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The Black Castle of Matsue

Matsue Castle found in the north of Shimane’s prefectural capital is a large wooden medieval castle that is one of just 12 original castles left standing in Japan. Nicknamed the black castle for its black painted wooden panels, the 400-year-old six-storey structure is impressive both inside and out offering fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and unmissable panoramic views from the top floor.

  • At the turn of the 17th century, important daimyo lord Horio Yoshiharu moved from Shizuoka Prefecture to Shimane Prefecture after he failed to take part in the decisive Battle of Sekigahara. After firstly settling in Yasugi he soon moved to Matsue deciding that the hillside overlooking Lake Shinji was ideal for an ostentatious castle. Under Yoshiharu’s good name, grandson Tadaharu built the castle and surrounding castle town which laid the foundations for what is today’s Matsue City. In recent years Matsue Castle has been named a National Treasure as one of the largest, tallest, and oldest castles in the whole of Japan.

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    As well as sporting a number of unique features on the outside such as the black and white design and the onikawara roof ridges, the interior of the castle is almost as impressive as the exterior with large wooden beams and flooring adorning each of the six stories. Acting as a museum, the castle exhibits samurai outfits, historical documents, and weaponry up to the top floor. Just a 10-minute bus ride or a 30-minute walk from Matsue Station, Matsue Castle has become even more desirable as the 560 yen entrance fee has been halved for foreign visitors as a means of promoting inbound tourism.

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    As the castle was built in the style of a watchtower, on reaching the top floor of the castle visitors are greeted into an open room with panoramic views over Matsue. From here it’s easy to see how Matsue earned its name as the City of Water with lakes Shinji and Nakaumi, the city’s canals, and the Sea of Japan all in sight from the tower. To experience the castle from the water itself, jump on the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat which sets off around the castle every 15 to 20 minutes. Both the castle tours and the moat cruises continue throughout the chilly winter months with the boats’ passengers kept toasty under heated tables known as kotatsu.

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    Also within the castle grounds side by side sit Matsue Shrine and Kounkaku Mansion which warrant a visit on a trip to the castle. The small, peaceful Shinto shrine protected by a torii gate was built in the Meiji period and has been well maintained in its position among the greenery. Here, you can make a wish on a heart-shaped ema, a small wooden plaque, and hang it in front of the shrine.

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Black Castle of Matsue

    The Kounkaku is a grand house whose Western design looks somewhat out of place in this complex of traditional Japanese buildings but was constructed in 1902 around the same time as the neighboring shrine. Built as entertainment for Emperor Meiji, the mansion now houses a folk museum and, perhaps the highlight of the building, the Kamedayama Tea House where you can pick up delicious cakes or lunch and a cup of tea or local Matsue beer.

    Matsue
    Address
    Shimane Pref. Matsueshi Asahimachi
    Phone
    Matsue Castle
    Address
    Shimane Pref. Matsueshi Tonomachi 1-5
    Phone
    0852214030
  • Lake Shinji
    Address
    Matsue, Shimane Prefecture
    Phone
    Nakaumi
    Address
    Shimane Prefecture Yasugi, Matsue, Tottori Prefecture Sakaiminato City, Yonago
    Phone
    0854233340
    Horikawa Pleasure Boat
    Address
    Shimane Pref. Matsueshi Kurodachou 507-1
    Phone
    0852270417
    Matsue Shrine
    Address
    Shimane Pref. Matsueshi Tonomachi 1
    Phone
    0852222324
    Kounkaku
    Address
    Shimane Pref. Matsueshi Tonomachi 1-59
    Phone
    0852612100
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