Japan 2014: Matsumoto – A Crow Castle & Lots of Frogs

On 15th May I spent a night in Matsumoto. Matsumoto (松本), in Nagano Prefecture (長野県), is somewhere that I had heard lots about but never been to, so I was keen to check it out and see what kind of city it was.

Map showing Matsumoto

Map showing Matsumoto

Unfortunately it was grey and starting to rain when I arrived, but after checking in to my hotel I didn’t let the weather stop me having a look round the town. It was getting late though, and things were starting to close. I did a little loop of the downtown area, but it was very quiet. I guess I didn’t see Matsumoto at its best, but I still quite liked what I saw.

Matsumoto Temari on drain covers

Matsumoto Temari on a drain cover

Nawate-dori (なわて通り), a street running along the north bank of the river, caught my eye due to this large frog statue at the end of the street.

Matsumoto

Giant frogs

The street is full of small shops selling knick-knacks, antiques, and food, but unfortunately most shops were closed or closing when I got there around 5pm.

Matsumoto

Nawate-dori

So I wandered down the street frog-spotting instead of shopping…

Matsumoto

The street’s mascot is a frog. The Japanese word for frog is ‘kaeru’ (かえる) and this sounds the same as the word for ‘return’, ‘kaeru’ (帰る / かえる). It is thought that frogs are good at returning things, such as money, so I guess the statues are there to bring the shops good luck! They certainly made me want to return to Matsumoto someday!

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

Matsumoto

I started wandering back towards my hotel and decided to stop by the castle first to see it as the light was fading. On the way, I found this curious book shop designed to look like the castle:

Matsumoto

Book shop modelled on Matsumoto Castle?!

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete original castles in Japan. It’s known as ‘Crow Castle’ due to its dark colouring, and I must say it was rather impressive!

Matsumoto Castle

In the morning I went back to see inside the castle. It was a glorious day – really bright and sunny – and the castle was looking stunning.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

The castle, with the main castle keep and smaller second donjon built from 1592 to 1614, is set in lovely grounds.

Matsumoto Castle

Inside, with shoes off (of course) it’s possible to walk all around the castle, which is beautifully preserved. The ceilings are low and the steps are steep, and it’s hard to imagine how samurai warriors or ladies in kimonos might have moved through the building.

Matsumoto Castle

The top (6th) floor offers views across Matsumoto and beyond…

Matsumoto Castle

Of course, no visit to a Japanese castle would be complete without some wannabe warriors…

Some guys posing at Matsumoto Castle

I’ve read quite a few samurai novels since I came back to England after living in Japan, and it was interesting to be back in Japan and to visit one of the original castles. I kept trying to imagine how it would have been all those years ago in the 1600s, but it’s hard to picture Japan of the past even when you’re surrounded by history.

I only spent a few brief hours in Matsumoto really, and I’m sure it has much more to offer than I have seen. Hopefully I’ll get to go back someday!

5 thoughts on “Japan 2014: Matsumoto – A Crow Castle & Lots of Frogs

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed Matsumoto Castle, which is my favourite castle in all of Japan. In Matsumoto, I also recommend a visit to the Nakamachi-dori Street, a beautifully preserved old merchant quarter with Edo Period houses built in the kura-zukuri (蔵造り) style. It is located just south of the castle near Nawate-dori. The Former Kaichi School, one of the first schools in Japan is also a must see and has some very cool/interesting architecture.

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  2. I’m glad you enjoyed Matsumoto Castle, which is my favourite castle in all of Japan. In Matsumoto, I also recommend a visit to the Nakamachi-dori Street, a beautifully preserved old merchant quarter with Edo Period houses built in the kura-zukuri (蔵造り) style. It is located just south of the castle near Nawate-dori. The Former Kaichi School, one of the first schools in Japan is also a must see and has some very cool/interesting architecture.

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  3. Matsumoto is a a great city. Having lived just a short walk from Matsumoto Castle I have to agree that it is my favorite castle as well. Although the view from Inuyama Castle on a clear day is quite good! Matsumoto also has some wonderful hiking spots and cafes/restaurants on the outer edges of town. But sadly they require a car to see properly.

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