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Castles are one of the representative architectures of Japan, and frequent destinations for travelers from abroad. There are numerous notable and unique castles located around eastern Japan with histories dating back over 400 years. Aomori Prefecture's Hirosaki Castle, for example, is the only castle in eastern Japan that has had its original foundation, moat, and stone walls preserved, while the red tiles of Tsuruga Castle in Fukushima Prefecture mirror those that once served to help the castle's inhabitants endure the coldness of the region's severe winters. Takashima Castle in Nagano Prefecture, known as the floating castle due to its reflection in the nearby lake, is also an exemplary castle with its original beauty sustained even to date.
In this part of our series, we will introduce Nagano Prefecture's Matsumoto Castle, located in Matsumoto City and the only castle designated as a national treasure in eastern Japan.
Updated Jan. 31, 2013
Taking a two and a half hour ride on the Limited Express Super Azusa from Shinjuku, and then taking a short 15 minute walk from Matsumoto Station, you will see a fivefold six-story castle in front of you. Built in between 1593 -1594, the castle tower is the oldest preserved in Japan to date. With its black tiles and black lacquered boards, the jet black castle offers great contrast to the 3,000m snow-covered mountains of the Northern Alps, and captivates winter visitors with its splendor. Matsumoto castle symbolizes well the overwhelming power of the ruler at the time of its construction.
Matsumoto City is blessed with rich harvests due to the ample runoff from the melting snow of the Northern Alps. As such, when the Kokufu (provincial capital）was established in the 8th century, the city flourished as the political and military center.
Fukashi Castle, present-day Matsumoto Castle, was built during the turbulent Sengoku Period (Warring States Period : 15th to 16th Century) by the ruler of Matsumoto at the time, Shingen Takeda, a warrior known for his band of unbeatable mounted warriors.
In 1590, Hideyoshi Toyotomi who governed the nation ordered Kazumasa Ishikawa, to build Matsumoto Castle and the major castle towns. Builders of the castle employed advanced architectural technologies in its construction, with the resulting castle weighing 1,000 tons and rising 30m into the sky. On the robust stones of the castle's foundation, called tenshu-dai, turrets have been solidly and efficiently assembled using large pillars to support the heavy weight of the castle. The functionality and unparalleled beauty of its wooden architecture will surely take your breath away.
Tatsumi-tsuke-yagura (southern wing)
Tsukimi-yagura (moon-viewing room)
From the exterior, the six-story castle appears to be only five due to a hidden room on the third floor. This hidden room could not be seen by enemies from the outside so it was the safest place for warriors to gather at the time of war.
The Tatsumi-tsuke-yagura (southern wing) and the castle's elegant and spaciously designed Tsukimi-yagura (moon-viewing room) were constructed in the Edo Period, and the large door opening in the direction of the rising moon and the vermilion-lacquered corridors surrounding the yagura on 3 sides project the image of warlords enjoying moon viewing feasts.
Having miraculously survived over 400 years of wind and snow, and even the threat of demolition during the Meiji Period, the castle remains unchanged. It still stands surrounded by ninomaru (literally second circle, walls to protect the castle), kuromon (the castle's black gate), and its moats of spring water. Crossing over the earth-paved bridge and onto castle grounds, visitors can enjoy various views of the castle.
At the top of the steep stairs on the sixth floor, visitors can look out at the city of Matsumoto and the overlooking mountains of the Northern Alps and feel the sensation of the adventurous spirit of the lord of the castle of the time.
We hope that you too will have the chance to feel the spirit of Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan's national treasures.
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