Matsumoto Castle – Nagano’s Crow Castle
Matsumoto Castle, nicknamed 'Crow Castle', is magnificent. With our guide, learn its history, find out about some great events and, importantly, discover how to get there.
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture is surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes – some of the biggest draws for the great number of tourists who visit Nagano every year. Acclaimed for its beautiful views, dotted with plenty of onsens, notable for its Kaichi School (Japan’s first High School) and as the home of Temari (traditional Japanese handball), this central prefecture makes for an amazing vacation spot.
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture is one of five castles in the country that are considered Important National Treasures. The other four being Matsue Castle in Shimane Prefecture, Inuyama Castle in Aichi Prefecture, Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture and Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture.
Want more castles? Check our article on Japan Castles – the 15 Best Japanese Castles
About Matsumoto Castle
Originally built as Fukashi Castle in the midst of the Warring States Period (戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai) in 1504, Matsumoto Castle’s earliest construction is shrouded in mystery.
Matsumoto Castle today is also known as Crow Castle (カラス城 karasu-jo) due to its deep black facade. Its last occupants were the Toda clan who occupied the castle until the end of the Samurai era in 1866. The castle is now open to tourists, with many ancient weapons, including early muskets and rifles on show. The fortified towers or ‘keeps’ (天守 tenshu) were added in 1597 by the Ishikawa clan, making them the oldest in Japan.
The castle fell into neglect during the late Meiji Period (1868 – 1912) and started to deteriorate. This changed when a local high school principal decided that something should be done to prevent complete decay and appealed for funds to renovate the castle. Subsequently, the castle underwent two restoration periods: “the great Meiji renovation” between 1903-1913 and “the great Showa renovation” from 1950 to 1955.
Although not particularly apparent in daylight, Matsumoto Castle isn’t actually as black as you might think. The night illuminations of the castle reveal that it is actually pretty much equally divided into black and white sections.
Further Info and Events
There are heaps of events in and around Matsumoto Castle and, thankfully, the tourist organizations in the region have given a great overview of what you can do for fun and entertainment when visiting Matsumoto.
Do take a look at our list of the highlights, however:
1. Spring Tea Ceremony
On a Sunday in mid-April, people gather on the castle grounds to have spring tea among the cherry blossoms. Often dressed in traditional Kimono, it’s truly a sight to behold, so don’t miss the urasenke tanko-kai (裏千家淡交会). There’s also another Tea Party in May, should you have missed the one in April. Keep a look out on the list in the link below for Sekishu Style Matsushiro Ikei Kai Tea Party.
2. Matsumoto Craft Beer Festival
Now, this might not sound like a historic tradition and you’re right – it’s more of a recent one. Japanese love their beer, so mingling with the locals at a craft beer festival right beside Matsumoto Castle is great for an insight into more contemporary Japanese culture.
3. Kojo-Taiko Performance and more
In November, a taiko (Japanese traditional drum) performance takes place at the castle. While it is not held every year or at the same time for that matter, there are many different traditional events all-year round. The taiko event is great for music lovers and fans of traditional dress and culture. Another great traditional cultural event is the free access day where people in traditional Japanese Kimono dress get free entry to all areas. So, get yourself to the next Kimono shop and get involved!
Mon – Sun
8:30 am – 5:00 pm
(during Golden Week and Obon Week 8:30 am- 6:00 pm)
closed from 12/29 – 01/03 over New Years
The closest train station is JR Matsumoto Station, located a 15-minute walk away from the castle grounds and serviced by the JR Shinonoi Line. The station also has good connections to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other large cities in the area.