Matsumoto Castle is a special place – a place that has the power to evoke passion in people. Visually, the castle is simply stunning. Its stately black wainscoting and roof tiles on the white façade form a stunning contrast, vividly accented by the red bridge across the moat. Architecturally, the castle is unique for having a main keep flanked by a secondary donjon on one side, and a moon-viewing tower on the other. Historically, the castle is fortunate to have its original wood construction and stonework, and its donjon is the oldest in all of Japan, reasons behind its designation as a National Treasure. Combined with the backdrop of the Northern Alps in the distance and the immaculate garden and dignified outer gates and walls of the castle grounds, Matsumoto Castle will inspire you.
Inside the Castle
The main keep and smaller donjon were built towards the end of the Warring States Era, from 1592 to 1614. From the outside, the keep appears to be 5-stories tall but if you venture inside, you will realize there is a secret floor designed to hide soldiers. Steep wooden staircases and openings for archers as well as for dropping stones demonstrate how the castle was meant to fend off invaders. In contrast, the less-fortified tsukimi yagura moon viewing tower speaks of the refined lifestyle of the samurai during peaceful times. It was built in 1635, well after the threat of military invasions had ceased.
Throughout the Year
Matsumoto Castle hosts various events during the year, including soba and craft beer festivals as well as concerts in conjunction with the Seiji Ozawa Festival. The best time to see the castle may be in early or mid-April, when the over 300 cherry blossom trees are in bloom. At night, they are beautifully illuminated.
Please note that during peak periods such as O-Bon in mid-August, you can expect long lines to enter the castle.
ALSA, a group of English-speaking volunteer guides, offers free tours of the castle – highly recommended in order to more fully appreciate your visit.
The Castle Town
The city of Matsumoto developed with the castle at its center. Today, aspects of the castle town can be seen as you walk around. Particularly noteworthy are Nawate-dori (otherwise known as Frog Street) and earthen walled storehouse-lined Nakamachi, two shopping streets boasting many unique shops and restaurants.
For the more artistically-minded, two must-sees are the Matsumoto City Museum of Art to the east of Matsumoto Station featuring the polka dot world of internationally-renowned local artist Kusama Yayoi, and the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum near the Nagano Expressway Matsumoto Interchange. Free rental bikes are available at various locations around town. They make exploring Matsumoto easy. (Ask at the Tourist Information Centers for details.)
By Public Transportation
Matsumoto Castle is an easy 15 min. walk from Matsumoto Station. From the main exit, take the road to the left of McDonald’s and go northeast 350m to the main street. Turn left and proceed north 550m to the castle.
The castle is approx. 12 minutes from Matsumoto Interchange on the Nagano Expressway.From the interchange, drive east 2.6 km on Route 158. At the “T” (Chuo 2-chome signal), turn left and proceed 400 m to the castle. Parking on the west and north sides.
Tourist information Centers are located inside Matsumoto Station and 1 block south of Matsumoto Castle.
The Matsumoto Station vicinity offers numerous business hotels as well as guesthouses and upscale hotels. Nearby Asama and Utsukushigahara onsen resorts feature traditional ryokans.