HOW TO GET THERE (From Tokyo to Matsumoto City): Via JR Limited Express Super Azusa (2.40 hours, Y6380 one-way unreserved seats) JR Shinjuku Station -> JR Matsumoto Station (where Matsumoto Castle is located) or Via express bus terminal Busta Shinjuku (3.20 hours, Y2500-5000 yen one-way). A reservation is needed in advance, but you can purchase a ticket at a convenience store.
1. MATSUMOTO CASTLE https://flic.kr/p/2dMRUpr It’s Japan’s oldest castle! Matsumoto Castle is one of the five castles designated as National Treasures of Japan. It’s over 400 years old, making it the oldest castle donjon remaining in the country. Unlike many palaces in Japan, the original structure was, fortunately, not bombed during WWII, keeping most of its original wooden donjons and walls. It is nicknamed as the “crow castle” for its contrasting black and white color. It’s currently my favorite castle in Japan because I find it exceedingly rare to find a Japanese castle so well preserved in its original state. https://flic.kr/p/XEuMp3 You can also visit the Matsumoto City Museum which sits in the castle grounds and offers you an overview of the history of the city. Look, it still has its original wooden frames and flooring! https://flic.kr/p/WZNsPu
There is also a great gallery here which has a collection of historical materials and weaponry, including samurai armors and muskets.
Tip: The stairs can be really steep going to the higher level floors, but the ground floor is senior-friendly. https://flic.kr/p/2f9YtEe There are cool staff, roaming around the castle wearing samurai, ninja and kimono outfits, with whom you can take a picture for free! Sugoi (Cool)! Read more: MATSUMOTO CASTLE: Guide & Tips for Tourists!
Matsumoto Castle Entrance:
4-1 Marunochi, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano
Saturday (8:30 AM ~ 5:0 PM)
Sunday (8:30 AM ~ 5:0 PM)
Weekdays (8:30 AM ~ 5:0 PM)
Museum Price: Adult: 610 YEN
Children: 300 YEN
6 years old or under: Free
Phone: (0263) 32-2902
How To Get There The castle is about a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station. 2. Nawate Street https://flic.kr/p/Y4ajT8 Visit the Matsumoto Castle Town. Just walking distance away from the castle are many old buildings and rows of houses, which are still intact, reminiscent of old Japan. https://flic.kr/p/X35xaD You’ll recognize Nawate Street with its row of brown houses. It was once the border between the samurai and commoner residences. Today, the streets will take you back to the lively Edo-period shopping streets where you can find countless food vendors and quirky souvenir shops. 3. Nakamachi Street https://flic.kr/p/2dMSa84 Nakamachi Street, on the other hand, is distinct for its white and black earthen-walled store houses that have been refurbished as modern cafes, izakayas (pubs) and shops.
The street runs parallel to Nawate Street, which has the large frog statue at the entrance.
Tip: Most of the shops are closed on Wednesdays.
4. CHERRY BLOSSOM VIEWING
It’s impossible to think of spring time in Japan without the image of a sea of cherry trees with perfect pink blooms coming to mind.
One of the best places to see the cherry blossoms is at the iconic Matsumoto Castle grounds. There are about 300 cherry trees planted around the castle moats and inside the inner grounds. Make sure to visit the moon viewing room in the castle where you can see a panoramic view of the castle grounds with the cherry blossoms in full bloom!
From April 13th, the trees are illuminated at night for about 10 days. During the first week of illuminations, you can also enter the castle grounds at night. (Blooms: Early to Late April)
5. DAIO WASABI FARM https://flic.kr/p/T3vHTj This is where real wasabi comes from! (Unlike the ones we have in tubes that are made of horseradish!) So what’s the difference? Real wasabi tastes smoother, cleaner and more plant-like than its commonly used substitute that has a harsher lingering after taste. https://flic.kr/p/2e5PhYs Daio Wasabi farm, located 20km from Matsumoto, is the largest wasabi farm in Japan! With natural spring water from the Northern Alps running 120,000t per day, the farm is able to yield 150t of quality grown wasabi, and that’s not even enough to supply the whole of Nagano! Besides the wasabi, the farm has gorgeous watermills with a colorful stream and a souvenir shop that offers everything wasabi, even soft cream!!! (Wasabi soft cream Y360) https://flic.kr/p/T3vDFG The taste? Who would have imagined converting the green paste into ice cream? The wasabi soft cream has a sweetness similar to vanilla with a distinct spicy aftertaste.
Daio Wasabi Farm
Hours 9:00 to 17:20 (until 16:30 from November to February)
How to Get There: From Shinanno-Omachi Station, take the Oito Line heading to Matsumoto. Get off at Hotaka Station. From there, you can take a taxi that takes around 10 minutes to the farm .
6. Soba Making Workshop Nagano is synonymous with soba noodles. The fresh air, clean water and climate make it perfect to grow the buckwheat used in making this deliciously fresh soba. What makes Nagano’s soba different? Apart from being prepared traditionally, their noodles are especially chewy, slippery, bouncy and fragrant compared to the regular soba. My first attempt at making soba. I obviously need more practice. You can try your hands in the art of soba noodle making and get to taste them in the workshop. We had ours prepared in a simple mori style soba dish. It’s chilled soba on a tray dipped in tsuyu (soy sauce, mirin, rice wine, katsuobushi, seaweed, sugar). I love simple flavors where the noodles are the highlight of the dish. (Meijin Tei/Soba Noodles 700-1200yen) 7. MATSUMOTO CITY MUSEUM OF ART https://flic.kr/p/24zd5a6 Find the work of avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama in her local hometown of Matsumoto City. The museum holds a permanent exhibition ranging from priceless pictures to interactive installations.
Matsumoto City Museum of Art Closed: Mondays (But Open on National Holidays) 9:00am – 5:00pm Y410 for adults Y200 for students
How To Get There: If you ride the Matsumoto Dentetsu Kamikochi Line (¥170 from Matsumoto Station) and get off at Oniwa Station, the museum will just be a 15-20 minute walk away.
8. Rent a Kimono, Samurai and Ninja Costumes. https://flic.kr/p/2f73tQf If you want to know where we got our kimonos, we rented our costumes at HANAKOMICHI shop that’s conveniently located two minutes away by foot from the castle and found on the second floor. The whole process of getting dressed was fun! We got to choose our favorite kimono patterns and accessories. Dressing up in Japanese costumes made me feel like we were transported back to old Japan. The best part were the smiles we received from everyone. https://flic.kr/p/2fcoCkF We Paid:2 Hours Kimono – Y4000Hair with Accessories – Y1500(They don’t offer make-up services.)9. APPLE PICKING https://flic.kr/p/2fh88Ck Nagano Prefecture is a fruit paradise! The big difference of temperature between night and day coupled with a lot of sunlight produces a variety of fresh fruits, including apples, grapes, strawberries and peaches—all available for picking and tasting at farms around the prefecture. Their most popular fruit are the famed succulent apples that are plentiful with the coming of autumn.
10. ZENKOJI TEMPLE (SIDE TRIP) https://flic.kr/p/24wp2tF Zenkoji is a 1400-year-old temple, and of Japan’s most important pilgrimage site since the 7th century and is regarded as a National Treasure. Walk from the mains streets of Nagano Station towards Zenkoji temple called the “Chuo Dori”, and you’ll find plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops and lodging that’s very convenient for pilgrims and tourist from all over Japan! Walk until you reach the bustling stone paved street shopping area called Nakamise. Treat yourself with local specialties such as soba, oyaki, and miso-flavored soft cream. You’ll make tons of discovery along the way! https://flic.kr/p/24HXLH6 Inside the temple, you can rub the worn wooden statue of the ancient doctor Binzuru, believed to miraculous relieve aches and pains, wherever you touched. Of course, silly me touched the head. Because of the headache I have from having so many deadlines. What attracts most of the visitors is the stairway pilgrimage. It was an exciting experience descending into the pitch-black dark tunnel in the basement in search of the “key to paradise” that’s said to free you from all your sins. We loved it, plus we believe we came out of the temple sin- free! https://flic.kr/p/SZHszN
Zenkoji Temple 491, Motozen-machi, Nagano City Opening Hours: 9:00 to 16:00 Admission: Y500 (Inner chamber) How To Get There: To reach Matsumoto from Nagano City, you will take the Shinonoi line. If you take the local Shinonoi line train, it costs 1,140 yen and takes about 80 minutes. If you take the Limited Express Wide View Shinano train, it costs 2,320 yen and takes about 50 minutes. Alternatively, take a train from the underground Nagaden Nagano Station next to JR Nagano Station and go down at Zenkojishita Station (4 minutes, 170 yen, 2-3 trains per hour), from where it is a 5-10 minute walk to the temple.
TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE (SIDE TRIP) https://flic.kr/p/Rv2z44 Yuki-no-Otani (Snow Wall)Period: Mid-April to Late June Be dazzled by the 20-meter high snow wall of Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route! Every year in spring, the world famous alpine sightseeing route, which goes through Toyama’s 3000-meter high Japan Alps, is open to the public. https://flic.kr/p/X3i8Ma Tateyama has some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. An average of 7 meters accumulates up to 20m in heavy years. That’s as high as a ten story building! You can walk 500 meters between the walls of snow and enjoy sledding in April. Visitors might be surprised by the number of transfers to take going to the snow wall from trains, cable cars, highland buses, trolley buses, ropeways and others while enjoying the natural sights along the way. I suggest you allot one day for the tour.
Access the Alpine Route from the Nagano side via Matsumoto, but instead of completing the entire route, travel only to as far as Murodo, turn around and return to Tokyo the same way you came. The journey is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass and JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass except for the Alpine Route itself. SNOW MONKEY’S OF NAGANO (Side Trip)
Have you seen the adorable snow monkeys bathing in the natural onsen (hot spring)? Take a visit to Jigokudani Monkey Park, where these monkeys called Japanese Macaques, are so accustomed to humans you can watch them closely in their natural habitat. I heard it’s best to visit in winter from December to March when the park is covered in white snow, so you can see your buddies dipping in the hot spring because of the cold.
The park is about a 20-minute scenic walk with a few stairs. Make sure to bring shoes fit for slippery snow.
Tip: Bring shoes fit for slippery snow or you can rent boots before the entrance for just Y500.
We stayed at the 14-storey Hotel Buena Vista that boasts of amazing views of the Utsukushigahara plateau and the Japanese northern Alps. It is also Matsumoto’s only full-service hotel with four restaurants featuring French, Japanese and Chinese cuisines and buffet-style dining.
A 7-minute walk or 2-minute free shuttle from Matsumoto station.