The Crow Castle of Matsumoto
By John Asano
Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s most visually stunning castle and one of the twelve complete original castles still in existence in Japan. The keep, which was completed in the late sixteenth century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework and it is one of only four castles listed as National Treasures of Japan.
The castle has an interesting nickname, it is also known as kurasu-jo (烏城) or crow castle. You won’t find many crows around here, but the castle did pick up this nickname due to its striking black exterior. The black walls of the main keep and towers look like the spreading wings of a crow.
The brooding black colour was chosen to strike fear in the hearts of any attacking enemies.
Matsumoto city is a picturesque castle town nestled 600 meters above sea level between the stunning 3,000 meter high Japan Alps and Utsukushigahara Heights. Apart from the castle, the area is also famous for its delicious apples and traditional soba.
Matsumoto is a gateway to popular tourist destinations like Kamikochi with its spectacular mountain scenery and hiking, and Hida Takayama, which is famous for its traditional old town and sake.
The Crow Castle is the main reason to visit Matsumoto and the star attraction of the show is the original three turreted castle keep, or donjon. It was built around 1595 in contrasting black and white. The brooding black colour was chosen to strike fear in the hearts of any attacking enemies.
Today there are no approaching enemies but the black lacquered and white plastered walls of the keep are visually stunning with their reflection in the water and mountains in the background. It is one of the oldest existing castle keeps in Japan and is a must see for that alone.
Just south of the castle along the Nakamachi-dori Street is a beautifully preserved old merchant quarter with Edo Period houses built in the kura-zukuri (蔵造り) style. The houses feature walls made from multiple layers of clay and the roof made from black plaster. It is a great place to take a stroll after visiting the castle and soak up the historic atmosphere of this city.
Nagano Prefecture with its abundance of mountains and cooler climate has always been a favourite summer escape for us here in central Japan. Matsumoto is also easily accessible from Tokyo and is only a 160 minute train ride away.
If you want to see one of Japan’s best castles and take a stroll down historic streets, mark down Matsumoto Castle for your next trip.
Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano Prefecture
Admission: Entry to the castle is 610 yen
Hours: Matsumoto Castle is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
Time: I would recommend around 1-2 hours to explore the castle and grounds .
Closed: Closed from December 29 to January 3
From Tokyo you can take either the JR Azusa and Super Azusa limited express trains from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto. The journey takes just over 2.5 hours and costs 6,380 yen for a non-reserved seat, or 6,900 yen for a reserved seat.
A cheaper option is a highway bus which you can take from the Keio Highway Bus Terminal in Shinjuku to Matsumoto. A one way ticket costs 3,500 yen and takes just over three hours. A round trip ticket is 6,100 yen.
The castle is a short 15 minute walk from JR Matsumoto Station. You can also take a bus from JR Matsumoto Station to Shiyakusho-mae bus stop (190 yen).