After leaving Aomori Prefecture I entered Hokkaido and thus left the Tohoku Region for a few days. Hokkaido is geographically the largest prefecture in Japan! I stayed only at the Western tip which was still very close to Tohoku as I didn’t have enough time to go deeper into the prefecture. I mainly spent time in Hakodate, but I also did a day trip to Matsumae Castle.
As the weather STILL wasn’t any better I decided to leave Hakodate and visit Matsumae instead. The reason for that was pretty simple. I knew that I had to spend many hours in a bus / train in order to get there and I would have regretted to do that in good weather.
I took a bus that left in front of JR Hakodate Station. The trip took about 3h, but the landscape was interesting.
On the left photo you see a bit of snow. Despite it being May, it was really cold in Hokkaido.
The bus also stopped at a few other things of interest such as the Seikan Tunnel Memorial Museum (福島町青函トンネル記念館) in Fukushima Town. (Note: This has nothing to do with Fukushima Prefecture which is located in Tohoku!)
The Seikan Tunnel connects Honshu (the biggest of Japan’s islands) with Hokkaido. Unlike the other connections (e.g. Honshu with Shikoku or Kyushu) it’s not offered by bridges, but via an underwater tunnel. The tunnel is about 23km long and runs 240m below sea level. It’s an experience in itself and I recommend taking the train instead of an airplane to access Hokkaido. The Memorial Museum offers a lot of information about the tunnel and its construction.
Exploring Matsumae Castle
I finally arrived in Matsumae (松前). The town is located on the southern end of the Matsumae Peninsula.
It’s the former home of the Matsumae Han, it has an Edo period castle, Matsumae Castle, the only one in Hokkaido!
And the castle was reason enough for me to come and visit! ^__^
The weather hasn’t gotten much better. At least it wasn’t raining permanently. The castle can be reached in a short walk from the bus stop. It’s very close to the ocean.
Despite the weather there were a lot of people. No wonder, it was Golden Week and cherry blossom season!
A first glimpse of the castle.
Matsumae Castle (松前城) was built in 1606 by Matsumae Yoshihiro. Unfortunately it burnt down in 1637. It was rebuilt 2 years later.
Because of its location close to Honshu, it once controlled all passengers through Hokkaido to the rest of Japan.
In 1949 the remaining Donjon and main gate burnt down. It is a spacious park now with a reconstruction (1959) of the main tower. It is considered to be the last traditional style castle in Hokkaido.
The main tower consists of 3 floors with some interesting exhibits.
I’m not sure if the photo can display its size well, but it was well over 2m high! Quite impressive!
A few very old photos like the one above were also displayed.
What a beautiful fan!
A conpura （コンプラ) with foreign letters on it.
You can see the ocean from the top floor of the castle.
Despite the dark weather the colors of the trees seemed really bright and beautiful.
They had a huge variety of different types of cherry blossom trees all around the castle. I love those with a darker pink like in the photo above.
In this photo you can see the reconstruction well. It’s quite simple and yet there’s something about it I really like.
The lantern on the right side has “Matsumae Onsen” written on it. I wish I had time to explore Matsumae a bit more.
You know that I love nothing more than taking photos of castles with cherry blossoms in the foreground (or background)!! ^__^
The castle moat is also surrounded by cherry blossom trees.
The outer castle walls.
They also had a list of all the different cherry blossom types you could find in the park. The sign says: “The ones that will bloom soon:”
I think that most of them were already in bloom when I visited, though. Lucky! ^_^
Reflection of the castle in the moat. Right next to the castle was a shrine.
Matsumae Shrine (松前神社）is a small shrine right next to the castle.
You couldn’t escape the cherry blossoms! They were really everywhere!
As you can clearly see, Matsumae Castle should be visited in spring!
Praying for better weather? Maybe I should have done that, too ….
I still had time until the next bus would come, so I strolled around a bit in the park.
I ran into some small temples as well as those stone statues.
Apart from the castle, the shrine and some temples you can also find a few really old cherry blossom trees. They were marked, a sign was put in front of them, so you couldn’t miss them. Here’s a map of the huge park and all of its attractions.
At last I arrived at the Hokuou Hirin (北鷗碑林) with a lot of stone monuments.
On my way back I walked through the “Cherry Blossom Tunnel” (桜のトンネル).
On my way back I took a bus to Kikonai (木古内) from where I took a train back to Hakodate.
I haven’t heard about to many castles in Hokkaido, so thanks for sharing this one with us. It is easy to see its strategic importance in controlling passage through Hokkaido to Honshu and looks beautiful with all the cherry blossoms around it.
I enjoyed this post very much because I have never been to Matsumae but I’ve long wanted to visit the city. I once read Isabella Bird’s “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” and found her descriptions on Matsumae very interesting. Your photos are really nice as always. Love the top photo!! It is so beautiful and at the same time very atmospheric!! I’ve read your other posts on Tohoku. Your castle photos are also really splendid! I liked the camera angles in them very much.
Wow, now I want to read “Unbeaten Tracks in Japan“, too! ^___^
Matsumae is worth a visit. It’s a shame that it’s so far out.
Thanks so much for the nice compliment! :D