Once the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano Japan is one of the country’s most popular destinations especially in the snowy months. However, in the prefecture’s mountain city of Matsumoto, there is one gem that tourists keep coming for all year round – the historic Matsumoto Castle. This site is definitely worthy of being in your bucket list and here’s why.
It is a ‘National Treasure of Japan’
Get this – throughout its history, more than 25000 castles are said to have been built all over Japan. A lot of those were destroyed in 1615 because of an ordinance prohibiting each province from having more than one castle. Most of the surviving forts perished from natural disasters and air raids during World War 2.
Presently, there are about 200 castles still standing and only five of those have been designated as National Treasures. It is the oldest five-tiered, six-story castle in the country. Its main keep, moat, first and second enclosures as well as some earthenwares have been preserved for centuries. Though impressive, its history is not the only reason why it is deserving of that honor. Its unique construction and elegance are also worth the marvel.
From the outside, one would think that the castle has five stories. However, there are actually six floors inside – one is hidden in order to hide troops during battles. Another detail you can not miss inside the castle are the steep stairs (around which using a camera is prohibited, mind you) – built to keep enemy troops from climbing the keep. The lower floors were constructed to have wide halls to allow samurais in full gear to scramble around during battles. On the walls you can also see holes from which weapons such as arrows and guns were fired as well as openings where stones can be dropped on enemies outside. Exhibited inside are weapons and artifacts of ancient times.
The stairs can be a challenge but once you reach the top floor, you will be rewarded with the most breath-taking of sights – from the grounds, the moat, the bridge outside, the city and of course, the snowcapped mountains watching over the horizon. While this tower with its provisions for combat and defense were built during wartime, on your way down from the top floor, you will pass through the adjoining tower built during a time of peace. A beautiful breather, this tower contains the moon-viewing room with its wide windows opened to the magnificent views to the north, south and east.
You should also check out the notable gates of the castle. You have the Taiko-mon or drum gate – named so because it used to have the drum tower which signaled the time and called in vassals for assembly. The Kuro-mon or black gate opens to the main wing. The gates were made in the masugata style (square-shaped) to provide more security.
This castle is otherwise referred to as the ‘Crow Castle’ and looking at it from outside, you would no doubt understand why. Its unique and stunning black exterior makes it stand out and the wing-like design of the roof is also impossible to miss.
Also, don’t forget to get pictures with the castle staff decked in geisha and samurai costumes who are on standby outside.
Your 700 yen ticket to the castle also allows admission to the Matsumoto City Museum which is right next to the Taiko-mon gate.