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Castle Matsushiro Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
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Matsushiro Castle (松代城 Matsushiro-jō) is a "flatland castle" (平城 hirajiro) located in the south of the Nagano Basin, between two arms of Chikuma River. Fans of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin might be more familiar with its moniker "Kaizu Castle" (海津城 Kaizu-jō). Shingen constructed Kaizu Castle as a tactical base during the Battle of Kawanakajima against Kenshin in 1560. Not only in times of war but also during times of truce, the castle held by Kōsaka Masanobu (高坂昌信, 1527-1578), one of Shingen's "Twenty-Four Generals", played a significant role in defending Takeda territory in northern Shinano (modern-day Nagano Prefecture) against Kenshin.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

After the demise of the Takeda clan in 1582, the castle came under the control of Oda Nobunaga and, after his assassination, Uesugi Kagekatsu (上杉景勝, 1556-1623), Kenshin's adopted son. The Sanada clan challenged the Uesugi clan's possession of the castle for years; the Uesugi were later relocated to Aizu by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. After Hideyoshi's death in 1598 and the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Mori Tadamasa (森忠政, 1603-1634) became the lord of Kaizu Castle. He extended the fortifications and replaced the earthworks with stone walls.

From 1603 to 1622, the Matsudaira and the Sakai ruled over the castle; in 1622, Tokugawa Hidetada ordered Sanada Nobuyuki (真田信之, 1566-1658) to transfer from Ueda to Matsushiro. The Sanada clan governed the domain until the beginning of the Meiji period. In 1711, the castle was renamed to Matsushiro Castle. Since its first establishment, the castle had made good strategic use of Chikuma River flowing on the northwestern side. However, as flooding of the river caused serious damage, the riverbed was changed in 1752. The former channel was turned into Hyakken Moat (百間堀), and several other moats were constructed around the castle.

The map below compares the past and the present layout of Matsushiro.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

The map is based on the local signboard and on Google Map. The location of the enclosures is approximate.

I spontaneously decided to visit Matsushiro Castle, after I had already seen several other castles in the same area. I could not use the parking lot near the castle, because the Sanada Festival (真田十万石まつり) was held around the castle. I had to park far away from the castle and hurried to the site while the festivities were unfolding around me.

① There are barely any remains of the third enclosure and the southern moats visible, but parts of the moat were reconstructed in front of the Ikeda Masuo Museum (池田満寿夫美術館).

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

② The South Gate of the second enclosure (二の丸 ninomaru) and Taiko Gate (太鼓門).

The reconstruction of Taiko Gate was devised by a committee of experts based on buried properties, historical documents and ancient maps with the support of the Agency for Cultural Affairs (文化庁の指導).

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

③ The site of the main enclosure (本丸 honmaru). As it was destroyed by the floods of the Chikuma River it was abandonded after the construction of a new palace in Hananomaru.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

④ Kita-Akazu Gate (北不明門)

Kita-Akazu Gate was faithfully restored based on old maps. It has a stone wall and seems of medieval style.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

⑤ A stone wall northwest of the main enclosure.

The signboard did not mention what it was, but I guess it was the base of the inner bailey (天守台 tenshudai).

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

⑥ A small back gate (埋門) built into the earthwork dividing the enclosure. It seemed to be of unusual design.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

The moat and stone wall on the west side of the main enclosure.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

⑦ This is the open space called 'Momiji-no-Baba' (紅葉の馬場, horse-riding ground).

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

A simple wooden bridge at the northeast of the ninomaru.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

⑧ Site of Higashi-Akazu Gate (東不明門) at the east side of the main enclosure.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

There are many historical buildings in the castle town, too. As the sun started to set, I only had the time to see two representative buildings from the outside.

⑨ The New Sanada Palace (真田新御殿 Sanada Shingoten)

Sanada Shingoten was built by 9th lord Sanada Yukinori (真田幸教) in 1864 for his mother-in-law Teisho-in. It was detached from the palace in Hananomaru and therefore called shingoten, "new palace". After the Meiji Restoration , it was used as the private residence of the Sanada. In 1966, it was transferred to Matsushiro Town and opened to the public in 2011.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

⑩ Former school (文武学校 Bunbu gakkō)

The domain school was planned by the 8th lord Sanada Yukitsura (真田幸貫) and completed by Yukinori. It was opened as the place of learning in 1855 and modelled on the Kōdōkan (弘道館) in Mito.

Matsushiro Castle (松代城)

I regret that we did not have more time to see things. I am looking forward to revisiting the castle town.

Date of visit: 13 October 2013


  • Address: Matsushi-machi Matsushiro, Nagano-shi, Nagano
  • Transport: 2km from Joshinetsu Expressway Nagano Interchange via Prefectural Route 35
  • Parking: Next to Masuo Ikeda Museum or North Matsushiro Castle Parking (Spot 'P' pointed on the above map)
Next article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Kajiki Castle
Previous article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Komoro Castle
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Hiroto Uehara
Hiroto is an ordinary Japanese office worker, but his true mission is searching for castles on the weekend.


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