Travel diaries

A day in Matsumoto, the city of the black castle


After seeing several Samurai castles and fortresses in the Nagano and Ueda area, we got on the train at Togura station to go see a much more impressive castle: that of Matsumoto.

We reach the population of Matsumoto when it was dark. We should have arrived earlier, but we were wrong about train and wasted time. Actually, from Togura to Matsumoto there is only one hour by train. The problem was that in the transfer in Shinonoi we crossed the cables and we took the wrong train. So when we realized 30 minutes later, we had to turn to Shinonoi and from there take the train to Matsumoto. Total, since we arrived quite late, at the Matsumoto station we took a taxi to our accommodation: ryokan Seifuso. Our room was very spacious and I already had the futons ready. I don't think we had dinner that day and we went to bed directly.

The next morning, sunlight entered very early through the paper on the walls of the room. With renewed energy, we borrow some ryokan bikes and fiuuuuuu We drove down the street in the direction of downtown. Matsumoto It is a population of about 240,000 inhabitants and can be reached everywhere by bike. Halfway we stop at a combini (24h shop) for breakfast a coffee and a pasta. Normally in Japan we usually have a choco-pan or a melon-pan breakfast. They are nothing from the other world, but they are characteristic of Japan. And then: fiuuuuuu We continue down the narrow street next to the canal, although we stopped cautiously at all crossings, of course. The sky was cloudy, but luckily it seemed like it was going to hold on without raining.

We really wanted to visit the castle and as we approached, it began to show itself timidly between the buildings and above the treetops. Finally, we enter the park and ... ¡tachánnnn !!! He Matsumoto Castle with its black-walled towers stood very elegant before us. That last! Until that moment of the trip we had seen rather small fortresses in Nagano, Ueda and Hikone, so the vision of this castle left us enthralled. It also influenced that first effect that the castle is reflected in the water of the moat that surrounds it on two sides, with a long bridge of very beautiful bright red.

When we consider that we had already taken enough photos, we continue walking to the entrance. Right there is the post office free guided tours. It is a guide service that will accompany you through the castle and tell you its story free! Isn't it great? Well, there is more: if you contact them a little in advance, they can find you Japanese guides who speak your language. That was precisely what we did and so, in a moment, we were presented with two men and a woman willing to be our kind cyclones for the Matsumoto Castle.

Most of these people who act as guides are retirees who want to practice the language they are learning as a guide. When we asked them, several of them answered that they had learned Spanish through a radio program (!). Although it may seem otherwise, the truth is that they spoke very well and were perfectly understood. Especially if we consider that to explain details of a castle it is necessary to have a fairly specific vocabulary.

We felt overprotected and over-served by our 3 guides, who were joined by the head of the office because at that time I had no other visitors to accompany. And so began our great visit to Matsumoto Castle, where we learned a lot of things. Some of them gave me time to hurriedly write them down in a notebook, so there goes:

To start we cross the main gate the "Kuromon" or "black gate" where the emblem of the Paulownia flower of the samurai family of the Toyōtomi is observed. During the Meiji era, the emperor decided to destroy all the castles of Japan, but this was saved thanks to the efforts of two men: Mr. Ichikawa, owner of a local newspaper, bought the castle grounds and kept it. For his part, Mr. Kobayashi, director of a city school whose students practiced baseball in the castle grounds, founded an organization to preserve the main tower.

The castle was built in the s. XVI at the end of the it was Sengoku. However, he was never attacked in that period of constant civil wars and, most strangely, he was never the victim of any fire. That's why it rises the same as always and Matsumoto It has become one of the 5 castles considered "National Treasures" of Japan. The other four are those of Himeji, Hikone, Inuyama and Matsue. Despite not requiring any restoration, 60 years ago some reforms were made to ensure its stability.

In the 16th century, Japan was plagued by castles as it corresponded to a nation mired in constant wars. It is estimated that there were about 3000 castles, and most were rough mountain fortresses (like the one of Aratojo that we visited in Rogue). He Matsumoto Castle it didn't exist yet, but there was a small fortress in its place called Fukashi.

At the beginning of the s. XVII, Tokugawa Ieyasu He seized power and proposed to maintain peace by reducing the martial power of his vassals. One of his measures was to prohibit feudal lords from having more than one castle in their domains. Thus, the number of fortresses was reduced to only 170 in the whole country.

Another consequence of this measure is that the castles, being less numerous, became larger and more sumptuous, as the feudal lords used them to demonstrate their power. To this range of new castles of the s. XVII belong Himeji and Matsumoto, for example.

The lord who went on to rule the town of Matsumoto in 1592 was Ishikawa Matsumasa, a vassal of Toyōtomi Hideyoshi. It was he who initiated the construction plans of the castle, but his son succeeded him after his death two years later. Even so, he did not enjoy the complete castle either. Although he changed sides and allied himself with the Tokugawa clan, he was accused of participating in a plot against him and his samurai caste was confiscated. In 1613, Tokugawa Ieyasu returned that domain to the samurai clan of the Ogasawara and it was Hidemasa Ogasawara who saw it completed in 1614. The castle and the surrounding lands changed ownership several times throughout history and passed through the hands of 6 different samurai clans.

He Matsumoto Castle It consists of five sections with three towers of different heights. The main tower has 6 floors, although from the outside there are 5 roofs. This is a characteristic of the Japanese castles of the time: they tried to confuse the invader making him believe they have fewer floors. Looking straight ahead to the entrance, it has a minor tower attached to the right.

The part of the castle that is at left The main tower was built much later, in 1635, and barely has defenses. It is a wing whose walls can be opened on three sides since it was used for the hobby of contemplating the moon (the «tsukimi»). The feudal lord who ruled the castle at that time had it built to receive a visit from the shogun. However, in the end the great leader of the nation could not go because the Nakasendo road Due to bad weather.

As we approached the entrance of the main tower with our entourage of guides, we came across a man dressed as a samurai who was there to take pictures with tourists. We could not resist the temptation and we took several pictures with him.

Once at the foot of the castle, we learned to look at the outer defenses that were used to prevent the assailants from climbing quietly through the sloping walls. Of the Japanese castles, it is surprising to see how they rise on rock bases with a slight slope, which I suppose is very necessary in a land that suffers so many earthquakes.

Then we take off our shoes and enter. The interior is all wood and quite austere as corresponds to any military fortress. Luckily, unlike in the Himeji Castle, Matsumoto's It has many elements to look at during the visit inside.

In the center there is a huge wooden column. It is so impressive that it is believed that a kami (one of the thousands of Shinto gods) inhabits it. Under our feet, 16 pillars stuck in the ground supported the weight of the entire building. In the fifties these pillars had rotted and the upper part of the tower was slightly inclined, as if the castle was decayed or sick. That's why they restored the pillars and lined them with concrete.

Then we look at the different embrasures. Some squares are called "yazama" because they were intended to shoot arrows through them and higher ones are called "teppozama" and were designed to shoot with arcabuz. Despite their names, it is possible that both were used to shoot with firearms, since at the time of construction of the castle this weapon was already extended throughout Japan and was especially useful in case of siege.

In front of a castle map copied in 1728 from the original, our guides gave us a brief introduction to the Japanese castles. There are 3 types: mountain (like that of Aratojo), of hill and plain. The latter only developed when there was a great need, since the other two are easier to defend. To better defend a castle built on the plain, they surrounded themselves with several pits of water. In the case of Matsumoto there were three, of which only the closest to the main tower is preserved today. In addition to the tower, this moat protected the palace of the feudal lord. It has a width of 60 meters, because that was the effective range of the arcabuces, and about 2 or 3 meters deep.