Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto-jo, 松本城) is the oldest castle in Japan. Not only that, it is maintained in pristine condition inside and out and is a fine example of construction with a fantastic time-polished wooden interior in parts of the castle. The level of skill is impressive. The pillars of wood are all hand hewn (with a tool a bit like an axe) from huge hemlock, spruce and fir trees.
Beware the very young, the very old and the very crippled – the stairs are steep. It is worth the climb not only for the views over Matsumoto City and towards the Northern Alps from the top, but to check out the range of artifacts, guns, weapons, armor and more along the way.
Though no attack was ever mounted on the castle, and so its defenses never really tested, it sure looks like it can stand up to a hammering.
The castle was built in the 16th Century, and for nearly 300 years it was ruled by generations of daimyo families. During this time it gained the name Karasu-jo, the Crow Castle, due to its dark walls and roofs looking like spreading wings…with terminology like that I imagine that these daimyo guys were not very nice, but I could be misinterpreting.
Matsumoto is a flat-land castle, not built on a hill or some such, and so its original defenses would have required a fairly extensive moat system. The remnants of this original network remain in the city today and traffic into and out of the city can be terrible.
It is not by chance that it remains in such good condition. Numerous efforts and campaigns by local residents to preserve and maintain the castle were successful, and the castle has been restored multiple times, including three major renovations in the 20th Century.
Matsumoto Castle Times & Prices
Open 8:30 to 4:00 daily except 29 Dec – 3 Jan.
Adults 600 yen, children 300, 5 & under free (includes admission to the city museum nearby).
Finding Matsumoto Castle
Firstly, get yourself to Matsumoto Station – see “How to Get to Matsumoto” below. Once in Matsumoto, it’s around a 15-20 minute walk from the station. Also, there is a bus called the Town Sneaker which departs the station every 30 minutes, does a circular trip of all the sights, and costs 190 yen every time you get off.
We’ve heard Matsumoto has begun a free bicycle scheme, anyone know much about this?
How to Get to Matsumoto
By train: Matsumoto, on the JR Shinonoi line, can be accessed via one of the many trains that connect from Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hakuba, Nagano etc. The easiest and best way to do this is search for your stations using Jorudan – this site will make you self-sufficient when it comes to trains at least.
By bus: The Alpico & Keio highway buses depart Shinjuku hourly from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal, and take around 3 hours – they are cheaper than the trains and a good option if you don’t have a rail pass – see here for more information.
- Myoko Nagano – Matsumoto Castle – Japan’s Oldest Castle
- Matsumoto Welcomes You – Matsumoto Tourism Site
- JCastle – Matsumoto Castle Profile
- Wikipedia – Matsumoto Castle