Japan has a rich history of castle building, it is estimated that at one point there were 5,000 castles across Japan. The castles were originally built as fortifications for military defense along important routes or in strategic locations. These castles were traditionally made of a wooden frame with stone fortifications. Many Japanese castles were destroyed in the warring states period of Japanese history, at the same time many castles became more and more heavily defended. War, both civil and international, has taken its toll on Japanese castles, and today there are only 12 castles recognised as original. One of these is in Matsumoto, the famous black crow castle.
Matsumoto is a castle town in Nagano prefecture, its history dates back to the erection of a keep in 1504. What we see today was built later in the 1500’s, with the majority of the castle completed in 1594. Billed for destruction in the 1870’s it was saved by the local people of Matsumoto and restored twice in the 1900’s. Today anyone can enter and explore the castle, which houses a museum housing many weapons used in the defense of the castle.
Matusmoto is really easy to access from many different parts of Japan. From Tokyo Shinjuku station, simply by taking the JR Azusa or Super Azusa, it only takes around two and a half hours to get there. The scenery on the way is really stunning as Matsumoto is, from Tokyo, through a number of mountain ranges. If this is your first trip outside of Tokyo you’ll be able to get a good look at the more rural areas of Japan. From Matsumoto station it is a short walk, around 15 minutes, to the castle itself. On the way you can stop off in a traditional Japanese village street.
Out of all the castles I have visited in Japan, Matsumoto is a clear favourite. The impact of the black keep is really stunning set within the choppy moat, the grounds are beautifully landscaped, and it has fewer visitors than other famous castles in Japan. The museum is really informative, and throughout the castle there are plaques which explain the architecture and use of each room or floor. You can learn a lot about how the castle is constructed too, it is hard to believe that buildings this large, that have lasted so long, have wooden scaffolding inside! One thing to note is that to enter the castle shoes must be removed, this is fine, but the stairs are super steep so if you are wearing tights it can get a bit slippery on the old polished wood.
If you get a chance do visit Matsumoto, the city and castle are a lovely place to visit outside of Tokyo to get a feel for the long history of Japan.