Matsumoto Castle is Japan's oldest five-tiered castle with a six-story keep, and one of only 12 castles in the country with a keep that dates back pre-Edo Period (1600/1603-1868). Currently, only two castles, Matsumoto Castle and Himeji Castle, allow visitors to actually view the keep. Against a backdrop of the majestic Alps, the reflection of the castle keep shimmering in the moat, and the stark contrast between the white of the plaster and the black of the lacquered walls creates an exquisite scene unlike that of any other castle.
Honmaru Goten served as both the residence of the castle lord and a place to conduct government affairs. Matsumoto Castle's Honmaru Goten was destroyed by fire in 1727 and never rebuilt. The seat of government was subsequently relocated to Ninomaru Goten. Remnants of the Honmaru Goten can still be seen in Honmaru Garden. Honmaru Garden extends past Kuromon Gate, the entrance to Matsumoto Castle, and is separated from the former Honmaru Goten by tiles. According to a restoration drawing of Honmaru Goten, there were five main buildings and around 60 rooms in the approximately 2,730 m² space.
Matsumoto Castle's origin is Fukashi Castle, which was built during the Warring States Period. Around 1590, Ishikawa Kazumasa was appointed lord and began to improve the castle and surrounding town, while his son, Yasunaga, continued to build the castle tower and palace. Much of the original castle town at the foot of Matsumoto Castle has been preserved, and strolling along Nakamachi-dori and Nawate-dori, visitors will feel as if they have been transported back in time.
Matsumoto Castle was designated as a historic site in 1930 and a national treasure in 1936.
Getting there and around
No trains connect to Togakushi, therefore car and bus are the only transport options. From Nagano Station, take the Alpico Kotsu bus bound for ”Loop Bashi Keiyu Togakushi Kogen Iki”, Togakushi Plateau via Loop Bridge, the time required is about 1 hour.
Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure, consists of five buildings: the main keep, the small Inui Keep, Watari Tower, Tatsumitsuke Tower, and Tsukimi Tower. The walls of the keep have a distinctive finish with white plaster on the upper part and black clapboards covering the lower part. One of the highlights of the castle is the notable difference in structure between the main keep, Watari Tower, and Inui Keep, which were all built in the Warring States Period to protect the territory, and the Tatsumitsuke and Tsukimi towers, which were built in peaceful times therefore not equipped for fighting. Matsumoto Castle adopts a connected design, whereby the main keep and Inui Keep are connected by Watari Tower, and the Tatsumitsuke and Tsukimi towers are joined.
Matsumoto Castle has been revered by people since ancient times, and various legends have been born surrounding it. For example, the "legend of the loophole," a large depression on the first floor of the castle tower that is 1 m deep and 2 m2 in circumference, was rumored to be a loophole through which people could escape from inside the tower to the outside of the castle. Unfortunately, later investigations proved that the depression was in fact not a loophole. There are many other interesting legends about the castle, such as the story that when construction was halted because the beams supporting the roof were too short by about 15 cm, one of the builders tapped the beams with a wooden hammer, causing the wood to stretch by the amount required, and ultimately enabling the construction to be completed without incident.
Night Cherry Blossom Party
The "Night Cherry Blossom Party" and the "National Treasure Matsumoto Castle Cherry Blossom-Lined Path of Light" are simultaneously held at Matsumoto Castle for a period of eight days starting three days after the cherry blossoms are declared to be in full bloom. The castle keep, Honmaru Garden, and the rows of Sakura cherry trees along the outer moat of Matsumoto Castle are illuminated at night in a bedazzling light-up display. During these events, Honmaru Garden is open free of charge at night, and visitors can enjoy Gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) performances and tea ceremonies while being overwhelmed by the fantastic beauty of the 300 Sakura trees and the castle tower, which gives the illusion of floating in the darkness of the night. The rows of cherry trees along the outer moat on the east and north sides of Matsumoto Castle are also set aglow, and the beauty of the soft pink Sakura petals bobbing on the surface of the water where they fall is exceptionally breathtaking.
Located near Matsumoto Castle, Restaurant Taiman is an eye-catching Western-style building with white walls decorated with tangled ivy and seasonal flowers. The furniture and decor of the restaurant are all Matsumoto folkcraft furniture, creating both a stately and relaxing atmosphere. Be sure to enjoy the authentic French cuisine that has been partaken of by many celebrities.
Travel Advice and Tips
Matsumoto is famous for its soba (buckwheat noodles), and at Soba Restaurant Motoki Kaichi, located about a 10-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle, you can enjoy excellent soba noodles made from only the center part of the buckwheat seed, which is considered to have the best taste. The painstakingly-selected seeds, which are procured from contracted farmers, are patiently polished to 30% of their original size over a period of 10 days. These "cream-of-the-crop" soba noodles are beautiful to look at and have the best taste and aroma.
Shoho is a luxurious hot spring ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) located in the highlands of Utsukushigahara Onsen, Nagano Prefecture. Its reputation of offering hospitality that makes visitors feel right at home has earned it praise among many gues....