My first morning in Matsuyama began in an unusual way. While getting ready for the day I turned on the TV in my apartment to watch the local news and was immediately greeted by video footage of Shuri Castle in Okinawa burning down. I had visited Shuri just a few weeks earlier and was genuinely shocked by what I was seeing. The castle’s palace had caught fire in the night and was destroyed, along with a couple adjacent buildings, though the ruins beneath the palace were mostly untouched. At the time it was theorized that an electrical failure had sparked the fire but I don’t know if this has ever been verified.
I was glued to the TV for about twenty minutes but there was a lot that I wanted to get done that day so I turned off the TV and headed out. My sightseeing would begin with a return to the city’s castle. Matsuyama Castle is located on top of a steep hill in the center of town and since I had scouted it out the previous evening I knew where to find the trail leading up to it. At the bottom on the hill is the Ninomaru Garden, which used to be where the castle’s palace was located. None of the original palace buildings have survived to this day and it is now a large garden. On this visit to Matsuyama I skipped over the garden and went straight to the castle but if I’m ever back in the city I’ll try to stop by Ninomaru and get some photos. My climb up to the castle went pretty briskly and soon I was through the gates and inside the central complex.
Matsuyama Castle was built in the early 1600s and it is one of the twelve castles from Japan’s feudal era that have stood the test of time. The castle’s main tower was destroyed by a fire in 1784 and replaced in 1820, but otherwise most of the castle’s buildings on the hilltop have survived from their first construction up to this day. With its many turrets, wings, and towers, Matsuyama Castle might be second only to Himeji Castle in terms of grandeur among the twelve original castles of Japan.
Inside the castle’s buildings are multiple exhibits that give a detailed history of Matsuyama Castle and the various lords that ruled it. Most of the displays have both Japanese and English descriptions, which is great for foreigners like me that can’t read Japanese.
From the top of Matsuyama Castle’s main tower you can look out the windows for a view of the castle grounds and the city below the hill. The previous evening I had gotten a bit of a view of the surrounding landscape at sunset but now that it was daytime I could see everything much more clearly. In the distance was the Seto Inland Sea and just about every inch of flat land was claimed by the city. Matsuyama may not be anywhere as big as Tokyo or the other large cities in Japan but it is home to over a half million people and is a pretty urban place.
After exiting the heart of Matsuyama Castle I spent some time around the rear of the castle complex before returning to the front entrance. As I was taking photos a middle-aged Japanese man struck up a conversation with me and I told him about the various places in Japan that I had visited so far. On my first trip to Japan in 2017 it had been mostly younger people that had been the ones to approach me but in 2019 it was the older folk who were more interested in saying hello.
As midday starting drawing near I exited the castle and then hurried across town to the train station. The rest of my day would be spent visiting the small towns of Uchiko and Ozu, and the first posts from those places will be coming later this week.
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