29.Matsumoto Castle Part3

There are defense systems along the passage of the first floor of the Main Tower- machicolations, loopholes (for guns and arrows), and lattice windows. For instance, as many as 117 loopholes were built in this tower. They are the genuine article!


Supporting Systems of Main Tower

You can enter the tower after entering the main enclosure through Kuro-mon (the black gate). It weighs about 1,000 tons on the unstable ground at its base, so 16 thick wooden “main support pillars” stand inside the stone wall base and a ladder-type support foundation was laid across the top of them.

The Kuro-mon gate
The entrance of the Main Tower
One of the 16 main support pillars was preplaced and is exhibited in the first floor
The layout of the 16 main support pillars, exhibited in the first floor
The illustration of the internal structure of the Main Tower (its lower part), exhibited in the first floor

Interior for Fighting

If you go into the first floor, you will see lots of other columns supporting the tower. The floor is separated into the central room, called “Moya”, and the surrounding defense passage, called “Musha-bashiri (directly means “warriors running”). The central room was used as storage and elevated about 50cm above the main passage. This is because the support foundation was doubled-up in this area.

The first floor (the central room)
The first floor (the defense passage), the central room on the left is elevated

There are defense systems along the passage – machicolations (devices for dropping stones), loopholes (for guns and arrows), and lattice windows. For instance, as many as 117 loopholes were built in this tower. They are the genuine article!

The defense systems on the first floor
A machicolation called “Ishiotoshi”
The first floor (the first level) seen from the outside

You can climb the steep steps to the next floor. The second floor is similar to the first one but brighter due to its wide latticed and non-latticed windows. It was used as a waiting place for warriors during an emergency. It is now used as Matsumoto Castle Gun Museum.

The wide latticed window on the second floor
The interior of the second floor
An exhibition of the Matsumoto Castle Gun Museum

Each Floor has Unique Feature

In contrast, the third floor is dark because it is an attic with no windows. It is thought to have been used mainly for storage.

The third floor

The fourth floor is also different from the others. It has fewer columns, high ceilings, and good lighting, so it is believed to have been the lord’s chamber. The steps from the fourth to the fifth are the steepest probably because of the high ceiling. Please be careful. (Taking photographs of the steps is prohibited in the tower, probably for safety and crowded-flow reasons.)

The fourth floor
A side view of the steps to the fifth floor

The fifth floor looks interesting because the back sides of the gables are visible in all directions. It was used as a conference room for the senior vassals.

The fifth floor
The back side of a gable
The fifth floor (the fourth level) seen from the outside

You will finally arrive at the top floor (6th), 22m above the ground. It was planned to have a veranda, but the plan was changed and the walls were built on there outside of the veranda. You can see the line where the veranda was intended to start on the floor. You can also see views of the outside through the wired windows between the walls. It was used as the headquarters of the lord during battle. If you look up at the underside of the roof, you will find the Nijurokuyashin god, which is believed to have saved this tower during the great fire during the Edo Period, worshiped on it.

The top floor
The part which was supposed to be a veranda
A view through the wired windows
The Nijurokuyashin god, worshiped on the underside of the roof

Later History

After the Meiji restoration, all of the castle buildings, excluding the Main Tower, were removed, and finally the tower was sold possible for scrap. Ryozo Ichikawa, a social campaigner came out, and asked the buyer to suspend the destruction of the tower. After that, he collected money by holding an exhibition and giving a detailed explanation in order to get it back, and was successful in the end. However, that was not enough for the tower. Such a large and old building is needed to do continuous maintenance to preserve it in the long term. In the middle of the Meiji Era, The tower began to lean at about six degrees due to the decay of the central columns, and bats began to live in it. Another savior, school head, Unari Kobayashi worked hard to repair the castle. At last, the tower was designated as a National Tangible Cultural Property in 1952. In addition, other primary gates of the castle, such as Kuro-mon and Taiko-mon have been restored. Matsumoto City is considering restoring the main gate as well.

The monument of Ryozo Ichikawa (on the left) and Unari Kobayashi (on the right), at the inside of the main enclosure
The photo of the Main Tower during the Meiji Era, owned by Matsumoto Castle Management Bureau (licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

My Impression

In conclusion, we can’t be completely sure exactly when and how the Main Tower was built. The history presented in this article is based on the official opinion of Matsumoto City. Some speculate that the Inui small main tower was first built, then, it was modified when the large main tower was added later because it looks like the newer multi-storied type. Others think that the large main tower originally had a different appearance from now, with the veranda on the top and more gables, and modified later. I think it is exciting for history fans to wonder which of these is the truth.

the Inui small main tower is on the left
The interior of the Inui small main tower, many logs are used for the tower, which is one possible explanation for the theory that the tower was first built

How to get There

If you want to visit there by car, it is about a 20-minute drive away from Matsumoto IC on the Nagano Expressway. There are few parking lots around the castle.
By public transportation, it takes about 15 minutes on foot from Matsumoto Station.
From Tokyo to the station: get Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train and transfer to the Shinonoi Line at Nagano Station. Or take the limited express Azusa at Shinjuku Station.

Links and References

Matsumoto Castle, National Treasure of Japan, Official Website

That’s all. Thank you.
Back to “Matsumoto Castle Part1”
Back to “Matsumoto Castle Part2”

29.松本城 その3
























明治時代の天守写真、松本城管理事務所蔵 (licensed under public domain via Wikimedia Commons)







国宝 松本城、公式ホームページ
・「図説 国宝松本城/中川治雄著」一草舎
・「シリーズ藩物語 松本藩/田中薫著」現代書館


29.Matsumoto Castle Part2

When you arrive at Matsumoto Castle, in the present time, the first thing you have to do is to enjoy its Main Tower. It is one of the only two remaining five-level Main Towers, followed by Himeji Castle, one of the five Main Towers of Japan’s National Treasures, and one of the twelve remaining Main Towers.


When you arrive at Matsumoto Castle, in the present time, the first thing you have to do is to enjoy its Main Tower. It is one of the only two remaining five-level Main Towers, followed by Himeji Castle, one of the five Main Towers of Japan’s National Treasures (the previous two plus Hikone, Inuyama and Matsue Castles), and one of the twelve remaining Main Towers.

The Main Tower of Matsumoto Castle
The Main Tower of Himeji Castle
The Main Tower of Hikone Castle
The Main Tower of Inuyama Castle
The Main Tower of Matsue Castle

Beautiful but Strong Main Tower

It may be a good idea to walk around the inner moat surrounding the main enclosure to enjoy a beautiful view of the tower before entering it. The width of the moat in front of the tower is about 60m. It would make enemies shooting up from the side ineffective but defenders shooting down from the tower more effective at that time. In addition, if the enemies could swim across the moat to the tower, they would be heavily counterattacked by the defenders through its defense systems such as machicolations and loopholes.

The aerial photo around the castle

The inner moat in front of the Main Tower
A machicolation and loopholes near the entrance of the tower

Reasons for Black Main Tower

The black-looking Main Tower of Matsumoto Castle (sometimes called “Crow Castle”) is often compared with the Himeji castle’s painted white clearly by contrast. Its black appearance comes from its wooden side walls covered with special Japanese lacquer, which could withstand harsh weathers. Himeji Castle is covered in plaster, which make it look white, and it is newer than Matsumoto Castle. It is said that using plaster on all walls of a castle would not effectively protect against the rain when Matsumoto Castle was built. That meant the improvements in wall painting techniques occurred between the building of the two castles. Another possible reason for the using the black walls is that wooden walls are stronger than plaster walls against the cold winter of inland area like the Matsumoto Basin.

If you look up at the Main Tower, you can see its each level is covered with plaster in the upper part and wooden walls in the lower part
Himeji Castle, a representative of white castles

Some also say black was a favorite color of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, while white was the color which Ieyasu Tokugawa often used for his castles when Himeji Castle was built. Anyway, these speculations are enjoyable to see the contrast.

Hideyoshi’s Main Tower of Osaka Castle, from “The summer campaign of the siege of Osaka folding screens”, owned by Osaka Castle Museum (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Nagoya Castle, another representative of white castle, during Ieyasu’s period

Unique Lookout Tower

The Main Tower of Matsumoto Castle actually consists of the large main tower, the Inui small main tower, and three turrets (Watari Yagura, Tatsumi-Tsuke Yagura and Tsukimi Yagura) which are connected to each other. This is called “multiple attached style”. The large one is generally considered “the Main Tower”. The tower has five levels but six floors inside. This type of the tower is called the lookout tower type, which refers to a small lookout tower on a large turret. In the case of Matsumoto Castle, the turret part is the first and second floors and the fifth and top floors is the tower part, binding the middle part of the third and fourth floors. However, the third floor is built as the attic of the turret part, with no roof. That’s why the numbers of its levels and floors are different.

(From the left) The Inui small main tower, (simple) Watari Turret, the large main tower, Tatsumi Turret, and Tsukimi Turret)

In addition, the Main Tower has a striking appearance for a lookout tower. One of the reasons for this is that the top floor doesn’t have a veranda, which lookout towers usually had, and is covered with walls. The fact is that it had been first planned to have a veranda, but was changed to its current state during construction. As a result, the tower looks a little top-heavy.

The top level is covered with the walls, which looks a little top-heavy.

To be continued in “Matsumoto Castle Part3”
Back to “Matsumoto Castle Part1”