Matsumoto Castle was one of the highlights of our visit to Japan in 2012. We received a free private tour by a lovely local retired volunteer, and the visit provided a fascinating insight into Japanese history. Despite having already visited Himeji castle earlier in the summer we were keen to visit again.
Upon entering the castle grounds, I was happy to see that the English-language volunteer-led guiding service was still running. We accepted a short tour of only the grounds as we knew the children would be unable to concentrate for very long, and we were given a flavourful, legend-filled history of the 400 year old building. There was then a 15 minute wait while we queued to enter the building, but as usual for Japan it was exceptionally well managed with covered seating and a convenient vending machine for refreshing drinks.
Once inside, the ascent to the top involved many steep and narrow stepladders, but we had a lovely unhurried time, exploring the nooks and crannies used by defenders, and admiring the mountain-backed vistas of the city from the windows. Matsumoto Castle may not be as grand as Himeji but the smaller and more human scale fortress feels more authentic, and less tiring to explore1. Himeji’s grounds are magnificent, but Matsumoto has the more interesting keep.
In addition to the castle, Matsumoto is a compact, low-key and low-rise, city ringed by mountains. Its pleasant and eminently stroll-able central area makes it a great base for exploring Kamikōchi, before continuing your journey by rail to higher altitudes.
Although also more physically challenging due to the steep and narrow steps, Himeji is considerably more accessible. ↩︎