With even just a passing interest in photography – or architecture or aesthetics – you could spend all day taking pictures of Matsumoto Castle and never get bored. With the moat and the mountains; standing stately in the inner garden; fronted with pine trees and backed by the clear blue sky; adorned with innumerable details; from every angle the castle offers a new and different face.
But for a different view of Matsumoto Castle – one that few ever see outside of a pamphlet or brochure – head for City Hall.
Across From the Taiko-mon Gate
City Hall looks a lot like a Japanese government building. Go figure. Out front you’ll see the Flame of Peace, burning here since 1986 as a symbol of the hope of the people of Matsumoto for a world without nuclear weapons and war. A bit more cutesy is the stone statue of Alp-chan, Matsumoto’s mountain-capped mascot, placed here in 2007 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Matsumoto as a town in the new, post-feudal era.
Inside the front entrance is a bronze bust of Ori Yorinaga (1855-1941) who served as a member of the city council, the prefectural assembly, and the House of Representatives before ultimately becoming Mayor of Matsumoto, a position he held for thirty years. Beloved and respected by the community, Ori became known, informally, as a National Treasure.
To the Rooftop
Hop on one of the elevators and head for the fifth floor. When you get off, the stairs leading up to the observatory deck are right in front of you. It may look like you’re intruding on the janitor’s personal work space, but just ignore all that and keep going up until you can’t go up anymore.
For better or worse the observation deck is completely enclosed. You can, however, open some of the windows – a measure of efficiency relieving the janitor from constantly feeling obliged to go wipe the grime off the glass so your pictures come out.
And the View
The roof of City Hall is only a few feet higher than the top floor of the castle, but the experience is noticeably different. For one, you feel like you’re standing in the cramped upper reaches of a Japanese government building instead of the last bastion of defense in a 400-year-old fortress. The upside is that you likely won’t be jostling for space with a horde of tourists. Couple this with the fact that the windows here are much bigger, and you have the twin luxuries of ample views of Matsumoto in every direction and the unpressured time to fully enjoy them.
And of course, you get to see Matsumoto Castle in a whole new way.
Matsumoto’s City Hall, and thus the observation deck, is only open during municipal working hours. If you can fit it in, swing by and head up. I highly recommend it.
As a side note, you might want to take a selfie while you’re up there. Otherwise your friends may think you just took a picture of a brochure.