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Castle architecture of Japan was established in the mid-sixteenth century. Hikonejo belongs to the golden age of castle architecture of the early seventeenth century. It has retained well the entire form of the castle, including its defensive sections and the lord's residential area.
Hikonejo consists of an inner block with a hill facing Lake Biwa in its center and surrounded by a moat and an outer block vvhich surrounds this inner block. The defensive sections and the lord's residence are built within the inner block, making good use of the natural land formation of the hill. Houses of upper-class samurai-are found in the outer block. A moat also surrounds this outer block. Beyond this moat is the joka-machi consisting of a residential district for ordinary people and a commercial district. A third moat surrounds this area.
Castle structures like the castle tower, yagura and gates, as well as Raku-raku-en and Genkyu-en (both gardens in the residential section) remain in the inner and outer blocks, and the two moats as well as the stone block walls (ishigaki) and the castle walls are well conserved. Although the outermost block, the joka-machi, has been changed into a modern urban district, the layout of the streets retain the framework of the old joka-machi.
Conservation measures have been taken today for the inner and outer blocks and parts of the area outside these blocks. Parts of the residential sites have been restored according to old maps, pictures and the results obtained through excavation studies, and these sites are now being used as museums.