AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Matsumoto Castle & Utsukushigahara

Matsumoto Castle & Utsukushigahara


Posted on Jul 17, 2014

This was our fourth day in the Japanese Alps. Yesterday, we had driven from Kanazawa to Kurobe Dam and then to Matsumoto. Today, the plan was to visit Matsumoto castle and then to go to the Utsukushigahara highlands for a walk, or if it rained (as it often does) then we would drive on the mountain passes. First, Andrew had his hair cut. He nearly got a number 1 all over as the clipper blades here are in milometres and not as we are used to, grades of clippers. When the hairdresser started shaving with a 3 blade, Andrew quickly discovered it meant 3mm and not a number 3 blade like we had at home. Luckily the hairdresser has only done the front side of his hair and managed to rectify it. Matsumoto Castle was only a kilometre from our hotel. We walked there after the haircutting incident. The castle is sat on a flat area of land partly surrounded by a moat, filled with water. Originally there were three moats, one that surrounded the city, another moat around the whole of the castle and one around the keep. The water was handy to try and prevent attackers but also to help put out a fire. All Japanese castles are made of wood and many have been burnt down. Even the castles that exist today generally have a history that involves a fire (and burning down) at some point. Matsumoto castle is different to other castles we have visited. Instead of the bright white outer shell of many Japanese castles, this one is black and as a result gained the nickname ‘the crow’s castle’. It is 6 stories high but from the outside appears to be only five, there is a secret floor. Another difference is the fact it is built on the flat rather than on a hill. The castle is Japan’s oldest, with construction starting in 1593 and completed in 1614. In 1635, in a time of peace, a turret was added to the original structure. This turret was built for moon viewing and has a vermilion veranda to help accomplish this. Inside the castle you can see the huge beams required to construct a castle of this size. As you wander around, small holes appear in the wall. Like British castles these were for shooting arrows at the enemies. Next to them are larger holes for shooting muskets. The castle also houses a gun collection with guns from the late 1500s. We also found the secret floor, which had no windows and was used to house weapons and gunpowder. We wandered through the castle taking the...

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Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle


Posted on Jul 13, 2014

The castle at Hikone is a considered by Japan to be a national treasure. It is one of 4 castles designated as a national treasure and one of 12 original castle keeps remaining in Japan. Japan castles regularly burnt down, having the design flaw of being made of wood. Stone castles wouldn’t have survived the earthquakes here, so the Japanese shoguns kept rebuilding in wood after the previous fire had destroyed their castle! The town itself is located on the shores of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. We took a full tour of the lake on the train as a result of me getting on the wrong train. Two hours later we made it to the small town of Hikone. Have a look at the video from the Shinkansen: The castle was built in 1603 and completed in 1622. It managed to survive the Meji period when the Feudal system was dismantled because the Emperor visited and decided to keep it intact. Many of the other castles were destroyed as they were symbols of the Feudal system. The castle is very small and is perched on a large wall about 20m above the surrounding plateau. There was limited information in the castle, a couple of signs so we finished our tour quickly. Inside the castle keep you could climb to the top, up a ladder-like stair case. Definitely not suitable for anyone with frail legs. There wasn’t much to see from the top as chicken wire covered the slit holes previously used for firing arrows. However, it was nice to look at and there was a small garden nearby called Genkyu-en garden. Then we left for Nagoya. This place is fine for a side visit or better still on the way to somewhere else as including the 15 minute walk from the train station you’ll only need around an hour to see it. Posted from Hikone, Shiga Prefecture,...

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