Shhhh. Don't wake the samurai spirits.
Matsushiro Town, as it was formerly known, may no longer exist as it recently became a suburb of Nagano City. However, the Matsushiro area has retained much of its own character, culture and customs. The locals still consider it a distinct town due to its well-preserved Edo-period buildings, including a variety of samurai clan houses. Here are a few sights that are unmissable for history lovers.
The largest attraction has to be the castle ruins. Dating from 1560, Matsushiro Castle was originally known as Kaizu Castle and served as a base for retainers working under the prominent feudal lord Takeda Shingen. In 1622, the castle came under the control of the Sanada clan, after their exile from the nearby Ueda Castle. The clan changed the castle’s name to Matsushiro Castle, to reflect their position as rulers of the Matsushiro Domain.
A fire destroyed the castle in 1872, leaving only the stone walls. The main gates and some other buildings were restored in 2004.
Know this famous castle in Nagano?
While Matsushiro Castle is arguably the most well-known attraction, the variety of samurai clan houses in the area will give you a real peek back in time. Most of the original stone walls, gates and structures of the clan dwellings remain intact.
The Former Sanada Residence (locally known as Shingoten), the samurai residence of the Sanada family, and the Sanada Treasure Museum dedicated to the clan’s history are must-sees. From artworks and ceramics to swords and armor, the museum displays over 20,000 artifacts visitors can admire.
The Matsushiro Bunbu Gakko (Old School for Literary and Military Arts) is another historical relic. Opened in 1855, students here studied martial arts, traditional literature and Western military science. Explore the antique wooden dojos or take a lesson in kyudo (Japanese archery) or sojutsu (spear fighting) if you think you’ve got what it takes.
Other samurai houses in the area are the Former Yamadera Jyosan Residence and the Yazawa Residence Gatehouse. Since Matsushiro is so compact, all of the above attractions are within a short walking distance of each other. After admiring the art of samurai living, it’s time to take a load off at one of the nearby hot spring resorts.
Bathe like a samurai
Nagano boasts some of the most mineral-rich hot spring waters in all of Japan making Matsushiro a relaxing oasis. But this oasis isn’t a serene blue dreamland— it’s brown and rusty. The color of the water is due to high iron and salt percentages.
For a memorable bathing experience, try the Matsuhiro-sou spa, a legendary healing spot for the army of Takeda Shingen. The Ichiyou-kan is another good spot with rustic facilities and healing outdoor baths. Most of the resorts offer prices as low as ¥500 for single access. If you’re traveling with your partner or family and want to enjoy the onsen together, try the Shinshu Matsushiro Royal Hotel. It has a number of private baths suitable for families and couples.
With its fascinating samurai history and outstanding onsen, Matsushiro is definitely worthy of a day trip.