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A Tour of Japanese Castles

Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Prefecture)

photo The beautiful symmetrical Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto City)

Matsumoto Castle's tower is the oldest surviving Japanese structure with five external levels and six internal stories. Next to this impressive main tower is a smaller tower to which the main tower is connected by a roofed passageway. The castle's buildings have been designated a national treasure. The outer walls on each level feature white plaster above black lacquer, and it is this striking contrast that has made the castle famous for its beauty. As Matsumoto Castle was built for the purpose of withstanding attacks by firearms, the exterior is not decorated. The result is an austere but powerful facade. Nagano Prefecture gets a lot of snow, and the sight of the castle covered with snow in winter is truly breathtaking.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), rule by the samurai came to an end, and many castles around Japan were torn down in accordance with government policies. Matsumoto Castle was about to be sold off to a wealthy individual when local citizens started a drive to collect funds and buy it themselves. Later, when the main tower fell into disrepair, local residents contributed money and carried out a fund-raising drive to pay for the repair work. Matsumoto Castle truly belongs to the people of the city.

The exterior of the Former Kaichi School (Matsumoto City)

Children studied in classrooms like this. (Matsumoto City)

Near the castle is the Former Kaichi School, one of the oldest elementary schools in Japan. The Western-style school building was completed in 1876 and used for 90 years. Today it serves as a museum that offers a glimpse of what classrooms were like in the late nineteenth century and what kind of schoolbooks, stationery, and other materials were used. What do you think children studied in this attractive school with stained glass windows?


Matsumoto Station can be reached by train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo in three hours. The castle is a 15-minute walk from the station, and the Former Kaichi School is a 5-minute walk from the station.