Hikone’s Eclectic Center: Ginza, Hashimoto, and Hanashobu Street
Hikone is a larger city located in Shiga prefecture close to Nagahama and Maibara. The city itself is kind of strange because it is rather large compared to its neighbors and draws in a lot of tourism because of Hikone-jou, a famous castle within the city, and its proximity to Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. Despite this, the city still has a very rural feel. There are a few larger department stores and chain restaurants, but the majority of what you will find in Hikone is mom & pop shops. From this atmosphere was born a section of Hikone which is full of eclectic curiosities. Ginza, Hashimoto, and Hanashobu Street are all connected streets located about a 5-10 minute bike ride from the train station. The streets are filled with all kinds of businesses from antique book shops to traditional Japanese wedding shops. Just take a stroll and I guarantee you’ll find something interesting. Below is a list of a few of the places we stumbled upon:
This art gallery, whose name literally translates to temple elementary school because that was what the building used to be used for, displays all different kinds of local art from jewelry to sculptures. The curator seems to have a story or fun fact for each of these pieces which decorate two floors of the gallery. The gallery has been taking their art to a global level in recent years, bringing different pieces to the Ann Arbor Art Festival during the summer and working on various projects with Michigan businesses and cities. For more information follow the link (in Japanese): http://galleryterakoya.jp/
Samurai Exhibition Space
This museum style space is located just across the street from Terakoya. You can try on the armor located at the front of the museum or read up on a little bit of history. Inside the museum are murals painted by an artist from Osaka depicting a famous samurai. Definitely an interesting stop if you’re interested in samurai and Hikone’s history. But visit soon, as this doesn’t appear to be a permanent exhibition, but rather an installment sponsored by the city business association.
Sengokumaru (Samurai and Souvenir Shop)
After learning a little about feudal Japan at the Samurai exhibition you can stop at this Samurai shop, called Sengokumaru (shop homepage), located just down the street to pick up some interesting souvenirs. The building itself used to be a bath house but was converted into an architecturally interesting shop as part of a Hikone repurposing initiative. When you walk in, you can still see that in the back some of the baths remain and the old lockers are still in use. Most of the items in the store are either based on a famous samurai of the past and decorated with his sigil or adorned with the two mascots you can see in the front of the store (which are based on real people). While you’re browsing feel free to enjoy the Samurai dramas playing at the front of the store.
Matsui (Discount Kimono Shop)
This store has been a personal favorite of mine since I first arrived in Japan. When anyone thinks of Japan, one of the first things they think of is kimono. But when you actually arrive in Japan you find out that kimonos are in fact ridiculously expensive. That’s where this little gem comes in. All of the kimonos in this store are used or antiques (antique kimonos are from the Taisho period and earlier). Used kimonos are ¥320 (yes that is ridiculously cheap), and antique kimonos start at about ¥2,000. They also sell obis (the belt for the kimono/yukata), jackets and other kimono essentials. Once you pick out the kimono you like, the owner will help you try it on. She is an expert in kimono so if you can speak Japanese she has a lot of interesting information to tell. If you’re not interested in kimono you may want to stop by anyways to see the owners interesting collection of character dolls from Hayoa Miyazaki films, and traditional Japanese dolls.
Once you’ve checked out all these interesting shops, you might want to take a break and try something sweet. Stop in at Violet, a local bakery owned by a French-trained patisserie. Everything is fresh and delicious with the added bonus of coffee to put a little zip back in your step.
These are only a few of the places worth taking a look at in this area. If you’re looking for an interesting day trip, this will probably do the trick. Also, these streets are within walking distance from Hikone Castle (probably around a 10 minute walk).