Tuesday 3 February 2015

In pursuit of castles - Matsumoto castle (松本城)

My second day in Matsumoto began far too early as my alarm pierced the tranquillity of Sunday morning.  "No!" I thought, "I'm on holiday!".  So sacrificing breakfast I switched off the alarm rolled over and went back to sleep.

A couple of hours later I woke up as my alarm again made sure not only me, but the people in the rooms either side of me were awake.  After getting ready I set off for the castle, stopping at a nearby convenience store to grab a sandwich to take the place of my missed breakfast.  

Matsumoto castle is one of the more famous castles in Japan and is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.  It started it's existence in 1504 as a fort called Fukashi Castle.  It was a much smaller structure at that time.  Rule in the area changed hands in 1550 and Matsumoto Castle was built on the site.  It's construction was finished in 1594 and ownership was kept in the hands of the Feudal Lords from that point on.  At the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, the feudal system was terminated and the castle was put up for auction.  Local residents began a campaign to save the castle and eventually the castle was acquired by the local government and has been maintained by them ever since.

Here's a little more info on the castle in a few different languages.  This sign is just outside the main gate of the castle.

I started around the other side of the castle from where I had stood the day before which provided me with a nice different view of the castle.

Being winter, and not a traditional holiday season, there were not too many people around, but there were a whole lot of pigeons

along with a couple of swans and some carp in the moat.

I continued walking around to the other side of the castle where the entrance to the castle is and suddenly had the distinct feeling that I was being followed so I turned around to take a look.....

Nope, no-one there.

Just before heading into the castle I took one last look around.  The view from this side was great, with the red bridge in the background and my 2 friends in the foreground.

Just through this gate I bought my ticket (610 yen, pretty reasonable!)

and finally, into the grounds.

What a winter wonderland it was inside, a blanket of white!

My path to the castle, however, was being blocked by a samurai.

I had not anticipated this and had come completely unprepared.  I had no idea that I would have to get past a samurai to reach the castle.  I waited until he was distracted and then made my move.....


Up close, the castle was simply incredible and I lingered outside for a while just taking in it's beauty.

You can see in the above picture, small square and rectangular holes in wooden windows.  They are there for defence as this sign told me.


One thing about Matsumoto castle is that it has lots of windows 

which is great as you can get a view of the stunning scenery outside, but if you visit in winter, like I did, dress real warm!!

Also, there are a lot of steep stairs to climb inside the castle

so unless you are a mountain goat or a Sherpa (of which I am neither), you really need to take great care climbing to the top of the castle, but once you get there, you are treated to  stunning views from windows on all 4 sides of the castle!

Also on the way up you there is a gun museum with a large collection of old guns

so if you are a into guns, you will enjoy these next few photos!

It is a very comprehensive collection that they have and all of the guns look in mint condition.

I made my way back down to the ground level again and back outside to be confronted with another danger.

I managed to out ninja the ninja and crept past without him noticing me....

I began to feel hungry and sought out a soba restaurant near the castle that had been recommended to me.  Nagano prefecture is famous for its soba as the water is very clear and pure in the area and I was keen to try it!  I found the restaurant nearby the castle entrance and luckily for me they had an English menu!

If a famous person walks into a restaurant in Japan the owners of the restaurant will quite often ask then to sign a card and write a short message on it.  This then gets placed on the wall as a sign of its quality to other diners and this restaurant had lots of them!

I went for a couple of the recommended dishes, trout sashimi

and soba with wasabi and local mountain herbs.

Now I am not a soba expert and I can't tell the difference between soba from Nagano and soba from somewhere else, but this soba was good!

Satisfied I left the restaurant and said goodbye to Matsumoto castle.  There was one other area of the city I wanted to check out before I returned to the hotel.  It on the other side of the station and had been recommended by a local business owner on a website I had seen.  I walked off and following my trusty English map, soon found Fukashi Shrine.

It was the area around the shrine that I wanted to check out so I continued exploring.  

This area of town was a really nice old residential area and I got quite a few confused looks from people as I wandered around.  I'm sure they thought that I must have been lost!


I walked back towards the hotel and power napped for an hour.  Lunch had well and truly settled by this time so I walked to a little neighbourhood restaurant I had heard about and settled into a huge home cooked meal.  The restaurant's name is Takuma.  You won't find it on any of the tourist maps, but I had read about it on tripadvisor.  The owners are a lovely older couple and the food is delicious!

All of that for less than 1,000 yen!!  The lady was really nice and complimented me on my (bad) Japanese.  The next day I was at the train station waiting to catch the train to my next destination and the same lady gets off a train that had just pulled into the station.  She saw me, came up to me wished me safe travels and told me to come back and visit again.  Lovely moment!

Feeling utterly stuffed full of food, I went back to the hotel and settled in for the night.

Matsumoto castle was great.  Again, pictures that I had seen (and these pictures here too) did not do it justice.  It is even more beautiful and grand in real life.  That's one castle ticked off the list!

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you enjoyed Matsumoto castle.  I will start work on part 3 of the Matsumoto trip soon.

See you next time!  


  1. Well Jason,that is a very impressive castle and being covered in snow, perhaps even more so.The food at Takuma looks excellent....the kind of food that would appeal to me and the price...so cheap.In due course , I will be interested to read your thoughts on Himeji - jo and maybe Hikone - jo as well.Mata ne,Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      the contrast between the white of the snow and the dark wood of the castle really stood out nicely.
      Himeji is definitely on the to do list. I don't know when, maybe this year some time! It has just finished being renovated so I will wait a little until the crowds have diminished a little!
      Take care,

  2. Jason,if you can combine hanami with your visit(sakura),then I think you would be going at the best time.Get yourself fit!...there are many steep climbs....of minor interest is the short bus ride to Engou- ji Temple Complex.The bus terminates at the the cable car,which takes you a short distance to the start of a short walk ..up the hill, to the main temple.Nothing that you haven't seen before...but I thought it was a nice side trip to fill in the rest of the day.Perhaps the only reason to go to Himeji is to see the castle...but I can imagine that now it has been renovated,it will be even more attractive than when I was there.All the best,Noel.

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