Matsushiro Town: Stronghold of the Sanada Clan
Disembarking from the bus in Matsuhiro, visitors can be forgiven for thinking they’ve gone to the wrong town. Positioned in an anonymous and unremarkable of the town, arriving bus gives a false impression of Matsushiro and the attraction that lie within easy walking distance of each other.
For those arriving by bus, walk to your right and you’ll see the now abandoned station building platform and building. Looking past that you’ll have your first glimpse of the heritage and history, as you head toward the backside of Matsushiro Castle Park and begin your exploration of this quiet, quaint and historically important little town.
Once the stronghold of the ruling-Sanada clan, Matsushiro Castle was constructed in the later half of the 16th century by Shingen Takeda. From what was then called Kaizu Csatle, Takeda could defend the region from and attack his adversary, Kenshin Uesugi including the famous Battles of Kawanakajima.
The castle was taken by the relocating Sanada clan in 1622 and from that date onward, they ruled Matsushiro until the abolition of the feudal system. Sadly for us, the majority of the castle was demolished during the Meiji Period followed by a fire which destroyed all remaining original buildings. Today, the original castle walls remain with several recent constructed buildings as the site serves as a public park and popular cherry blossom-viewing spot each spring.
While many people come to see the castle ruins, it is the other attractions in Matsushiro that capture their imagination as visitors are often amazed by the excellent perseveration of multiple Edo Period streets and important buildings in the heart of Matsushiro.
Wandering into the town centre, historical buildings including the former Sanada Residence – the only surviving directly associated with the castle – is a stunning example of the wealth and refinement of the samurai class, while the nearby and recently restored Matsushiro Bunbu Gakko served as a school for the sons of high-status samurai.
Also referred to as the ‘Old School for Literary and Military Arts’, visitors to the school can enjoy samurai experiences including archery, kendo, judo and more led by an instructor.
The surrounding streets retain much of their Edo Period character with long walls and marker stones leading to other former samurai residences, temples, shrines, museums and a little further afield, the Zozan Imperial Wartime Tunnels.
During the final nine months of World War II, an extensive network of tunnels were constructed underneath Matsushiro in anticipation of an Allied invasion of Japan. Once that invasion was imminent, the Japanese government and military were to be moved into the secret tunnels – from where they would direct defence of Japan – while the Imperial Family were to take refuge in nearby mountains.
The massive undertaking required a workforce of around 10,000, mostly forced Korean labour, and was 80% complete at the time the war ended. Today, the tunnels can still be visited and offer a poignant reminder of the terrible cost of war on all sides.
For further information and suggestions, please refer to our ‘Highlights of Matsushiro: Nagano City’s Samurai Town’ page.