Matsumoto is located in the center of Nagano Prefecture and is surrounded by mountains. The city is especially famous for Matsumoto Castle, the seat of the Matsumoto domain and one of Japan’s original historical castles, which is also known as the “Raven Castle” due to its black exterior.
The keep (tenshukaku), which was completed in the late 16th century, maintains its original wooden interiors and stone exterior. Matsumoto Castle, listed as the National Treasure of Japan, is a plain (hirajiro) castle because it is not built on the top of a hill or between rivers, but on a plain. Its full defenses would have included an extensive system of interconnected walls, moats, and gates.
The history of the castle
The origins of the castle date back to the Sengoku period or period of the civil war. At that time, Shimadachi Sadanaga of the Ogasawara clan built a fort at this place in 1504, which was originally called Fukashi Castle. In 1550 it came under the rule of the Takeda clan and then under the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi transferred Ieyasu to the Kanto region, he put Ishikawa Kazumasa in charge of Matsumoto. Kazumasa and his son Yasunaga built the tower and other parts of the castle: the keep and the small northwest tower, both in 1590, and the Watari Tower; the residence; the drum door; the black gate, the Tsukimi Yagura, the moat, the inner courtyard, the second courtyard, the third and the basements of the castle, as they are today. They were also decisive in the design of the castle town and its infrastructure. Much of the castle is believed to have been completed between 1593 and 1594.
During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate established the Matsumoto Domain, of which the Matsudaira, Mizuno and others were the daimyo lords. 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. In this period the fortress was also known as the Castle of the Raven because its black walls and roofs looked like outstretched wings.
Today the castle is open to the public, and you can not only wander inside, but you can also see samples of weapons dating from the time the castle was built. Festivals and events are also held on the castle grounds throughout the year.
Other places to visit
There are two notable museums in Matsumoto: the famous ukiyo-e museum that keeps woodcuts, and the Rekishino Sato (Museum of Open Air Architecture) where you will find architecture from the Edo and Showa period with a magnificent backdrop of rice paddies and mountains. Finally, of interest is the Matsumoto City Museum of Art where the famous works of Yayoi Kusama are exhibited.
To buy souvenirs, it is best to go to Nawatedori, where you can find everything from antiques, second-hand books, to old-fashioned snacks. A place that is not very well known among foreign tourists but nevertheless worth a visit is the old Kaichi school where you can see how it was studied during the Meiji period.