The family at Omi-Hachiman, an old town near Lake Biwa.
Omi-Hachiman was famous during the Edo period because many prosperous merchants lived here. Some of their houses, like this one here, are still occupied by the same families.
Another beautiful traditional house in Omi-Hachiman.
This canal in Omi-Hachiman was originally used as the first line of defense for a nearby castle and to transport goods to the town from Lake Biwa. Now, tourists can rent boat rides along the canal.
George at the canal.
More traditional houses along the canal.
In Japan, even the restrooms are decorated with cute characters.
Our next stop was Hikone-jo, one of the few remaining wooden castles still standing in Japan. It was snowing quite heavily, as seen here at the front gate.
The path winds up a hill to one of the castle's outer walls. This bridge, one of the few entrances, can be demolished in case of attack.
At last we reach the castle keep at the top of the hill. During the Edo period, when the Tokugawa family ruled Japan as shogun, this castle was one of the first defensive positions from hostile daimyo to the west.
Inside the castle keep, we wore slippers -- a challenge because it was extremely cold. I suppose this very steep stairway was a defensive mechanism.
The town of Hikone, seen from inside the castle keep.
Although Hikone-jo is not the largest castle in Japan, it is considered one of the most beautiful because of its perfectly proportioned structure.
Eating a refreshing hot lunch after the cold experience at Hikone-jo.
Next we visited Tagata Jinja, a shrine famous for its fertility festival every March in which women and priests parade around with giant penises. This painting depicts the festival with Tanuki in place of the people. Tanuki is a racoon dog and is often depicted as a fertility symbol in Japan.
One of the shrines at Tagata Jinja contains numerous phalluses.
An offering spot at Tagata Jinja.
Despite the 30 degree temperatures, these flowers were in full bloom at a rest stop on our drive towards Tokyo.