Matsumoto Castle, in Nagano Prefecture, is one of Japan's oldest castles and along with Hikone Castle, Himeji Castle and Inuyama Castle, is designated as a National Treasure.
Matsumoto's black painted, wooden keep (donjon) is the oldest surviving such structure in Japan, dating from 1595. The black color gave the castle its nickname "Karasujo" (Crow Castle) and the brooding color was designed to sow fear in the hearts of any approaching attacker. Matsumoto Castle is built on flat ground and has a large moat as a means of defence.
Construction of the fortress began under the Ogasawara clan in 1504 and was remodeled by Lord Kazumasa Ishikawa, a retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, in the mid-1590s.
The castle has six floors, including the obligatory hidden floor where the samurai rested and kept their powder and food. Visitors to the castle must take off their shoes as they clamber up the steep stairs. There is a commentary in both Japanese and English and exhibits of firearms, armor and samurai crests. There are expansive views of the Southern Alps from the top.
The castle was not designed for permanent residency, purely for defence. On your progress to the top floor look out for the openings for archers (yazama), guns (teppozama) and for dropping stones (ishiotoshi).
Tel: 0263 32 2902
Admission: 600 yen (with reductions for foreign visitors on presentation of a passport)
Hours: 8.30am-5.pm (last entry 4.30pm)
The ticket also includes admission to Matsumoto City Museum (Tel: 0263 32 0133) in the south east corner of the castle park.
There are direct Shinano trains from Nagoya Station (2 hours) and from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo by Azusa and Super Azusa trains (2 hours; 30 minutes).
Shinshu Matsumoto Airport has flights to Fukuoka, Osaka and Sapporo.
There are direct buses to a variety of destinations including Shinjuku, Osaka, Nagoya, Chubu International Airport and Takayama. By road, Matsumoto is accessed from the Chuo Expressway.
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Monday, March 03, 2008