I didn't know much about Nagahama, save for the fact that it was Etsuyo's hometown and that it would feel more like the countryside than the city. But, I have to admit that this little town is far more impressive than I thought.
Nagahama is best known as the town where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of the three great military rulers who united the country in the late 16th and early 17th century, built his first castle between 1575 and 1576. As a rising general who led successful campaigns in the early 1570's in the Omi region (now Shiga-ken) on behalf of Oda Nobunaga, he was awarded three provinces in the northern area and was initially based at Odani, near the north end of Lake Biwa. Finding it difficult for him to govern his lands from Odani, Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved to Kunitomo village which he renamed 'Nagahama' after Oda Nobunaga and proceeded to build Nagahama Castle.
With a population of about 60,000, Nagahama today enjoys a strong reputation as the largest producer of silk in Japan and is also known for its glass ware. Many of the city's attractions are tied to its association with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nagahama Castle, rebuilt in 1983, is a huge tourist draw and the city also possesses the country's oldest existing railroad station.
Another example is one of the city's highlight events, the Nagahama Hikiyama Festival in April, which originated when Toyotomi Hideyoshi presented gold dust to the people of the castle town to celebrate the long-awaited birth of his son and intended heir. The townspeople used the dust to create festival floats which they used in processions to the Nagahama Hachinmangu shrine. Today, in addition to the procession of floats, the festival also features the performances of children's kabuki theater put on by boys aged from 5 to 12.
One way of exploring the city is the Mu-Byotan Meguri (six gourd tour) which involves visiting the temples and shrines that are closely related to Toyotomi Hideyoshi - Nagahama Hachiman-gu Shrine, Hokoku-jinja Shrine, Chizen-in Temple, Soji-ji Temple, Shana-in Temple and Jinsho-ji Temple. Collecting a gourd at each temple or shrine is extensively popular among the people of Nagahama as a religious event to pray for health, peace, good luck and wealth. Daitsuji is also another well-known temple in Nagahama that has a Toyotomi Hideyoshi connection, though in an indirect way.
The Hondo (main hall) of the Daitsuji Temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect is said to originally been part of Fushimi Momoyama Castle in Kyoto. The castle was, ironically, built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1594 but fell victim to an earthquake in 1596 and the Battle of Sekigahara campaign four years later. Despite rebuilding the castle, Tokugawa Ieyasu then chose to tear it down twenty years after it was originally built. From the ruins, Daitsuji arose in 1639 as the Nagahama temple of the Shinsu Outani sect. In addition to the Hondo, the temple also features a beautifully carved temple gate and a garden, designated a place of scenic beauty.
While Toyotomi Hideyoshi built the original castle between 1575 and 1576 and drew on the wealth of his feudal estate, his stay in Nagahama was brief as he was often called upon to campaign for Oda Nobunaga, then on his own behalf on his way to becoming shogun himself.
In 1583, the castle was taken over by Yamanouchi Kazutoyo and then Naito Nobunari in 1600 after the Battle of Sekigahara. After Tokugawa Ieyasu decreed that only castle would be permitted to stand in each province, Nagahama-jou was demolished in 1615, with some of its structures and moat walls being used to construct Hikone Castle. The castle's destruction was also likely due to Tokugawa Ieyasu's desire to erase traces of Toyotomi's reign as shogun.
The present castle was rebuilt in 1983. The main tower, which has three levels but actually contains five floors, also houses the City Historical Museum.
Kurokabe, or 'Black Wall', Square contains houses dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1868) and Meiji Era (1868-1911) along the Hokkoku Kaido Road. It is also the center of Nagahama's glass making industry, with many glass-craft galleries and artisans' workshops as well as other shops offering local specialties and delicacies. The centrally located Kurokabe Glass Building is a century-old structure and displays over 30,000 pieces of glass craft for sale. Two other places of note are the Narita Art Museum with a collection of the works of Rene Larique, a French glasswork creator who was active from the 19th century to early in the 20th century, and the Kurokabe Glass Kansho Kan, a glass art museum.