Japan 2 – Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture has a unique place among Japan’s historic buildings. The keep (or Donjon) was built in the late 16th century and is the only surviving Donjon built in wood. All other examples either burned down, or were upgraded to stone construction. Matsumoto Castle (originally known as Fukashi Castle) was never upgraded and was lucky enough to escape the vagaries of fire.

Matsumoto Castle - One of Japan's great National Treasures

Matsumoto Castle – One of Japan’s great National Treasures

Close-up of the tower

Close-up of the tower

Nicknamed "The Crow Castle" because of its forbidding black exterior

Nicknamed “The Crow Castle” because of its forbidding black exterior

Nicknamed the “Crow Castle” because of its black exterior, it is now one of Japan’s great National Treasures but it almost faced demolition in the nineteenth century when the Meji Government planned to sell the land for redevelopment. The castle was only saved and restored through the action of a few local citizens.

The small North-West Tower (on the right) has a hidden floor where troops could be massed

The small North-West Tower (on the right) has a hidden floor where troops could be massed

Militarily, the castle has some interesting features. The main tower is entered through an adjoining smaller tower, which appears to have three floors from the outside but has a fourth, hidden floor where defending troops could be massed. All the stairs in the keep were also designed with defence in mind. Every stair is different, with extreme changes in angle and step spacing so that invading troops could not easily rush upwards. The climb to the top of the tower is very difficult even with modern lighting and helpful guides to assist with the steepest climbs.

I"m sure that real samurai were more menacing (and bigger!)

I”m sure that real samurai were more menacing (and bigger!)

An interior view of the wooden structure

An interior view of the wooden structure

One floor of the castle has an exhibition of guns, with a fascinating display showing the early development of firearms in Japan.

The firing mechanism from an early matchlock musket

The firing mechanism from an early matchlock musket

A display showing how early muskets were made

A display showing how early muskets were made

A fuselock musket with fuse in place

A fuselock musket with fuse in place

Decorated roof tile from the keep

Decorated roof tile from the keep

The astonishingly complex roof structure at the top of the tower

The astonishingly complex roof structure at the top of the tower

The view down from the top of the keep

The view down from the top of the keep

And the view in the opposite direction

And the view in the opposite direction

Matsumoto is a very nice city but tends to be rather out of the way for most western tourists. We got there on a beautiful, exciting (and sometimes scary) bus journey over the Japanese Alps from Takayama but it can be reached from Tokyo in just over 2.5 hours on the fastest train. For the castle alone it is well worth a visit.

See also: Japan 1 – Nishijin Textile Centre

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One thought on “Japan 2 – Matsumoto Castle

  1. Pingback: Japan 3 – Kanazawa | Wai-Yuk Kennedy Textile Art

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