Japan City Guides: Matsushiro
- pleasant suburb of Nagano city - 12km to the south.
- old castle town of samurai houses, temples and gardens.
- interesting museums.
- site of World War II tunnel complex.
- within easy reach of Nagano city by bus or train.
- good base for visiting the surrounding countryside.
- direct trains to Nagano from Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.
Matsushiro in Nagano Prefecture is a pleasant and relaxing former castle town only 12km south of Nagano city. Though Matsushiro rarely makes the guide books, there is more to see and do here than in Nagano city and Matsushiro provides an ideal base to discover the nearby skiing and hot springs and the artistic town of Obuse. Matsushiro's major hotel is the upmarket Shinshu Matsushiro Royal Hotel but there are cheaper guesthouses and ryokan in town.
Matsushiro's cooler weather in Japan's hot summers makes summer or autumn an ideal time to visit, in autumn the region's fruit trees are in full bloom and a lovely sight.
Matsushiro Castle (Tel: 026 278 2801), originally known as Kaizu Castle, was built by famous warlord Takeda Shingen before it was appropriated in 1622 by the Sanada family, who became the feudal lords of the area until the end of the Edo Period in 1868. The castle was destroyed by fire in 1872 but the main gates and some of the turrets were painstakingly restored in 2004. The surrounding park is known for its cherry trees in spring. The castle is a short walk, turning right out of Matsushiro Station and admission is free.
Bunbu School & Sanada Treasure Museum, Matsushiro, Nagano Prefecture
A short distance back over the railway tracks is the Former Sanada Residence, the Sanada Treasure Museum and the Old School for the Literary & Military Arts (Bunbu Gakko). The Sanada Treasure Museum (Tel: 026 278 2801; 9am-5pm; closed Tuesdays; 350 yen) displays artifacts donated by the Sanada family in the 1960s: beautiful samurai swords, armor, manuscripts and furniture make up the core of the 20,000 items.
The Former Sanada Residence (closed for restoration work until 2010) is the ancestral home of the Sanada clan and has a beautiful garden with a small pond which visitors can presently enter without charge.
The Bunbu School was built in 1853 by Yukinori Sanada and was the domain school for the sons of the Sanada clan and its vassals. The wooden school buildings are wonderfully preserved and the small campus contains buildings for the study of kendo, judo, kyudo (Japanese archery) and sojutsu (spear fighting). The increasing western influence of the times can be seen in the fact that the study of western artillery was mandatory on the curriculum.
Former Yamadera Jyosan Residence, Matsushiro, Nagano, Japan
Walking south again is the Front Gate of the Former Shirai Family Residence, where it is free to enter and admire the carefully-tendered garden.
A little farther on is Zozan Shrine dedicated to Zozan Sakuma (1811-1864), an inventor and student of western science. Zozan (alternative spelling Shozan) advocated the opening of Japan's ports to the west and his slogan of Toyo no dotoku, seiyo no geijutsu (Eastern ethics, Western techniques) became a rallying-call for Japan's subsequent modernization in the Meiji Period. Zozan experimented with cameras, telegraphs, and glassware and later opened an artillery school in Edo (Tokyo). Zozan, though imprisoned by the Tokugawa regime and a harsh critic of some of its policies, was murdered by anti-foreign, pro-imperial samurai in Kyoto in 1864. The nearby Zozan Memorial Hall (Tel: 026 278 2915; 9am-5pm; closed Tuesday; 250 yen) displays the multi-talented man's many inventions and writings.
The close-by Former Yokota Residence (Tel: 026 278 2274; 9am-5pm; 200 yen) is a complete samurai house of a retainer of the Sanada family. The perfectly preserved wooden buildings have tatami floors and intricate ceilings. Outside are outhouses and a traditional vegetable garden. Other samurai houses in Matsushiro are the Former Yamadera Jyosan Residence with a lovely garden and pond and the sturdy Front Gate of the Yazawa Family Residence.
Former Yokota Residence; manhole cover, Matsushiro, Nagano, Japan
Matsushiro's temples of interest are Chokoku-ji (Tel: 026 278 2454), the grounds of which contain the Nikko-esque mausoleum of the first lord of the Sanada clan - Nobuyuki and the tombs of other leading Sanada family members. Emyo-ji with its old bell tower and the group of temples surrounding Daiei-ji.
Of more contemporary and controversial interest is Matsushiro Daihonei (Zozan Underground Imperial Headquarters) - a complex of subterranean tunnels dug by Korean forced-laborers in a bid to provide an impregnable sanctuary for the Emperor and the organs of the Imperial Japanese government at the end of World War II. A 500m-stretch of tunnel can be entered and there is a small museum adjacent to the main entrance detailing the brutality of the treatment meted out to the construction workers on the site.
World War II Daihonei tunnels, Matsushiro, Nagano, Japan
It is very easy to get around Matsushiro on foot, by rental bicycle or by hired rickshaw.
There is a small Tourist Information Office just south of Matsushiro Station.
Shopping/Eating in Matsushiro
Matsushiro is famous for its delicious yams which are harvested in autumn. Matsushiro-yaki is the local pottery noted for its simple form and blue-green glaze.
In mid-October the Matsushiro Clan Sanada Jumangoku Festival celebrates the town's samurai past with a procession in period costume and taiko drum performances.
If you are staying in Nagano city there are a number of recommended hotels including the Toyoko Inn right at Nagano Station, Hotel Kokusai 21 which has excellent views from its tower rooms and the budget Chuokan Shimizuya Ryokan near Zenko-ji Temple.
To Nagano there are JR express Shinano trains from Nagoya (2 hours, 45 minutes) and Osaka (5 hours). Nagano shinkansen trains run twice hourly from Tokyo Station (1 hour, 20 mins). To reach Matsushiro from Nagano take a local Nagano Dentetsu train.
To reach Matsushiro from Nagano take a local bus from bus platform #3 outside Nagano station.