Many people think of Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture as an overnight spot before heading to the Japan Alps or Utsukushigahara Heights. If not for my wife having a good friend who is a resident, the city probably would not have been on my list of places to visit. Before our trip I had not seen much advertising, but what I discovered was Matsumoto is a must see.
Since our friend is a craft artist, we began our tour at the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum.
Founded in 1962 the museum features over 7000 works from this region, other places in Japan, and international. The exhibits include wood, glass, porcelain, and bamboo crafts. This quiet museum is well laid out with two floors of exhibit rooms. The outside is surrounded by a nice small forest, which adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Located in eastern Matsumoto take a bus on the Utsukushigahara Line right to the Museum Shop.
Staying with the museum theme our next stop is the Former Kaichi School founded in 1873 and is one of the oldest elementary schools in Japan. It is registered as an Important Cultural Property. Originally located on the Metoba River, it was moved to its present location and restored in 1964. What I found interesting was the resemblance to my own elementary school back in New Jersey. The same style wooden desks, the walls cluttered with class assignments and the old schoolroom smell brought back many childhood memories. You can take the 190yen bus “Town Sneaker” to Takkajoumachi and walk 5 minutes to the school. Purchase the one-day bus pass for 500 yen, which includes discounts on admission fees.
These museums are part of the Matsumoto city museum group and there is a small entrance fee, but nothing that will break the bank and well worth every yen spent.
A couple of blocks south you will find Matsumoto Castle, a National Treasure of Japan. Built in 1593 it is Japan’s oldest standing castle. We visited the castle during a beautiful sunny fall day and the reflection off the moat was spectacular. The park surrounding the castle is good for your walking exercise.
Continue south another 3 blocks and discover Nawate Street. My daughter-in-law is a collector of anything to do with frogs. I smiled thinking of her when we came upon the statue Kaeru Daimyojin, the frog god. The majority of the shops were frog themed and I just had to purchase a small gift to send back to the states.
Cross over the river and walk to Nakamachi Street with several craft shops, cafes, and fruit stands. The sweet apples are well known throughout Japan. I purchased a bag and was lucky there were some left when we returned to Yokohama.
This was just one day and we covered maybe ten percent of what Matsumoto has to offer. They have an abundance of hot springs, and for a city this size enough museums to fill two days. Restaurants are excellent with many local dishes such as soba, sanzokuyaki (Deep fried Chicken) and Taiyaki the sweet that looks like a sea bream. The area is known for quality Sake and offers with reservations five different brewery tours. If you like festivals every season is covered. I want to come back in January and experience the “Ameichi” Candy Festival.
There are information centers at the train station and near the castle with many brochures in English.
When you plan your trip to Kamikochi and the Japan Alps or Utsukushigahara Heights plateau area make sure to book several relaxing days in Matsumoto. It is a city you do not want to miss.