Japan has its fair share of castles, but Matsumoto deserves an honorary mention. As one of the oldest castles in the country, it attracts a myriad of tourists each year. And if you planning to be one of the lucky people who get to walk around the grounds of this historic castle, there are some things you need to know, in order to prepare for your visit.
How do you get there? How much do the tickets cost? When does the castle open? Can you get there from Tokyo?
You will get answers to all of those questions in this detailed guide. And you will get some extra tips, that will really help you make the most of your visit to Matsumoto castle!
The current structure of the Matsumoto castle was originally built in 1594, making it one of Japan’s oldest castles. It is famous for the elegant black exterior, which is actually why it is often dubbed the Crow Castle.
Matsumoto Castle is actually considered one of Japan’s National Treasures. That is due to the five-storey keep, which is incredibly well preserved and that actually still has the original wooden interior. Actually, that wooden interior is one of the reasons why this castle is so unique. Japan has many castles, but quite a lot of them were rebuilt with ferro-concrete, so they don’t feel nearly as authentic as Matsumoto.
The castle served as the seat of Matsumoto domain, and it saw 23 different rulers who were based here. You can actually see the castle rooms that served as private residence of rulers, as well those where military officers would meet and discuss strategy.
Matsumoto is one of Japan’s oldest castles. Actually, it is the oldest castle with a five-storey main keep that remains standing today, making it a truly historic spot.
This is easily the most popular tourist attraction in Matsumoto, which is reason enough to visit it. But you shouldn’t go there just because of that; you should visit Matsumoto castle because of its rich culture and history. And for the views; there’s an observation deck on the sixth floor, where you can enjoy some absolutely breathtaking vistas of this charming Japanese city.
From the outside, the castle looks like it has five storeys, but it actually has six. Be prepared to climb some really steep wooden stairs – so are so steep that it’s almost like climbing a ladder. Oh, and when you first enter the castle you will need to take your shoes off, and you will get a plastic bag to carry them. Meaning that you will be walking around the castle in socks, so wear some fun ones!
Inside the castle, you can see displays of weapons and armor from the Sengoku Period. This is on the second floor, which has a total of four rooms to explore. The first floor is not that notable; it features pillars that were made from hemlock, pine and cypress. It was most likely used a food storage room.
The third floor is quite interesting. It can’t be seen from the outside because it has no windows. This is actually why it’s also called the ‘dark room’. It was hidden from the castle’s enemies, and it served as a room where warriors could stay safe, in times of battle.
The fourth floor used to hold a private residence, used by the lord of the castle in case of an emergency. In fact, if the lord was staying in the castle during battle, that meant that the battle was in its final stages.
On the fifth floor, you get to see the strategy meeting room. It is believed that military officers used this room for meetings during wartime, so that they could discuss various battle strategies. This room has a much higher ceiling than the rest of the castle, making it quite spacious.
The final floor of the castle used to serve as a watchtower during times of war. Nowadays it is just an observation deck, from where you can enjoy some beautiful views of Matsumoto.
Another part of the castle that you should visit is the moon viewing tower (Tsukimi Yagura), which is adjoined to the main keep. The tower was built during times of peace, in early Edo period. It served as a place where people could sit in the tatami room, and observe the moon rising from the east.
If you’re visiting in the spring, be prepared to see lots of cherry blossoms. With hundreds of trees throughout the grounds, Matsumoto Castle is a very popular cherry blossom spots.
You can read more about the attractions in the castle, and see photos of various exhibits on their official website.
In order to plan your visit properly, you need to know all those boring details – when does it open, how much does it cost to enter, do you need to book your ticket in advance etc. Here’s all that info, plus some insider tips that will make your visit go as smoothly as possible!
Ticket Price: ¥610 for adults, ¥300 for children
Opening Hours: 8:30AM to 5PM (Entrance closes at 4:30PM)
Ticket Reservations: Not necessary*
Closed: December 29-31, otherwise open every day
Wheelchair Access: Inner grounds of the castle are wheelchair accessible. Interior of the castle is not.
Tour Time: One hour min.
Tour Languages: English speaking guides are available**
*It is usually not necessary to reserve your ticket to Matsumoto castle. However, the number of visitors significantly increases during peak season (late April and early May), and during summer vacations (August). If you’re planning a visit during these times, it would be smart to reserve a ticket and avoid waiting in line for two hours.
** The English speaking guides are usually volunteers. They will take you on a tour for free – no tips required.
The Matsumoto Castle Park is located in the heart of Matsumoto city. The closest train station to the castle is the Kita-Matsumoto station – you can walk to the castle from here in just 12 minutes.
The city’s main train station, Matsumoto Station, is a 15-minute-walk from the castle. This is also doable, as long as you don’t mind the longer walk.
Alternatively, you can take a cab from either of the two stations to the castle. It’s going to cost you some $10 to get there from Matsumoto station, and only around $7 from Kita-Matsumoto station.
Another option is to ride the Town Sneaker bus. This is a sightseeing bus that takes you around all of Matsumoto’s tourist attractions, and one of them is the castle. to be precise, the North Route will take you to the castle. A single ticket costs some ¥200, and it stops being valid the moment you get off the bus. You can also get a day ticket for about ¥500, which lets you get on and off the bus multiple times.
Perhaps you’re not staying in Matsumoto, but just planning to visit on a day trip? Here’s how you can reach the castle from the most popular tourist hubs in the country.
It’s very easy to get to Matsumoto from Tokyo. Head to Shinjuku station, and get on the Azusa train. It will take you directly to Matsumoto station in about 2.5 hours. From there, you can either walk to the castle (takes about 20 minutes), or you can get on a different train, get out at Kita-Matsumoto station, and save about 10 minutes. Matsumoto and Kita-Matsumoto are connected with the Oito line, which is run by West JR.
If you have a Japan Railway Pass, you can travel from Tokyo to Matsumoto for free. But if you don’t have one, a one-way ticket will set you back a little over ¥6,000, which is some $60.
If you’re staying in Kyoto, you will need to make your way to Nagoya first. Take the Hikari (faster) or Kodomo (slower) Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Nagoya Station; either train will get you there in less than an hour. These two trains are covered by the JR pass; there’s also a third train, Nozomi, which is the fastest, but it it is not included in the JR Pass. If you don’t have a JR Pass, this journey will cost anywhere between ¥5000-6000, depending on which Shinkansen you take.
At Nagoya station, get on the Shinano Limited Express, and you will be at Matsumoto station in about 2 hours. This trip is also free if you have a JR Pass; otherwise, it will cost you about ¥6000.
The same goes if you’re staying in Osaka – take the Shinkansen to Nagoya Station, and from there you can get to the castle.
Tip: If you’re staying in Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, seriously consider getting a JR Pass. The return trip from Kyoto to Matsumoto castle will easily set you back more than ¥20,000 ($184). The cheapest JR Pass is only a little over ¥29,000, and it gives you free train rides for an entire week.
Just like many other Japanese castles and shrines, Matsumoto Castle is frequently home to various special events. You can view the full list of events here, including the dates and times they are held.
Why should you care? Well, for two reasons. One, the castle gets really busy during those events, so you might want to postpone your trip for a less-crowded time. Or, you could plan a trip during a specific event, and get to know Japanese culture even better.
Spring and autumn are when the most popular festivals are held. Spring sees the opening of cherry blossom season, when the number of visitors to the castle significantly increases. Everyone wants to walk around the grounds and admire the stunning cherry blossom trees.
There are many different events at the castle during autumn, but the Matsumoto Castle Festival is by far the biggest one. Held annually on November 3rd, this festival features many different events, including a tea ceremony, Samurai parade, archery competition, taiko performances and many more.
Since you already made the trip to Matsumoto, it only makes sense to see as much of the city as possible. Especially if you made the trip from Tokyo or Osaka – it took several hours to get to the castle, and it doesn’t make sense to leave the city after a two-hour tour.
So, are there any other attractions in the area that are worth visiting? Most definitely!
For a truly complete experience, get on the Town Sneaker bus. There’s a stop just minutes away from the castle, and you can see all of Matsumoto’s main attractions that are part of the North Route. The bus makes a loop, so you can get out at the same station where you got on, and just walk to the main train station that will take you back to where you’re staying.
And if riding the sightseeing bus is too touristy for you, that’s fine. You can actually walk from the castle to most of the places worth seeing in the area. One of those is Yohashira Shrine, which is just a 5-minute walk away from the castle. The Shinto shrine is particularly popular in autumn, when it serves as the perfect spot for viewing autumn foliage. It’s a very beautiful and relaxing place, where you can unwind and admire the stunning views.
Southwest of this shrine you will find the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum. It is a must for any watch collectors out there; the museum features an exhibit of working clocks and watches from different time periods. It doesn’t take more than an hour to tour the entire museum, and the entrance fee is just ¥300.
If you start slowly making your way to Kita-Matsumoto station from the museum, be sure to stop by Jorinji first. The beautiful Buddhist temple is often overlooked by tourists, so it’s rarely crowded. The small temple is actually right next to a Shinto shrine, and it is very well maintained. You can see some wonderful statues here, and a bright red Torii gate in the middle of this city.
There’s another place worth visiting in Matsumoto, but it’s nowhere near the places I just told you about. It is a local history museum, that’s actually north of the Matsumoto Castle. Former Kaichi School is actually a museum with exhibits on education in Japan, housed in a former school that’s been around since 1870. It’s an interesting place, and definitely worth your time if you have a few hours to kill in Matsumoto, after you’ve thoroughly explored the castle.