Start a tour of Matsue at the enchanting and shadowy castle and walk in the castle park, Shiroyama Koen, under aromatic pines. Constructed of exactly such wood, the castle was completed in 1611. Not only did it survive the Meiji upheavals intact, but it was, amazingly, never ransacked during the civil war–type turbulence of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Perhaps it's the properties of the wood, or the angles, or the mysterious tricks of light and shadows, but this castle truly feels alive and is a must-see sight of the region.
Built by the daimyo of Izumo, Yoshiharu Horio, for protection, Matsue-jo's donjon (main tower), at 98 feet, is the second tallest among originals still standing in Japan. Crouching as it does below and behind the surrounding lofty pines, Matsue-jo is slightly spooky, even in daytime. This is a fabulously preserved walk-in time capsule, with six interior levels belied by a tricky facade that suggests only five. The lower floors display an appropriately
macabre collection of samurai swords and armor. The long climb to the castle's uppermost floor is definitely worth it for the view encompasses the city, Lake Shinji, the Shimane Peninsula, and—if weather conditions permit—the distant mystical snowy peak of Daisen.
The castle and park are a 1-km (½-mile) stroll northwest from Matsue Station, or take the Lakeline Bus from Terminal 7 in front of the station and get off at Otemae; the fare is ¥150.