Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s most magnificent feudal castles, second in popularity after Himeji. Arising from a massive foundation out of a great moat, the black walls, virtually unique in Japanese architecture, have earned it the nickname Crow Castle. Although most of the extensive outer castle works are long gone, the phenomenal central keep appears today just as it has for over four centuries, with new sections being rebuilt or restored every decade. Matsumoto Castle is popular with both castle and firearms enthusiasts, as it is also home to the largest and finest gun, weaponry and armaments collection in Japan.
Matsumoto Castle dates from the height of Japan’s Warring States era. Founded in 1504 as Fukashi Castle, it came under the control of the powerful Takeda clan in the mid-16th century. The castle passed through a short succession of owners until ultimately coming under the control of the Ishikawa clan, who were vassals to the powerful Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Under the Ishikawa, Fukashi was greatly expanded and redesignated as Matsumoto Castle. Most of the reconstructions and expansions were carried out in the 1590s under Ishikawa Norimasa and Ishikawa Yasunaga. Most of the castle as it now stands dates from this time. The Ishikawa’s remained at the castle into the early 1600s.
Matsumoto Castle reached its height during the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this era and the Edo period, the province of Matsumoto was one of the most powerful in Japan. Some of Japan’s greatest Daimyo clans ruled from the castle throughout the next three centuries, including the Ogasawaras and the Hottas. Altogether nearly two dozen great lords ruled the Matsumoto province from the castle.
Matsumoto Castle survived the entire feudal period essentially intact, almost to face a developer’s wrecking ball at the end of the 19th century. In 1872 the castle was purchased at auction with intention that it be demolished. However, local citizens petitioned to save the site, which was later acquired by the local government. It has been periodically renovated ever since, most notably in the 1950s. Unfortunately the castle was damaged by an earthquake in 2011. Repairs and restorations are planned for the immediate future.
Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s best preserved and most unique surviving castles. First built in 1504 at the height of Japan’s Warring States Period, what primarily still stands today is the massive central keep, which underwent two major restorations in the 20th century. Unfortunately, most of the outer castle is now gone. Built on an enormous stone foundation, the keep is surrounded by a huge moat which is better described as a lake. It consists of three major buildings and several small structures. The castle is famous for its distinctive black walls, which are unknown elsewhere in Japan.
The interior of the castle is one of the finest examples of military architecture of the period. The state of preservation is such that in steep stairs and ladders are required to reach the keep’s upper environs. The top of the tower offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountain landscape. The second floor of the castle is home to the Teppo Gura gun museum.
Matsumoto Castle is located just outside of the modern-day city of Matsumoto, approximately 100 miles west of Tokyo. It is open every day of the year except December 29 through January 3, from 8:30am-5:00pm. Admission is Y600. Web: http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp (official tourism website of Matsumoto).
Central Japan is loaded with excellent castles that also largely date from the Warring States Period. Highlights include Aizuwakamatsu Castle, Kanazawa Castle, Komine Castle, Odawara Castle, Shibata Castle and Toyoma Castle.