The Best in Japan? A Fall Visit to Matsumoto Castle

 Just look at that photo. Isn't that castle beautiful? One of the few remaining original castles is also one of the best looking... at least in my opinion.
 Matsumoto Castle is a hirajiro - a castle built on a plain instead of on a hill or mountain. It has a nice moat around it.
 The castle is famous for its black wainscoting, secondary donjon, and a turret attached to the main keep.
 The main keep and secondary donjon were built around 1600, with a few other structures added later.
 Being an original castle, it's possible to see the structure as it originally was.
 You start by entering through a gate at the southeastern end. There is a bridge at the northwest corner over the moat, but that route was under repair or renovation.
 Once you're inside the gates, you're treated to a nice wide garden area. I'm sure this wasn't a garden in the past, instead with more buildings and perhaps some training ground.
 The Inui Kotenshu is the minor keep on the right in this photo. It looks like it has three stories but it really has four, and while connected to the main keep it has a unique structure.
 You can get your picture taken in front of the castle with a man dressed in a samurai costume. He was pretty scary...
 Here you see yazama, rectangular holes used for shooting arrows, and teppozama, square holes for firing muskets. Of course, teppozama weren't built into castles until westerners introduced firearms.
 Here's the easterly view from one of the teppozama...
 And the view west. You can see the bridge and some of the work that they're doing.
 Here are some pieces of the roof on display.
 The castle is original. That means it's made of wood instead of concrete, which thus means you'll have to take off your shoes. Notice that there are some stairs of sorts; the passage on the outside is lower than the inside of the castle. There are passages like this throughout the castle, designed for fully-armored warriors to travel around the castle.
 Above, you can see ishiotoshi, shelves with openings to the ground below. The openings exist to drop stones on the enemy climbing the walls below.
 There's a gun museum in the castle too, with lots of rifles and armor.
 The staircases in the castle aren't near each other. Each stairway is separate from the others, and they are very steep. This is meant to disorient and slow down intruders. The same thing can be said for department stores in Japan. Many times, they have escalators going up but not down, or the down-direction escalators are scattered around the store making it more difficult to get out (and seeing more merchandise to entice you to buy). There are plenty of staircases, though, so if there's a fire or earthquake it's pretty straightforward getting out.
 The 6th, top floor of the castle has great views in all directions.
 East view.
 South view.
 West view.
 There's a small shrine in the ceiling; a goddess protects the castle from fire and enemies.
 North view.
 Just north of the castle, the Kaichi Primary School is the first western-style school and it was the start of public schooling for everyone in Japan.
 The fourth floor has wide-open spaces, higher ceilings, and nicer walls. It was probably used as the Lord's home.
 Contrast that with the third floor, with lower ceilings and no windows. This was most likely a store room.
 Here's the view from the second floor.
 Back outside the castle.
 I'm not sure which cropping I like more. So both are here. Remember, you can click on pictures in my post and they'll enlarge to nearly-full screen.
 Matsumoto Castle, with some snow-capped mountains in the distance.
 Here's the bridge at the northwestern end. It is closed to foot traffic but it's possible to walk right up to it.
The bridge and the castle.

Matsumoto Castle is a good place to see fall colors, but it's particularly known for its cherry trees in the spring. The trees in this area are expected to bloom in a week, with the best viewing time around mid-April.

Admission to the castle was 600 yen prior to the tax increase that went into effect at the start of April, but that could have changed. The grounds are open from 8:30 to 17:00, and the museum is open year-round except for a few days around New Years. It's located about 15 minutes on flat ground from Matsumoto Station on foot, or a 5-minute bus ride on the Northern Course tourist bus.

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