Also known as "Crow's Castle" because of its unusual black exterior, Matsumoto Castle is one of the three most beautiful castles in Japan, along with Himeji and Kumamoto Rule of the Takeda clan and later the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The wooden interior of Matsumoto Castle offers an authentic experience that is different from what you get in many other castles rebuilt from reinforced concrete. The castle's most interesting features include steep wooden stairs, openings for archers, and an observation deck on the sixth floor of the main tower with great views of the surrounding city.
In spring, Matsumoto Castle is a popular spot for the cherry blossom. Many visit the extensive castle grounds and the park for a walk. Hundreds of cherry trees stand along the outer moat and are in full bloom in mid-April each year.
There are two magnificent black-colored gates leading to the castle. Black was considered the best color at the time and lended itself to a formal image. The Ichi no Mon, or outer gate, would lead people to the palace. Among its eaves, visitors can see the family crests of successive lords of the castle. The Ninomon, or inner gate, is located after crossing the inner moat. One of its interesting features are the small windows where matchlock pistols may be fired from.
The ruins of the Honmaru palace are marked by roof tiles in the Honmaru Garden. In the past, the castle consisted of 5 main buildings that were divided into about 60 rooms. In 1726, a fire destroyed Honmaru Goten and the lord at the time never rebuilt the palace, instead electing to move the palace affairs to Ninomaru Palace.
The Ninomaru Palace is thought to have been built following the completion of the Keep, around 1594. In the Meiji Period, the Ninomaru Palace was used as Chikuma Prefectural Office, but a fire occurred on June 19, 1867, and the entire building was burned down. In 1979, a research excavation began and the Ninomaru Palace ruins were restored and now they are open for public viewing.
It’s a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station. There is a bus available for 200 yen.
The Matsumoto Castle tea ceremony is being held on August 6th and 7th. Ikegami Hyakuchikutei, a historical Japanese house with gardens, is just a few minutes walk from the castle. The fall foliage of the garden is especially beautiful in the fall.
Laboratorio Cafe & Shop offers homemade English muffins and handcrafted goods just a few minutes walk from Matsumoto Castle in Gunma. Creativity, minimalism, and organic embody the essence of Laboratorio with their domestic made and organically grown menu and goods.
Appreciation, representation, learning and communication are the four" "fundamental themes" "of the Matsumoto City Art Museum (Matsumoto-shi Bijutsu-kan), which features works by the city's most famous daughter, Yayoi Kusama, as well as other local artists. Kusama was born in 1929 and is internationally known for her signature Pop Art works. The collection of the artist's works includes various paintings and sculptures created in her typically lively and colorful style. Outside the main entrance of the building you can also admire a large tulip sculpture of her, which was unveiled when the museum was founded in 2002. The works of other artists are shown in a separate section of the museum, which rotate throughout the year. The museum also houses a shop that sells various souvenirs and art-related goods.
Many people think of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture as an overnight spot before heading to the Japan Alps or Utsukushigahara Heights. If not for my wife having a good friend who is a resident, the city probably would not have been on my list of places to visit. Before our trip I had not seen much advertising, but what I discovered was Matsumoto is a must see. Since our friend is a craft artist, we began our tour at the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum. Founded in 1962 the museum features over 7000 works from this region, other places in Japan, and international. The exhibits include wood, glass, porcelain, and bamboo crafts. This quiet museum is well laid out with two floors of exhibit rooms. The outside is surrounded by a nice small forest, which adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Located in eastern Matsumoto take a bus on the Utsukushigahara Line right to the Museum Shop. Staying with the museum theme our next stop is the Former Kaichi School founded in 1873 and is one of the oldest elementary schools in Japan. It is registered as an Important Cultural Property. Originally located on the Metoba River, it was moved to its present location and restored in 1964. What I found interesting was the resemblance to my own elementary school back in New Jersey. The same style wooden desks, the walls cluttered with class assignments and the old schoolroom smell brought back many childhood memories. You can take the 190yen bus “Town Sneaker” to Takkajoumachi and walk 5 minutes to the school. Purchase the one-day bus pass for 500 yen, which includes discounts on admission fees. These museums are part of the Matsumoto city museum group and there is a small entrance fee, but nothing that will break the bank and well worth every yen spent. A couple of blocks south you will find Matsumoto Castle, a National Treasure of Japan. Built in 1593 it is Japan’s oldest standing castle. We visited the castle during a beautiful sunny fall day and the reflection off the moat was spectacular. The park surrounding the castle is good for your walking exercise. Continue south another 3 blocks and discover Nawate Street. My daughter-in-law is a collector of anything to do with frogs. I smiled thinking of her when we came upon the statue Kaeru Daimyojin, the frog god. The majority of the shops were frog themed and I just had to purchase a small gift to send back to the states. Cross over the river and walk to Nakamachi Street with several craft shops, cafes, and fruit stands. The sweet apples are well known throughout Japan. I purchased a bag and was lucky there were some left when we returned to Yokohama. This was just one day and we covered maybe ten percent of what Matsumoto has to offer. They have an abundance of hot springs, and for a city this size enough museums to fill two days. Restaurants are excellent with many local dishes such as soba, sanzokuyaki (Deep fried Chicken) and Taiyaki the sweet that looks like a sea bream. The area is known for quality Sake and offers with reservations five different brewery tours. If you like festivals every season is covered. I want to come back in January and experience the “Ameichi” Candy Festival. There are information centers at the train station and near the castle with many brochures in English. When you plan your trip to Kamikochi and the Japan Alps or Utsukushigahara Heights plateau area make sure to book several relaxing days in Matsumoto. It is a city you do not want to miss.