Question: Where can you find a 22-ton stone, the ruins of a fifty-room building, and Matsumoto Castle’s only crossable wooden bridge?
Answer: The least-visited, most-overlooked part of Matsumoto Castle – the eastern Ni-no-maru Garden.
While this area of the castle grounds is accessible directly from the heavily-trafficked main southern entrance, we’ll start our tour from outside the castle’s eastern wall, across from Matsumoto City Hall. Here, across the Ni-no-maru Moat, sits the Taiko-mon – the Drum Gate.
Constructed in the same masu-gata style as the Kuro-mon (Black Gate) that leads to the castle’s innermost garden, the Taiko-mon, which serves as a gateway to the castle’s Ni-no-maru garden, sports a rectangular courtyard inside its walls. And it is in this courtyard that you will find the Genba-ishi, at over twenty-two tons Matsumoto Castle’s largest stone. Massive stones like the Genba-ishi were generally used to show the castle lord’s wealth and power – making one wonder just how important a part of Matsumoto Castle the Taiko-mon actually was. The Taiko-mon gets its name from the drum tower that once sat along the gate’s northern side.
As you walk through the inner gate of the Taiko-mon, notice the woodwork above your head. These horizontal beams are some of the thickest pieces of timber used in all of Matsumoto Castle. As you pass through this inner gateway look to your left. That round, unassuming rock sitting in the grass was one of the original cornerstones used in the construction of the Taiko-mon, sometime around 1633. The path that leads around to the left will take us to the castle’s main gate, but we are going to turn right.
Through the black wood slat gate and to the left you’ll notice a tall stone monument. This was placed by the local residents in 1921 to commemorate Emperor Meiji’s 1880 visit to Matsumoto – specifically Matsumoto’s District Court. And yes, this district court, as well as a number of other governmental offices, were once located right here in the eastern expanse of the Ni-no-maru Garden. For a time the most centralized and important government functions took place in the Honmaru Goten, the castle lord’s Inner Garden residence and the administrative center of the region. A fire, however, forced the relocation of the Daimyo’s official business to the Ni-no-maru Goten. While not as large as the Honmaru Goten, the Ni-no-maru Goten boasted over fifty rooms serving a wide variety of purposes, from administrative offices ro living quarters to kitchen areas to storehouses for salt and miso. Stone markers denote the uses of the various rooms as they were laid out. Some foundation stones also remain.
There may be little left of the Ni-no-maru Goten, but to get an idea of the size and complexity of the place as it once was check out the drawing on display near the northeast corner of the former grounds.
Rounding out the tour of this seldom-visited part of Matsumoto Castle is the wooden bridge that lies inconspicuously beyond the narrow gate in the modest wooden fencing that runs along the northern edge of the Ni-no-maru Garden. Interestingly, this bridge, built in the traditional rounded “Taiko-bashi” style, is the only one of its kind here at Matsumoto Castle. (True, there is the red, picturesque Uzumibashi Bridge leading across the inner moat on the west side of the castle, but you aren’t allowed to cross that one.) So if you want to walk across a Taiko-bashi as once only the lords and the samurai could, this modest bridge connecting to the eastern Ni-no-maru garden is your chance.
As a bonus, in Spring the cherry blossoms along the moat here are spectacular, giving us one more reason to make our way over to Matsumoto Castle’s East Side. Also on occasion the upper floor of the Taiko-mon is open to the public. Take a look when you come by – you may get extra lucky! And of course, at any time of year, this eastern area offers views of the castle and grounds that many visitors miss out on. Lucky for you, you won’t!