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

Sunny Saturday on the Nakasendo Trail

February 9th, 2017 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

The Post Town of Magome.

Last weekend, a few of us traveled from the Northern area of Nagano into the Kiso Valley to walk part of the Nakasendo trail. It was one of five major roads used during the Edo era and connected the former capital of Kyoto to the new capital of Edo (now Tokyo). While it may take weeks to travel the whole thing, we just walked between two post towns: Magome and Tsumago.

Saturday was a beautiful day so I’d like to share some of the photographs we took along the way!
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Summer Fun Around Lake Suwa

May 27th, 2016 by
Category: Experience, Information, Onsens (Hot Springs), Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

A view of the lake from the rooftop of the Clasuwa restaurant.

In a land-locked prefecture, the Suwa area is surprisingly blessed with water. The surface of lake Suwa offers beautiful, reflective views of the surrounding mountains and sky. Hot springs bubble up from the grounds of Kami and Shimosuwa and feed over 150 public bathing facilities in the area. And, fresh water from the highlands helps brew Suwa’s many award-winning rice wines.

Visitors to the area have been increasing in advent of the 2016 Onbashira festival, so I thought I’d take a closer look at Suwa’s activities and sights.

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Little Secrets of Kiso Fukushima

February 12th, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Latticed wood buildings form a long alleyway to the gate of a buddhist temple.

A picturesque alleyway that leads to Daitsu-ji in Kiso Fukushima.

The Kiso Valley is a very popular destination in Nagano prefecture, especially for backpackers and history buffs who enjoy its beautiful forests and undisturbed post towns. Most visitors head straight for Narai, Tsumago or Magome-juku, but there are eight other historical towns in this forest valley with their own secrets waiting to be uncovered by adventurous travelers.

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The Sake Breweries of the Higashi Nakasendo

January 22nd, 2016 by
Category: Cuisine, Culture Art, Sightseeing
A white farmhouse stands alone in the midground surrounded by yellowed farmlands. Low-lying clouds crown Mt. Asama and the sky above is blue.

Blue skies and Mt. Asama are constant companions on the Higashi Nakasendo.

After cutting through the forest valley of Kiso, circling lake Suwa and passing through the towns of Nagawa and Wada, the Nakasendo continues into Eastern Nagano. The land here is open and the skies are always clear. In the distance beyond miles of farmland and rice paddies, travelers can look upon snow-capped Mt. Asama, one of Nagano’s two active volcanoes.

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The Nakasendo: Narai-juku, Suwa and beyond

October 30th, 2015 by
Category: Cuisine, Events, Information, Sightseeing

Princess Kazunomiya in the post-town of Narai.

From Kyoto, the Nakasendo passes through the Kiso valley and continues into the Eastern area of Nagano prefecture. There are 15 more post-towns along the way up to Karuizawa, many of which have preserved parts of their history. Recently, there has been resurgence in interest in these less-traveled areas, particularly in regards to one of its travelers.

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Kiso Route Hiking

March 21st, 2015 by
Category: Information

waterfall along Nakasendo

watermill along the way no more in use

accommodation still in business

The temperature has become much warmer recently, and we ventured to go on a hike along an ancient Nakasendo lane.

 

Nakasendo Lane is now paralleled to the state route 19, and some parts of it are preserved as they were during the ancient times from the Samurai Period.

In the Edo Period, this lane was one of the main official routes which ran between Tokyo and Kyoto al the way for more than 600km.

All through the route, there used to be altogether 69 post station towns to cater for travelers.
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Nakasendo Narai-Yabuhara Hike & Erupting Mt Ontake

October 21st, 2014 by
Category: Information, Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Erupting Mt. Ontake Seen from the Shrine at Torii Pass

Some travelers who plan to visit central Japan are worrying about any trouble by the eruption of Mt. Ontake, the 3067-meter volcano. It is a big tragedy that more than 50 climbers died by the sudden eruption of Sep. 27. Mt. Ontake is popular for climbers and also pilgrims who believe in its mountain religion, and the eruption occurred at noon on a weekend of the peak hiking season.​

Old Paved Walking Pass

Now, however, troubles by the eruption are limited. You cannot enter ONLY the 4km-radius cautionary zone from the summit of Mt. Ontake. It doesn’t affect ordinary lives and travel in other areas. All trains, buses, roads in Nagano Prefecture are operating as usual.

Tsumago, Magome, and Narai historic post towns of Nakasendo, which are popular sightseeing spots with walking courses among foreigners, are more than 30 km away from Mt. Ontake and can be traveled safely.

Oct 11, I actually hiked between Yabuhara to Narai post towns via Torii Pass, the highest point on the historic Nakasendo highway that connected Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period and before.
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Ancient Post Station Towns along the Ancient Highway

June 4th, 2014 by
Category: Information
Narai-juku

before the Edo period, most travels are on foot

One of the many tourists attractions in Nagano is to stroll through some ancient post station towns along  one of ancient highways.

 

Among some ancient travel highways through Nagano , the longest is Nakasendo-highway.

Nakasendo-highway was designated as one of the 5 government official highways by the Tokugawa-Shogunate government.

So it explains the palanquin above.

There have been 2 highways conneting Edo( the present day Tokyo), where the Shogun resided, and Kyo( the present day Kyoto), where the Emperor resided.   They were Tokaido highway and Nakasendo highway.

While Tokaido highway became the base of the present national route No. 1 and thus changed its appearance to a much  busy road, the other Nakasendo highway , which trailed through Nagano, has retained its ancient atmosphere here and there.

Especially in Kiso area, there are some post station towns where the locals try to preserve the historical touch .
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