We took the 3:15 shuttle bus (free for JCMU students) downtown to the train station and we were pleased to find that the castle was a rather short walk from there. On the way, we stopped to pay our respects and take photographs at a small Shinto shrine.
The admission fee to the castle grounds was 600 yen per person -- definitely worth it. I think it's stationed at the highest point in the city, which, well, makes complete sense. Hikonyan, the official mascot of Hikone Castle and Hikone as a whole, was there to greet us.
We climbed many stairs during the course of the visit... the least-scary were the stone ones outside, and the most terrifying were the very steep steps inside the castle (it was a lot like climbing a ladder, really).
The castle was most impressive, and nothing at all like European castles. The outside had minimal ornamentation -- except for on the roof, of course -- and the inside was mostly wood and very simple. I liked it quite a bit.
The view from the castle was amazing: the city of Hikone, surrounded by very-green mountains, and of course, Lake Biwa. The birds of prey (hawks? Eagles?) that we've seen circling around town were soaring by, screeching.