Built in the 1500’s, Matsumoto Castle is steeped in history. The castle is one of four castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest castle donjon remaining in Japan. Because of the elegant black walls, Matsumoto Castle is sometimes called ‘Crow Castle’ and is an imposing sight to behold.
The grounds of the castle are stunningly beautiful with manicured trees, meandering paths, traditional arching bridges and koi swimming serenely in the icy moat.
Inside the castle are steep stairs and low ceilings leading past displays of armour and weapons from the Sengoku period. The narrow wooden windows, once used by archers and gunmen, provide amazing views of the Japanese Alps and Matsumoto City but it makes for a chilly tour and you can’t help but wonder what it must have been like during the long bitter winters in the Warring States Period. The stone walls and solid timber beams of its construction radiate strength. And I found a sense of calm and serenity standing in the moon viewing room, my only regret being that I couldn’t be there of a night to take in its full glory.
It is believed much of the castle construction was completed by about 1594 and for the next 280 years, until the abolition of the feudal system in the Meiji Restoration, the castle was ruled by the 23 lords of Matsumoto representing six different daimyo families. Subordinate only to the Shogun, daimyo were the most powerful feudal rulers from the 10th century to the middle 19th century in Japan.
In 1872, following the Meiji Restoration which was a chain of events that restored practical imperial rule to Japan under Emperor Meiji, the castle was sold at auction for redevelopment. When news broke that the keep was going to be demolished, a campaign was started to save the building and resulted in the tower being acquired by the city government.
The castle is generally open between 8:30am and 5:00pm – Reception can contact the castle for you to confirm it is open.
Adults: 610 yen
Children: 300 yen
Whilst the castle has a reasonably well-appointed souvenir shop, within a short walking distance of the castle you will find Matsumoto Castle Town which has thrived around the castle for centuries. Nawate Street is a living display of old buildings and houses and, during the Edo era, was the border between the samurai residences and the homes of everyday people. Nakamachi has many traditional buildings that have since been given over to classical and modern cafes and shops where you can find unique handicrafts and delights to suit all budgets. Matsumoto is a melting pot of culture with ample traditional festivals, music and arts with the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, the modern art museum, and the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum. But if you are walking around, rug up warm. Temperatures can drop rapidly.
From Hakuba to Matsumoto and Matsumoto Castle
If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t like operating on someone else’s timetable, the easiest way to get to Matsumoto Castle is to take the train direct from Hakuba Station. Matsumoto is 60 km travelling distance and the train trip can take between 1 – 2 hours. From the Matsumoto train station you can catch the “Town Sneaker” bus for approximately 200 yen. The bus operates every half hour on 4 routes; north, south, east, and west, and allows to easily travel between the famous sights in Matsumoto. Alternately contact the Happo Information Centre to see where and when guided tours from Hakuba are running.
Matsumoto tourist maps are available at many of the Hakuba information centres at both the bus and train stations.