An Evening at Japan’s Matsumoto Castle

On February 12, 2015 by Oren and Cassie

Our second stop in Japan after spending a few days in Tokyo was a small city called Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture. It’s famous for Matsumoto Castle, the oldest castle still standing in Japan. Matsumoto Castle dates back more than 400 years, and I was lucky enough to spend an evening walking around the profoundly beautiful monument.

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Before arriving in Japan, we had only a cursory knowledge of anything about the people or the culture. Sure, we read a bit about Japan during our history classes, but that was World War 2 Japan, not the modern country that ranks as one of the most advanced places in the world. Nowhere is this more evident than Tokyo, a city that makes New York look like it has some catching up to do. But that’s not what we were really looking for, despite having a blast at the Tsujiki fish market and a sumo wrestling tournament.

We wanted to see Japan as it once was, with its traditional towers and pagodas. We wanted to see the cultural and historic beauty of the country’s traditions, not the shining skyscrapers of its cutting-edge modernity. We thought we might find some of those traditions in Matsumoto, where we had heard about Matsumoto Castle. To put it mildly, we were blown away.

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MY FIRST VIEW OF MATSUMOTO CASTLE

We arrived in Matsumoto early in the evening. My parents joined us for the Japan leg of our trip, so we found a place for the four of us to eat. My dad’s back was hurting and Cassie was tired, so they called it a night. That left my mom and I to hang out in Japan. I had seen a picture of Matsumoto Castle and thought it might be something interesting to photograph at night, so my mom and I walked the 15 minutes from our hotel to the castle.

Although we couldn’t get inside, we were able to walk around the outside of the magnificent structure. A moat separated us from the castle. It was incredibly quiet and peaceful that evening, and my mom and I caught up on the trip. Since we had last seen them, we had been through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, so we had plenty to talk about. We took our time admiring the castle – I remember it was a bit chilly – but we were in absolutely no rush. There were very few other people around, so we had the castle to ourselves. I don’t remember any specifics of the conversation, but I remember feeling sublimely happy and at peace, walking around a foreign country at night with my mom.

One side of the castle was lit up by a floodlight. The rest was fairly hard to see. I took my time with my camera, setting up some long exposures to get the pictures you see in this post.

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HISTORY OF MATSUMOTO CASTLE

Matsumoto Castle dates back to 1592. One hundred years after Columbus discovered America, the Japanese started building the castle. According to this page, the Ishikawa family was in charge of the area, and they promoted the castle and the town around it. That page is worth checking out, because it has many more details about the castle than I will get into here.

The castle is sometimes called the “Crow Castle” because of its elegant black exterior. It stands 30 meters tall, which is approximately 100 feet. Matsumoto Castle is considered one of the National Treasures of Japan, and for good reason. It’s awesome.

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We took a tour of the castle with a guide who gave us fantastic explanations of every part of the interior and exterior. This may not be the sort of massive stone behemoth that you see in Europe, but this castle is nonetheless beautiful with its wooden construction and simple, precise lines. A tour of the castle costs less than $6 per person, so it’s well worth it, and the tour guides are excellent. We took a 2.5 hour train from Tokyo, which was exceedingly easy, so there’s no reason to miss this gem of a landmark in Matsumoto.

-O.L.

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