Friday, July 8, 2011
Crow Castle in a Flap
Just a three-hour drive east of Shinjuku on the Keio Line Bus is Matsumoto, in the mountainous Nagano Prefecture.
This is the sister-city to Utah’s Salt Lake City and Nepal’s Kathmandu, and is one of the best places to try basashi (raw horse meat) and soba (buckwheat noodles).
The city itself is located on an open plain in the Japanese Alps, just over half an hour from the historic watermills at the nation’s largest wasabi farm – Daio at Azumino – where Akira Kurosawa in fact shot part of his epic movie about his own fitful Dreams (1990).
But the standout here is Matsumoto Castle (松本城), and it’s actually a genuine keep unlike the faux fort closer to Tokyo at Odawara.
Matsumoto Castle is a gorgeous and immaculately maintained building that dates back to the Sengoku (Warring States) era prior to the 17th century. It’s locally dubbed 'Karasu-Jo' (Crow Castle) because of the somewhat sinister black lines, but for me (I’ve visited twice) this is a stunning place that lives up to its confirmation as a National Treasure of Japan in 1952.
It’s one of only four castles in this country to receive the honour.
But 2011 hasn’t been kind to Japan.
Unless you’ve had your head buried deep inside one very big sandpit, you’d know all about the huge earthquake and follow-up tsunami on March 11, followed by worrying ripples in the economy and a continuing radioactive crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 230km northeast of Tokyo.
We’ve had thousands of aftershocks and earthquakes across the country over the following four months, and one of these earthquakes – with a magnitude of 5.4 – rocked Nagano on Thursday June 30.
Aside from minor injuries to local residents – although I’m not sure if the people themselves would call broken bones trivial – the quake caused around ten large cracks in the inner walls of the main tower of Matsumoto Castle.
After 400 years successfully circumnavigating civil wars, neglect, deconstruction, renovation and tourism, let’s hope Karasu-Jo’s earthquake damage isn’t so serious and – like the rest of Japan – it makes a complete recovery.
(This is part of an article that appears on the Forces Of Geek site - you can read more of that yarn here.)