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

Cycling and Cherry Blossoms in Spring: the Alps Azumino Century Ride

April 24th, 2018 by
Category: Events, Information, Outdoor Activities, Report

Taking a break at the Alps Azumino Park aid station

The 10th annual Alps Azumino Century Ride cycling event was held last weekend. Beginning in Azumino and extending as far as the ski resorts of Hakuba, the event course weaved through rice fields, orchards, and the lakes of Omachi. While the course was the same for all participants, there were different lengths available, ranging from 70km to 150km. Somehow, I found myself participating in the race along with one of my coworkers. But at least it was on the “friendlier” 70km tour.
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Cherry Blossoms and the Japanese Alps

April 13th, 2018 by
Category: Information, Report, Seasonal Topics

Nagano’s special springtime scenery: cherry blossoms and snowy mountains

With temperamental weather going back and forth between sunny, summer days and winter flurries, it’s been difficult to get a handle on when Nagano’s cherry blossoms will bloom. This year, the trees have been blooming very quickly, making hanami a much more hectic affair than it should be. Cherry blossoms around Ueda and Matsumoto are already almost gone, and spots that usually bloom in May are on their way to full bloom.

Cherry trees around the Japanese Alps usually bloom in mid to late April, but due to this year’s warm weather, many spots already reached their peak last weekend. Since the weather was clear and sunny yesterday, I took an opportunity to check up on some of them around Ogawa, Omachi, and Azumino.

More On Cherry Blossoms

Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast
Go! Nagano Bloom Watch Page

Our first stop was Ogawa Village. Located between Nagano City, Hakuba, and Omachi, it is a place that most people who travel to Nagano will have passed through at some point without knowing it. In winter, it’s just another small hamlet on the side of the road, but in spring, it becomes one of Japan’s most beautiful villages.

Cherry trees of all kinds dot the hillside along Ogawa Village. There are the popular Somei Yoshino cherries, weeping cherries, and mountain cherries as well. The subtle palette of creams and pinks contrasts beautifully with the fresh greenery around it.

The Nitanda no Sakura cherry blossoms in Ogawa Village

The most impressive section of Ogawa’s spring display is in Nitanda. The cherry trees here, called Nitanda no Sakura, almost completely cover the hillside. While they may have been planted by man, the cherry trees seem wild, growing by their own accord. Rather than a common tourist attraction, Nitanda no Sakura is a countryside fairy tale. At the foot of the hill, farmers till their fields and grocers stock fresh produce, almost oblivious to the magnificent display above.

Petals were falling off the trees, covering the road below in pink

The cherry blossoms were already falling when we visited yesterday, but the sight is still impressive when seen from afar. The view should hold through the weekend at least.

Ogawa’s famous oyaki shop: Ogawa no Sho

Ogawa is also known for its delicious oyaki. After visiting the cherry blossoms, we made a quick pit stop at Ogawa no Sho. The shop specializes in char-grilled oyaki, which they fry on a pan before burying them in ash by the fireside to finish. Popular flavors include nozawana, sweet azuki bean, or eggplant with miso, but during this time of year you can also find oyaki filled with delicious mountain vegetables. We had fukimiso (butterbur sprout in English).

Char-grilled oyaki in front of an irori hearth

After Ogawa, we drove to Omachi City about 40 minutes away. Our desination was Omachi Park, on the hillside outside of town. Despite being a weekday, there were quite a few people enjoying hanami in the park, as well as a couple of food stalls already set up and selling food. The park was quite small, but sometimes big things come in small packages. As the sky cleared up, we saw amazing views of the 3,000-meter-high peaks of Japanese Alps in front of us.

The platform below the park offers uninterrupted views of the snowy alps.

According to the local news, the park reached full bloom yesterday, but there were still quite a few buds that hadn’t bloomed when we visited. The park’s blossoms should be at their peak this weekend and into next week as well.

A view of Omachi Park from below

Omachi Park’s cherry blossoms were on the cusp of full bloom yesterday

For the last leg of our journey, we drove another 40 minutes south to Mt. Hikarujo in Azumino. About three-quarters of the way there, we could see the trail of cherry trees rising up the mountain like a white dragon.

The cherry trees follow the hiking trail up the mountain.

The cherry trees are planted along a hiking trail to the top of the mountain, which takes about 40 minutes to walk up. Lights are strung up along the trail to illuminate it and the blossoms at night.

The path up Mt. Hikarujo is full of views like this

The trees by the trailhead had already lost half of their petals, but we could see fuller trees on the trail up above. As we climbed up, the cherry blossoms grew progressively thicker. The whole way up we were treated to amazing views of the Japanese Alps, and there were plenty of great photo spots for shooting the mountains and cherry blossoms together. After our 40-minute hike, we reached the park at the top of the mountain, covered in full-bloom cherry trees.

Cherry blossoms at the park atop Mt. Hikarujo

A clever, transparent sign which shows the name of each mountain along the Japanese Alps.

Cherry trees along the descent from Mt. Hikarujo

Peeking at the alps from between many branchs and blossoms

A little higher up was a small shrine with cherry trees still budding, so it looks like Mt. Hikarujo still has plenty of sakura left to offer next week.

How to Get There

Omachi Park (Omachi City): By train/bus, a 25-minute walk from JR Oito line Shinano Omachi Station, or a 5-minute taxi. By car: a 40-minute drive from the Azumino IC exit. Parking is available at the park.

Nitanda cherry blossoms (Ogawa Village): By train/bus, A 50-minute bus ride on the Shinmachi Takafu line bus (get off at Takafu bus stop), then a 20-minute walk to trees or 15 minutes to viewpoint. By car, a 45-minute drive from the Nagano IC. Park at the Bikkurando Gymnasium. There is also a viewpoint along Route 31.

Mt. Hikarujo (Azumino City): By train/bus, a 35-minute walk or 10-minute taxi from JR Tazawa Station. By car, a 7-minute drive from the Azumino IC exit. There is a parking lot beside the trailhead. See location here.

Nagano’s 2018 Cherry Blossom Forecast

March 22nd, 2018 by
Category: Information, Seasonal Topics

Ogawa Village’s reddish pink Tachiya cherry blossoms contrast with the snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps.
As the snow slowly melts from the streets and sprouts begin to poke their heads out from under the ground, we’re all beginning to wonder: when will the cherry blossoms come? According to a new forecast announced last Tuesday, it looks like many areas of Japan will be seeing their cherry trees bloom a full ten days earlier than last year.
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Climbing Mt. Tsubakuro

September 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities

The final stretch of trail to the peak of Mt. Tsubakuro is incredibly picturesque.

Mt. Tsubakuro (2,763m) is a very popular destination in the Northern Japanese Alps due to its unique appearance and beautiful alpine flora. Its well-maintained trails, convenient rest areas and lodges, and beautiful scenery make it a must-hike spot in Nagano.

The trailhead begins from Nakabusa Onsen at an altitude of 1,462m. The trail continues through the forest for a majority of the climb before breaking through the tree line for the last hour or so. Rest areas are spaced evenly throughout the hike, with four bench areas in the woods followed by the Kassen-goya hut and the Enzanso mountain lodge above the tree line. From the lodge, the peak is approximately 40 minutes.
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Rafting with Cherry Blossoms in Spring

May 1st, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

Last week at the height of cherry blossom season, we headed down to Azumino to enjoy some early spring rafting! The combination of fast currents, snow-capped mountains, and blooming cherry trees are perfect for an exciting and scenic day on the water.
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5 Great Winter Festivals in Nagano

December 9th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Information, Seasonal Topics

Enjoy fire festivals, illuminations and more in this winter wonderland.

Winter is here. Snow is falling steadily up in the mountains and people around Nagano are bringing out their kotatsu tables, kerosene heaters and nabe pots. Once again, it’s that time of year for skiing, hot springs and great winter festivals. Why stay inside when you could warm up in front of a magnificent fire festival or in the company of Japan’s many spirits?

Make some wonderful memories this winter with some of the festivals below!
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Fantastic Views from Mt. Chougatake

July 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics

The Chougatake mountain hut facing Kamikochi and the Northern Alps.

The rainy season has ended and the time for hiking is officially here. Monday’s weather was perfect, so a couple of us decided to climb Chougatake, a 2,677 meter high mountain in Azumino. Bordering Kamikochi to the Southeast, it has splendid views of the Northern Japanese Alps.

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Mount Jonen Hike and a View of Mount Fuji from the Peak

November 10th, 2010 by
Category: Outdoor Activities


Mt. Jonen seen from Matsumoto


I climbed Mt. Jonen, 2857m (9373 ft), in the Japan Alps on October 11. It was just before the trail`s peak is covered by snow (usually snow falls before Oct 11, but this year snowfall was late because of global warming).
It is a 8-9 hour hike, so you can possibly go on a one-day hike from early morning if the condition is not bad.

Fall foliage

After walking up a long trail enjoying the beautiful fall foliage, suddenly the famous Mt. Yari, 3180 m (10433 ft), came in to my sight, at Jonen-Nokkoshi. It was an amazing experience.

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New Azumino/Hotaka Exploring Guide!

April 8th, 2010 by
Category: Information

American, Chinese, Korean who wrote the contents

Presenting the New Azumino/Hotaka Exploring Guide! April 2010

This April marks the budding of cherry blossoms all over Nagano and the release of Azumino City and Hotaka area’s new tri-lingual cultural guide and access map. The printed map will be available at train stations and tourism offices throughout Nagano or is available as a printable pdf from the “Suggested Routes & Map” page in “Explore Azumino!” website.
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