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The Heart of Japan – Crow Castle and Taiko Drum Festival – Matsumoto

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Matsumoto was the second Japanese city we visited after a week in Tokyo. It is a good starting point to do the Alpine Route. Unfortunately, we got a bit “lost” in Tokyo (reason: shopping…. πŸ™‚ ), so we did not arrive in Matsumoto until 4 p.m. (2 hours and 45 minutes by train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo).

After we had checked in to the nice Richmond Hotel in the middle of Matsumoto center, we rushed out to see the city`s main attraction: the Crow Castle, or Matsumoto-jo.

The castle truly is stunning!Β β™₯

Matsumoto Castle – The Crow Castle

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The beautiful black and white Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto-jo is Japan`s oldest wooden castle, constructed in 1595, and one of four castles designated “National Treasures” of Japan.

It is magnificent with its contrasting black and white colors. Its colors have given the castle the nickname “Karasu-jo”, meaning “Crow Castle”.

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The Castles black and white colors have led to its nickname “Crow Castle”

We had read in our Lonely Planet guidebook that the castle was open until 6 p.m. in July and August, and we only had one hour left, so we rushed through the castle gates and ran over to the entrance but unfortunately, it was already closed (at 5 p.m., so don`t always trust the guidebooks….). πŸ™

We did however meet this “nice” fellow outside the entrance:

We were a bit sad that we missed the opening hours of the castle, but our mood got better once we went on the other side of the castle, as the views were stunning!

The castle is surrounded by a tranquil moat that is full of carps.

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Matsumoto Castle is surrounded by a moat
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The castle is surrounded by a moat with a beautiful red bridge.

A lovely bright red bridge crosses the moat, with swans and birds gliding beneath it.

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Matsumoto Castle is considered to be one of Japan’s top castles, together with Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle.

Taiko Drum Festival At Matsumoto Castle

While we were walking around the castle and its surrounding moat and park, we all of a sudden heard heavy drumming. A lot of people had entered the castle ground, and there was also a big stage on the lawn. We followed the stream of people and the drumming sound, and it turned out that this was the weekend of the Matsumoto-jo Taiko Matsuri Drum Festival! Wow, we were so lucky to just stumble upon this festival! πŸ™‚

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People are gathering in front of the music scene for the Taiko Drum Festival.

The Taiko Matsuri Drum Festival is held on the castle grounds every year on the last weekend of July. And best of all – it is free! πŸ™‚ So we spent the afternoon and early evening watching this awesome and spectacular drumming shows. It was really cool and fun!

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Taiko drummers a the Taiko Matsuri Drum festival

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It was a great show, and we were really impressed with the energy and rhythm of the Taiko bands. Apparently, some of the best Taiko drumming bands in Japan participate at this festival.

Matsumoto City

Matsumoto is a relatively small city in Japanese scale (250 000 inhabitants) and is surrounded by seven great peaks each above 3000 m as well as three smaller mountains. So views of the Japan Alps are never far away in this narrow valley.

Matsumoto is an old city, dating back to the 8th century, and was the castle town of the Ogasawara clan.

Today Matsumoto is one of Japan`s finest cities. We liked it a lot! It has some pretty streets, a nice river running through it, as well as lots of museums, galleries, cozy cafes, and restaurants. It feels like a little cosmopolitan place!

We especially loved the narrow streets around the banks of the river packed with restaurants and cafes. Some of the streets were walking streets full of small nice shops and food stalls. A part of this street was even a market and a concert place. Loved it!

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Matsumoto has a lovely walking/ shopping street

We got hooked on crispy cakes in the shape of fish filled with chocolate and vanilla, which is a specialty of Matsumoto. They were delicious, and tasted like waffles! Had to come back to the “fish cake” stall two times to buy some more. Eh, what diet?! πŸ™‚

We had a blast during our short time in Matsumoto. Matsumoto is a great, vibrant and cozy city that we, unfortunately, had too little time to explore and fully enjoy.

We only had one night in Matsumoto (so basically only one afternoon and evening), as we headed for our Japan Alps adventure early next morning.

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Goodbye, stunning Crow Castle and lovely Matsumoto!

Β How To Get To Matsumoto

  • Train: Take the train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo (2 hours and 45 minutes, 6200 JPY=58 us$), Nagoya (2 hours, 5360 JPY=50 us$) or Nagano (50 min, 2260 JPY = 21 us$).
  • Bus: Alpico has buses between Tokyo (Shinjuku Station) and Matsumoto (3 ΒΌ hours, 3400 JPY = 32 us$), Osaka (5 ΒΎ hours, 5700 JPY = 53 us$) and Nagoya (3,5 hours, 3460 JPY = 32 us$). Nohi Bus has buses from Takayama (2,5 hours, 3100 JPY = 20 us$).
  • Air: Shinhu Matsumoto Airport has flights to Fukuoka, Osaka, and Sapporo.

How Much Does It Cost To Visit The Crow Castle

It is free to visit the castle grounds and park, and 610 JPY (6 us$) to enter the Matsumoto-jo Castle.

Where To Stay In Matsumoto

We stayed at the Richmond Hotel which was nice. The location is great, right in the middle of the center of Matsumoto with walking distance to everything. The hotel is very clean. The rooms are a bit small, but that`s normal in Japan.
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Travel Guides

We used Lonely Planet`s Japan Travel Guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below which will take you to Amazon.com (affiliate links):



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Why you should visit Matsumoto JapanPinΒ Β Β Β Β  Travel Guide to Matsumoto JapanPin

Is Matsumoto a place you can picture yourself visiting? Have you ever stumbled upon a festival that you did not know of? Have you visited any cool castles? Please leave a comment in the comment area below. If you enjoyed this article and found it useful, please share it on social media! Thank you! πŸ™‚

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

16 Comments

    • Thanks SJ! πŸ™‚ Yes, it really is a cool castle, we loved it! And we were so lucky that the Japan Taiko Drum Festival happened to be there at exactly the same evening that we visited. It was amazing to see and hear some of the best Taiko drummers from all of Japan compete at this festival.

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  1. It always amazes me how they built with such detail so long ago. I think you did well with the trade off of the drum ceremony to having gotten there earlier to get into the castle, Sometimes the unplanned works out really well.

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    • I agree Rhonda, it amazes me too, all the details and beautiful decor! We loved the Taiko Drum Festival, it was so cool. You are right, the unplanned can sometimes turn out perfect. πŸ™‚

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  2. This is so cool! I love the drummers, but I think my favorite is the samauri guard – I would never have expected his armor to be that colorful.

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    • I agree Jessica, the Samurai was super cool!!! And a bit scary, hehe. He even did some cool posing moves, swinging his sword. Loved it! πŸ™‚

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  3. Hi it’s Christa, host of the Sunday Traveler, I just wanted to pop in and say thanks for joining in on the fun! I’m in LOVE with your photos it makes me want to go and get my Samauri on πŸ˜‰ The best part is how you’ve laid out all the information including the costs, it is nice to see that the castle grounds and park are free and it is affordable to enter the castle. On my travel list now!

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    • Thank you so much Christa for popping by and for commenting! So happy to hear that you like our photos and appreciate the details of our post! It means a lot coming from you! πŸ™‚

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    • Thanks for popping by Prune! So glad we inspired you to check out the Taiko Drum Festival!! It is spectacular! πŸ™‚

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  4. Hello!! I just discovered your blog and I’m instantly a fan!! I lived in Japan for 10 years and a couple of months before moving to Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2007. My family and I lived in Matsumoto for 5.5 years. The castle is only a 15 min drive from our previous house πŸ˜‰

    I would love to read about your travels! Bookmarking your site!

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    • Hi Grace!

      Thanks a million for your comment! Wow, lucky you who lived in Matsumoto! We love that city! The amazing castle, the cosy atmosphere in the evening as we walked through the streets by the riverside, the lovely restaurants and cafes, the friendly people and the delicious crispy cakes filled with chocolate….ah, it is such a great place.

      We were so lucky to get to see the Taiko Drum Festival too. It was awesome! Hope to come back to lovely Matsumoto one day, and stay for a week or two to get to fully see it and its surroundings.

      Best regards,
      Maria

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  5. I’m so impressed though – how come there are no people around the vicinity when you took these photos? Or did you edit the people out? Very nice pictures!

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    • Thank you so much! Hehe, no we did not edit any people out of the pictures. πŸ™‚ I don`t know why there were so few people around the castle and the park, maybe they were all at the Taiko Drum Festival as this was going on on the other side of the castle the same evening. I guess we were just lucky.

      Reply

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