One of the best places in Shimane to enjoy cherry blossoms or take in views of Lake Shinji.By Laura Payne
Matsue Castle is the only remaining castle in Shimane Prefecture and one of only 12 in Japan that preserves its original centuries-old tower.
Built atop a hill that overlooks the city, this is one of the best places in Shimane to enjoy cherry blossoms or take in views of Lake Shinji. Moreover, the castle is a must-see for fans of Japanese tea culture because Matsudaira Fumai, the seventh lord of Matsue and founder of the Fumai-ryu tea ceremony, once made his home here.
A designated national treasure
From 1638 until Japan’s modernization period in the 19th century, Matsue Castle was controlled by the Matsudaira clan–relatives of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Modern-day visitors who ascend the castle’s six floors can walk in the footsteps of these lords and discover displays of feudal armor, weapons and tools of daily life. Original structure features such as gunports, windows for dropping stones on attackers and a basement well are also preserved. Upon reaching the castle’s top floor, a 360-degree view of Matsue city and its surrounding nature awaits.
The castle grounds contain other historical treasures as well. The kounkaku (a Western-style mansion) that served as a guesthouse for Japan’s crown prince, sits slightly lower on the hill. It is free to enter and houses a small cafe on the first floor.
At the base of Matsue Castle, the Horikawa sightseeing boats take visitors on a ride through the castle moat and a network of canals that have remained for over 400 years. Be ready to duck on this tour. The boats pass under low bridges, and their roofs are designed to lower to fit underneath.
Celebrating tea culture
Matsue is considered a major tea ceremony culture city thanks to the influence of Lord Matsudaira Harusato, better known by his tea practitioner name Fumai. In addition to founding his own style of tea ceremony, which is still practiced today, he patronized the local production of wagashi (tea sweets). He elevated them to the status of regional specialty.
Matsue city annually honors Fumai’s legacy by hosting a Grand Tea Ceremony on the castle grounds. Here, practitioners of matcha, black tea and green tea ceremonies invite visitors to sample their craft’s delicious and elegant artistry. This event is one of the best places for connoisseurs and newcomers to experience the breadth of Japan’s tea culture.