Takahashi city located in Okayama Prefecture is a castle town that once thrived at the foot of Matsuyama Castle (Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle). Today, visitors can travel down carefully preserved historic streets close to the castle and drop in on the samurai and merchant houses that have been restored and are now open to the public.
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, designated as such in order to differentiate it from Matsuyama Castle in Shikoku, is one of Japan’s few remaining original castles that survived orders to be demolished during the early Meiji era. It was originally constructed in 1240, when castles served primarily as defensive fortresses and accordingly, was built on a steep mountain that is difficult to attack. Atop Mount Gagyu, the castle stands at an elevation of approximately 1,410 feet, making it Japan’s highest castle.
Even today, Matsuyama Castle is not easily accessible. Visitors can take a taxi up most of the way but there is a point at which you must walk up as no vehicles are allowed on the path leading to the castle. The ascent to the castle will take you 20 minutes from the nearest parking lot and the path will wind through the ruined foundations of former castle structures leading through to multiple successive circles of defense before reaching the innermost castle grounds and the castle keep.
The inside of the castle is only two stories high and relatively small. There are not many artifacts inside however, the uniqueness of the castle and the beauty of the surrounding area more than make up for it. Views of the town below can be enjoyed from several points along the way and also through the yasama (slits in the castle walls used by archers) on the top floor of the castle keep.
Unfortunately, despite all of its beauty and outstanding features, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is one of the least visited of all the original castles.
From the castle grounds, you can get a great view of the Orii Samurai Residence. This is one of two samurai residences (the other is the Haibara Residence) open to the public in Takahashi City. It was constructed about 170 years ago and visitors can access the main building and garden. Within the main building, life-sized dolls are arranged to provide visitors with an opportunity to see what daily life may have been like in a samurai house during the Edo period.
The Orii Residence is open daily from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Except December 29 – January 3, when the residence is closed to visitors).
Takahashi is a pedestrian friendly city listed as having one of the top ten beautiful streets in Japan. The best time to visit is during the spring when the cherry trees are in full bloom.
Photo credits: Moritoshi Inaba