Hokkaido’s only castle town, Matsumae (松前) is known as ‘Little Kyoto of the North’, and the former feudal political center in Hokkaido. In the early-Edo period, the town was established by the Matsumae clan, whose reign came to an end in the Boshin civil war. But the town remains the castle ruins, historic temples and culture. Many locals speak the Tsugaru dialect came from Western Aomori Prefecture.
Highlights Matsumae-jo, Tera-machi District
Tourist Information Matsumae Tourist Information Center (松前観光案内所花守): Tel 0139-42-3868 / Near Matsumae-jo, 144 Matsushiro / 9.30am-4.30pm Apr-Oct / www.asobube.com
松前城 / 144 Matsushiro / FREE
Japan’s northernmost castle originally built in 1854 by Matsumae Takahiro, this castle is the last traditional castle in Japan. Most buildings were destroyed by the Boshin War in 1868, and the tenshu (castle tower) burnt in 1949. The castle tower was rebuilt as a historical museum (9am-5pm 10 Apr-10 Dec / ¥360) in 1961, which displays historic documents and art relating to the Matsumae clan. Today the Honmaru Gomon (本丸御門: main gate) is the only building from the Edo period.
02 TEMPLE DISTRICT
寺町 / Matsushiro / 24hrs
North side of Matsumae-jo is Tera-machi (寺町) district, there are five historic temples and the Matsumae Lord’s Graves (including hidden Christians) surrounded by pine trees. More than 10,000 cherry trees (250 species) blossom in the castle site and its temple town from late April to mid May.
法幢寺 / 307 Matsushiro / FREE
Hodo-ji is the Matsumae Lord’s temple founded in 1490. In early May, you will find white dandelions in the Japanese garden.
龍雲院 / 305 Matsushiro / FREE
Originally constructed in 1842, Ryu’un-in is Matsumae’s oldest temple building that was not destroyed in the Boshin civil war.
光善寺 / 303 Matsushiro / FREE
boasts the 300-year old legendary cherry tree Kechimyaku-zakura (血脈桜) blooms in the Japanese garden.
BUSES FROM HAKODATE VIA KIKONAI: Central Matsumae has two bus stops along Route 228 (Oiwake Soran Line) with services from Hakodate Station (3 daily / 3hrs) via Kikonai Station (10 daily / 1.5hrs) on the Hokkaido Shinkansen. IC cards are available.
Matsushiro (松城) is the nearest bus stop of Matsumae-jo and Tera-machi. Karatsu (唐津), one stop west of Matsushiro, is also convenient if you visit the michi-no-eki (roadside station) Kitamaebune Matsumae. Note: Matsumae Shutcho-jo (松前出張所) terminus on Route 228 is about 3km west of the castle.
BUSES FROM ESASHI: From Central Esashi (such as Nakauta-cho: 中歌町), take the bus to Esashi Terminal (12min) and connect to a few buses to Haraguchi Gyoko-mae (原口漁港前: 2-3 daily /1hr), with a stop at Kaminokuni (上ノ国).
The Tairyo-kun Bus (大漁くんバス: 6 daily / flat ¥100) runs between Haraguchi Gyoko-mae and Matsumae Shutcho-jo (40min) or Matsushiro-chuo (松城中央: 1hr). Hakodate Bus also runs between Matsushiro and Matsumae Shutcho-jo (7min).