Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle is located in Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture on the country's main island of Honshu. It is easily reached from Tokyo in about three hours by train. The castle has many unusual elements surrounding it, the most obvious is the location—a swampy area in the plains rather than high upon a hill or set between fast-moving rivers like most of Japan's historic castles. Matsumoto Castle was originally named Fukashi Castle. It was greatly reinforced within because of its vulnerable location. The structure itself is one of the most carefully built and fortified so inhabitants were well protected. There is a ternary moat encircling the castle and high-reaching stone walls.

The castle's fortification is threefold, balanced with the concentric moat surrounding it. The outermost wall spans two miles, built to reduce the affects of cannon fire. The inner stone ring was occupied by samurai who kept their residences there, as close as possible to the castle. The third and last wall is that of the original castle walls. The entire castle was built in 1504 in a city then called Nagano, north of Nagoya. The castle in Nagano is considered one of the top three Japanese castles along with Himeji Castle (an easy half-day excursion from Kyoto) and Kumamoto Castle, east of Nagasaki.

Visiting the medieval castles of Japan is one of the top things to do during vacations, along with tours of the country's most exceptional shrines and temples. Though the wooden castle reinforcements were almost completely ravaged in a fire in the late nineteenth century, the castle has since undergone a lengthy renovation that began in 1969. By 2007, the extensive renovation was completed, just in time for the castle's 400th anniversary celebration.

Matsumoto castle tours are extremely popular and include an in depth history of the castle's existence. The Matsumoto Castle in Nagano was built by the Ogasawara clan on the original site. It was a time of excessive battle in Japan, referred to as the Warring States or Sengoku. Mastumoto Castle was seized by the Takeda clan in the mid-sixteenth century and subsequently by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa bakufu, a feudal reign once ruled by the shoguns of the clan family.

After Japan was reunified in the seventeenth century, the Fukashi castle in Nagano was awarded to Ishikawa clan, after the transfer of Tokugawa Ieyasu by his leader. The Ishiwara family proceeded construction on the present castle in 1580. The towers and central building, called the main donjon, were constructed in 1593 and 1594 by the second daimyo Ishikawa Yasunaga, a feudal lord of the time. From the early seventeenth century through to the later nineteenth century, numerous daimyo dominated the Matsumoto Castle.

Matsumoto Castle tours can be arranged in Nagano. Since the castle was declared a national treasure in the early 1950s, tourism has grown significantly. There are both group and private tours available, both for reasonable rates. An interesting fact about the castle explained during tours is it was utilized as an aircraft factory during WWII by the Mitsubishi Corporation, amazingly escaping Allied bombs. The roof details are another strikingly distinct design featured in Matsumoto castle tours. Visitors can explore the five stories inside and see the dramatic contrast of black laquer lining white plaster on the exterior. Nearby attractions include the oldest elementary school in Japan called Kaichi School.

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