From Takayama we took the Nohi Bus to Matsumoto. The bus departs regularly from the bus station next to the train station. We didn’t need to purchase tickets in advance, we just arrived 20 minutes before our departure at 10:20. The tickets are 3,100 Yen per person and the bus ride is about 2,5 hours through the scenic Japanese Alps.
About 240,000 people live in Matsumoto, which is located in the Nagano Province. People travel there to go hiking in its surroundings, try the soba noodles (apparently the world’s largest wasabi farm is just outside of Matsumoto – and you’ll need lots of great wasabi to enjoy your soba noodles) and of course, visit the Matsumoto Castle.
The origin of the Matsumoto Castle goes back to Fukashi Castle, which was built around 1504. It is built on the plain rather than on a hill or mountain.
Matsumoto’s castle tower and smaller, second turret were built from 1592 to 1614 and were both well defended, as peace was not yet fully secured at the time. In 1635, when no more military threats existed, a third, barely defended turret for moon viewing was added to the castle.
It is the oldest five-storey tenshu tower in Japan – as many castles and ruins were destroyed in the Meiji era, where relics of the past had to make room for buildings of the present and future.
We entered through the kuro-mon, the black gate and walked towards the five-storey tower. Upon entrance, we had to take our shoes off (as almost everywhere in Japan) and carry them around in a plastic bag.
Inside, we could see the strong wooden floors and pillars that had survived many attacks. We walked around, following a group of Japanese visitors, climbing stairs up to the different floors.
On the second floor are very distinctive windows, with a vertical grill – those were used not only for easier attacks (from the inside onto the approaching enemy) but also for ventilation. The aisles are quite wide on this floor, allowing warriors to run with their armoury and equipment.
The tower has five floors, but in fact there is a hidden sixth level. This floor is the safest area, as it cannot be seen from the outside. Warriors stayed here during winter time. The floor is dark with now windows, just a wooden grill lets in some light.
From the fourth floor upwards is the private residence of the lord, where he stayed during emergencies. The room has a high ceiling and was exquisitely built. We did not continue further upwards, because the steps were steeper and stepper and we had to queue to get up. Instead we made our way downstairs to the moon observatory.
This was built in peace times to view the moon. Three sides of the room are open to the air. It’s a nice view from the moon observatory.
We exited the castle and decided to stroll through the gardens. It was a little too early in the year to see the garden in bloom, the grass was still yellow and most trees were bare – but there were a few cherry blossoms, so we took the obligatory sakura pictures.
We even managed to find a warrior, who was friendly enough to take a picture with us:
The admission fee is 600 yen per person. The castle is open every day from 8.30am to 5.00pm except between Christmas and New Year.