When it comes to Japanese castles featuring in movies, Himeji-jo in Hyōgo Prefecture is the most obvious one which comes to mind. It appeared quite extensively in the fifth James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice‘ (1967) as well as two Japanese films by legendary director Akira Kurosawa who used it in both ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980) and ‘Ran’ (1985). Himeji is quite rightly considered to be Japan’s most spectacular castle due to its imposing size and beauty. The 007 connection helps to make it important for some film fans too. However, there is a lesser castle in Japan which has also had a fair amount of time on the big screen.
Lying on the east coast of Lake Biwa in the prefecture of Shiga is a small city called Hikone which is home to one of only five castles listed as National Treasures in Japan. This Edo-period castle is approximately 15 minutes on foot from Hikone Station on the JR West Biwako Line, and it is considered to be the most significant historical building in Shiga-ken.
Following a busy morning of sights in and around Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture I journeyed on south-west and stopped off at Hikone for about 90 minutes in the middle of the day. I first went to Hikone ten years ago on a day trip from Osaka not really knowing how far away it was or where it was on the map. This trip gave me a much better sense of where it really is located.
The only reason I went there in 2011 was because it had featured in a very average kids movie, and a few years on from that I noticed that it was also used in a mid-nineties American martial-arts thriller film starring Christopher Lambert. Admittedly, ‘3 Ninjas Kick Back‘ (1994 and ‘The Hunted‘ (1995) aren’t on the same level as those associated with Himeji-jo but that’s ok as it makes this place more of a hipsters choice! Maybe!
Hikone’s three storied castle is relatively small but it’s design combines multiple different architecture styles, and the whole castle area is really picturesque with it’s inner and outer moats. Visibility of the castle from outside the grounds is also not possible (if my memory serves me right!) so the only way to see its true beauty is by paying the entrance fee. Good business I guess as I rarely bother paying to enter other castles where the exterior can be seen for free.
Genkyu-en is included in the 800 yen ticket (the garden can be entered on its own for 200 yen but castle-only tickets are not available) and is a beautiful landscaped Japanese garden which really helps propel the castle up the rankings in my mind.
The castle is surrounded by lush green vegetation and stands tall in the distance looming over the teahouses and green lawns of the fairly spacious garden. It is no wonder the makers of ‘3 Ninjas Kick Back‘ chose this place for filming. This trip offered me a good opportunity to return and get some more accurate match-up filming location shots. They will appear in separate posts sometime next year I guess.
Hiko-nyan is the local mascot (every city in Japan has one!) which was created by the city government in 2007 to mark the 400th anniversary since the castle was founded. The hiko part obviously refers to Hikone, and nyan is a baby word for cat. Hiko-nyan is a white cat who wears a red samurai helmet with horns, modeled after the one worn by the first lord of Hikone Castle.
The mascot has been extremely successful in helping to increase tourist numbers in Hikone as well as accounting for ridiculously high amounts of merchandise sales which show how important such things are in Japan.
As I was walking back to the station a vending machine drink caught my attention. I had completely forgotten that the Godzilla energy drink had been available in Kansai. Even if I had remembered, I would’ve probably guessed that it had disappeared by now. I went halves on a case of it with Mak (of Maction Planet fame) and had zero interest in getting one when I saw this back in mid-October. Still, it was good to see it on sale so conveniently but it wouldn’t be the only only-in-Kansai drink I’d see on this trip!
Click here to read ‘Don’t Just Pass Through This City In Gifu But Stop Off & See Some Interesting Local Sights’
Click here to read ‘Nagoya Filming Locations – The Hunted (1995)’
Click here to read ‘Kansai Filming Locations: 3 Ninjas Kick Back (1994)’
Click here to read ‘A New Vivid Purple Godzilla Drink Is Here & Ready To Rip Up The Energy Drink Market’