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A Steep Climb

A Steep Climb

Warriors in full battle armor running at speed – the image that comes to mind in the Musha Bashira, one of the outside passages of this ancient castle, designed to accommodate their girth with extra width and set below the floor – but suddenly they turn, confronted by an offset route and a steep set of stairs that are difficult negotiate even under ideal circumstances. Castles, even those constructed during more peaceful times, were built with both offensive and defensive positions in mind. Many early castles were built on high walls (see Kumamoto) or in locations designed to reduce the opportunity for attack. Other castles, like Matsumoto, were built in anticipation of gun warfare (with appropriate gun slots and thick walls) but were never used due to the end of civil wars at the start of the Edo period. Matsumoto’s primary defense is its moat, (which photographs beautifully in more peaceful times) as well as the de rigueur hidden floor. Inside, the halls and stairs are offset, designed to slow down intruders. Most challenging now, for the visitor, are the extremely steep stairs, especially as they are negotiated in stocking feet. Each staircase is progressively steeper until you reach the final one, which is at about a 70% angle AND has uneven steps that are of differing sizes. Today, the view from the top of the Japanese Alps and the city of Matsumoto make the climb worthwhile, even though dangerous. This castle also has a rare moon viewing room; the story goes that you can see the moon three times: once in the sky, once in the water and once in your cup of sake (six times if the sake is...
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Springtime in Matsumoto

Springtime in Matsumoto

We did manage to have a taste of spring weather and the cherry blossoms during a recent trip to Japan. One of the ways that the Japanese celebrate the cherry blossoms is by lighting up their gardens and famous places during this time. We caught the last night of the “light-up” at Matsumoto castle, where the entire castle is surrounded by rows of cherry trees and also freshly budding weeping willows (or something like a weeping willow). Matsumoto castle is one of the 12 “original” castles in Japan and it’s quite nice. We visited inside the next day, including a climb to the top for those who are agile enough to take on the many sets of steep stairs. This is a beautiful castle which is kept in excellent shape. The location is a little unusual, in that it was not build specifically to defend a strategic position – it’s in the low lands and, as one of the last castles built, it was more for governing than war. The most notable difference this makes is the lack of high walls. The castle sits rather low, and, in fact, is barely visible across town from the 10th story of our hotel (we had to ask where it was and we could only see the very top when it was pointed out between some tall buildings). This is quite different from some of the other famous castles (Himeji, Kumamoto) that we’d been to, where the defensive position was a key consideration in the castles placement and construction. The definition of “original” also is a little oblique, since all castles have are made of materials that require regular replacement and renovation. We’ve never been able to get a clear definition of what makes a castle an original vs. a reconstruction. Whatever its provenance, though, the castle is beautiful on a cool spring night as the cherry blossoms finish off their short...