On the northeastern shore of Biwa-ko, Japan’s largest lake, lies the stately castle town of HIKONE (彦根). Often overlooked by international visitors, Hikone (not to be confused with Hakone, the resort town near Mount Fuji) is an easy day-trip from Kyoto or Ōsaka. This attractive town not unreasonably claims that it has retained the look and feel of the Edo period more than any other place in the country. The town’s castle is one of the few in Japan to have remained intact since the early 17th century. With Himeji-jō’s donjon under renovation till sometime in 2016, it’s well worth a visit. Hikone is also known for its butsudan (Buddhist altar) industry and the town has an abundance of shops with elaborate altars on display. Hikone’s main attractions can all be seen on foot and, except during the cherry blossom season when the castle is engulfed by hordes of tourists, the town can be enjoyed at a leisurely and crowd-free pace.

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