Matsumoto Castle Keep is famous for being Japan’s oldest one, built in the last years of the 16th century. And the whole building is known as one of the country three main castles, along with Kumamoto’s and Himeji’s. In the middle of a wide plain overlooked by the Eastern part of the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto is a wonderful sight, not to be missed while traveling in Japan.
The castle is not the first one we visited in Japan, but it is the first we write about for Nippon100, being one of the 100 Heisei landscapes!
The dark keep, meant to intimidate the opponents and standing in the heart of Matsumoto, is one of Japan most well-known sight. Its construction began in 1590 and was done a few years later. And the whole wooden structure is the original one, as it is still the case for only 12 castles in the whole country. All the others were burnt or destroyed, and then rebuilt, during their long and fierce history.
The present castle is not the first one to be built in Matsumoto. A first building was achieved in 1504 by Shimadachi Sadanaga but then destroyed by Takeda Shingen a few decades later. The current castle was built by Ishikawa Yasunaga, the second daimyo of Matsumoto during the Tokugawa’s shogunate. It soon got a nickname from its shape and color: the “crow castle”.
The castle is a flatland one, named in Japanese Hirajiro. While many of the famous castle have actually been built on hills or river junctions. The view on the Japanese Alps, or the Hida mountains is quite impressive if the weather is clear. And Matsumoto is a convenient departure for the scenic Alpine road…
The ticket to enter the castle’s area also allows to visit the keep (610 yens, everyday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, closed from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January). Looking from outside, the castle seems to be a five-floors one, while it actually has six-floors. The hidden one, used to rest and store food and gunpowder, is in between the 2nd and 3rd visible levels.
In the castle, an important collection firearms is exhibited. It was built during the course of 30 years by Akahane Michishige and his wife Kayoko, both from Matsumoto, and donated to the city in 1991.
Matsumoto by itself is a pleasant city. On the way from the station to the castle (about 15 minutes by foot), the Nakamochi-dori is a traditional street with breweries, restaurants and souvenir shops. And cherry blossoms during spring.
Every year, a special event is held around the castle at the time of the blossom. During the Sakura Matsuri, japanese music is to be heard in the castle park while eating sakura dango and drinking amazake. The entrance is free for several evenings.
How to get there?
Matsumoto is easy to reach from Tokyo, Nagano or Nagoya. Among Japan’s three most famous castle, it is the closest one from the capital – about 2:45 hours away with the JR Chuo-Line from Shinkjuku, 6000 yens. Nagano and Nagoya are both on the JR Shinano line, with a direct access to Matsumoto (50 minutes away and 2 hours away respectively). Another option from Tokyo Shinjuku is to travel by highway bus (3500 yens for a 3 hours trip).