MATSUE--Visitors to Matsue Castle, built in the 17th century, have a limited-time opportunity to enjoy an unobscured view of the main keep's entire interior after exhibits that had concealed many parts were removed.
The previously hidden corners were revealed when the city government took out 163 items totaling about 15 tons in weight to renew exhibits. The items removed by the end of March included feudal weapons and a city diorama.
With the city government, which owns the central government-designated national treasure, set to install new exhibits in or after June, the vacant interior of the main keep can be seen until around May.
The six-story structure has five floors and a basement, and the second-largest floor space among the 12 keeps that still exist in Japan, after Himeji Castle. However, many parts of it had been hidden behind exhibits.
Those parts are now easy to observe, offering visitors a rare chance to see traces of how the main keep had been used back then up close.
Parts and components of the structure now exposed include: traces of structural members on the first floor that suggest the section had been used as a lavatory back in the day; "sama" embrasures for soldiers to fire at enemies using bows and guns; and "ishi-otoshi" (machicolation) for defenders to throw stones at attackers coming from below.
Matsue Castle was built in 1611 by the Horio clan, who occupied Gassantoda Castle after the Battle of Sekigahara. It was designated as a national treasure in July 2015, with two prayer slips showing the year of construction that were found in 2012 serving as a decisive factor leading to the designation.
According to Seiji Yamamoto, head of the research and study room for Matsue Castle, which is set up inside the city government division for the compilation of historical materials, and other experts, the number of exhibits displayed in the main keep had crept up slowly after the owner at the time, the Matsudaira clan, donated the castle to the city government in 1927. Some of the displays included "kacchu" suits of armor worn by lords from outside the prefecture who had nothing to do with Matsue Castle.
But when the city government checked the castle for quake resistance in 2014, it was discovered that some parts of the building were at risk of suffering damage in earthquakes with an intensity of 6 or more on the Japanese scale of 7. Officials then decided to drastically reduce the number of exhibits.
Because Kumamoto Castle suffered major damage including collapsed stone walls due to the devastating earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016, the Matsue city government began preparations for the removal of the exhibits in November last year.
"It is a golden opportunity to see its appearance from when it was built, and we’d like you to come and see the architectural characteristics of Matsue Castle with your own eyes," Yamamoto said.
New exhibits with descriptions in multiple languages for the benefit of non-Japanese tourists will be set up inside the main keep between June and July.