The striking black exterior of Matsumoto Castle (松本 城) has earned it the nickname the “Crow Castle.” It is one of the most famous and beloved Japanese castles.
It was built during the late 16th century by Lord Yorishige Matsumoto and was known as Fukashi Castle. The stronghold served as a strategic military base, allowing the Matsumoto Clan to defend against rival clans during the warring states period and maintain control over the surrounding region.
It symbolizes the city’s rich samurai history, offering a window into Japan’s illustrious past. One of Japan’s few remaining original castles, it’s renowned for its complex and sophisticated defensive design.
Matsumoto Castle is a testament to the strategic brilliance of the samurai era.
Today, Matsumoto Castle is internationally recognized as a National Treasure of Japan and remains a cherished symbol of the country’s cultural heritage.
It is a testament to the painstaking efforts to keep Japan’s history alive and an opportunity for visitors from around the globe to explore and appreciate the legacy of the samurai era.
Matsumoto Castle History
Matsumoto Castle’s history traces back to the Sengoku period (1467–1615), a tumultuous time of social upheaval and near-constant military conflict in Japan.
The castle’s most distinctive feature, its black, five-tiered donjon (castle keep), was added in the early 17th century under the Tokugawa shogunate.
Despite enduring periods of neglect in the ensuing centuries, the castle was saved from demolition in the late 19th century owing to a local preservation campaign.
Restoration projects in the 20th century have ensured the castle remains in its original form, making it one of Japan’s most historically significant and best-preserved castles today.
Matsumoto Castle’s Unique Architecture
Matsumoto Castle is unique. Known as the “Crow Castle,” Its foreboding black exterior, complete with a castle moat and stone walls, conveys strength and resilience.
The choice of color was not purely aesthetic. The black coating protects the wood from fire and makes it more difficult for potential attackers to spot at night.
The wooden interior is an intricate maze of steep stairwells and tight corridors built to confuse and confound invaders. Its design features cleverly concealed passageways, trapdoors, openings for archers, and even a hidden floor to defend against potential intruders.
Peering through narrow apertures crafted for archers, one can envision the fierce clashes within and around these formidable fortifications.
The castle structures have an elegant and strategic layout that has helped it withstand numerous sieges throughout its history.
Matsumoto Castle Tour
The tour of Matsumoto Castle is a fascinating journey through Japan’s feudal past. Visitors can explore the castle’s unique architecture, including its distinctive ‘moon viewing’ room and the impressive stone wall defenses.
Each floor has informational panels detailing the castle’s history and architecture, with English translations available, making it accessible for non-Japanese visitors.
On the top floor of the castle tower, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Matsumoto City and the Japanese Northern Alps.
For English-speaking visitors, volunteer guides offer free English tours, sharing stories and insights about the castle’s history and place in Japanese culture.
It’s advisable to check ahead for the availability of English tours or to arrive early, as these can be popular.
Visiting the castle’s park and outer grounds is free and open to the public, allowing visitors to take a stroll and admire the castle’s exterior.
- Daily: 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
- Last Admission: 4:30 pm
- Winter season hours (December-March): 8:30 am – 4:00 pm.
- Adults: 700 yen
- Children (6 to 15): 300 yen
- A combination ticket is available for visiting the main keep and the Matsumoto City Museum.
- The combination ticket costs 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children.
How to Get There
Located in Matsumoto City Nagano prefecture, Matsumoto Castle is easily accessible by train or car.
Getting There From Tokyo
If you’re coming from Tokyo, the fastest and most straightforward way is to take the JR Chuo Line Limited Express train from Shinjuku Station to JR Matsumoto Station. The journey takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. From Matsumoto Train Station, the castle is a short 15-minute walk.
If you prefer a bus, the Town Sneaker Bus offers a North Course that stops at Matsumoto Castle.
Bicycles are also available for rent near Matsumoto Station for those who prefer a more active commute.
If you decide to drive, parking lots are available around Matsumoto Castle. However, they can get quite crowded during peak season.
Getting There From Nagano
From Nagano City, head to Nagano station and take the JR Shinonoi Line to Shiojiri Station. Then, transfer to the JR Chuo Line Limited Express train bound for Matsumoto Station. The entire journey from Nagano city takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Getting There From Hakuba
Matsumoto Castle is an easy day trip from Hakuba. The most direct route is a highway bus from the Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal to Matsumoto Bus Terminal. From there, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the castle.
Alternatively, take a train from Hakuba Station to Matsumoto Station and walk 15 minutes to the castle or take the Town Sneaker Bus.
Events At Matsumoto Castle
Aside from being a popular tourist attraction, Matsumoto Castle hosts several notable events throughout the year.
Cherry Blossom Viewing (Mid-April)
During the spring, the cherry trees are in full bloom around Matsumoto Castle, making it a popular spot for hanami and cherry blossom photos for locals and tourists alike. The grounds are illuminated at night, creating a stunning atmosphere for evening walks.
Matsumoto Fall Leaves (Nov.)
In autumn, the castle grounds are covered in vibrant red, orange, and yellow hues as the leaves change color.
Ice Sculpture Festival (Feb)
In the cold month of February, Matsumoto Castle hosts an Ice Sculpture Festival where artists display their breathtaking ice artworks across the castle grounds. The sculptures lit up at night create a magical winter landscape.
Other Things To Do in Matsumoto City
- Matsumoto City Museum of Art: Home to the works of famous Matsumoto-born artist Yayoi Kusama, this museum is a must-visit for art lovers.
- Nawate-dori Street: Also known as Frog Street, this charming stroll back in time is replete with antiques, crafts, and local delicacies.
- Asama Onsen: Unwind at this hot spring resort featuring multiple Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with on-site onsens for guests.
- Daio Wasabi Farm: Learn about wasabi cultivation at Japan’s largest farm and try various wasabi-infused products.
- Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre: Catch a traditional Japanese play or a modern performance at this sophisticated cultural venue.
- Former Kaichi School: Explore Japan’s oldest school, now a museum, showcasing the evolution of the Japanese education system.
- Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: Admire a collection of woodblock prints, an art form popular during the Edo period, at this unique museum.
Matsumoto City, nestled in the heart of Japan, is a vibrant blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
No trip to Matsumoto would be complete without witnessing the majestic Matsumoto Castle. Towering against the Japanese Alps backdrop, the castle will leave you spellbound. It offers a glimpse into Japan’s past with original wooden interiors and stone walls that tell tales of the samurai era.
After exploring the keep, stroll around the castle moat, visit the nearby Matsumoto City Museum, or relax in one of the several charming tea houses dotting the area.
Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or a food enthusiast, Matsumoto has something to offer everyone and promises to create unforgettable memories. Stop by the souvenir shop for a keepsake of your journey.
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Why is Matsumoto Castle famous?
The national treasure Matsumoto Castle is famous for its striking black exterior. It is also known as one of Japan’s premier historic sites, providing visitors with a glimpse into its history and culture. The castle is well-preserved, allowing visitors to return to the Edo period. Additionally, its location against the backdrop of the Japanese Alps adds to its majestic appeal.
Is Matsumoto Castle worth it?
Absolutely! Matsumoto Castle is one of the most well-preserved historic castles in Japan, and its location and architecture make it a unique and breathtaking sight. Visitors can also explore the castle’s interior, including exhibits showcasing the court’s history and Japanese culture.
What is Matsumoto Castle used for today?
Aside from being a significant tourist attraction, Matsumoto Castle is also used for cultural events and festivals. These events include traditional performances, art exhibitions, and cherry blossom viewing in spring. The castle grounds also serve as a popular spot for locals to relax and enjoy picnics during the warmer months.
How much does it cost to enter Matsumoto Castle?
- Adults: 700 yen
- Children (6 to 15): 300 yen