Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jō) is located in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, and is one of the most famous Japanese flatland castles (平城 hirashiro). It is also called “Crow Castle” (烏城 Karasu-jō) due to the dark outer walls of its keep and the roofs that resembled spreading wings.

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The castle was called initially Fukashi Castle and was constructed at the beginning of the Eishō Era (永正, 1504-1521), a period of constant civil war, by the Ogasawara Clan (小笠原氏) in Shinano, who moved from Igawa to the Hayashi district. The retainers of the Ogasawara settled and built the first fortifications around what was then called Hayashi Castle. New barricades were set up in front of Hayashi Castle, and Fukashi Castle, the antecedent of Matsumoto Castle, was established.

In 1550, the Takeda Clan (武田氏) removed the Ogasawara and created a stronghold for the conquest of Shinano (信濃国 Shinano no kuni, along with Shinshū (信州) an old name for modern-day Nagano Prefecture). In 1582, Ogasawara Sadayoshi (小笠原貞慶, 1546-1595) recaptured Fukashi Castle during the infamous incident at Honnō-ji (本能寺の変 Honnō-ji no Hen), in which Oda Nobunaga, an enemy of the Takeda, was forced to commit suicide. Ogasawara Sadayoshi changed the name to Matsumoto Castle.

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) defeated the Late Hōjō clan (後北条氏) in 1590 at Odawara Castle, he installed Ishikawa Kazumasa (石川数正, 1534–1609), a former senior retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康, 1543–1616) in Matsumoto. Kazumasa and his son Yasunaga reinforced the city and built the three towers, the tenshu-kaku (天守閣, the 6-storied donjon tower at 29.4 metres), the inui-kotenshu (乾小天守, drum gate), and the watari-yagura (渡櫓, roofed passage), the goten (御殿, residence), the taiko-mon (太鼓門, drum gate), the kuro-mon (黒門, Black Gate), the yagura (櫓, scaffold) and the hori (堀, moat). Ishikawa Yasunaga secured the hon-maru (本丸; the main wing) and the ni-no-maru (二の丸, the second wing), gathered warriors in the San-no-maru (三の丸, the third wing), built up the infrastructure in the town, and created the lower floors in Matsumoto Castle, much as they are today. It is estimated that the towers were built around 1593-94.

The Tokugawa shogunate established the Matsumoto Domain (松本藩), which until the Meiji Restoration was ruled by twenty-three daimyō hailing from six different families (see the image below).

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The Matsumoto clan (late 16th to 19th century, click to enlarge)

Restoration

In the Meiji Era, many relics of the olden days, such as daimyō and samurai residences, were demolished to make room for a modern Japan. In 1872, the site of Matsumoto Castle was auctioned off and the donjon tower earmarked for demolition. Concerned residents, under the leadership of Ichikawa Ryōzō and Kobayashi Unari, the principal of the local junior high school, collected sufficient funds to acquire and preserve the tower.

The renovation and the maintenance of the whole castle required enormous financial means though. In 1901, they established an organisation aimed at the preservation of the castle. The first full renovation took ten years and was completed in 1913; the second one lasted from 1950 to 1955. In 1952 the keep, inui-kotenshu (small northern tower), the watari-yagura (roofed passage), the Tatsumi-tsuke-yagura (southern wing), and the tsukimi-yagura (moon-viewing room) were designated as national treasures. In 1990, the kuromon-ninomon (second gate of the Black Gate) and sodebei (side wall) were reconstructed. The square taiko-mon was rebuilt in 1999.

Museum

The tenshu, or keep, holds an armoury and weapons museum with a collection of guns and harquebuses. Although it appears from the outside that the keep has only five stories, it has six. The first floor is not visible from outside and was therefore considered to be the safest location in wartime. This floor is dark, as only very little sunlight penetrates the kizure-goshi (wooden grills). The towers also feature ishi-otoshi (stone drops) on the first floor, from which stones and other objects were dropped onto enemies attempting to climb the walls, as well as twenty-five yazama (arrow loops) and teppo-zama (gun loops).

See our Matsumoto Castle gallery.

Visiting hours and admission:

Daily 08:30 to 17:00 (last entry 16:30); closed from December 29 to January 3.

Admission 600 JPY, 300 JPY for elementary and junior high school students. Double tickets for the castle and the Matsumoto Municipal Museum and group discounts are available.

Address:

4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto City, 390-0873 Nagano – 〒390-0873 松本市丸の内4-1; Phone: 0263-32-2902, Fax: 0263-32-2904.


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