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Japan: Shimane (Matsue Castle)

Constructed in 1611, Matsue Castle is one of twelve original castles remaining in Japan and it is the main attraction of Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture. What is meant by original is that the castle has not been destroyed by fire, war or other causes and is completely original in its wooden form. A majority of castles in Japan today are concrete reconstructions of the originals.

The castle was abandoned in 1871 and all the buildings with the exception of the main keep were torn down, as were many other castles in Japan during the Meiji restoration. Fortunately, the castle underwent reconstruction and repair work in the 1950s and further restorations were completed in 2001, bringing it to its present form today.

The castle’s black painted wood walls give it an ominous look and although the keep is five-storied, it actually conceals a sixth floor. Several defensive features such as small windows and hidden openings from which stones could be dropped were incorporated into the castle’s design. However, the castle never faced an attack which probably accounts for its condition.

Within the castle there are displays of arms and armor, a pictorial display of the castle’s history, photos of all the castles throughout Japan and miniature replicas of the layout of Matsue, chronicling the changes over time. The original shachi (mythical dolphins) from the castle’s roof are also on display within the castle. It was believed that the shachi protected a castle from fire and were common in castle construction and design. From the top floor there are beautiful views of the city and surrounding area including Lake Shinji, Japan’s seventh largest lake.

Visitors to the castle can enjoy a pleasure boat trip around the extensive castle moat. The moat is part of Jozan Koen (park), which now houses the Matsue Historical Museum. The former home of Lafcadio Hearn and the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum, along with some samurai residences dating to the Edo period are located just north of the castle moat.

A short distance from the castle you will find the Gessho Temple. Here, the graves of all nine Matsudaira lords (the rulers of the castle) are located and worth visiting.

The castle is merely 30 minutes on foot from the JR Matsue Station. International tourists who show their passport will receive a 50% discount on the entrance fee.

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Web page: http://www.city.matsue.shimane.jp/kankou/jp/e/castle.htm

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