Hikone-jo Castle (彦根城)

tenshu (castle tower), yagura (turret), mon (gate), hei (wall), umaya (stable), ishigaki (stone wall), dorui (earthwork), hori (moat)
Goten (palace)
National treasures (two structures including tenshu) and national important cultural properties (five structures including yagura, mon, umaya)

Hikone-jo Castle is a castle that existed in Konki-cho, Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture. During the Edo Period and from Hansekihokan (return of lands and people to the emperor) in 1869 through Haihanchiken (abolition of feudal domains and establishment of prefectures) in 1871, the office of Hikone Domain was placed in the castle.


It is hirayamajiro (castles built on a hill or low mountain surrounded by a plain) and was built on Mt. Hikone in present Konki-cho, Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture in the Edo Period, which is early modern time in Japan, as the castle for foothold of Ii clan that served as a defense in Chinzei (nickname of Kyushu). The castle is also called Konki-jo Castle because the mountain has a nickname of Mt. Konki. It was the castle of fourteen generation of fudai daimyo (a daimyo in hereditary vassal to the Tokugawa family) Ii clan that turned out many Tairo (chief minister).

The castle escaped the demolition by haijorei (an order for abandoning castles) in the early Meiji period. Besides its tenshu, tsuke-yagura (connecting tower), tamon yagura (hall turrets), there are five structures designated national important cultural properties including yagura and mon from the Azuchi Momoyama through the Edo Period. Among the structures umaya is rare because it is a structure designated a national important cultural property, and it is also designated a special historic site. According to one estimate, the preservation of the structure was decided by Shigenobu OKUMA's report to the throne.

It is one of the twelve castles that have existing tenshu (called juni genzon tenshu) built from the Azuchi-Momoyama through the Edo Period. It is also one of the four castles designated as National Treasure that have existing tenshu. It has been on Japan's Tentative List of World Heritage Site, but the prospect that it would be registered as one of World Heritage Sites seems to be very unlikely. It is only castle in Shiga Prefecture that the castle architecture has been preserved (refer to History).


The castle is hirayamajiro of renkakushiki (renkaku style, which has the hon maru in the center with the ni no maru and the san no maru on either side. When building a castle of this style, it was necessary to provide extra protection for the more exposed hon maru.). Also, Nobori-ishigaki stone walls, which are rare and built by a method of building Wajo (Japanese-style castle), are preserved in good shape. In addition, on the north side of the castle, Daimyo Garden called Genkyu-en Garden and Rakuraku-en Garden are placed. The gardens are government-designated places of scenic beauty.

Geographical Features

Hikone, located in a narrow plain area stretching about five kilometers between a lake and a mountain, is the point where Eastern and Western Japan meet and two roads Nakasen-do Road and Hokuriku-do (commonly called Hokkoku-kaido Road) join together, and from this point the roads to Kyoto by land or water begins. In and around this area many battles, such as Jinshin War (in 672), the Battle of Anegawa (in 1570), the Battle of Shizugatake (in 1583) and the Battle of Sekigahara (in 1600), were fought from the ancient times.

As Hikone attracted many warlords' attention as their strategic point, Nobunaga ODA placed Nagahide NIWA in Sawayama-jo Castle and gave Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI Nagahama-jo Castle (in Omi Province) which was near NIWA's castle.

Also, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA placed their fudai hitto (chief vassal) Mitsunari ISHIDA and Naomasa Ii in this place respectively.


There are many structures transferred from other castles in Hikone-jo Castle such as tenshu from Otsu-jo Castle, Sawaguchi Tamon-yagura (corridor-style gate acted as a stonehouse and defense post at the entrance to the second enclosure) (not existent) and Taiko-yagura Mon (Drum Tower Gate) from Sawayama-jo Castle, nishi no maru sanju yagura (three-storied tower located at the northwest corner of nishi no maru) from Odani-jo Castle and Taiko-mon Gate (Drum Gate) from Kannonji-jo Castle or not known from where.

The relocation and reuse of structures and stones was for cost reduction and shortening work period, and Nagoya-jo Castle, Okayama-jo Castle, Himeji-jo Castle and Fukuoka-jo Castle and other castles have had similar transfers.

It is said that Tenbin-yagura (Balancing-scale Tower) often used for shooting of jidaigeki (historical play) was relocated from Nagahama-jo Castle (in Omi Province) and rebuilt in Hikone-jo Castle. This Tenbin-yagura is at the far end of the kakehashi (bridge) over horikiri (moat with water surrounding castle to keep off the invasion of enemies). At the both right and left ends of Tamon (corridor style tower) there are a pair of two-storied and two floor style of sumi yagura (corner tower) forming the distinctive shape, giving the impression as if it were a balancing scale.

The tenshu (with three layers, three stories and a basement) built without using toshi bashira (through pillar) belongs to the multi-layered borogata style (a type of castle tower for lookout on the building with a gabled, hipped roof) and is supported with stone walls called gobozumi (a method of piling up stone wall, piling up with deep stones of which bonder side faces front). For all windows in the second and third layers, kato-mado (foliate-top window) are arranged, and in the top layer ornamental sotomawaribuchi (long and rod-like dressed lumber put in the part of ceiling surface and wall surface meeting) and koran (banister) are attached. In each layer, chidori hafu (dormer and plover gable), kirizuma hafu (gable on the ridge roof), kara hafu (undulating gable) and irimoya hafu (gable of the half-hipped roof) are arranged as if they were packed, and the arrangement shows a variety of appearances. The tenshu of Hikone-jo Castle was built by transferring and rebuilding Otsu-jo Castle (four layers, five stories) by reducing it to three-layers, and at the renovation (1957-1960) in the Showa period the apparently diverted components in the materials of the tenshu were found.

Edo Period

After the Battle of Sekigahara, Naomasa II, one of Tokugawa-shitenno (four generals serving Tokugawa Ieyasu, was given the land in northeastern part of Omi Province with 180 thousand goku crop yields by his distinguished military service, and entered Sawayama-jo Castle that had belonged to Mitsunari ISHIDA, his enemy and the commander of West camp.

It was said that the castle was one of 'the too good things for Mitsunari' after the rebuilding by Mistunari ISHIDA, but Naomasa disliked its medieval nawabari (castle plan; general term for the layout of a castle and its component structures) and the fact that it had been Mitsunari's castle. Naomasa was planning to move and build his castle in the area close to Lake Biwa, but he couldn't recover from the battle injury at the Battle of Sekigahara and died.

After his death Naotsugu II took over as head of the family, but he was too young. Because of this, Naomasa's surviving retainers took over the wishes of the deceased, and after the reexamination, they started building the castle on Mt. Hikone (Mt. Konki, present place for Hikone Castle) on Lake Biwa.

In building the castle, three kogiobugyo (shogunate administrator) were appointed, and the construction was tenka bushin (daimyo from every province helping the castle construction under the order of bakufu, shogunate) in which twelve daimyo (or fifteen daimyo) in seven provinces including Owari Domain and Echizen Domain was ordered to help. In 1606 the second-phase construction was completed, and in the same year Naotsugu entered the castle at about the same time of completion of building the tenshu. In 1616 the third-phase construction was started by only Hikone Domain. When Gnoten (palace) was built at this time and all the construction was finished, Hikone-jo Castle was completed. After that, Ii clan increased its property and at the end attained 350 thousand goku.

In addition, the head of the Kimata family that served as the head of chief retainers spent 20 days a month carrying out his work in nishi no maru sanju yagura (three-storied tower located at the northwest corner of nishi no maru) because he did not have his jinya (regional government office) although he had been granted ten thousand goku crop yields. This is because in peace time under the reign of the Tokugawa government castles finished their original purpose as military facility and its reason for existence changed to the symbol of the power. The Hikone-jo Castle that had taken the purpose as important defense wall toward Saigoku (western part of Japan) spent most of the time in the Tokugawa Period as a warehouse and others under the jurisdiction of organizations in the domain.

In 1854 great repairs of tenbin yagura was conducted, when half of the stones in the stonewall was piled up again.

The stones in the stone wall on the observer's right were piled up by the method of original 'gobozumi', and stones on the left were newly piled up with the method of 'otoshizumi' (a method of piling up stone wall, putting rectangular stone on the angle for leaning over on the next stone).

Naosuke II who served as Tairo (chief minister) during the end of the Edo Period had spent his time at this castle town until he became the lord of the domain. The residence called 'Umoreginoya (Dwelling of Buried Wood) in which he spent his youth still exists.

Modern times and the present day

In 1951seven structures of the castle including tenshu were designated as Important Cultural Property, and among them two structures (tenshu, tsuke-yagura (Connecting Tower) and Tamon yagura (hall turrets)) were designated as National Treasure.

The castle well preserves its ancient structural remnants like Himeji-jo Castle, and it was designated as Special Historic Site on June 6, 1951. The designation was five years earlier than Himeji-jo Castle's.

In 1987, as a part of Hikone City's 50th anniversary events, Goten residence was restored as 'Hikone Castle Museum' which displays furnishing goods and arms during the period of domain duties.

On April 6, 2006 the castle was selected the 50th Nihon 100 meijo (100 great castles in Japan) and the nationwide stamp rally of Nihon 100 meijo (100 great castles in Japan) started in June.

Cultural properties

National Treasure


Tsuke-yagura and Tamon-yagura (one structure)

Important Cultural Property


Taiko-mon and tsuzuki yagura (a wall tower of a Japanese castle which was usually only a single story in height, which functioned as a connecting tower or gallery running along the top of the ishigaki, from which the defenders protected the walls), (one structure).

Nishi no maru sanju yagura and tsuzuki yagura (one structure)

Ninomaru Sawaguchi Tamon-yagura (corridor-style gate of Sawaguchi in the outer citadel, acted as a stonehouse and defense post at the entrance to the second enclosure)

Umaya (Stable)


In sotobori (outer moat of castle) some black swans presented from Mito City are raised.


The castle is often featured as the stage for mysterious story because the previous lord of the domain and potential lords had died prematurely before Naosuke II took the position.

In 2007 on the 400th anniversary of Hikone-jo Castle Seiichi FUNAHASHI Literature Prize focused on novels was established.

Audiovisual Culture

The area inside the castle is often used as a location site for many movies such as "Fukuro no shiro (Owls' Castle)," "Bushi no ichibu (Love and Honor)" and O-oku, and for many TV dramas.

It is often used as a location site for period dramas as well as Himeji-jo castle because it is close to Kyoto Movie Studio Toei and Kyoto Film Studio. Himeji-jo Castle is often used as the Edo Castle for shooting. On the other hand Hikone-jo Castle is often used for setting as unknown smaller castles.


1-1 Konki-cho, Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture
The stamp for stamp rally of Nihon 100 meijo (100 great castles in Japan) is placed in the ticket office at the front gate of Hikone-jo Castle.



20 minutes' drive from Maibara Station of Central Japan Railway Company, West Japan Railway, Tokaido Shinkansen, or further train ride on the Tokaido Main Line

15 minutes' walk from Hikone Station of West Japan Railway Company, Tokaido Main Line (Biwako Line)


About five minutes' drive from Hikone Interchange of Meishin Expressway

National Route 8 crosses with National Route 6 at To-machi crossing in Hikone City.

National Route 6 ends at To-machi crossing in Hikone City.

National Route 7 starts at Hara-cho crossing in Hikone City

[Original Japanese]