"Fukuyama (Matsumae) Castle and Temple Towns" - Part 14 of our Hokkaido Heritage Series.
This year the Kanto region of Japan has already celebrated the beginning of spring with traditional Japanese cherry blossom viewing festivities, but here in Hokkaido we're just about to get started! One of the best places to visit during this time is Fukuyama (Matsumae) Castle and the surrounding Temple Towns. Here you can enjoy the wonderful cherry trees, all while learning about the history of Hokkaido during the end of the Edo period.
"Fukuyama (Matsumae) Castle" is a Japanese-style castle constructed at the end of the Edo period. Although the shogunate at that time had prohibited the construction of new castles, the rule was broken in order to help strengthen northern security. With this, the Fukuyama Complex was repaired and reinforced, and five years after construction began, in 1854, it was completed.
The building was designed by famous tactician Ichikawa Ichigaku. His castle is furnished with three main enclosures, corner turrets, castle gates, and a unique set of seven fortifications along the coast to repel invading vessels.
However, 13 years after completion the castle was attacked during the Battle of Hakodate. Deserters from the shogunate army, led by Hijikata Toshizo, forced the castle to surrender. After this incident, when the Meiji Restoration was complete, the castle was abandoned. The stone walls were removed and the moat was filled in, leaving only the main building and tower behind. But in 1941 the historic value of the building was recognized and the castle was designated a national treasure.
Even so, the castle tower was completely destroyed eight years later by a fire.
The castle tower was rebuilt with concrete using donations from locals who loved the building and now the interior has become a museum where you can learn the history of the Matsumae clan.
In addition to the castle's construction, there were also 15 Buddhist temples constructed on the mountain side of the castle to protect the site. Many were burned down during the Meiji Restoration but currently there are five temples left standing, including the Matsumae family temple. The area still retains the feeling of a bygone era, giving visitors a unique experience.
In Matsumae town, the streets are maintained to keep the appearance they had when the castle was built. This is carried out not just by the town's administration, but by the townspeople and shop owners as well. Everyone in the town has a special feeling of pride for their unique history.
Currently the whole Castle and Temple Town area is in bloom! Cherry blossoms in Matsumae Park are the earliest trees to bloom in Hokkaido and draw many visitors every year. This year the Matsumae Cherry Blossom Festival is being held from April 29th until May 19th!
During this event a variety of events are held, but the main focus are the 250 cherry trees which bloom at various times over a one month period. This "Blooming Difference" gives visitors a wonderful experience no matter when they visit!
At the "special meeting site" you can find "Awabi Lunch Boxes" or Matsumae pickles for sale. The feeling of the whole event is one of stepping back in time for a day or two, surrounded by cherry blossoms as you admire the castle. While enjoying the delicious Matsumae foods there is no better place to enjoy viewing cherry blossoms this spring!
Hokkaido Matsumae Clan Tourism Administrator Home Page:
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - T・H)
Photographs provided by Matsumae Town.