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Written by: Sjaak Mintjens
Date: 2013/05/24

The Crow at the Gateway to the Alps

 Having lived in Matsumoto for over a year, I have been to Matsumoto Castle, the Crow Castle, a few times. The first time was as a fully-fledged tourist and after that for some relaxing hanami (sakura viewing) and at other times just simply relaxing under a random tree on a sunny day. Even though having been there several times I had never even taken an ounce of thought to appreciate the beautiful Japanese Alps that make up the background of one of the most beautiful castles in Japan.

 

A national treasure

 One of the biggest reasons for people to come to Matsumoto is the castle, sometimes even the only reason. It is one of the few castles in Japan designated as a national treasure for it is still has its former wooden interior, unlike many castles found across the country. Many people who travel across Japan make a one-day stop at Matsumoto for the castle and move on the next day. I did pretty much the same thing the first time around, aside from a little detour to Kamikochi, a beautiful national park within the Japanese Alps. However, when I was at the castle the first time around, I did not realize that I looked at the mountain range as to where I would be going the next day, because I was too focused on the castle itself, but looking back, it was quite a shame not to also appreciate the environment around it a little bit more.

 

Every side a different view

 Just like how Matsumoto castle’s general shape will appear different depending on from which side you look. The environment around the castle will also change drastically whether you look out in the northern, western, southern or eastern direction from Matsumoto castle. This is something a Dutch person in general is not used to, as all directions would be simply flat. But, here if you look to the north you will see the Alps Park, a small community park, which can be reached by bus or on foot (One hour walk from the castle) and holds a place where people hold picnics, go to a small petting zoo and just walk around a bit on a nice day. As for the south you can see the city itself with, as usual in Japan, mountains in the far distance. And of course there are the Japanese Alps on the west and the highlands on the east.

 

On the one side

 The castle is beautiful but the location makes it even better. Normally I would say that I would rather see a castle on a hill, or on an island or somewhere up in the mountains, but Matsumoto Castle, which has an amazing view on the Japanese Alps, is definitely one that has its own unique background. Even the tip of the great Mount Yariga-take (3,180m) can be seen from the castle with its recognizable pointy shape in the great distance. Sadly, on the photo Mount Yariga-take is not very visible. But, if you’d trace down the left side of the big white mountain (Mount Yokotoshi-dake, 2,767m), you should hit a little pointy tip (not more than a few pixels large), but if you go to Matsumoto and see it with your own eyes, I bet you will be able to see it much more clearly, nonetheless it will remain tiny tip.

 

 However, this scenery, just like every other scenery you come across in Japan, may it be the beautiful sakura or the autumn leaves, it is bound to one or two seasons. Though of course the Alps will not wander off and disappear, but the snowy mountain tops can only be viewed during winter and early to mid-spring. But the sight is one that once noticed, is not quickly turned away from. I noticed the view and got myself a new goal: to put both the castle and the Alps in one view so that you can enjoy it as a whole. There are a few locations on the castle grounds as to where you can have the Alps as a background, and the castle looks very majestic and maybe even more majestic as the Alps on the background appear to be smaller than the castle, while retaining their natural beauty. The only question is, is your camera able to handle it? Mine sadly was barely able to do so...

 

On the other side

 On the one side you have the beautiful Japanese Alps, but the other side of the castle is also a beautiful mountain range which mostly consists of high plateaus. Here is where you can find for example the Utsukushi-ga-hara plateau and on top of the plateau there is a tower, which is visible from Matsumoto Castle, but you do need to search a little bit for it. Other than that you can also find an open air museum and a few other activities on the plateau. This mountain range is also very beautiful almost all year around. A lush green mountainside in the spring and summer, autumn leaves in the fall and a lightly snowed landscape in the winter, unless you go up there yourself in which you will find yourself in dire need of snowshoes.

 

A view to look out for

 I like castles not only for their architecture but also for the way they use the landscape and their sheer scale of property. Matsumoto castle used to have outer moats and covered a much larger area than it does now. However, recently they have started a project to recover the outer moats (soto-bori) of the castle. This space was previously claimed for residential purposes. It will be a project that will take quite a long time (possibly 10 years or more), but that means that you could witness the before and after. I am very interested to seeing how the re-addition will be as it will definitely give the castle more breathing space in this already small valley. Until then I will enjoy the Crow castle in the Alps with all the scenery it already offers. And I highly advise that when you come to Matsumoto to not just take a look at the castle, but also the scenery that is offered!

 

Access

Matsumoto is easily accessible on foot from Matsumoto station. When exiting the station go straight ahead and cross the traffic lights, from here go straight ahead down the big road till you reach a big cross road (one of those where pedestrians go all at once in all directions) go left here and go straight ahead and just keep following the road till you hit the entrance to the castle grounds.
There is also the "townsneaker" which is a small transport vehicle which has a similar use as a bus. You can get more information on the townsneaker at any of the tourist offices in the station and in town. But a lot is easily reachable on foot and there are also places where you can borrow bikes for free without any hassle.

Matsumoto Castle has no private website, but you can find plenty of extra information about them on the next few websites:
http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/
http://www.go-nagano.net/