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Matsumoto Castle (Matsumotojo)

Listed under Castles & Palaces in Matsumoto, Japan.

  • Photo of Matsumoto Castle (Matsumotojo)
  • Photo of Matsumoto Castle (Matsumotojo)
Photo of Matsumoto Castle (Matsumotojo)
Photo by flickr user ricoeurian
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This black castle is like a wedding cake with its six storeys of sloping roofs which look something like wings and have suggested the castles nickname, Crow Castle. A fort, the beginnings of the castle, was built on the site in 1504 by the Ogasawara family.

Castles were generally built on high ground to make them easier to defend, especially those built in the waring periods, but Matsumotojo, one of the best surviving examples of a Japanese hirajiro, was built on a plain. Because of this both the two main towers, begun in 1590, have their own complex defences, but the third smaller tower doesn’t, it was built much later in 1635 after the main civil wars, specifically to hold moon viewing parties in, which is why it has three open sides. Like a few other Japanese castles, Matsumotojo has a secret floor, it appears to only have five but it has six, in this case it is the third floor rather than the ground which is windowless and designed to hide additional troops from enemies. The top floor of the main tower is for the watch guard but it also has a shrine in its roof. There are several other architectural defensive devices, like the extra wide tunnels in some parts of the main tower, the square angled holes in the outside walls for musket and small cannon fire and the random positioning of very steep staircases making it more difficult for invaders to find their way around and make their way higher up the tower.

Today you can walk all around the castle but during its period in use it was surrounded by a series of ditches and moats and inner and outer citadels. We’re lucky to be able to visit, during the 1870’s many of Japan’s great castles were sold off for scrap because they became too difficult to maintain but in Matsumotojo’s case it was rescued by a local man and then kept upright by many local fundraising drives. Being one the few castles and quite close to Tokyo, Matsumotojo gets a lot of visitors, both Japanese and international. Busiest times are in the mornings, many Japanese leave on return journeys in the afternoon.

Written by  Ichiko Asataka.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers


Dating from the early 1500s and sat on a plain, rather than high up in the hills, the Matsumoto is Japan's best surviving example of the country's Sengoku ('warring states') period. With its wooden towers and low-ceilinged rooms full of armour and weapons, it remain a wonderfully evocative experience.

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