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.
(松前城) 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.
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) 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) 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) boasts the 300-year old legendary cherry tree Kechimyaku-zakura (血脈桜) blooms in the Japanese garden.
Central Matsumae has two bus stops along Route 228 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.