding doors.
Hikone's other main site is Genkyu-en Garden. It's quite big, with many trails and scenic views. I stopped for an early lunch that I'd bought at a convenience store and ate it with the lovely scenery in front of me. A group of women joined me.
Because nobody had ripped off the ticket for the castle the first time, I made the most of the opportunity and went back into the grounds. At that time Hikonyan, Hikone’s famous mascot, would be making an appearance! Hikonyan comes out every day at 10:30 - 11:30; 13:30 - 14:00 and 15:00 - 15:30 at the castle. I got there just as it bowed a greeting and already a crowd had gathered around to take photos. Hikonyan was indeed very cute, but it didn’t seem to do much other than strike some poses, so soon the crowd thinned out and I also eventually left after 200 photos.
That night, the weather forecast said it would only be cloudy, but rain started pouring heavily so I found refuge in a ramen restaurant near the station, once I'd returned from Sekigahara. The menu said “Hikone Chanpon”, so I guessed it must be a local speciality.
All of these sites were included in the 1000 yen combination ticket, so it's definitely worth it if you have time to enjoy the sites beyond the castle. Have any of you been to Hikone or Lake Biwa?