Three-Day Trip in Matsumoto

January 25th, 2019 by
Category: Information


Japan’s major cities are great places to visit but can be packed to the brim with tourists and at times overwhelming. If you step out of the urban sprawl, you can see a completely different side of Japan filled with magnificent mountains, solemn historical sites, and delicious local cuisine.

Matsumoto is perfectly located for a long trip into Central Japan’s history and nature. With the Japanese Alps to the West, the Kiso Valley to the East, and one of Japan’s most popular castles smack dab in the middle of the city, Matsumoto has incredible sightseeing at its fingertips.

To get the most out of your stay in Matsumoto, we’ve put together a three-day trip to one of Nagano’s most cultured and happening cities.

Day 1: Matsumoto City

On your first day, escape the city for Matsumoto by train or bus. If traveling from Tokyo, you can take the Super Azusa from Shinjuku Station; if Nagoya, take the Limited Express Shinano.

Tokyo to Matsumoto

Shinjuku Station → Super Azusa Express(2 hr. 40 min., 6,380 yen) → Matsumoto StationTown Sneaker bus (8 min., 200 yen) → Matsumoto Castle → Walk (10 min.) → Lunch/Soba-making LessonTown Sneaker bus (12 min., 200 yen) → Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Nagoya to Matsumoto

Nagoya Station → Limited Express Shinano (2hr., 5,510 yen) → Matsumoto StationTown Sneaker bus (8 min., 200 yen) → Matsumoto Castle → Walk (10 min.) → Lunch/Soba-making LessonTown Sneaker bus (12 min., 200 yen) → Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Visit Matsumoto Castle


Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s five National Treasure castles, being one of the few structures to survive the Warring States period and Meiji Restoration unscathed. It has stood in central Matsumoto, set in front of the magnificent Japanese Alps, for over 400 years.

The castle is beautiful year-round, especially during early to mid-April when the ground’s 300 cherry blossom trees are in bloom.

History and architectural buffs will certainly appreciate the castle’s unique and complex design. While it appears five stories tall from the outside, it actually has six floors (the secret floor was used to hide soldiers). The castle also features a moon-viewing pavilion which was used by feudal lords in times of peace. You can see these features and relics of the Warring States Period on a tour of the inside of the castle.


Nearby the castle are also several streets where you can see traditional Japanese buildings and storehouses from the heyday of the samurai. Nawate-dori, often called “Frog Street” due to its many colorful amphibian statues, is just a short walk from Matsumo Castle and includes many souvenir shops, food stalls and bakeries where you can take a quick break. Nakamachi-dori is a bit closer to the station with its fair share of restaurants, cafes and charming, earthen-walled storehouses.

Make Your own Soba


Soba is one of Nagano’s specialties. While this dish of cold noodles and dipping sauce may seem simple, it takes a skilled hand and fresh ingredients to make properly. By going through the process of kneading the buckwheat dough and cutting the noodles yourself, you’ll appreciate the surprising complexity of this delicious dish.

Soba Takagi[1] is a short walk from Matsumoto Castle and offers soba-making lessons.


If you don’t want to make soba yourself, you can also try toji-soba. Like shabu-shabu, you dip the cold noodles in a heated broth for a few seconds before eating. (Available at Takagi, Miyota[2] on Nakamachi-dori, and other downtown restaurants.)

See the Works of Kusama Yayoi at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Visionary Flowers by Kusama Yayoi (2002)
The Matsumoto City Museum of Art is well-known for its permanent exhibition of the works of Kusama Yayoi, internationally renowned artist and native of Matsumoto. The museum is readily recognizable thanks to the colorful, polka-dot-covered flowers that stand several stories tall in front of it.

You can see its two rotating permanent exhibitions and other collections for the small price of 410 yen (200 yen for students). Special exhibition tickets also allow you to see them as well.

There are many other museums and art galleries around Matsumoto that you can visit as well, including a timepiece museum, a folk art museum, and the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum

Day 2: Outdoors in the Japanese Alps

On your second day, visit Kamikochi at the base of the Northern Japanese Alps. Taking the Kamikochi line train and bus, you’ll reach Kamikochi in about 1 hour and 40 minutes. You can purchase a combo ticket that covers roundtrip train and bus fare for 4,550 yen.

Kamikochi Day Trip

Matsumoto Station → Kamikochi line train (30 min.) → Shinshimashima StationKamikochi Line bus (65 min.) → KamikochiKamikochi Line bus (65 min.) → Shinshimashima Station → Kamikochi line train (30 min.) → Matsumoto Station

Kamikochi: the Base of the Northern Japanese Alps


From this well-preserved basin, you can see amazing views of the mountains while walking along cool streams and shady forests. If you’re lucky, you may spot some local wildlife like the Japanese macaque, serow, or elusive rock ptarmigan.


Some of Kamikochi’s most picturesque spots include Taisho and Myojin Ponds, the Kappa Bridge, and Dakesawa Marsh.


Many mountain climbing routes to the peaks of the Japanese Alps begin in Kamikochi. Some are multi-day affairs, like Mt. Yari, and others are possible do to complete in a single day, like Mt. Yake.

Day 3: The Nakasendo and Wasabi

On your last day, head out from Matsumoto to Daio Wasabi Farm in the morning and Narai-juku in the afternoon.

Matsumoto to Daio Wasabi Farm and Narai

Matsumoto Station → JR Oito Line (28 min.) → Hotaka Station → Rental Bicycle (15 min.) → Daio Wasabi Farm → Rental Bicycle (15 min.) → Hotaka Station → JR Oito Line (28 min.) → Matsumoto Station → JR Chuo line (45-60 min.) → Narai Station → Walk (3 min.) → Narai-juku

When biking around Azumino, we recommend this path for an enjoyable ride with good scenery.

Daio Wasabi Farm


The Daio Wasabi Farm is one of the largest wasabi farms in Japan. Wasabi is a particularly difficult plant to grow, requiring pure water and cold temperatures. Thanks to snow melt from the Japanese Alps, over 120,000 tons of water flow through Daio every day.

You can see the vast fields of wasabi covered in rocks and running water as you walk through this idyllic farm. After enjoying the scenery of the cherry trees and clear streams, sit down for a delicious lunch topped with fresh wasabi. It’s not nearly as spicy as what you’re used to, so pile it on and enjoy one of Japan’s most prized flavors!

Narai-juku


To the south of Matsumoto at the entrance of the Kiso Valley stands Narai-juku, a stretch of wooden inns and houses along the Nakasendo Trail. It sits near one of the difficult sections of the trail, Torii Pass, so travelers often stopped at Narai for the night. At one kilometer in length, the post town is often called “Narai of a Thousand Houses.”

Surrounded by forests rich in hinoki cypress and along major trade routes, the post towns along the Kiso Valley were perfectly located for the crafting and selling of lacquerware products. In Narai-juku and nearby Kiso Hirasawa, you’ll find many lacquerware stores selling goods crafted in Kiso’s workshops. You can even try woodworking for yourself by making your own chopsticks[2] at the tourist information center in town.



After you finish at the Narai, you can head back to Matsumoto City to return to Tokyo or instead continue your journey onto Takayama. If you’re heading to Nagoya, you can keep heading down the JR Chuo line towards other parts of the Nakasendo!

Places to Stay Around Matsumoto

Downtown Matsumoto has plenty of hotels, ryokan, and guesthouses to accommodate most guests, and several hot spring areas surround the city. You can choose a central, suburban or countryside accommodation to suit your needs.

City Center

Located near Matsumoto Station, Matsumoto Castle, and everything else downtown has to offer. What else could you ask for? Popular hotels include the Buena Vista and Kagetsu. Travelers on a budget, or those who are looking for a more personal touch, can stay at one of Matsumoto’s many guesthouses like Matsumoto Backpackers or Tabi-shiro.

Utsukushigahara Onsen

17 minutes away from Matsumoto City by bus, this small collection of hot spring inns sits at the base of Utsukushigahara, one of Nagano’s central plateaus. You can stay in a small inn like Tsuki no Shizuka or Oiwakeya Ryokan, or stay in a larger western-style accommodation like Hotel Shoho. Wherever your stay, you’ll be sure to enjoy the natural hot spring water and laid-back atmosphere of the countryside.

Asama Onsen

A hot spring area whose history going back over 1,300 years, Asama Onsen was surrounded by the homes of Samurai and private hot springs frequented by local lords. It is 20 minutes from Matsumoto Station by bus.

There are over 30 hotels in the area to choose from, each with their own hot springs, as well as three soto-yu public baths that anyone can visit.

Shirahone Onsen

A remote onsen area near Kamikochi, Shirahone Onsen is famous for its milky-blue waters. The most famous hot spring here can be found at Awa-no-Yu[3], a mixed-gender outdoor bath that is open to day-use guests. A saying goes that if you bathe in its waters for three days, you won’t catch a cold for a year.

Due to Shirahone Onsen’s remote location, it’s best to stay the night in one of the ryokan here. Popular accommodations include Yumoto Saito Ryokan, Awa-no-Yu Ryokan, and Konashi-no-Yu Sasaya.

Additional Info

Details about some of the facilities described in today’s blog are included below. If you have any other questions about visiting Matsumoto and its surrounding sightseeing areas, feel free to ask in the comments below!

Soba Takagi

Location: 3-5-12 Ote, Matsumoto City, Nagano Pref.
Price: 3,000 yen/batch (feeds 3 ppl.)—minimum of 2 batches
No. of Participants: 2+
Reservations: If possible, make one week in advance


Miyota Soba Restaurant

Location: 2-1-24 Chuo, Matsumoto City, Nagano Pref.
Price (avg. meal): ~2,000 to 3,000 yen
Hours: 11:30-15:00, 17:00-22:00
Holidays: Sunday evenings


Chopstick-making Experience

Location: Narai Tourist Information Center
Estimated Time: 45 minutes
Price: 1,000 yen
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (check-in until 16:00)
Phone No.: 0264-34-3160
Reservations: Not necessary (possible +20 min. wait without)


Awa-no-Yu’s Outdoor Mixed Bath

A very popular mixed-gender outdoor hot spring. Due to its milky waters, men and women can bathe without worrying about their bodies being seen in the water.

The bath is closed at least once a week for cleaning, so please call in advance to confirm that its open. The operating dates for the 2019 winter season are included below.

Location: 4181 Azumi, Matsumoto City, Nagano Pref.
Days of Operation (Winter): November 1-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, 30; December 1,2, 8-11, 14-18, 21-26, 28-30; January 3-8, 11-15, 18-22, 25-29; February 1-4, 8-12, 15-19, 22-26
Hours: 10:30 to 13:30
Price: Adults/820 yen, Children (ES and below)/510 yen
Towel: 100 yen, Bath Towel: 700 yen
Phone: 0263-93-2101

What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards?

November 12th, 2018 by
Category: Information

What do you get when you spell Tokyo backwards? You get out the Oykot, a tourist train that runs through the Japanese countryside of Northern Nagano.

The Oykot runs along the Iiyama line from Nagano to Tokamachi Station, passing the Chikuma River, the Sekida mountains, and idyllic farms and rice paddies.

For just 520 yen on top of your regular train fare, you can enjoy the Oykot’s elegant interior while gazing out over beautiful rural scenery.
Read the rest of this entry »

Tasting Sake in the Japanese Countryside

October 25th, 2018 by
Category: Cuisine, Information

A ball of pine hung outside means, “There’s sake here!”

When visiting a foreign culture, you would be amiss not to taste the local cuisine and drink while you’re here. In Japan, that includes lots of delicious dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, and, of course, sake.

Sake, called Nihonshu in Japanese, is considered by many to be a mysterious beverage. It is often referred to as rice wine in English, but that name doesn’t seem to fit quite right. It doesn’t look like wine, and it doesn’t really taste like wine either. It’s something completely of its own. How do you learn more about it? By drinking it, of course!

Whether you have experience tasting sake or not, you can expand your sake knowledge by tasting it right from the source. Japan’s many sake breweries that have been producing this complex libation for centuries, and can enlighten you on sake’s many styles and flavors, from floral, elegant Daiginjo to the straight-forward and dry Karakuchi.

Nagano has over 80 sake breweries around the prefecture—the second highest number of all prefectures in Japan—where you can taste local flavors slowly perfected over the centuries. Below are breweries and specialty shops where you can try a range of the prefecture’s most delicious sake.
Read the rest of this entry »

Nagano Day Trip to Obuse and Togakushi

October 4th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Report, Sightseeing

Early autumn colors on Togakushi’s Okusha Shrine trail

Nagano City is surrounded by idyllic, countryside spots with a wealth of culture and nature.
Bountiful fields grow along the Chikuma River, ancient shrines lay in the shadow of great mountains, and sleepy towns embrace historical sites tied to some of Japan’s greatest warrior clans—there is so much to see but often too little time!

Some of Nagano City’s most popular sightseeing spots include National Treasure Zenkoji Temple, the shrines of Togakushi, and the museums and cafes in the charming town of Obuse. It just so happens that a new sightseeing bus visits all of these, making sightseeing around Nagano City easier than ever.
Read the rest of this entry »

Two Days of Driving Around the Roof of Japan

August 16th, 2018 by
Category: Accomodations, Culture Art, Information, Sightseeing

Driving among the clouds
Surrounded by the 3,000-meter-high mountains of the Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture is called “the Roof of Japan.” Its gorgeous alpine scenery and breezy highlands attract visitors year-round.

In Central Nagano, several highland areas extend from the base of the Yatsugatake mountains past Lake Suwa towards Matsumoto. Ranging in heights from 1,400 to 2,200 meters, the lofty plains here have panoramic views of the Northern, Central and Southern Alps. They’re the perfect place to escape the summer heat and enjoy a scenic drive. On these roads, you’re at eye level with the clouds—like you’re driving through the sky.
Read the rest of this entry »

Outdoor Activities for the Whole Family in Northern Nagano

July 31st, 2018 by
Category: Outdoor Activities

Many Japanese people long for their furusato, a place with rolling hills, picturesque mountains, and clear rivers. Where their grandparents pickle vegetables in barrels covered with heavy stones and make soba noodles carefully by hand. Where life is slow and the weather is fine. Somewhere they can get back in touch with nature.

Iiyama in Nothern Nagano is just that: a beautiful countryside area surrounded by nature and outdoor activities. Thanks to the introduction of the Hokuriku Shinkansen a few years back, access to Iiyama and nearby Nozawa Onsen have become even easier than before. In just two and a half hours, you can escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and take in the idyllic scenery of Japan’s furusato. Explore the Chikuma River, the Sekida Mountains, Iiyama’s temple cities and farms!
Read the rest of this entry »

Renting a Car in Japan

July 9th, 2018 by
Category: Information

Japan’s countryside is full of charm and wonder. But for many travelers, some of its sights are just out of reach! From beautiful mountain roads, hidden hot springs, and idyllic terraced rice fields, there are some spots that you just can’t get to without a car. But, renting a car is easier than ever. Figure out what you need to bring, what you should look out for, and where to go when renting a car in Japan.

Places to Drive in Nagano

Nagano by Car
Hot Springs and Waterfalls in Matsukawa Gorge
Seven Ways to Enjoy the Kiso Valley this Summer

What do you need?

©Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0)
In order to rent a car in Japan, you’ll need a valid driver’s license. For most international tourists, that means applying for an international driver’s permit in your home country before your visit. If you happen to be from one of the following countries, you can use your home country’s driver’s license with an official Japanese translation: Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Slovenia, Moneco, or Taiwan.

You’ll also need to present your passport. It should have an immigration stamp with your date of entry into Japan.

Where should I rent my vehicle?

©TTTNIS (CC0 1.0)
Rental agencies that accept international driving permits include Toyota, Nissan, Nippon, Orix, and JR Rent-A-Car (among others). You can find counters for many of these agencies when you arrive at the airport. For most people, it is easier to travel by train out of the city and pick up a car once they’ve arrived in their countryside destination.

You’ll find many of these agencies near Nagano’s major train stations. You can see a map of their locations around the prefecture below.

Pick the most conveniently located store for your trip and place a reservation on their website. Pick your favorite style of car and any options (such as GPS, ETC card, snow chains), as well as your return location (some agencies, such as Toyota, offer free one-way rentals within Nagano prefecture). Once your reservation is complete, head to your pick-up location and get driving!

Things to Look Out For

©Laichuan Yinfu (CC BY-SA 3.0)
For some, driving around Japan may be intimidating. Complicated highways, confusing signs, and inclement winter weather can make driving a daunting task in a foreign country. But, if you keep the following in mind, driving in Japan isn’t so different to anywhere else. Take it slow and enjoy the scenery as you drive around the countryside.

Driving on the Left

Many travelers will have to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Consequently, the driver’s seat also changes places and the windshield wiper and blinker controls are reversed. As long as you check which way cars are going before you pull out onto the road, you’ll be fine!

No Turns on Red

Unless a red light is accompanied by a green arrow in the direction you wish to go, there’s no turning on red.

No Drinking and Driving

Japan has a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. A BAC over 0% is against the law. Also, any passengers in the drunk driver’s vehicle may be penalized as well for abetting their behavior.

Snowy/Icy Roads in Winter

Japan can get pretty snowy and icy during winter. And many people are surprised when they find out that Japanese roads aren’t cleared quite as a well as roads in their home country. If you plan to drive during winter in Japan, winter tires or snow chains are a must—you won’t even be allowed on the highways without them! 4WD is also recommended.

Narrow Roads

Japan is an old country. Some of its roads have stayed the same for hundreds of years, back before cars existed. These roads are wide enough for people, carts, or horses, but not necessarily for two-way car traffic. If possible, skip the hummer and pick up a compact car instead. There will be times when you’ll have to yield to another car and pull off to the side of the road to let them through.

Roadside Hazards

Many of Japan’s roadways are flanked by gutters. Sometimes they’re covered, sometimes they’re not. They’re easy to miss to regardless, and many a foreigner has accidentally driven into them. are open drains on the side of many roads in Japan. During winter, they may be hidden under the snow, waiting for their next victim…

Seven Ways to Enjoy the Kiso Valley this Summer

June 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Information

The Kiso Valley is one of Nagano’s hidden gems, sandwiched between the Central Alps and Mt. Ontake. Surrounded by these near three-thousand-meter peaks, it is characterized by its steep slopes and gorges which are covered in dense forest. The emerald greenery of the canopies and crystal-clear waters are a refreshing sight, especially during hot summers.

For centuries, passing through Kiso was one of the main ways to travel between Kyoto and Edo during the Edo Period. Called the Nakasendo, this route stretched from the Sanjo Ohashi bridge in Kyoto to the Nihonbashi bridge in Edo. Along the way were 69 post towns, some of which have been impeccably preserved. Here, visitors can see the Japanese countryside as travelers, merchants, and samurai would have seen it hundreds of years ago.

Enjoy the natural beauty and historical sites of the Kiso Valley that have been protected by its steep mountains. Here are some of the best places to visit in Kiso this summer!
Read the rest of this entry »

Planting Rice and Tasting Sake in Hakuba

May 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Report

Rice is Japan’s main staple. It shows up nearly every meal, morning, day and night, and is used in the production of many of Japan’s flavorings, desserts, and drinks. Among Japan’s most famous rice products is, of course, sake, and over the centuries, agriculturalists have bred and refined rice varieties especially for its production.
Read the rest of this entry »

Where to See Flowering Fields in Nagano

May 18th, 2018 by
Category: Information

With summer quickly approaching, colorful flowers will soon be carpeting Nagano’s fields and hillsides. Cherry blossoms disappeared in a flash this year, and Iiyama’s Nanohana flowers come almost a week earlier than expected, but there are still plenty of other flowers to enjoy in the coming months.

Around Nagano’s ski resorts and historic sites, you can see wisteria, lavender, lilies and more. In the mountains, beautiful alpine flowers bloom throughout the summer season. Among myriad beautiful gardens and landscapes, we’ve chosen some of the most picturesque, accessible locations below.
Read the rest of this entry »