Hikone is a city with nooks. Left largely intact by WW2, Hikone-jo is one of Japan’s four remaining original castles (the other’s being Matsue, Matsumoto and Inuyama castles), surrounded by a grid of narrow streets and Japanese style houses of stained wood. While Hikone isn’t a large city, biking tourists will get to enjoy more of its character, unusual shops and tucked away shrines, than on foot would allow. Luckily, a local NPO, Gokan Seikatsu, provides bike rentals, everyday from 9am til 5pm near the station as well as bike-taxis around the castle for those either exhausted by all the history around them, or who just want to relax and let someone else do the pedaling for a while.
Gokan Seikatsu is a six year old NPO with a mission to promote cycling. At their rental office near Hikone station, mountain bikes and road bikes can be rented for 600 yen a day, 300 yen for a half day (3.5 hours) or 500 a day if renting over two or more days. Electric bikes are also available for 800 yen a day, 600 yen half or 700 yen concurrent. There are maps available with proposed cycling routes and suggestions for short, long or seasonally recommended trips.
Closer to the castle, and more frequently on weekends, tourists can find the famous bicycle taxis making their rounds. A 20 minute trip around Hikone-jo, in either the reconditioned rickshaws, or a sleek German-built machine, costs 1000 yen. All the drivers are very friendly and love their history and their bikes. One driver, now full-time, moved across country in order to secure a part-time position.
Whether you bring your own bike, or rent one through Gokan Seikatsu, Hikone is a city that yields up its charm and secrets readily to a rider. As I said, it’s not a big city, so don’t be surprised if you head in the one direction for a short distance and end up in rice-paddocks (it happened to me). It’s a place to stop often, check any interesting looking shrine (and there are heaps), take random turns down small streets, meander, take stacks of photos, and then easily find your way home again.