Nagano’s Top Cherry Blossom Spots

March 4th, 2016 by
Category: Events, Outdoor Activities, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

(This was originally posted in 2016, but dates and timetables have been updated for the 2017 season.)

Cherry blossoms and snow make a beautiful pair.

Spring is on its way and that means it’s time to break out those blue tarps, make some rice balls and drink plenty of local beer and sake. It’s cherry blossom viewing time! There are a lot of beautiful spots to enjoy them here in Nagano prefecture, where the mountains add a beautiful touch of white to the spring scenery. Who knew you could see sakura and snow at the same time?

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The Moon-viewing Festival in Matsumoto Castle

September 23rd, 2013 by
Category: Information
lighted Matsumoto Castle

the Matsumoto Castle is lighted under the bright moon

During the full moon period from 15th- 20th of September this year, a Moon-viewing Festival was conducted inside the main circle of the Matsumoto castle.

In the evenings during the period, people can go into the garden freely to stroll and see the full moon shining just beside the castle tower.

Inside the red-and-white curtain you can see on the right half of the picture, they performed an easy-going tea ceremony to let people have tea and japanese cake for 5ooyen.

Also played were serene pieces of music by flutes and Japanese flutes exactly on the Moon Viewing terrace attached to the tower in the Edo Period some 3ooyears ago.

I felt so lucky to be in the city while the event was on!

Matsumoto Castle’s busy hours and photo with armored samurai

August 7th, 2013 by
Category: Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Late July and August are summer vacation season for Japanese schools and a week including August 15 (this year 10 to 18) is summer holiday of most Japanese companies.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Nagano area, but it has small capacity because there are only steep and narrow steps (to avoid enemy’s invasion) to go up inside the keep, though many other Japanese castles are rebuilt by concrete and some have even elevators.

So, if you come to the Castle in August, you might have to wait to enter the keep for 20 mins to 2 hours. From 10:30 to 15:00 is the busiest hours. Generally speaking, early morning (open from 8:30), after 15:00 (door close 16:30, Aug 3 to 18 – 17:30), and lunch time depending on the day, are not so crowded, though it depends on the situation at that time. For example, when a big tour group come, it is crowded.

When you wait, sometimes there is free service to take your photo with an armored samurai (the model of Darth Vader in Star Wars).

The followings are photos of the projected castle keep at the event of world-renowned Digital-Kakejiku Art Project held July 26-27. See more photos at the D-K Facebook page.

Note: Takigi Noh in Matsumoto Castle has been held August 8th every year, but 9th in 2013.

Special Multilingual Promotion for Matsumoto Taiko Drum Festival (July 30-31) and Iida Puppet Festival (August 4-7)

July 28th, 2011 by
Category: Events, Information

Leaflet of Taiko Drum Festival

Taiko Drum Festival at Matsumoto Castle will be held this weekend (July 30, 31) and Iida Puppet Festival will be held next week (August 4-7).
Taiko Drum festival is very popular among local foreign regidents and Iida Puppet Festival is now a large international puppet event (400 shows will be performed at 120 venues and 40,000 attendants will enjoy them!).

We made multilingual (English, French, Korean, Chinese, Thai) leaflets of the two events this year. You can get it in TICs, some hotels, and Narita Airport. Otherwise, you can download PDF files.
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Experience Matsumoto Castle!

July 9th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Experience, Information, Miscellaneous, Report, Sightseeing

The other day I got the chance to play Last Samurai at Matsumoto Castle, one of the best preserved castles in Japan. The event was a photoshoot as PR for the 29th annual Matsumoto Castle Takigi Noh, an Outdoor Noh Performance by Kazufusa Hosho. Despite weighing in at around 25kg, the armour (or Kachu as it is known in Japanese) was surprisingly flexible, although it was also stiflingly hot even with the Aircon on – one luxury the Samurai didn’t have.

Unfortunately, trying on the Kachu was a one-off event to celebrate the Noh, but we are working on adding a Kachu experience to Nagano’s Menu of unique experiences. In the meantime, visitors to Matsumoto Castle can take a free guided tour (details here).

 The Noh is a special outdoor performance given right in the inner garden of Matsumoto Castle, starting in the early evening and continuing by lantern light after the sun sets. The venue is Honmaru Park in the Castle grounds on August 8th; there will be free admission from 3PM and the Noh starts from 5PM.  Samurai armour is not supplied but you are welcome to BYO J

New 2-Day and 4-Day Bus Passes to Enjoy Kamikochi and Beyond

June 1st, 2010 by
Category: Information

Many foreign tourists travel around Japan using a JR Rail Pass. But when they get to Nagano Prefecture, they are hit with the realization that most of the most popular destinations like Kamikochi, Togakushi and Jigokudani Snow Monkeys (as well as my onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada) all require non-JR transportation. Then there’s the issue of getting from Hida Takayama to Matsumoto, two major “Inbound” tourist destinations. Using JR would take over 5 hours to go around the Alps. However, another option would be the trans-Alps bus that takes just over 2 hours.

Well, the people at Alpico Bus have apparently been listening, and have come up with the following 2 new bus passes that are perfect for people wanting to explore the Matsumoto – Kamikochi – Hida Takayama area:

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

Alpico Bus's 2 new Passes

2 Day Free Passport Kamikochi / Norikura
*Price: 5,000 yen for adults, 2,500 yen for children
*Area: Kamikochi, Shirahone and Norikura to the west, Matsumoto, Asama Onsen and Utsukushigahara to the east.
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal or Shin Shimashima Station from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
This pass covers Nagano’s most spectacular scenic spot, Kamikochi, which is also the launching area for mountaineers to climb the Japanese Alps, as well as secluded Shirahone onsen with its milky white hot spring waters and Norikura, outdoor sports paradise. Then you can ride back down to Matsumoto and see its world-famous castle, take a dip in the hot springs at Asama and Utsukushigahara Onsens, before riding back up to the panoramic views from Utsukushigahara Kogen.

4 Day Alps Wide Shinshu/Hida Free Passport
*Price: 10,000 yen for adults, 5,000 yen for children
*Area: Same as the 2-day pass PLUS Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen and Gero Onsen
*Availability: Buy at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Shin Shimashima Station, and Takayama or Gero Bus Centers from 01-April 2010 until 31-March 2011.
Included in this Pass are the impeccably restored neighborhoods of Hida Takayama, the world heritage thatched roof farmhouses of Shirakawago, Shinhotaka Onsen on the western side of the Alps, and Gero Onsen, known from long ago as one of Japan’s top 3 onsens.

Fellow Nagano Inbound Ambassador Tom-san reports that Kamikochi is in fine spring form, so take advantage of these new passes from Alpico and enjoy!

For more information, contact Matsumoto Dentetsu at 0263-28-3111
And/or check out the official Kamikochi website.

Matsumoto-Jo Nagano’s Unmovable BattleCruiser

May 31st, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Experience, Sightseeing

As part of my job as foreign liaison in Snow Monkey Village-Yudanaka I often have to show people around and soften some of the cultural challenges…

usually I have at least a little background knowledge and am reasonably well prepared,…but not today….

ah ow, I was about to crash into Matsumoto-Castle, almost literally^-^…Not even knowing where the entrance was, was going to be a challenge for me.

It’s strange how every day brings new & different drama.

Luckily I had met one of the other Go-Nagano Bloggers the week before and had a phone number…

Around 8:30am Tom Jones answered his phone, and we agreed to meet (together with my slightly unusual guests) at 10:40am by the Family Mart near the Castle.

I was so thankful to have someone who had a few clues about the place…

10:30 Coming off the highway from Yudanaka my phone starts to shake & ring,

pulling off the road it’s Tadachi-san from the local government government…

…”I’ll be your guide today….” – super, another guide can’t hurt^-^.

Mike & Jacky our English Montaineering guests were very impressed they now had 3 guides!

But wait there’s more^-^

Some god must have been watching my looks of agony as I tried to sleep the night before dreading the unknown castle,

when we reached Family Mart carpark, and Tadachi-san showed me the City Council parking he said “let me introduce you to my guide for the day”

It was like Mike & Jacky (who are actually guides themselves) had started an atomic chain reaction…first me, then Tom, within minutes Tadachi-san, and then in the final moments before entering…the best guide inthe universe ‘Aoki-sensei’.

I hope the students that Mike & Jacky bring, enjoy Nagano’s people as much as I did today.

Matsumoto-Jo was a very impressive military creation, but more impressive was Aoki-sensei’s,  Tadachi-san’s, and my new friend Tom Jones’, explanation.

Tom Jones having a PHD in Forests & Wood, Tadachi-san’s care & courtesy and Aoki’s detail + quite ripe jokes made this an absolutely unforgettable experience…

if I can work out how to put some pictures up here…please enjoy…also see Katsuo Marushige’s 100year old Bonsai trees below too^-^warming-up-before-castle

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Matsumoto Walking Guide in English

March 26th, 2010 by
Category: Information, Sightseeing

We have big news today for foreigners who want to visit Matsumoto or who live in Matsumoto and Nagano prefecture.

Matsumoto Walking Guide Book

Matsumoto Walking Guide Book

The Matsumoto Tourism & Convention Association has recently published the “Matsumoto Walking Guide” booklet in English and will start distributing it to people who need English guidance about Matsumoto city.

This colorful 32-page, A5 size guide has a lot of useful contents not only for foreign tourists, but also for local foreigners.

Matsumoto Walking Guide Book

Matsumoto Walking Guide Book

Let me introduce to you some of the guide’s features, which include information about:

1) Many famous sightseeing spots around the Matsumoto area, such as Matsumoto Castle, Kamikochi, Utsukushigahara Kogen, and Shirahone Onsen (Hot spring), with beautiful pictures.
2) Sightseeing spots in the Matsumoto downtown area, including Nakamachi street, Asama Onsen (Hot spring), and Fukashi Jinja (Shrine), also with beautiful pictures.
3) Many museums in Matsumoto.
4) Food, drink, and souvenir spots.
5) A list of bars and restaurants, hotels and traditional Ryokan (Japanese inns), and much more.

The guidebook also contains some useful travel information, such as how to find/read Japanese restaurant signs and about public transportation. It has a lot of local foreigners’ comments that give advice, too.

You can get the guidebook at the Tourist Information Center inside Matsumoto station and near Matsumoto castle. You can also find it at Narita airport and other spots where many foreigners visit.

I think that this is the best English Matsumoto guide published to date. We are sure that it will help your visit to Matsumoto and give you more chances to enjoy our wonderful city.

Matsumoto Tourism & Convention Association (English)

Matsumoto’s Identity

March 16th, 2010 by
Category: Information, Shopping, Sightseeing

Last week, I had a chance to go to Matsumoto.  The local JC’s chapter invited me to give a talk on their town’s “identity” from a foreigner’s perspective.  Of course, there’s the obvious — Matsumoto Castle, arguably the second coolest castle in all of Japan.  And there’s the city’s location as the entrance way to Kamikochi and the Japanese Alps.  But there’s so much more that makes Matsumoto so unique, especially the city’s surprisingly walkable center — the area around the station and castle

While most city centers in Japan are one ugly ferroconcrete building after another, Matsumoto’s is pedestrian friendly with sidewalks lined not with a jamble of bicycles and signs, but with enjoyable water features.  And being a castle town, Matsumoto has a maze of narrow streets around its core.   Two of those with a medieval feel to them that you’re likely to come across walking from the station to the castle, are Nawate and Naka-Dori


Shops along Matsumoto's Nawate-dori

Shops along Matsumoto's Nawate-dori

While in ‘Moto for the JC talk, I got the chance to check out Nawate.  There’s a great variety of businesses — bakeries, flower shops, even one that sold antique tools.  I was mesmerized by the look of the well-worn iron tools they had.   There are stairs down to the Metoba River who’s tranquil riverside made you forget that Nagano’s second biggest city is all around you.  Plus, there are more water features all over the place.

One of Matsumoto's street-side water features

One of Matsumoto's street-side water features

At the JC’s function, I met Inoue-san from Inoue Department Store.  While most of Japan’s big-name, national department stores are struggling to remain alive with the economic downturn and internet shopping, Inoue seems to be surviving relatively well.  I figured out Inoue’s secret:  purchasing is done not by official “buyers”, but by the salespeople on the floor.  Not only do the salespeople know best what consumers want, but if they do the purchasing, they are in a better position to “sell” the consumers on the products.  If you’ve seen other Japanese department stores, you’re in for a treat at Inoue’s.  And if you have kids, make sure not to miss their toy section.

So if you visit Matsumoto, don’t just see the castle and leave — take time to wander around the enjoyable streets in the city’s center.  You’ll see what makes Matsumoto one of Japan’s most liveable cities.

Rental bicycles are available throughout the town.  This one at Naka-dori

Rental bicycles are available throughout the town. This one at Naka-dori


Bonus Picture:  Matsumoto Castle with cherry blossoms.  I took this pic last year in mid-April

Bonus Picture: Matsumoto Castle with cherry blossoms. I took this pic last year in mid-April