Like most modern cities, Nagano grew rapidly through the 20th century, absorbing what were once separate and distinct towns, villages and hamlets. One such areas of the Nagano suburbs is the historic district of Matsushiro.
The former domain of the Sanada clan – an important family in Japanese history – Matsushiro proudly lays claim to being Nagano’s samurai town. Somewhat unassuming upon arrival, exploring Matsushiro will reveal multiple historic buildings dating from the town’s samurai past including former residences, a military school and Matsushiro Castle Park.
The castle remained property of the Sanada clan until 1868, the start of the Meiji Period which marked the abolition of the samurai system. The majority of the original castle was removed in the late-19th century before fire destroyed all remaining original buildings, leaving only the stone walls and surrounding moat as testament to what once stood.
The community of Matsushiro have been working hard for many years after that in order to restore the former beauty of the castle. Several buildings were restored in 2004 and the inner sanctuary now boasts many mature cherry blossoms trees, the focus of this very local spring festival.
In place of the inner courtyard, cherry blossom trees were planted, which now bloom every spring, attracting large audiences. People from all over come to the castle grounds to relax beneath the trees and look at the pink-colored blossoms while drinking and eating.
Festivals of Matsushiro
As a proud samurai town, it comes as no surprise that local residents revel in local festivals – two of which are really worth experiencing. The Matsushiro Spring Cherry Blossom Festival takes place on the second Saturday in April, within the grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park.
Running from 09:00 in the morning, families and friends head to the park for ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) and to enjoy the events and food vendors selling spring snacks and drinks. At night, the grounds of the castle park glow pink and red as around 500 paper lanterns offer soft light underneath the trees.
The Matsushiro Autumn Sanada Clan Jumangoku Festival takes place on the second weekend of October – on both Saturday and Sunday – the festival celebrates Matsushiro’s samurai heritage and the importance of the former rulers, the wealthy Sanada clan.
Centred around the grounds of Matsushiro Castle Park, the first day is full of traditional music and dance performances with people of local food vendors selling tasty snacks and drinks. On the second day, the festival really comes to life with a day of traditional artillery displays, taiko and dance performances and ceremonial parade of samurai and their attendants in full regalia.
The main parade then departs the castle around 12:45 and moves around the town for around 2 hours before returning to the castle around 14:30.
For further details, please refer to our ‘Festivals of Matsushiro’ page.
Getting to/from Matsushiro
Matsushiro is around 12km from Nagano Station and accessible using public buses. Our ‘Getting To & Around Matsushiro’ page includes directions and suggestions on how to get there.