Matsue Castle, located in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture, is a national treasure and one of the few remaining original castles in japan. With its rich history and unique architecture, it offers visitors a rare opportunity to step back in time and explore the world of samurai warriors.
The castle, also known as the Plover Castle, was completed in 1611 and served as the domain capital for the Matsudaira family, direct descendants of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. Matsudaira Harusato, the seventh lord of the castle, was a great exponent of the tea ceremony and played a significant role in making Matsue one of the three great centers of the art of tea.
As you approach Matsue Castle, you can’t help but be in awe of its impressive black exterior. The castle’s unique shape, resembling a plover bird, is what gives it its nickname. The castle keep, the only existing one with a well inside, showcases the unique architectural style of the time. As you explore the different floors of the castle’s interior, walking on dark wooden floors and stairs worn smooth over the centuries, you can truly appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into its construction.
One of the highlights of visiting Matsue Castle is the panoramic view from the top of the castle keep. From here, you can see the town that formed around the castle and the sparkling waters of Lake Shinji. It’s a breathtaking sight that offers a glimpse into the castle’s strategic location and its role in the region’s history.
The castle is surrounded by Jozan Park, a vast green space that is free to enter. Take a leisurely stroll along the paths that wind under the steep stone walls of the castle, through the wooded hillsides, and along the moats. In the spring, the park is a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing, with the delicate pink flowers creating a stunning contrast against the castle’s black exterior.
Within the park, there are three shrines, but the one worth seeking out is Jozan Inari-jinja Shrine. This shrine was the favorite of Lafcadio Hearn, a renowned writer who lived in Matsue and played a significant role in introducing Japanese culture to the West. Explore behind the shrine buildings and you’ll discover hundreds of small statues of kitsune, the fox messengers of the deity Inari.
Jozan Inari-jinja Shrine is also the starting and endpoint of the Horan-enya Festival, a rare event that takes place only once every 10 years. This three-day festival features decorated boats filled with musicians and dancers, creating a vibrant and festive atmosphere. While the next festival won’t be held until 2029, you can learn more about this unique event at the nearby Horanenya Museum.
Another notable attraction within the castle grounds is the Kounkaku, a magnificent Western-style mansion built in 1903. Constructed entirely of wood, the mansion was intended for the Meiji Emperor to stay in if he ever visited Matsue. Although the emperor never visited, his son, the Crown Prince Yoshihito, later known as the Taisho Emperor, spent three days here in 1907. The mansion now serves as a museum, with the first floor showcasing exhibitions on Matsue’s history and the second floor preserving the original furnishings and décor fit for royalty.
After exploring the castle and its surrounding grounds, take a slow cruise around the moat and canals in small boats. These boats offer a unique perspective of the castle, allowing you to see it from all angles. As you glide through the water, you’ll also pass by the samurai district of Shiomi Nawate Street, further immersing yourself in the history and culture of Matsue.
Throughout the year, Matsue Castle hosts special events that are worth noting. In October, the castle is illuminated at night, creating a magical atmosphere. Thousands of paper lanterns line the moat and castle grounds, and the Horikawa boats, used for the cruises, are also illuminated. During this time, special evening cruises are available, allowing visitors to experience the castle in a whole new light.
On the third Sunday of October, a unique drum festival takes place at the castle. Huge taiko drums with a diameter of about two meters are pulled through the streets, filling the air with the rhythmic beats. Everyone is encouraged to join in the festivities, creating a lively and energetic atmosphere.
In conclusion, Matsue Castle is a national treasure that offers visitors a rare opportunity to step back in time and explore the world of samurai warriors. With its unique architecture, panoramic views, and rich history, it is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Japanese culture and history. Whether you’re exploring the castle’s interior, strolling through Jozan Park, or taking a leisurely boat cruise, you’ll be immersed in the beauty and charm of this historic site. Don’t miss the chance to experience Matsue Castle and all it has to offer.
Address And Maps Location:
1-5 Tono-machi, Matsue-shi, Shimane-ken