Matsusaka Castle (松坂城 Matsusaka-jō) is located in Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture. It was constructed in 1588 by Gamō Ujisato with a three-storey donjon. The ruins of the castle were designated a National Historic Site in 2011. Matsusaka Castle is listed in Japan's100 Finest Castles. A local history museum and a memorial to Motoori Norinaga are located on the castle grounds as well.


The castle, located in the northern part of the city centre of Matsusaka, is a flatland mountain castle (平山城 shiroyamajō). Sannai River runs north of the castle, forming a natural moat. In the early Edo period, the castle was the residence of the Matsuzaka clan. Still, after the abolition of the line, a castle representative was appointed to oversee the 179,000 koku of the three Kishū-Tokugawa clans in Minami-Ise.

Matsusaka Castle

The castle was destroyed by fire in 1877 and razed to the ground by 1881. With only the stone walls remaining, the site has been turned into Matsusaka Castle Park. The location of the former sannomaru (三ノ丸) was developed after the Meiji period and is now home to Matsusaka Technical High School, Matsusaka Municipal Tonomachi Junior High School and Matsusaka Municipal Hospital. Annual events include the Nobunaga Festival in early April and the Ujisato Festival on 3 November each year.

Matsusaka Castle


In the Muromachi period, the area around Matsusaka was ruled by the Kitabatake clan (北畠家) of Ise. Ushioda Nagasuke (潮田長助, 1505-1576), a vassal of the Kitabatake, built Yoihonomori Castle (四五百森城) near the location of the later Matsusaka Castle. As Jōmon pottery has been excavated from the site, it is thought that the area was inhabited in the late Jōmon period. However, most of the pottery excavated from the castle ruins is Yayoi pottery. In the Sengoku period, the Kitabatake were defeated by Oda Nobunaga who installed his son Nobukatsu. Nobukatsu resided at Matsugashima Castle (松ヶ島城), located on the old road to Ise Jingū facing Ise Bay.

In 1584, Gamō Ujisato of Omi Province received 123,000 koku in Ise Province and took over Matsugashima Castle. Due to the limited space available, Ujisato decided to relocate the castle further inland to develop a castle town. Along with local shrines and temples, the castle was dismantled and rebuilt within just a year. The new main gate faced east, the rear gate south, and the outer wall was surrounded by a deep dry moat and a water moat. The honmaru (本丸, inner bailey) is situated on the northern edge of an area called Yoihonomori forest, with the ninomaru (二ノ丸, second enclosure) on its southern side. A castle tower with three storeys and five floors was built in the honmaru.

Matsusaka Castle

To establish the new castle town, the inhabitants of Matsugashima were relocated, and Omi merchants from Ujisato's former territory were invited to settle in the city centre. Also, the Kakuya family (角屋氏), wealthy merchants from Ise Ōminato, were brought to Minato-machi, laying the foundations for Matsusaka as a commercial city. The founder of one of Japan's largest trading companies, Mitsui, was born in Matsusaka.

In 1590, Ujisato was granted a sizeable feudal domain of 600,000 koku in Aizuwakamatsu for his military success in the conquest of Odawara and moved to Wakamatsu Castle. Hattori Kazutada (服部一忠, d. 1595) entered the castle in his place. After Kazutada was forced to commit suicide in 1595 for his involvement with Toyotomi Hidetsugu, Furuta Shigekatsu (古田重勝, 1560-1606) followed him with 34,000 koku. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded him an additional 20,000 koku for his military service in the Battle of Sekigahara (the Furuta managed to repel an attack on the castle by the forces of Ishida Mitsunari). When Shigekatsu died in the same year, his younger brother Shigeharu took over the castle as Shigekatsu's eldest son, Shigetsune, was too young. In 1619, the Furuta were transferred to Hamada Castle in Iwami Province, and Matsusaka Domain was abolished. Minami-Ise was transferred to the Kishū-Tokugawa clan. In 1644, the donjon was destroyed in a typhoon and never rebuilt. Instead, a jin'ya (陣屋), an administrative headquarters, was erected in the ninomaru in 1794.

The Kishū held the domain until the Meiji Restoration. In 1871, with the abolition of the han system, Matsusaka Castle was abandoned. In 1877, the jin'ya building burned down, and four years later, by 1881, most other structures had been razed. The only surviving building is the rice warehouse in the Tonomachi castle guardhouse.

Stone walls (石垣)

While no other structures of Matsusaka Castle survived, its magnificent stone walls (石垣 ishigaki) were thoroughly restored. The walls have been described as similar to those of Azuchi Castle but stronger and more aesthetically pleasing., as well as one of the pioneering castles of Japan's modern era. Gamō Ujisato participated in the construction of Azuchi Castle and applied the same construction principles to Matsusaka. These methods were invented at Azuchi Castle by a group of stonemasons called Anō-shū (穴太衆) from Omi Province, who developed a revolutionary way of stacking up natural stones. Gamō Ujisato enlisted the help of local farmers, mainly from his home town. Many of the rocks were collected from the nearby riverbanks, and even sarcophagus lids buried in ancient tombs were used for the castle tower.

From 1988 to 2003, the walls of Matsusaka Castle underwent a costly restoration project; it was the first time since 1700 that stonewalls had been fully restored. During the restoration, chisel marks different from those of Gamō Ujisato were found in the ninomaru, and the field masonry in the sannomaru was found to be from the Kishū clan. In 1982, residents of Matsusaka campaigned for the reconstruction of the castle tower, but those plans were given up due to fierce political opposition.


Matsusaka City Museum of History and Folklore

More photos in the Matsusaka Castle album:

Address: Tonomachi, Matsusaka, Mie 515-0073; phone: 0598-534-406.
Admission: free, open 24 hours.

Matsusaka City Museum of History and Folklore (松阪市立歴史民俗資料館):
Opening hours: April-September: 09:00-16:30, October-March 09:00-16:00 (October-March the following year), closed Mondays, the day after public holidays and during the Year holidays (29 December- 3 January). Admission: 80 JPY (for groups of 20 or more 60 JPY), 40 JPY (for children aged 6-18).

Motoori Norinaga Memorial Museum (本居宣長記念館):
Opening hours: 09:00 to 17:00 (last admission 16:30)

Parking: free municipal parking lot next to Matsusaka Municipal Hospital.
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