Explore Matsusaka’s Edo Period merchant houses and castle ruins in a kimono

Explore Matsusaka’s Edo Period merchant houses and castle ruins in a kimono

Matsusaka is a city in Mie Prefecture where visitors can eat the famous local beef, see ancient castle ruins, learn about the area’s history at inviting museums and explore Edo Period(1603-1868) merchant shops while wearing traditional clothing. It is only about two and a half hours by train to Matsusaka from Kyoto for tourists looking for an interesting and entertaining day trip. You can immerse yourself in the city’s culture and history by changing into a kimono made from beautiful locally produced cotton fabric before taking in the sites. As you tour 350 year old merchant buildings and the remains of the Matsusaka Castle walls, the past will come alive.

Written by Nathan Raymond
About the Author:  
I am from rural upstate New York and I now live with my family in Gifu, Japan. I have always been amazed by Japanese culture and I want to share my experiences with others. My goal is to inspire people from around the world to choose Japan as their travel destination.


I wanted to get the full experience while learning about the history of Matsusaka, so I decided to change into a kimono made from indigo-dyed Matsusaka cotton. The place where I rented my kimono was Utsukushiya, which is a B&B style guesthouse located in a converted a historical storehouse. 

Caption: The room where I changed into a kimono was spacious and comfortable.

Utsukushiya offers guests and visitors a wide range of experiences and products that promote Matsusaka’s culture. I was very excited to wear a kimono because Matsusaka has a deep and interesting history as a production center for high quality indigo-dyed cotton used as material for kimono. 

During the Edo Period (1600-1868), Matsusaka kimonos became popular in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) and many merchants opened stores to sell their products in Edo, Osaka and Kyoto. Thanks to the popularity of this kimono style at that time, many merchants from Matsusaka became millionaires. 

The staff at Utsukushiya were kind and thoughtful in helping me put on my kimono. It was clear to me that they loved sharing their knowledge and culture with foreign visitors. A sense of pride in Matsusaka could be felt the entire time I was in the gorgeous historic building that had been refurbished inside with a modern Japanese design aesthetic. 

Caption: The Japanese garden at Utsukushiya is amazing.

The kimono was very comfortable and the high quality of the Matsusaka cotton was obvious in the feel of the material. I was ready to learn more about the historic city and immerse myself in the intriguing past of Matsusaka.

When I walked out of the changing room and down the hallway, I saw an open space featuring a perfectly manicured Japanese garden. This style of architecture that incorporates nature into the design of a home was common in the era when Utsukushiya’s building was constructed. The result is a feeling harmony and connection to the natural world.

Caption: Utsukushiya has a classic exterior and a modern interior.

I was ready to head out into the traditional streets of Matsusaka to learn more about the city’s rich history. In my kimono, I felt a connection to the past as I walked along the streets and enjoyed the unique atmosphere of the area.

Former Ozu Residence 

Caption: The exterior of the former Ozu Residence is simple in design.

The first stop on my walking tour was the former residence of Ozu Seizaemon, a successful Matsusaka merchant who traded paper and cotton on a large scale in Edo (now Tokyo). As I approached the building, I was impressed by the clean simple design that included wooden lattices and a bamboo fence.

The Ozu fortune was mainly made by selling “washi” (Japanese traditional paper) in Edo. They became one of the wealthiest families in Japan along with other Matsusaka merchants such as the Mitsui, Hasegawa and Nagai families. The descendants of Ozu Seizaemon still run the same business in Tokyo now.

Caption: I was ready to enter the completely restored residence.

The former Ozu Residence has been restored to its original condition in the 17th to 19th century. An amazing amount of care and work has gone into restoring the interior and it shows how important the family is to the historical legacy of Matsusaka merchants. 

One of the features of the former residence was similar to Utsukushiya. One of the rooms opened onto a wonderful garden in the courtyard. This connection of the interior of the building to the natural world is a great example of how Japanese culture puts an emphasis on balance and harmony. 

Every room in the residence had something interesting to see and appreciate. The classic design of the interior matches perfectly with the minimalist style of the garden in the courtyard. As I moved from room to room, I could feel a sense of flow in the design and the atmosphere was calm and relaxed.

Caption: Each room had a distinct feel depending on how much light was present.

From the outside the former Ozu Residence doesn’t seem that big, but the interior of the home is quite large in area and there are many rooms to see. Many of the rooms have tatami mats on the floor, which release a distinct aroma to delight your sense of smell. The house also has some bamboo flooring and many paper screens to accent the classic design.

Caption: The tatami mats released a nice aroma inside the home. 

Many of the rooms have minimal amounts of furniture, which makes it easy to enjoy the architecture and design of the building itself. The absence of objects and clutter allowed me to clear my mind and just enjoy the ambience of the historical home. 

There is a real Zen vibe inside the Ozu Residence that makes spending time there very calming. My visit had put me into a wonderful state of mind and I was ready to move on and check out the next stop on my tour of Matsusaka.

Matsusaka Castle Ruins

The next spot on my tour of historic spots was the Matsusaka Castle Ruins, which was proclaimed as a National Historic Site by the Government of Japan in 2011. The original castle was destroyed by a typhoon long ago, but the ruins of the impressive natural stone walls remain and are a sight to behold.

Matsusaka Castle was built in 1588 by Ujisato Gamo, who was instrumental in the development of the city. Gamo invited good merchants to base themselves in Matsusaka. During the Edo Period, many merchants achieved great success in the city, resulting in the Matsusaka later being called “the town of wealthy merchants.”

Caption: Exploring the Matsusaka Castle Ruins is a fun experience.

Wearing a kimono and walking in areas that are home to many buildings constructed in the traditional Japanese architectural style takes you back in time. I felt surrounded by the old world as I stood next to the massive stone walls of the ruins.

While walking around and taking photos of the ruins, I sometimes forgot about the modern world that we now live in. Then I would turn a corner or reach the top of some steps and see a modern building that would bring me back. It was interesting to consider the development of Japan from the Edo Period to the present day. 

Caption: The castle is gone, but the stone steps and walls still remain. 

The fact that the walls and steps made of stone have remained for about 400 years is a testament to the engineering and hard work put in place so long ago. It is clear that when the builders erected the walls of Matsusaka Castle, they intended for them to withstand time and weather. 

To see the wear of millions of steps on the stones made me think about how short each person’s time on earth really is. To imagine the ancient residents of Matsusaka walking in the same spot as me in the 17th century made me pause and just appreciate the history of the place.

Caption: The incredible remains of Japan’s past are great places to take photos.

Eventually, I made my way to the highest point of the Matsusaka Castle Ruins and I was pleased to find a great view of the city when I reached the top. As I looked out over Matsusaka, the view was magnificent as the city extended into the distance before me. I had enjoyed exploring the ruins and I could see why this spot is on the list of Japan’s Top 100 Castles.

Gojouban Yashiki (Castle Guard Residences)

The last spot on my tour of Matsusaka was the “Gojouban Yashiki” (Castle Guard Residences) which was where the samurai who guarded Matsusaka Castle lived with their families. The Gojouban Yashiki is one of the largest samurai residences from the Edo Period still in existence and it was designated as a National Important Cultural Property in 2004.

Caption: These very old places are well preserved.

Amazingly, descendants of the samurai still live at the residence and handle the preservation of the site. There are two main buildings with a total of 19 living units, a front yard, a field, a storehouse and Nanryu Shrine on the one hectare site. Matsusaka City has restored one of the units to its original style and opened it to the public.

Caption:One of the units is open to the public for free.

Caption: Visiting the samurai residences gave me an idea of life in the Edo Period.

The Gojouban Yashiki gave me a glimpse into the Edo Period when Matsusaka was a flourishing commercial town with a magnificent castle and samurai living close by providing protection.

These samurai residences maintain the traditional atmosphere of the past and the grounds are immaculately kept. The pathways were lined with manicured bushes and there was a serene garden on the site as well.

Caption: The bushes and garden at Gojouban Yashiki are well maintained.

Caption: I could imagine that I was an Edo Period samurai.

At Gojouban Yashiki, it was fun to imagine that I was living in the Edo Period as one of the samurai who dedicated themselves to protecting Matsusaka Castle. In some spots, the was no sign of the modern world and, in my kimono, I let myself drift back to a simpler time. 

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