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Matsue Castle

After being fully inspired by the tategu display and the historic areas around Takayama, we took a 1.5-hour train trip to Toyama, then a bus ride to Shokugei Gakuin. I had very fruitful talks with my old tategu instructor and a couple of the academic staff, and received encouraging support for my medium-terms plans to write a couple of instructional books on tatgeu, kumiko patterns, the use and maintenance of Japanese tools, and how Western tools can be adapted for use in shoji work.

From Toyama, we headed to Matsue, the capital of Shimane Prefecture. Shimane is on the Sea of Japan side of Honshu, located next to Hiroshima Prefecture. The region abounds with natural beauty and charm, and has a wonderfully rich history.

The next morning we headed straight to Matsue Castle. This is one of only 12 remaining castles in Japan, and is the second largest (the largest being the magnificent Himeji Castle). It was completed in 1611. In 1638 rule over the region was transferred to Matsudaira Naomasa, the 14-year-old grandson of the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, Tokugawa Ieyasu, beginning a reign by the Matsudaira clan that lasted ten generations over a period of nearly 234 years to 1871.

All of the buildings in the grounds were destroyed in 1875, following the Meiji Restoration, except for the castle tower, which was preserved, but only after intense pressure from various groups. Although the building underwent restoration work in the 1950s, essentially, it is the same as it was when it was constructed four centuries ago, and gives a tremendous insight into the architecture and carpentry skills of the
shokunin at that time. In 2001, three of the demolished turrets were rebuilt.

Inside the grounds of Matsue Castle.
Matsue Castle

The stones are all laid as they were quarried; there was no subsequent cutting to fit. It may look quite random, but they are assembled in a way that forms a very solid foundation structure. This stone structural style is known as
gobo-zumi.
From the outside, there appears to be five storeys, but in fact there are six levels. The internal staircases are all very narrow, to make it difficult for attacking enemies to secure the upper levels, and are made of paulownia, a very light and fire-resistant timber so they could be raised quickly before an enemy could use them. Other aspects of the internal structural joinery, especially the beams, pillars, and the use of wedges were also quite fascinating. The castle itself never came under attack.

Southern turret of Matsue Castle looking back to the Chidori-bashi Bridge.
The castle moat and one of the rebuilt turrets.

Turtles in Matsue Castle moat.
Some of the moat wildlife.

Matsue Shrine
Matsue shrine

Deified in the Shrine are Matsudaira Naomasa, the first of the Matsudaira clan to rule the region; Horio Yoshiharu, the "father" of Tokugawa Shogunate rule in the region; Matsudaira Harusato (Fumai), the 7th ruler of the Matsudaira clan, who saved the region from bankruptcy in the mid-1700s; and Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Matsu Castle 400th anniversary celebrations.
Celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Castle.

2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the castle’s completion and the solidifying of Tokugawa rule over the area, and we were fortunate enough to catch the very end of one of the many events held to celebrate this important historical event.

Pruning matsu pine tree in the grounds of Matsue Castle.
Matsu trees.

Japanese matsu pine trees are particularly beautiful when they are shaped, but this is the kind of attention that’s needed. These are still only very young trees in the Castle grounds, and the time spent on manicuring them will only increase. A very Japanese sense of aesthetics.

From Matsue Castle, we took a short walk to the former home of Lafcadio Hearn, and the Matsue
Buke-yashiki (samurai residence)…
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