Japanese Castles: Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle 松本城
Matsumoto Castle, in Nagano Prefecture, is among Japan's oldest and most beautiful castles and along with Hikone Castle, Himeji Castle and Inuyama Castle, is designated as a National Treasure. Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan's only twelve completely original castles.
Matsumoto's black painted, wooden keep (donjon) is the oldest surviving such structure in Japan, dating from 1595. The black color gave the castle its nickname "Karasujo" (Crow Castle) and the brooding color was designed to sow fear in the hearts of any approaching attacker. Matsumoto Castle is built on flat ground and is thus classified as a hirajiro in Japanese (flat-land castle) and has a large moat and thick walls as a means of defence.
Construction of the fortress began under the Ogasawara clan in 1504 and was remodeled by Lord Kazumasa Ishikawa, a retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, in the mid-1590s.
The castle has six floors, including the obligatory hidden floor where the samurai soldiers rested and kept their food and powder supplies. Visitors to the castle must take off their shoes as they climb up the steep wooden stairs. There is an English and Japanese piped commentary and exhibits of firearms, armor and samurai swords. There are excellent vistas of the Southern Alps from the top.
The castle was not designed for permanent residency, purely for military purposes. On your way to the top floor look out for the openings for archers (yazama), guns (teppozama) and for dropping stones (ishiotoshi).
There is an annual taiko drumming festival at Matsumoto Castle in July (last Saturday & Sunday) and a moon viewing festival in either September or October. August 8th is the annual Takigi Noh (5pm-8pm; free) performed at night under torchlight. The Noh performances are interspersed with kyogen comedies.
The ticket also includes admission to Matsumoto City Museum (Tel: 0263 32 0133) in the south east corner of the castle park.
There are direct Shinano trains from Nagoya Station (2 hours) and from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo by Azusa and Super Azusa trains (2 hours, 30 minutes) to Matsumoto.
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