Stopover in Ina, Japan
Ina, Japan, located on the Chuo Expressway is a small city of about 72,000 people. The city hosts the ruins of one of the feudal castles of Japan, along with Ina City Takatomachi History Museum, a clock museum, numerous parks, and it serves as the gateway to Mount Nokogiri and other areas of the Japanese Alps.
We stopped here while travelling from Takayama to Tokyo. We enjoyed a quick lunch, then spent a relaxing afternoon at the Ina Sports Park before continuing our drive.
The city of Matsumoto
Matsumoto, a city of 245,000 residents and located in Nagano Prefecture, is most famous for Matsumoto Castle. This imposing and historic structure, dating back to the 1500s, is one of Japan's finest remaining original castles. The town also boasts Nawate-dori, a canal-side street featuring small shops and restaurants, and Nakamachi, a merchant district, with well-preserved former warehouses.
From Tokyo, Matsumoto can easily be reached by train in less than three hours on the Chuo Line, using Azusa express train. Matsumoto is also a gateway to the Japan Alps, and it's a two to three hour bus ride or drive to Takayama.
Matsumoto Castle's Kuromon & Taikomon Gates
At Matsumoto Castle, as originally designed, the Black Gate (Kuromon) was the only gate leading across the second moat, and the Drum Gate (Taikomon) was the final gate leading across the inner moat to the castle. When Matsumoto-jo was dismantled in the Meiji Era, these gate were removed, affecting visitors' sense of scale and history of the castle. In 1990, the Black Gate and nearby Sodebei wall were rebuilt, and in 1999, the Drum Gate was recreated.
Matsumoto Castle Moats
Being a flat-land castle, Matsumoto Castle's moats and walls formed its main defenses. While only the interior two moats remain today, there was once an outer moat the surrounded the entire present-day complex, with the southernmost moats at present-day Nawate-dori. This outer moat had five entrances, all with gates, placed on islands in the moat for added defense. The inner moats had two main gates, offset at 90 degree angles, to expose any attacking forces.
At its peak, the surface area of the moats was approximately 140,000 square meters, but today only 30,000 square meters of moats remain. The innermost moat remains nearly as originally designed, surrounding the castle keep. The second moat remains only to the east and southeast, but the west and southwest sides are now residential areas. Of the third moat, only two small section of the east side remain.
and the entire outer moat has been filled and is now residential area of the city.
Matsumoto Castle Exterior
When you stand in the inner courtyard facing the Matsumoto Castle. the main tower, or Tenshu, is the tallest structure at 29.4 meters. Immediately to its right is the Inui-kotenshu, or small northeast tower, standing 16.8 meters. To the lest of the main tower is Tatsumi-tsuke-yagura, or the southeast scaffold, which stands 14.7 meters. Finally, in front of the southeast scaffold is Tsukimi-yagura, the moon observatory, standing 11.1 meters above the castle grounds.
Matsumoto Castle Interior
The inside of Matsumoto Castle is impressive with its huge posts and beams, dark wooden floors, small windows, and narrow, often steep, stairs. The displays inside the castle include a firearms museum, historic armor and maps of the castle, and other items to help visitors understand the history of the castle.
The main building, the 6-story "tenshu" tower, also features unique defensive and observation windows, the third floor with no windows, and a small shrine to a shinto god in the roof above the 6th floor.
Uzuminohashi - Matsumoto Castle's Red Bridge
Uzuminohashi is the picturesque red bridge that leads to Matsumoto Castle's inner keep over a moat from the west. The bridge is painted red, making it a picturesque and scenic landmark among the greens and blacks common in the area. Uzuminohashi is also unique due to its two 90 degree turns near the middle, on either side of a square platform.
When we visited in summer 2014, the bridge was closed due to some construction on the castle side of the moat and walls.
Nakamachi is Matsumoto's historic shopping street, featuring shops and restaurants along a beautifully restored street just south of Nawate. More than 40 restaurants line this main street and several side streets, just to the south the Metoba River. Like nearby Nawate-dori, this area offers local crafts, foods, and other gifts, mostly for tourists.
10 minutes from Matsumoto Station, and 5 minutes from the castle.
Nawate-dori is a small shopping street for tourists located on the banks above the Metoba River. Here there are a few restaurants, some gift shops, antique stores, and many shops selling frog-themed trinkets. It is said that the Metoba River had lots of kajika frogs until they disappeared in 1972. The local residents decided to clean up the river, and the frogs have since returned to the area and are celebrated.
While not overly famous, Yohashira Shrine is one of the most accessible shrines in central Matsumoto. Located just steps from Nawate and 5-10 minutes from the castle, this shrine features a nice main building, with a huge radio antenna tower in the background towering overhead. The black torii gates are an interesting visual as well.
Honmaru Palace Site
Honmaru Palace was constructed within the innermost moat on the grounds of Matsumoto Castle in the 16th Century by the same Ishikawa family that constructed the main keep. Along with Honmaru, this was the site of the Ni-no-maru Palace and Kosanji Palace, both located between the first and second moats. Honmaru Palace burned in 1727 and was never rebuilt, and the two other palaces were dismantled during the Meiji Restoration.
Today, the site of the Honmaru Palace stands directly in front of Matsumoto Castle's main building, and its outline is marked by a dual line of roof tiles stood upright in the grass.
Matsumoto Castle, constructed in 1592, is one of only four castles in Japan designated National Treasures of Japan. This is the oldest, and one of the best preserved castles in Japan. This castle is sometimes called the "Crow Castle" due to its black outer walls, as opposed to most other Japanese castles with white walls. The castle grounds have been well restored, including moats, gates, and bridges. The castle interior has also been well maintained, and it features, small windows, very steep stairs, and low ceilings. The castle also has a few display areas featuring armor and weapons from Japanese history.
The main sight in Matsumoto, and the only one we had time properly to visit, is its castle. This is one of relatively few original castles in Japan; as they were built mostly of wood they often burned down and were rebuilt, some many times. This though is one of just four castles designated as “National Treasures of Japan” and is the oldest castle donjon still standing in the country.
The castle was built at the end of the 16th century on the site of an earlier fort by the Ishikawa
family. It has a striking black and white colour scheme, and three turrets. It is sometimes called “Crow Castle” because of the black walls. Both the wooden interiors and external stonework are original. It is known as a flatland castle or hirajiro because it is built not on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. It is surrounded by a wide moat which makes for lovely photos, although some of the best appear to be from the far side of the castle (as you approach it from the ticket office) where a red bridge crosses the moat – an area of the park that was closed when we visited for construction work. So for us the best views were probably those from the park that surrounds it, as seen in my first three photos.
You can get these outside views of the castle for free but to get closer or to go inside you must pay the admission fee of 600¥. You'll be given an informative leaflet in English and if you want can also get a free English language guided tour from a volunteer guide. We didn't do this as we only wanted a quick look round, but we did chat briefly to one of the guides whose English seemed OK and who was interested to chat about the differences between Japanese and English castles.
Once inside the castle's precincts you can see some displays about its history and of course go inside. To do the latter you must remove your shoes and carry them in a plastic bag provided. Note that the stairs are all very steep and of polished wood - I found it tricky going in just socks! Various artefacts are displayed (swords, costumes, building materials etc) but very few signs are in English. At the top (six floors up) you get good views of Matsumoto and on a clear day, of the Japanese Alps in the distance – or so I understand. We gave up part way, deciding that the slippery steps weren't worth the trouble for relatively little reward when we had such limited time in the town.
But even if you don't want to go inside it's worth paying the admission to get a closer look at the castle and see the historical displays, and the guy dressed up as a samurai who I gather is usually there (see photo four). And if you're feeling adventurous, do buy a bar of the wasabi chocolate from the small gift shop inside the grounds as this is apparently one of the few places you can get it. It's a white chocolate and we rather liked it – but it won't appeal to everyone I suspect!
When we had seen enough of the castle we retraced our steps to nearby Nawate-dori.
- Castles and Palaces
This is a quaint, if slightly (but only slightly) touristy street not far from the castle. This street once formed the border between the Samurai residences and the commoners’ homes in the Edo era (1603 – 1868).
The name means "Frog" street. It acquired this name at a time when the nearby river became so polluted that even the frogs died. The city managed to clean up the river, and named the street nearby after the frogs that returned to its waters. The name is also related to a pun on the Japanese word for "return" kaeru. The mountains that surround Matsumoto could be treacherous, so frogs were given as a charm so that travellers would return safely.
You will find the street easily, as there is this very large fibreglass statue of a samurai frog by the entrance on Daimyocho Street. This was created by students from the Tokyo University for the Arts. The street is pedestrianised and not long – if you don’t stop to shop or browse you can walk it in about five minutes. But there are plenty of interesting shops selling antiques and bric-a-brac, and others with gift items (one of which has only frog-related items!) I was very tempted by some antique sake cups but persuaded (probably rightly!) by Chris that we had already bought more than enough souvenirs.
There are also some quaint corners likely to catch your eye if you’re a keen photographer, and several places to eat, both stalls selling local snacks such as soy bean dumplings, and more substantial sit-down places.
Halfway along the street is the Yohashira Shrine.
Part way along Nawate-dori, on your left if walking away from the main road, you will find this tranquil Shinto shrine. I haven’t been able to find out much about it, as the only website I could find was entirely Japanese, but if Google Translate was doing its job properly, the shrine was built in 1924 to replace an earlier one (1874?) that was destroyed by fire in 1888.
It seems to be something of a haven in the city for locals, several of whom stopped briefly to pray while we were here – I enjoyed seeing the little boy in photo three who was being shown by his mother how to ring the bell (photo four) that draws the attention of the spirits or kami to the presence of the would-be petitioner.
It also seems to be a popular spot for pigeons – one man was feeding them here when we came, and there are several references to them among the brief descriptions of the shrine that I’ve been able to track down.
We took a few photos here and enjoyed the tranquillity for a while but moved on when a small group arrived, armed with a set of metal steps, to set up a group photo in front of the main shrine. In any case, it was time for some lunch.
- Religious Travel
- Save money, Book now!
- Booking.com Excellent choice, Low rates
- Plenty of choices
- Agoda.com Save up to 75%, Don't miss! Live support, Instant confirmation.