East of Kyoto lies Shiga Prefecture, which is home to some of Japan’s most scenic attractions such as Enryakuji Temple, Hikone Castle and Lake Biwa. While these locations are picturesque anytime of year, in autumn, they are absolutely sublime as the foliage transitions from lush shades of green to fiery tones of orange and red.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Shiga Prefecture in September, one of the places to visit is Hikone Castle, a national treasure built during the Edo period in 1622. During the day, it’s a must-see attraction with its museum full of timeless exhibits. However, at night, there’s an obscure event that’s as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the ears — the Hikone Castle Insect Concert, which is part of the Night Illumination Festival held at the castle’s Genkyu-en Garden from 22 September to 6 October 2018.
This unforgettable nighttime experience will allow you to stroll around or picnic in the lantern-lit Genkyu-en Garden, with great views of the illuminated Hikone Castle while you listen to the soothing “symphony” of Japanese bell crickets and other nocturnal insects.
There’s one other event that takes place during the Night Illumination Festival, called yagaku (night festival), which takes place on 29 September (6.30pm to 9pm) featuring live stage performances. This special event features cosplayers dressed up as samurai, lords, or townspeople from the Sengoku Period (1467-1568) who will perform martial arts or traditional arts.
Unlike many castles in Japan Hikone Castle is an original – it survived the post feudal era without the need for reconstruction, with its main keep, walls, guard houses, gates, and most of the inner moats intact after hundreds of years.
Located at the base of castle, just outside the inner moat is Genkyu-en Garden, created in 1677 with a central pond dotted with four islands connected by bridges. The garden is shaped by the chisen-kaiyu-shiki (wet strolling garden) style, which focuses on forming the garden landscape around a pond. The effect is stunning as the landscape creates mirror-like effect when reflected off of the pond’s surface.
Walking around Hikone Castle and Genkyu-en Garden can certainly work up an appetite. Thankfully, Hikone City is home to several of Shiga Prefecture’s culinary delicacies like funa zushi (fermented Lake Biwa carp), omi champon (Chinese-style soup noodles with pork and vegetables), and Omi beef — which is famous for its marbling and tenderness, making it a fantastic addition to shabu shabu, and sukiyaki.
If you’re a beef lover, there are several excellent restaurants in Hikone City that serve omi beef like Sennaritei Kyara, Yakiniku Omien, and Hanami. Omi champon is a local twist on ramen which you can try it at any Champotei restaurant.
Funa zushi is a traditional specialty of Shiga Prefecture. Fresh funa (a member of the carp family) are caught in Lake Biwa between March and May and cured with salt and pickled in steamed rice. The fermentation process – which takes 1-3 years – makes the meat and bones soft, and promotes lactic acid bacteria that give the fish a sour taste.
The easiest way to get to the Hikone Castle is to get to Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido Main Line, and walk west for 20 minutes.
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