Sunday, August 9, 2015

Matsumoto Castle

Hubby and I visited Matsumoto Castle on 3rd January during the New Year holidays. As I have written in a previous post, we spent our holidays in Ichinomiya City. After the holidays while returning home to Yurihonjo City, we stopped by at Matsumoto City to see the castle. Matsumoto Castle is a historic castle located in Matsumoto City of Nagano prefecture. The castle was built in the sixteenth century and was originally called Fukashi Castle. With more than 400 years of history, it is the most beautiful and visually stunning castle. Matsumoto Castle is one of the 12 extant original castles of Japan that were built during/around Edo period. This original castle is designated as a national treasure along with 3 others castles, namely Hikone Castle, Himeji Castle, and Inuyama Castle. In addition, the ruins of the surrounding fortifications of Matsumoto Castle are designated as a national historical site. The main keep Tenshu (donjon) of this historic castle is the oldest extant donjons in Japan. The Tenshu is original and has never been destroyed though extensive repairs have been carried out. The Tenshu maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. The exterior walls of the wooden Tenshu are black lacquered, which makes the castle look so elegant and gave the castle its nickname Karasu-jo or Crow Castle. The Tenshu is a five-layered and six-floor structure. Matsumoto Castle is a Hirajiro flatland castle because it is built on a plain beside a swamp, and not on a mountain, hilltop or amid rivers. Due to the lack of natural defenses, the castle was extremely well-constructed. Its defense system included large moats, strong and high stone walls of the base of the main keep, inter-connecting walls, and gatehouses. Presently Matsumoto Castle is a popular cherry blossom spot in spring. Many people stroll around the spacious castle grounds and park.


The origin of Matsumoto Castle dates back to Sengoku period. Castle fortifications at the site were first built by Shimadachi Sadanaga of Ogasawara clan in 1504. This fort was called Fukashi Castle and it was the forerunner of what is now Matsumoto Castle. In 1550 Takeda Shingen attacked and took control of Fukashi Castle. In 1582, following the instability of Oda Nobunaga's assassination, the Ogasawara clan repossessed the castle and its name was changed to Matsumoto Castle. Soon after Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi rose to power and became his successor. Toyotomi placed Ishikawa Kazumasa of Ishikawa clan as the Daimyo retainer in charge of Matsumoto area and awarded the castle to him. Kazumasa and his son Yasunaga commenced a full-scale expansion of the castle in 1590. They built the main keep, secondary towers, gates, moats, baileys, and other parts of the castle, much as they are today. The main keep that dominates the castle was constructed between 1593 and 1594 by Yasunaga. It is believed that most of the castle was completed by this period. During the Edo period, Tokugawa Shogunate established the Matsumoto Domain, and the castle was ruled by 23 Daimyo feudal lords of the domain for the next 280 years. The Ogasawara clan was transferred to the domain in 1613. Then the Matsudaira Toda clan was transferred here in 1617. Next, the Matsudaira Echizen clan was transferred to the castle in 1633, following which the Hotta clan was transferred here in 1638. The Mizuo clan was transferred to the castle in 1642, and finally the Toda clan was once again installed here as the domain lord in 1726. The palace of the main enclosure burnt to the ground in 1727, following which the palace was rebuilt but in the secondary enclosure. The Matsudaira Toda clan ruled Matsumoto area from the castle until 1868, when they lost in the Battle of Hoketsu to the new Meiji government. The castle was in use from 1504 to 1868, and was decommissioned in 1871. Following the Meiji Restoration, the castle site was sold at an auction for redevelopment in 1872, and many gates of the castle were torn down that time. When the main keep Tenshu was about to be demolished, an influential figure of Matsumoto area, Ichikawa Ryozo, along with other citizens started a campaign to save the building, and purchased the main keep using donations in 1878. However due to lack of funds they were unable to maintain it. By 1902 the main keep developed a dangerous tilt, which was because of neglect coupled with a structural defect. A local high school principal, Kobayashi Unari, decided to renovate the castle and successfully appealed for funds. The castle main keep underwent ‘the great Meiji renovation’ from 1903 to 1913. It underwent another ‘the great Showa renovation’ from 1950 to 1955. Matsumoto Castle was designated a national treasure in 1950. I really love knowing the history of the places we visit, especially the castles and temples of Japan.


As I wrote earlier, Matsumoto Castle is an original extant castle of Japan. It is a flatland castle located 590 meters above sea level. The castle is surrounded by three water-filled moats. The castle premise is divided into three parts, namely the inner Honmaru, the middle Ninomaru, and the outer Sannomaru area, and each area is separated by a moat. The castle keep is located within the central principal Honmaru area. The castle has a unique architecture that does not exist elsewhere in Japan. The castle has a complex structure consisting of five parts, namely the main keep Daitenshu, the small keep Inui-Kotenshu, Watariyagura tower, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura tower, and Tsukimiyagura tower. All these parts are wooden structures and are designated as national treasures. The main keep is called Daitenshu and is the oldest extant keep in Japan. It is a five-layered and six-floor structure, and is 29.4 meters high. Inui-Kotenshu is a small secondary keep located in the northwest direction, and is connected to the main keep by a roofed passage Watariyagura tower. Inui-Kotenshu is a three-layered structure and is 16.8 meters high. Daitenshu, Inui-Kotenshu and Watariyagura were built at the end of the Sengoku warring period in 1593-1594, and were used as strategic points for defense and protecting the territory from enemies. These structures were built specifically for war and fighting the enemies. Tsukimiyagura tower is a one-layered moon viewing tower that is 11.1 meters high, and is connected to the main keep on the southeast side by Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura tower. While the rest of the castle is a fortress, this wing has a beautiful red vermilion balcony and was designed not for defense, but for entertainment and relaxation. Tsukimiyagura and Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura are very graceful and were built much later during Edo period in 1634 by Matsudaira Naomasa. It was a peaceful time and these two towers were constructed with almost no defenses. This combination of structures from two different eras, the Sengoku warring period and peaceful Edo period, is one of the special characteristics of Matsumoto Castle, and is unique in Japan. The black lacquered exterior wall of the main keep and other connected structures is very visually appealing. The exterior stone wall of the base of the main keep and the other connected structures is constructed in Nozurazumi style by stacking natural unprocessed stones as they are. The wall has a shallow incline. The four corners of the wall have Sangizumi style masonry where rectangular stones are stacked in zipper-like long-short-long-short pattern. This method increases the stability of the wall corners.


We visited Matsumoto Castle on the afternoon of 3rd January. We went there by our car and reached a parking lot located near the castle premise at about 12.30 pm. After parking our car, we walked up to the southern part of Ninomaru area and right in front of us we saw the beautiful and stunning black lacquered castle main keep surrounded by the innermost water-filled moat. The black keep looked so elegant and stood out against the magnificent backdrop of the snow covered Japanese Alps. Next, we walked leisurely along the Ninomaru area and enjoyed viewing the castle keep. We started walking from the southern end and continued up to the northwest end of Ninomaru, and saw the main keep and other connected structures from various positions and angles. From the southern end of Ninomaru, we saw the backsides of the main keep Daitenshu, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura tower, and Tsukimiyagura tower. But as we neared the western end of Ninomaru, we saw the backsides of Daitenshu, the small keep Inui-Kotenshu, and Watariyagura tower. While walking we noted the Nozurazumi style stone wall foundation and Sangizumi style corners of the wall of the castle keep. Finally at the northwest end of Ninomaru, we saw a beautiful red lacquered wooden bridge named Uzumibashi located over the water-filled innermost moat connecting Ninomaru to Honmaru area. Unfortunately, walking on this gate was not allowed that day. The picture perfect scenery of the black castle keep, the red bridge, a few white swans in the blue water of the moat, and the castle image reflecting in the moat water simply took our breath away. It was an amazing sight to behold.
I am standing in front of a stone monument in Ninomaru area of Matsumoto Castle

Hubby standing in front of a map of the castle premise

Hubby and I took a selfie along with the castle keep in the background

I am standing at the southeast side of Ninomaru area. The black lacquered castle keep, the innermost water-filled moat, and the snow covered Japanese Alps in the background look stunning.

Backsides of the 1) main keep Daitenshu, 2) Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura tower, 3) and Tsukimiyagura tower as viewed from the south

Hubby is standing at Ninomaru area. Daitenshu, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, and Tsukimiyagura surrounded by the moat are viewed from the south.

Daitenshu, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, and Tsukimiyagura as viewed from the south-southwest

Nozurazumi style stone wall foundation and Sangizumi style corners as viewed from the south-southwest

Backsides of 1) Daitenshu, 2) Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, 3) Tsukimiyagura, 4) Watariyagura, and 5) Inui-Kotenshu as viewed from the southwest

The castle image reflecting in the moat water as viewed from the southwest

Backsides of 1) Daitenshu, 4) Watariyagura, and 5) Inui-Kotenshu as viewed from the west

Daitenshu, Watariyagura, and Inui-Kotenshu as viewed from the west-northwest

The castle image reflecting in the moat water as viewed from the west-northwest

A portion of Uzumibashi red lacquered bridge along with Daitenshu, Watariyagura, and Inui-Kotenshu as viewed from the west-northwest

I am walking along a paved pathway in Ninomaru area adjacent to the innermost moat

Uzumibashi red lacquered bridge across the innermost moat connecting Ninomaru and Honmaru areas in the northwest

Swans in the moat near the bridge

The red bridge along with Daitenshu, Watariyagura, and Inui-Kotenshu as viewed from the northwest


After seeing the keep of Matsumoto Castle from various positions and angles of Ninomaru area, we walked along a stone road located across the innermost water-filled moat in the south, and reached the Honmaru area. In front of us we saw the reconstructed Kuromon Gate structure that consists of two gates namely Ninomon and Ichinomon. The first gate we saw is Ninomon Gate of Kuromon Gate structure. Ninomon Gate has Koraimon style and was restored in 1989. We walked past this gate and reached Masugata square shaped area between the two gates of Kuromon Gate structure. In this area we saw a notice indicating that admission inside the main keep was closed that day due to the New Year holidays. We knew about it and had planned to see just the exterior architecture of the castle this time. Next we saw Ichinomon Gate of Kuromon Gate structure. Ichinomon Gate is also a restored gate and is an important gate to enter the main keep area of the castle. When the original Ichinomon Gate was demolished in 1950, its well-conditioned roof tiles were taken down and preserved. And during the restoration in 1960, such preserved roof tiles were reused. The gate of Watariyagura of Nagoya Castle was used for reference to restore the present Ichinomon Gate of Kuromon Gate structure.
I am standing in front of Ninomon Gate of the reconstructed Kuromon Gate structure

A notice displayed in the Masugata area indicating that admission inside the main keep was closed that day

Ichinomon Gate of the reconstructed Kuromon Gate structure

I am standing near the entrance of Ichinomon Gate of Kuromon Gate structure


In the Honmaru area, we saw the black lacquered castle main keep and other attached structures from the front (east) side. Daitenshu, Inui-Kotenshu, Watariyagura, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, and Tsukimiyagura looked amazing from the front side. As discussed earlier, admission inside the keeps and towers was closed that day due to the New Year holidays, and so we just appreciated the architecture of all these structures and enjoyed the beautiful scenery all around us. We clicked several photos of the front side of the main keep and other structures from various positions. I also took a photo with a feudal era princess and a feudal Samurai dressed in full armor. They are actually people hired by Matsumoto City government to entertain the visitors to the castle.
Hubby is standing in the grounds of Honmaru area. Front side of 1) Daitenshu, 2) Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, 3) Tsukimiyagura, 4) Watariyagura, and 5) Inui-Kotenshu are viewed from the east (front).

I am standing in the Honmaru area. Front side of Daitenshu, Tatsumi-Tsukeyagura, Tsukimiyagura, Watariyagura, and Inui-Kotenshu are viewed from the east.

Hubby and I took a selfie along with the front side of the castle keep in the background

Enlarged view of the front side of the castle main keep and other attached structures as viewed from the east

I am standing with a feudal era Samurai and a princess along with the castle keep in the background


We saw that many people were playing a game called Hanetsuki in the Honmaru grounds in front of the castle keep. Hanetsuki dates back over 500 years and resembles badminton but there is no net. The shuttlecock called Hane is made from a seed with feathers attached, and the paddle called Hagoita is rectangular and made of wood. Hanetsuki is a traditional Japanese New Year game, and so I guess we were lucky to be visiting the castle at that time. We paid 100 yen and played the game for about 20 minutes. It was fun.
I am playing the game of Hanetsuki

Hane shuttlecock and Hagoita paddle

It was fun to play the game


The black lacquered Matsumoto Castle is simply amazing. We enjoyed visiting the castle. Afterwards we left the castle premise and returned to the nearby car parking lot where we had parked our car. Hubby drove for about 7 hours and we reached home in Yurihonjo City in the night time.

2 comments:

singhalalok said...

I love Castles and ruins...seems like a nice spot to visit if i ever reach nearby :)

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thank you very much for your comment singhalalok. Yeah, even I like castles and temples of Japan and I spend a lot of time visiting such places. Matsumoto Castle is a national treasure and is a delightful place to visit.