Among Japan's famous historical sites, its castles are certainly some of the most unique. Both architecturally and culturally, the castles of Japan are unlike any others you can find throughout the world. Unfortunately, due to fires and wars, many of Japan's castles have had to be completely reconstructed. Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture is one of the few remaining originals, and is also one of Japan's most scenic, making it an easy choice to visit.
If you're not interested in wandering around inside the castle or in the main castle grounds, the area outside of the castle boasts beautiful views and is free to enjoy (the area also boast many Cherry Blossoms which bloom in the Spring). If you do want to enter the castle, the cost is 600 yen for an adult. The grounds and the castle itself are well kept though, and with the history involved, it's definitely worth the money to enter at least once.
Matsumoto Castle was originally built in the late 1500s, so there is definitely a lot of history behind it. Because of its age, visitors are required to remove their shoes as they walk through the interior. To many foreigners this is likely an odd experience, but don't worry: they give you a bag to hold your shoes in, and the floors are well worn from visitors, so they are smooth and comfortable. If you're traveling as a family and need use of a stroller, it is worth knowing that you're not allowed to use one in the castle interior. However, I traveled here with my wife and two daughters (2 and 4 years old), and we managed to make it through the castle just fine - although your legs might get a work out!
Inside the castle there are many plaques which are written in both Japanese and English, so the ability to read Japanese is not necessary to learn about the castle's history. There are also a variety of displays inside, with items such as old weaponry and clothing. If the history doesn't interest you however, there are plenty of beautiful views to enjoy looking out over the castle grounds, Matsumoto City, and out toward the surrounding mountains.
Reached by only a three hour train ride from Ueno Station (using the Nagano Shinkansen for the main leg of the trip), a visit to Matsumoto Castle could certainly be done as a day trip if you're staying in the Tokyo area. However, with so many more beautiful things to enjoy in the area, a stay at one of Matsumoto's fine hotels is highly recommended. However you do it, if you're in Japan, make sure you schedule a trip to this castle. Between the unique architecture, gorgeous views, and long history, it's a trip you won't regret or forget!