Crow Castle

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The magnificent & beautifully preserved Matsumoto Castle is unique in that it is a flatland castle (hirajiro) situated  in a basin just 590m above sea-level & is also the oldest  five structured, six storied  inter-connected castle constructed at the end of the Warring States Period (Sengoku Jidai c1467-1603) which saw widespread social upheaval, political intrigue & military conflicts in the fiefdom.

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The Keep has retained all its original wooden interiors & external stonework. After WWII on 29th Mar 1950, Matsumoto Castle  was gazetted a national treasure according to the Cultural Treasures Preservation Law. The Inner  Moat surrounds the castle & here we have a partial view of the Tsukimi Tower (Tsukimi Yagura) , Tatsumitsuke Tower (Tatsumi Tsukeyagura)  & The Main Keep (Daitenshu).

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Notice the small square openings  in the buttresses  of the Inner Gate (Ninomon);  that allows  for the handheld matchlocks to be fired at enemies on the opposite shore of the moat.

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The  Inner Gate (Ninomon)  is in ‘Koraimon‘ style characterized by front pillars & doors covered with a small roof & is one of the main entrances into Matsumoto Castle.

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You will see the Ticket Office on the left upon entering the Ninomon & enter this walled compound between the two gates where the buttresses propping the walls were restored in Nov 1989. These buttresses help to prevent the walls from collapsing in the onslaught of an enemy attack.

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Entering through the Outer Gate ( Ichi no mon)  which was also called Black Gate (Kuromon) as Black was regarded the best colour in those times & it represented the magnificent formal gate leading to the Honmaru Palace.

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Everyday between 9am to 4pm, Matsumoto Castle’s Hospitality Team will grace the Honmaru Gardens dressed as princesses, ninjas  & armoured warriors so you could take a photo with them as a momento.

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An unmasked  Samurai Warrior brandishing two swords. Samurais carry two swords with them.  A short dagger (tanto) or shorter sword (wakizashi) worn with another long curved, single-edged sword (katana) with the blade typically between 60-73cm long weighing about 1.1 to 1.3kg. The pairing of a katana with a smaller sword is called ‘daisho’ literally meaning Big & Small.  Only a Samurai could wear the daisho which represented his social power & personal honour.

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Entering through the Outer Gate ( Ichi no mon) into Honmaru Gardens.  Matsumoto Castle which is commonly known as Crow Castle (Karasu-jo) because of its black exterior is located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture. The city is built around the castle which sits right smack in the middle of Matsumoto.

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Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the construction of the Main Keep (Dai-tenshu), smaller  Northern Tower (Inui-kotenshu) & the Watari Tower (Watari Yagura) at the end of the Warring States Period for the purpose of monitoring the Kanto region. The Moon Viewing Tower (Tsukimi Yagura) is connected to the Main Keep (tallest structure) via the Southern Wing (Tatsumi Tsuke Yagura) & these two structures were additions during the peaceful Edo Period (1603-1868)  & do not have stone-dropping holes or defence mechanisms built-in.

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Vermillion handrails (Hane Koran) installed around the Moon Viewing Tower (Tsukimi Yagura) suggests that it was built during peaceful times & it was meant for rest & recreation.

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  Moon Viewing Tower (Tsukimi Yagura) – This tower was built hurriedly sometime in 1633 under the domain of the Matsumoto Lord Matsudaira Naomasa for the impending visit of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu who was stopping by at Zenkoji Temple for pilgrimage,  enroute  from Kyoto  back to Tokyo in 1634. There is a vast difference between the keep & this tower with no defense equipment. It is kept simple with only pillars & thin wooden sliding doors with horizontal crosspieces called Mairado which are easily removed so that people can enjoy viewing the moon rising from the east whilst seated in this tatami laid room.

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Armour on display exhibiting the typical battle accessories the Samurai would carry. Sword on the waist, ramrod for loading bullets on the back, a bullet case on the waist & an ignition agent hanging from the shoulder that looks like a gourd & not forgetting the matchlock that is carried which weighs about 20kg.

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This Ammuniation Box for carrying  bullets at Matsumoto Castle Gun Museum on the second floor exhibits a variety of weapons & guns including those manufactured in Kunitomo (Nagahama city, Shiga Prefecture) known as a major producing area of matchlocks, large guns weighing 16kg & portable guns for self-defence.

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This Kabura Gegyo is a decoration mounted on the triangular-shaped gables (Hafu) found under the roof. It serves as a talisman to ward off fires. Gegyos originated from China & usually took the form of a fish but in Japan it is commonly that of a turnip. This one was dismounted & replaced by a new one during the Showa period restorations.

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Lead Musket ball ammunition  for firing from the little cannons.

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In the Akahane Collection  of weapons is the Sashibishikiju Rantakaho is a little cannon, 1460mm long with the muzzle size of 32.8mm

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On the second floor of the Main keep the Daitenshu are these vertical lattice windows known as Tategoushi-mado where  matchlocks could be fired from.

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A good view of the Black lacquered weatherboards on the lower parts & white stuccoed walls on the upper parts. The sidings provided protection against the rain & the walls of the  Keep of the Castle (Daitenshu)  is said to have lasted over 50 years. The walls in this lower section are about 29cm thick & impenetrable to matchlock bullets. Tree branches called ‘Naru‘ were tied with rope & plastered over with mud to form these thick walls & the thickness  is progressively reduced on the higher floors.

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These special projecting shelves are Stone Dropping Windows (Ishi-otoshi) built at intervals  where stones or hot water is dropped on enemies trying to scale the wall. A total of 11 such windows are installed on the first floor of the Watari Yagura(Roofed Passage), the Inui Kotenshu (Small Northern Tower) & the Keep respectively. Looking from the insides, you will notice the stonewalls have a steep gradient of about 57 degrees which makes scaling difficult even for a samurai.

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These are the only windows on the Third floor that allow natural light to filter through as the walls are hidden behind the double layered roof. This Hidden Floor (Kakushi-kai) or Dark Floor (Kurayamijyu) likely served as a warehouse & shelter during wars.

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The Third Floor of both the Main Keep (Daitenshu) & the Small Northern Tower ( Inui Kotenshu) are similar in that they hardly have windows as the 2 layered roof covered the periphery of the walls of this floor.

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This  5.4m by 5.4m area is the  Living Space (Gozaisho) for the lord when he was present at the Keep. If the lord remained at the Gozaisho during battle, it meant that the Keep was in the final phase of the battle. The area is cordoned off by vertical wood screens (Uchinori-nageshi) that hang between the ceiling & the lintel. Smoothly planed Cypress wood pillars are used instead of roughly hewn timbers as seen in the lower floors.

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Beautiful silk brocade & tassels (fusa) decorate the screens which could divide the large space into three rooms with a surrounding corridor.

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This is the fifth floor & the Strategy Meeting Room where the senior vassal held meetings during an ongoing battle.  Seven sets of staircases lead from the first to the sixth floors & they are located at different places.  The staircases are both steep & narrow ranging from a 55 to 61 degree incline,  making it harder for enemies to infiltrate & vanquish the floors above. The steepest set is between the fourth & fifth floors with steps rising 40cm.

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Chidori Gable on the  5th floor of the Dai-tenshu. Chidori gables decorate the East & West & Kara gables decorate the North & South.  Behind each gable is an attic & all the directions can be seen through the Warrior windows (Mushamado).

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The  Watari Tower (Watari Yagura) on the left  links the Main Keep (DaiTenshu) to the Small Northern Tower  (Inui-Kotenshu) & these three structures were built during late 16th century.  In the middle of the picture you see a section of flat tiles laid on the roof – these are rain covers or ‘Sutegawara‘ put in during the Showa era (1926-1989)  to prevent damage to the roofs from falling frozen snow.

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The Sixth floor of the Daitenshu stands at an elevation of 22.1m above ground & it could be covered with 16 pieces of Tatami (rush-woven mats). It was designed to be the headquarters of the Feudal Lord (Daimyo) when the castle was under attack.

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Seen  here on the sixth floor is the ‘Hanegi’ eave structure where the eaves are placed radially & directed outwards to support the eaves of the heavy tiled roof.  The Toda Clan moved to Matsumoto in 1617 & placed the Nijyu-rokuya Shin (26 Day old noon god) where approximately 500kg of cooked rice was offered monthly in worship. Partial view of the plaited straw covered altar.

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Some mountains seen here include: Takeshimine Peak, Mount Hakamagoshi, Mount Yake & Mount Ougatou in east.

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Tiles laid on the grass delineate the location of Honmaru Palace (Honmaru Goten) that covered about 2,730sq m with about 60 rooms that was used as the domain’s administration office & residence of the lord. It was unfortunately burnt down in a fire in 1927.

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A panoramic view of the vermillion Uzumi Bridge (Uzumibashi) & the Inner Moat from the 6th floor of the Daitenshu & the Japanese Alps that surround Matsumoto City.

This is truly a ‘Samurai’ experience not to be missed! Entering this almost intact fortification from the 16th century is like going back in time when these walls lived through political intrigue,  social upheavals & constant military conflict. Walking along the passageways & corridors & looking at how the Keep was constructed, pretty much gives you an idea on how warfare was waged in those troubled times.

The Matsumoto Castle Gun Museum has an extensive collection of matchlocks & other battle equipment donated by the late Akabane Michishige & Akabane Kayoko, both natives of Matsumoto which would further enlighten you on what the life of a Samurai was like.

 

 

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