Matsumoto [松本] is the second largest city in Nagano prefecture. The city offers a wide array of cultural, commercial and culinary activities. Matsumoto is well known for its castle, its old merchants districts and the many parks surrounding it.
I lived in Nagano prefecture for a year and attended high school in Matsumoto. During my stay I discovered a wide variety of places, and I wanted to share my favourite with you today. Some of these are found on almost every tourist guide, deservedly so, and some can’t be found outside of the Japanese side of the Internet.
Without further ado, here is my Matsumoto Guide.
#2 Cultural Sights
No proper guide to Matsumoto would be complete without mentioning Matsumoto Castle, with it’s distinct black walls and long history.
Nicknamed the ‘Crow’s Castle’, construction began in 1592, making it the oldest still standing castle donjon [Japanese style keep] in Japan. It is one of only 5 castles in Japan which house ‘Natural Treasures’.
The outer castle grounds are free of admission, entering the castle garden and building, however, costs 610¥ for adults and ¥300 for junior high school students and below. The main donjon dates back to the 16th century. The castle appears to have 3 stories from the outside, with a 4th hidden story on the inside for defensive purposes.
A ticket grants you access to the castle garden, as well as a one-time admission to the castle. As usual in Japan, when entering, you will be provided with a plastic bag for your shoes, which you will have to carry with you while inside. The second floor of the donjon houses a weapons museum, showing various guns and swords which were all donated from the private collections of Akahane Michishige, who built said collection with his wife Kayoko. The stairways are very narrow and steep, which makes it a bit difficult to navigate. When crowded, this can lead to long wait times at the entrance.
The top floor offers a breathtaking view of the city from all four sides, each offering something different.
Matsumoto-jō is easily accessible by foot from the train station, taking around 10 to 15 minutes. The Town Sneaker Bus departs from the train station every 30 minutes and takes you directly to the castle, as well as to other sightseeing spots. The Castle is open from 8:30am to 5pm every day.
For a full blog post on Matsumoto castle with more information on the history, the garden and on how to get there, check out: Matsumoto Castle.
Matsumoto City Museum of Art
If you follow the main street from the train station for about 10-15 min, you will find a large art installation by Yayoi Kusama. “The Visionary Flowers”, as the open air sculpture is called, marks the entrance to the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
In addition to the wide variety in temporary exhibitions, there is also an extensive permanent exhibition on internationally renowned contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, who was born in Matsumoto. Next to the newly established Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art has one of the largest permanent displays of her work. You can read up on Yayoi Kusama: The Place for my Soul here.
The museum is easily accessible from the train station and also has a large parking lot if you are arriving by car. Signs throughout the city will guide you there.
The museum is open from 9am to 5pm. General Admission is 410¥ for adults, 200¥ for university and high school students. Admission for people under 15 is free of charge. Photography is not allowed in most exhibitions. Other rules and special pricing for groups can be found here.
The Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto has the worlds largest private Ukiyo-e collection, housing over 100.000 works spanning several generations.
The museum has a small permanent exhibition with originals as well as a number of reprints on display. Unlike many museums in Japan, the Ukiyo-e Museum provides extensive information on each of their works in both Japanese and English.
The temporary exhibitions take up the largest part of the museum, with different works from the collection being on display at all time. Although the museum has a total collection of 100.000 works, only a very small percentage can be seen at one time. There is also a video that shows the process of making Ukiyo-e available in both English and Japanese.
The Museum is located on the outskirts of Matsumoto, therefore it is not the most easily accessible. You need to get a cab from the Matsumoto trainstation, or, alternatively, walk for quite a while. It is not very far if you are traveling by car though it is not hard to get to. The Museum has a huge parking lot. Tickets range from 1000¥ for adults to 500¥ for elementary and junior high school students.
For more information on the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto and Ukiyo-e in general, here’s my specific post on it: Ukiyo-e Museum
Baba Family Residence
The Baba Family Residence was constructed during the end of the Edo period and belonged to a wealthy merchants family who were descendants of samurai. The manor itself, as well as the beautiful area around it are designated as Important Cultural Property. The building now houses a museum that showcases special artifacts.
Admission is ￥300 for adults and high school students, and is free for junior high students and under. The museum is open everyday except Monday from 9am to 5pm.
#3 Day Trips
The Kamikochi resort is locarted in the Chubu Sangaku National Park. The 15 kilometer long plateau offers beautiful scenery. The Kappabashi, or Kappa Bridge, has become the iconic symbol of the area. Kamikochi is the ideal location to go on long hikes and enjoy nature.
The park is usually open from April to November. Exact dates and information about accessibility can be found on the official website. Make sure to plan your trip carefully, as one cannot access the area by car, and needs to go by bus instead.
Daio Wasabi Farm
The Daio Wasabi developed wasabi fields with the rich clean spring water in alluvial fan in 1915. It took 20 years to complete the base of the field, and, after the war, they started planting and growing wasabi. They built a large-scale retail store and started direct sales business. The farms annual harvest is around 130t, which is 5% of the nations total. The name comes from the shrine located at the center of the farm.
The farm is not that easily accessible from Matsumoto, but is a short drive / train ride away. It’s probably easiest to just ask somebody at the tourists information desk or use a navigation tool, here’s the address:「1692 Hotaka, Azumino, Nagano」
Admission is free. The Park is open from 8:45am to 5:30pm in April through October and 9am to 4:30pm from November to Marchttt
9:00 – 16:30 (Nov – Mar)
For a full blog post on Wasabi, the Daio Wasabi Farm, click here.
Snow Monkey Park – Monkey Onsen
The Jigokudani Yaen-koen, or Snow Monkey Park, is located in the Valley of Yokoyu River in northern Nagano Prefecture. It’s the place where all of the photos of cute monkeys bathing in an onsen are from. It has been around forever and is a staple in all Japanese travel guides. The Park is a bit of a drive away, but I highly recommend going there when in the area.
Tickets are 800¥ for adults and 400¥ for children aged 6-17. Children under 6 years of age are free of admission. Discounts for people with disabilities and big groups available. For a comprehensive guide on how to get there, read this.
For a full guide on the Monkey Park, including a bunch of photographs and background information on the history, you can read the full blog post here: Snow Monkey Park.
The Eki-mae Area, which is the general are in front of the train station, is home to a lot of nice little stores. The area is very easily accessible and one can find pretty much everything. There are two very big souvenir shops directly opposite of the train station.
If you walk a bit further down the main road, you will find a little shop on your right that sells washi tape. Only washi tape. If you have ever read this blog before, you will know that I love washi tape. The store isn’t always open though, so be sure to check their website for details.
This old merchants trading street is right behind Matsumoto Castle if you are coming from the train station. It has a lot of small, more traditional stores and the buildings themselves are in a beautiful Edo period style.
You can purchase everything from Kimonos to locally brewed Sake. There are also many different small traditional Japanese cafés where on can take a break or have lunch.
I rode my bike through here everyday and befriended some of the store owners, including those of Okinado Kuranomise, a lovely little Japanese sweet shop with gallery space in the back. The store is very small but there is a small table at the back where you can sit and enjoy sweets. There is a ‘trip memories’ book where you can sign-in and add a comment. The owner has been doing this for over 10 years and the past books are lining the wall. I have little notes in 3 different volumes already.
The warehouse in the back was built during the Edo-period in Japan [17th to 19th century], the store itself existing since 1911. In it old sample books and tools for making sweets the traditional way are on display. Mr. Kiuchi will happily show you around if he has time.
If you do stop by, tell him I sent you.
Parco – There’s a few big shopping malls in Matsumoto, one of them being Parco. There are several Parco throughout Japan, and the one here has a variety of different stores selling pastries, clothing and even anime merchandise. It’s a cool place to just hang out and meet up with friends as well, as it has a Purikura booth on the second floor, where you can take a bunch of adorable photographs.
There is a big Muji store in the basement where one can get the best stationery goods.
Parco is right next to the train station and has free wifi.
Aeon Mall – The new Aeon Mall just opened and it is huge. When I was in Japan on a high school exchange year, I rode my bicycle past the construction sight for months. Unfortunately I had to leave just before it opened. This Easter however, when visiting my host family, I got to go on a bit of a shopping spree. Aeon Mall consists of several huge buildings, which house everything from an arcade, a cinema and a wide variety of different stores. There is also a fairly large food court in the central building, which makes the mall an ideal place to meet up with friends.
And that is all I have time for you today, I hope you enjoyed this Matsumoto Guide. If you have any questions about Matsumoto or Japan in general, feel free to leave a comment.
Until next time,
send a postcard,