Friday, March 14, 2014

Matsumoto Castle

After moving to Nagoya, we have visited quite a few castles. Nagoya castle and Inuyama castle are some of the famous castles that we have visited during the last couple of months. Not surprising considering that this region of Japan has a rich history and has seen some important events over the centuries. 

Matsumoto Castle is considered to be one of the most beautiful original castles still standing in Japan. Located in Nagano prefecture which also boasts of some the best scenic beauty, Matsumoto is the entrance to the Japanese Alps and is also a good base to the scenic Tateyama Kurobe Alpine route. 

Matsumoto Castle is also known as "Karasu-jo", literally Crow Castle, in reference to its Black lacquer exteriors. The castle is a 'hira-jiro', meaning "flat land castle" since it is built on flat land and not on a hill or mountain top unlike most other Japanese castles. The castle has been listed as a National treasure.   
The castle's main keep, the "Donjon" and the second keep, "Inui ko Tenshu" were both built between 1592 and 1614. The castle's predecessor was a smaller castle called the Fukashi castle which was built in 1504 and was ruled by the Ogasawara clan during the Sengoku period (Warring states period). The castle was ruled later on by the Takeda clan and finally came under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Upon the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Matsumoto domain was established. The castle was ruled by the Matsumoto domain for about 280 years till the Meiji Restoration. At one point of time, the castle was even due for demolition owing to structural damage, but local residents managed to stop this. In later years, local citizens even collected funds to repair and renovate the castle and restore it to its past glory. The castle has undergone  a couple of renovations since then. Parts of the castle were reconstructed in the recent years. The castle also suffered considerable structural damage in a 5.4 magnitude earthquake in June 2011. 

The castle is surrounded by moats creating the illusion of a floating castle.
The castle's wooden interiors have been well preserved and visitors can scale steep stairways to explore all 6 floors. 
Considering that most other famous castles in Japan have been reconstructed with ferro concrete interiors (some castles like Nagoya castle even have elevators installed inside), Matsumoto castle's wooden interiors give visitors the pleasure of having visited an authentic castle.  
Floors and windows have openings for dropping stones and weapons on intruders. 
The walls have openings for firing bows. 
The security system at the castle seems to have been foolproof in its time, considering an entire floor is hidden from view, the perfect spot for hiding in case of an unprecedented attack. 

Various artefacts from the castle's history, armour and weapons are on display within the castle and also in the Matsumoto City Museum which is located on the castle grounds.The 2nd floor is a gun museum which showcases guns previously part of a private collection but donated to the city museum in recent years.

Windows from each floor offer good views of Matsumoto city and even the Japanese Alps.
The best view is from the topmost floor.
Lowered from the ceiling of the 6th floor is a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of the 26th night, Nijuroku-yashin. 
Legend goes that on 26th January 1618, a young lady dress in red clothes appeared before a guard of the castle and handed him a brocade bag and told him that if the lord of the castle enshrined her with 500 kg of rice on the 26th night of every month, she would protect the castle from fire and enemy. It is believed that the castle has survived throughout the centuries since her wish was honored by the castle lord. 
A side tower also has "Tsukimi Yagura ", a Moon viewing room.(The room with the red balcony in the above photo) Every autumn, a Moon Viewing Festival is held in this room.The festival is held in September or October, based on the lunar calendar and is conducted over a period extending between 6 days before and after the Full moon day. Only two castles in Japan have moon viewing rooms, the other being Okayama castle.

The Kuromon gate
Mythical creatures on the roof, similar to other Japanese castles. 
A roofed passage, the "Watari Yagura" connects the main keep, the Donjon and the smaller keep " Inui ko tenshu".  

It takes about 60 minutes to explore the castle. In peak tourist season, visitors are allowed in the castle in batches to avoid overcrowding.

Cherry trees along the castle moat are said to create a spectacular sight in the cherry blossom season in mid April. Matsumoto castle is a popular place for hanami parties in the cherry blossom season. A variety of festivals and events take place at the Matsumoto castle over the year. Check Matsumoto city website for more details.

The castle attracts plenty of visitors and during holidays the castle can be crowded. We visited Matsumoto castle on a weekend in summer of 2013 and it was crowded. We had to wait for about 40 minutes to enter the castle. But on our way out, waiting time had increased to 90 minutes.  

Address: Nagano Prefecture 390-0873, Matsumoto shi, Marunouchi 4-1, Matsumoto-jo

Phone: 0263-32-2902

Open: 8:30-17:00 hrs (16:30 from autumn)

Closing days: December 29 to January 3 every year

Entrance: 600 yen - Adults ; 300 yen -Elementary-Junior High School students 
Parking: Paid parking lots available

1 comment:

  1. Matsumotojo is one of Japan's most beautiful castles. We have visited it several times. The city of Matsumoto is well worth visiting itself. The local food specialty is horsemeat! Yum (?)