A modern city of tradition, festivals and beef
Located north of Ise, Matsusaka is a great choice for travelers wanting to check out traditional architecture, crafts, food, and festivals, without venturing into the more remote countryside. Matsukawa offers all the comfort and convenience of urban Japan.
- Attending a lively local festival
- History dating back to the days of the shoguns
- Enjoying a plate of Matsusaka beef
How to Get There
Matsusaka has convenient connections with the rest of the region via JR and Kintetsu rail lines.
You can reach Matsusaka from Nagoya in just over an hour. Namba Station in Osaka is just under two hours away, while the trip from Kyoto Station takes nearly two hours.
If Mie is your first stop in Japan, a high-speed ferry will whisk you across Ise Bay from Chubu Centrair International Airport to Matsusaka in 45 minutes.
A city with a proud mercantile history
Matsusaka was a castle town in medieval times when the shoguns ruled Japan. In those days, kimono production thrived in the city, bringing great wealth to local businesses who sold their wares in Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
Matsusaka Castle area
There isn't much of a castle here anymore: the keep was destroyed in a typhoon in 1644, a fire took down the palace and the second bailey in 1877, and the remaining fortifications were demolished four years later. Many of the stone ramparts, however, are intact and open for visitors to walk around on. The elevated position offers views of the town below.
If you're a Japanese history buff, the Moto'ori Norinaga Memorial Museum on the castle grounds may be worth a visit. Its exhibits feature the literature and maps of Moto'ori Norinaga, a renowned Japanese scholar. His diligent commentary on everything from literary classics to his personal life provides insight into the Japanese character.
Also on the grounds, the Matsusaka City Museum of History and Folklore occupies a converted library originally constructed in 1911. In its old-time atmosphere, you can inspect artifacts relating to Matsusaka's mercantile past.
Don't forget to check out the residences the castle guards once called home. People still live in these houses, but one building at the northern end of the area is open to visitors.
Located along the river, many of this area's traditional merchant houses are still standing. Built around 1700, the Matsusaka Merchant Museum is open to the public. This well-preserved home gives a feel for what the life of a successful Matsusaka businessman was like several hundred years ago.
Near the museum is the original home of the Mitsui family, who went on to create what is now the Mitsui conglomerate. Note that this residence is not open to the public.
If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the business that made Matsusaka rich in its heyday, go to the Matsusaka Cotton Center, where you can see how kimono and other fabrics were made. There is also an antique loom that visitors can use to weave their own fabrics.
Matsusaka beef is rightly famous. Although not as well-known internationally as its rival, Kobe beef, some consider the Matsusaka variety even better. The cattle are similarly raised, being treated to full-body massages and beer that reportedly help give the meat its soft texture and rich marbling.
Several restaurants in the city serve Matsusaka beef. One of the more popular is Matsusaka Agricultural Park Bell Farm, located on the far side of the castle from Matsusaka Station. Its cafe offers other dishes made from local ingredients as well. The farm has rural scenery that includes indoor and outdoor gardens.
Matsusaka has several festivals throughout the year. The Matsusaka Gion Festival in mid-July is the local version of Kyoto's similarly-named extravaganza. Absorb the energy of the parade of floats and revelers carrying portable shrines.
In November, witness the locals don samurai costumes and parade through town during the Ujisato Festival. The event is held to honor Gamo Ujisato, the feudal lord who commissioned the construction of Matsusaka Castle.