Matsumoto is a city of about 200,000 inhabitants in the Nagano region. It is a place that is not visited by many tourists. But those who do go there do so mainly to see one of the most beautiful castles in the country, Matsumoto Castle. It is not for nothing that the government of Japan has designated this castle as a ‘national treasure’. That alone is a reason not to skip Matsumoto. Curious about the historical background of this castle? And what else can you do in this nice place in the Japanese Alps? Just continue reading further.
What would you like to know about Matsumoto?
History – 3 historical reasons to visit Matsumoto
What do you actually know about castles in Japan? Probably that it was used to defend the city? And that the samurai and the landlord, the shogun, lived here? Well, at least that is true. But why should Matsumoto’s castle be on your list? There are 3 historical reasons that tell you.
1. The oldest castle in Japan?
The oldest foundations of this castle were built more than 500 years ago. In 1504 there was a small fortress here called Fukashi Castle. It was inhabited by the Ogasawara family who ruled the province of Shinano, which is now Nagano. Only not for long. It is not for nothing that the 16th century was plagued by landowners who wanted to conquer new territories. Eventually, between 1590 and 1593, the Takeda family had the castle extended to what we see today for the most part. Perhaps we should say that it has existed for 400 years. It is special with all that wood, but of course it has been renovated.
Because of its age, the castle, together with the castles of Himeji and Kumamoto, has been on the list of cultural heritage in Japan since 1953.
2. It’s the lowest and blackest castle in Japan?
There is no castle in Japan that is as black as this one. And indeed it is! Because of that dark colour, the castle is also called the crow’s castle. Very appropriate, don’t you think? It is also the lowest castle you can find in Japan. That is why it is called the lowland castle. Most castles are on hills, but not this one. Also very special!
3. And how could Matsumoto’s castle survive all those battles?
400 years of history, a construction made of wood and low and therefore easy to hit, but it has never been destroyed? How is that possible? Quite simply. In 400 years of history practically nothing happened here. Between 1600 and 1868 the castle was owned by the Tokugawa family and they determined everything that happened in Japan. Peace and quiet was more or less the motto. So it always remained intact, until…
When, in 1868, Emperor Meiji was given all the power and the system of lords was abolished, it was time to think about what to do with the castle. Burn it down and build new houses? Yes, until the local population revolted. The decision was made to maintain the building and see it there now: one of the most important buildings in Japan.
Visit Matsumoto Castle?
Visiting Matsumoto Castle takes about 2 hours. The building has 6 floors and houses a number of interesting museum pieces. Think of guns and outfits of the samurai. And finally, on the top floor you will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the city.
The castle is open every day from 8.30 am to 5 or 6 pm. Admission costs 610 yen and the nearby City Museum is included in the price. The City Museum is quite interesting to walk through for an hour.
Sightseeing – 3 other great tips
You have a few hours left and you want to see some more of the city? Maybe the tips below can help.
1. Visit Japan’s oldest school
The Kaichi School is located 300 metres north of Matsumoto Castle. This school was founded in 1870 and is one of the oldest schools in the country. The government of Japan decided to make the building a cultural heritage site. And since 1965 it has been a museum that you can still visit today!
2. Go back in time with a museum about… clocks
Another great attraction is the City Timepeace Museum. Are you a fan of old clocks that used to stand on your grandparents’ chimney? Then go to this fun museum. It is a 5 minute walk from JR Matsumoto train station.
3. Buy souvenirs in the street of the frogs, Nawate-dori
Finally, are you looking for souvenirs? Then take a walk through Nawate-dori. Here you will find several nice little shops with Japanese souvenirs and food. And if you look closely, you’ll come across quite a few figurines of frogs. How about that exactly? Until 1959 many frogs lived on this street and made a lot of noise every day. In that year, when a typhoon flooded the city, the frogs left for higher places. Nowadays it is the tourists who make the most noise here.
Accommodation – Historic overnight stay in Matsumoto?
The oldest hotel in town is Hotel Kagetsu. This hotel was built in 1887 and is classically furnished. It is located 5 minutes south-west of the castle in the city centre. The price per room starts from 80 euros per night for a double room and bicycles can be borrowed free of charge.
Transport – How to get to Matsumoto?
From Nagano it is about an hour by train to Matsumoto. The castle is a 15-minute walk from JR Matsumoto trainstation and otherwise you can take the bus called Town Sneaker. Within 5 minutes you are at the castle.
What is your next destination? Are you heading towards Nagano and visiting the Zenkoji Temple or the Japanese macaques in Jigokudani Monkey Park? Or do you prefer to head south and take a historical walk that the samurai used to do between Magome and Tsumago, the Nakasendo Trail?
And what did you think of Matsumoto? Feel free to leave a message below!