The Heritage, Festivals & Events of the Castle
First declared an important historic site in 1930 before being registered as a National Treasure in 1936 and again in 1952 under updated laws, Matsumoto Castle’s historic and cultural significance are now well-established. But it wasn’t always so and without the intervention of local residents, led by two notable figures, the castle would not have survived until today.
The Meiji Period (1868-1912) heralded the modernisation of Japan and with that, a rejection of traditional heritage. During this time many (what today would be considered priceless) cultural treasures were gifted-away, sold cheaply, abandoned or destroyed. As such, in 1872 Matsumoto Castle was set to be sold and demolished, with the land scheduled for development. Thankfully local resident Ishikawa Ryozo recognised the folly of the plan and intervened, and gathering public support to raise the funds, successfully petitioned the local government to buy the castle in 1878.
Though saved from destruction, the ageing structure fell into an increasingly poor state with the main tower notably leaning to its side. The castle was in desperate need of restoration and local school headmaster, Kobayashi Unari was next to take up the cause. Calling for the repair of the structure, Kobayashi established an institute which helped popularise the movement and fund the much-needed restoration of the castle.
The first of several stages of repair, the ‘Meiji Restoration’ (1903-1913) was followed by further intervention in the 1950s and 1960s, referred to as the ‘Showa Restoration’. Additional work, including reconstruction of gates, has since been carried out in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Due to the endeavour of local residents, Matsumoto Castle has survived to this day and continues to play an important role in the life and identity of the city. The castle and its grounds play host to a busy calendar of events throughout the year, popular with local residents and international visitors.
Here are some of our favorites (dates can vary from year-to-year):
New Year Celebration / first week of January / 10:00 to 15:00 / admission is free
‘Taiko’ (traditional) drums boom as the gates open, welcoming visitors into the castle grounds to celebrate the New Year together with hot ‘amazake’ (non-alcoholic, sweet sake), traditional performances, and souvenirs available to buy.
Ice Carving Festival / first week of February / 18:00 to 23:30 / admission is free
Against the backdrop of the illuminated castle, professional ice sculptors carve beautiful statues with the public looking on. If you want to witness the carving please ensure you are there on the evening of the first night.
The sculptures will then stay in place for viewing by the public for several days.
Night-time Cherry Blossom Viewing & Corridor of Lights / April / 17:30 to 21:00 /admission is free
Held each year to celebrate the bloom of Matsumoto’s cherry blossoms, the exact timing of this event is a little tricky to predict. As the weather warms and the bloom can be forecast with some level of certainty, the official beginning of the cherry blossom season will be announced and the festivals will begin three days later.
The Night-time Cherry Blossom Viewing will run for eight days and Corridor of Lights will run for ten days.
Taiko Drum Festival / late-July / 17:30 to 21:00 / admission is free
Taking place over two days in the castle grounds, ‘taiko’ drum performances thrill the crowd and hark back to the castle’s origin as a strategic battlement and field of conflict.
Soba Festival / early-October / 10:00 to 16:00 / admission is free
Taking place outside the castle, this is one delicious reason to head to Matsumoto.
The region is famous for its ‘soba’ (buckwheat) noodles and costing only JPY500 per bowl, the festival is a great chance to sample different varieties from local producers.
Old-fashioned Gunnery Demonstration / late-October / 13:30 to 15:00 / admission is free
The Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps puts on an impressive display of traditional gunnery in full armour. This popular event is captivating to watch and provides a running commentary in English.
Want to visit Matsumoto Castle on a private tour or charter? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get planning together!