Nicknamed Crow Castle for its black walls, this local landmark began as a small fortress with moats in 1504. It was remodeled into its current three-turreted form between 1592 and 1614, just as Japan became a consolidated nation under a central government. The civil wars ended and the peaceful Edo era (1603–1868) began, rendering medieval castles obsolete. Its late construction explains why the 95-foot-tall tenshukaku (inner tower) is the oldest surviving tower
in Japan—no battles were ever fought here. Exhibits on each floor break up the challenging climb up very steep stairs. If you hunker down to look through rectangular openings (broad enough to scan for potential enemies) on the sixth floor, you'll have a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains. In the southwest corner of the castle grounds, which bloom in spring with cherry trees, azaleas, and wisteria, the Nihon Minzoku Shiryokan (Japan Folklore Museum) exhibits samurai clothing and centuries-old agricultural implements.
At the end of July there is a taiko (Japanese drum) festival, and on November 3 and 4 the Matsumoto Castle Festival features a samurai parade. In January an ice-sculpture exhibition is held in the museum's park. The castle is a 20-minute walk from the station.
4–1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano-ken, 390-0873, Japan
0263-32–2902-for castle; 0263-32–0133-for museum