Matsumoto Castle

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Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Matsumoto Castle05s5s4592.jpg
The keep
Matsumoto Castle 松本城 is located in Japan
Matsumoto Castle 松本城
Matsumoto Castle
Coordinates36°14′20″N 137°58′09″E / 36.23889°N 137.96917°E / 36.23889; 137.96917Coordinates: 36°14′20″N 137°58′09″E / 36.23889°N 137.96917°E / 36.23889; 137.96917
TypeHirashiro (flatland castle)
Site information
ConditionOriginal keep (tenshu) and inner walls survive, several gates have been rebuilt since 1960
Site history
BuiltCurrent structures date from 1594
Built byShimadachi Sadanaga
In use1504 to 1868
MaterialsEarth, stone, and wood
DemolishedOuter castle was taken down and the land reclaimed in the Meiji Restoration

Matsumoto Castle (松本城, Matsumoto-jō) is one of Japan's premier historic castles, along with Himeji and Kumamoto castles.[1] The building is also known as the "Crow Castle" (烏城, Karasu-jō) due to its black exterior. It was the seat of the Matsumoto domain. It is located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture and is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail.

The keep (tenshukaku), which was completed in the late sixteenth century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.[1]

Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle (hirajiro) because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain.[1] Its complete defences would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats, and gatehouses.[1]


Matsumoto Castle in winter

The castle's origins go back to the Sengoku period. At that time Shimadachi Sadanaga of the Ogasawara clan built a fort on this site in 1504, which originally was called Fukashi Castle. In 1550 it came under the rule of the Takeda clan and then Tokugawa Ieyasu.

When Toyotomi Hideyoshi transferred Ieyasu to the Kantō region, he placed Ishikawa Kazumasa in charge of Matsumoto. Kazumasa and his son Yasunaga built the tower and other parts of the castle, including the three towers: the keep and the small tower in the northwest, both begun in 1590, and the Watari Tower; the residence; the drum gate; the black gate, the Tsukimi Yagura, the moat, the innermost bailey, the second bailey, the third bailey, and the sub-floors in the castle, much as they are today. They also were instrumental in laying out the castle town and its infrastructure. It is believed much of the castle was completed by 1593–94.

During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate established the Matsumoto Domain, of which the Matsudaira, Mizuno, and others were the daimyōs.

For the next 280 years until the abolition of the feudal system in the Meiji Restoration, the castle was ruled by the 23 lords of Matsumoto representing six different daimyō families. In this period the stronghold was also known as Crow Castle (烏城, Karasu-jo) because its black walls and roofs looked like spreading wings.


The keep, leaning, prior to 1904

In 1872, following the Meiji Restoration, the site, along with many former daimyōs' castles, was sold at auction for redevelopment.[1] When news broke that the keep was going to be demolished, however, an influential figure from Matsumoto, Ichikawa Ryōzō, along with residents from Matsumoto, started a campaign to save the building. Their efforts were rewarded when the tower was acquired by the city government.[2]

In the late Meiji period the keep started to lean to one side. An old picture (seen at right) clearly shows how the keep looked then. It was because of neglect coupled with a structural defect, but many people believed the tower leaned due to the curse of Tada Kasuke. He had been caught and executed for attempting to appeal unfair tax laws (Jōkyō uprising).[3]

A local high school principal, Kobayashi Unari, decided to renovate the castle and appealed for funds. The castle underwent "the great Meiji renovation" between 1903-1913. It underwent another renovation "the great Shōwa renovation" during the period 1950-1955.

In 1952 the keep, Inui-ko-tenshu (small northern tower), Watari-yagura (roofed passage), Tatsumi-tsuke-yagura (southern wing), and Tsukimi-yagura (moon-viewing room) were designated as national treasures.

In 1990, the Kuromon-Ninomon (second gate of the Black Gate) and sodebei (side wall) were reconstructed. The square drum gate was reconstructed in 2002.

Matsumoto Castle was damaged in a 5.4 magnitude earthquake on June 30, 2011. The quake caused approximately ten cracks in the inner wall of the main tower.[4]

There is a plan for restoring the soto-bori (outer moat), which was reclaimed for a residential zone.[5]

The second floor of the main keep features a gun museum, Teppo Gura, with a collection of guns, armor, and other weapons.[6]


See also[edit]


  • Benesch, Oleg and Ran Zwigenberg (2019). Japan's Castles: Citadels of Modernity in War and Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 375. ISBN 9781108481946.
  • Mitchelhill, Jennifer (2013). Castles of the Samurai:Power & Beauty. USA: Kodansha. ISBN 978-1568365121.
  • Schmorleitz, Morton S. (1974). Castles in Japan. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 0-8048-1102-4.
  • Motoo, Hinago (1986). Japanese Castles. Tokyo: Kodansha. pp. 200 pages. ISBN 0-87011-766-1.

(In Japanese)

  • Nakagawa, Haruo (2005). Zusetsu Kokuhō Matsumoto-Jō (National Treasure, Matsumoto Castle Illustrated).Issōsha Publishing


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Three Famous Castles of Japan". Kobayashi Travel Service. Archived from the original on 2010-03-22. Retrieved 2010-07-04.
  2. ^ Matsumoto City Official Website "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2009-12-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Side Stories of the Uprising". Retrieved 2009-12-11.
  4. ^ "M5.4 quake jolts Nagano Pref., injuring 8". Archived from the original on 2011-06-30. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  5. ^ Proposal presented by Matsumoto City (in Japanese)"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2009-12-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Matsumoto Castle - Yamasa Institute, Japan Travel Guide

External links[edit]

Media related to Matsumoto Castle at Wikimedia Commons