Matsumoto Travel Guide

Matsumoto travel guide: view of a city in the mountains. Matsumoto is much more than a castleI added Matsumoto city to my Japan trip on a whim.  I was interested and slightly terrified of a castle with the “scariest stairs in Japan.”  Out of all the places I visited, Matsumoto ended up as one of my favorite spots in Japan and not just because of the castle.  Matsumoto Castle deserves a post of its own.  Today’s post is a Matsumoto travel guide.  I hope to convince you that Matsumoto city deserves more than a day trip.

Matsumoto Overview

Matsumoto is a city in Nagano prefecture.  The most famous attraction in the city is Matsumoto- jou or Matsumoto Castle, one of the twelve remaining standing castles in Japan that are not reconstructions.  The city is located in the Shinshu region which is famous for its grapes as well as for the mountain climate and skiing.

I decided to spend two nights in Matsumoto.  The city was the mid-point of the trip.  I figured that I would probably need some down time after spending several days in busy Tokyo and Nagoya.

Getting to Matsumoto

Matsumoto is a 140 minute train ride from Nagoya or a 180 minute train ride from Tokyo.  I took the Limited Express Wide View Shinano from Nagoya.  As the name suggests, the Wide View has extra large windows to allow you to enjoy the view during your trip.

Photo of Matsumoto city from the train station

When my train arrived in Matsumoto, I stopped at the tourist bureau and picked up a city map.  The staff members at the office were very friendly and spoke English.  In addition to giving me directions to the castle, they also recommended several other attractions.

Luckily, my hotel was two blocks from the train station.  I walked to the hotel and dropped of my luggage and took a stroll around the city.

What to See

Fukashi Shrine is one of several Shinto shrines in the city.  The shrine is on a side street, but it is easy to notice because of the bright red colors.  Fukashi Shrine is dedicated to the gods of war and learning which is fitting considering the history of the city.

Photo of Fukashi Shrine with a green roof and red accents: a local shrine in Matsumoto city dedicated to the gods of war and learning

The shrine is peaceful with interesting decorative architecture.  The shrine has a small shop attached that sells charms.  If you collect goshuin, you can receive a goshuin from Fukashi Shrine.

Matsumoto has a good public transportation system with buses that depart from the train station to take you to many of the attractions.  However, the city is also easily walkable.  After spending a day walking around the city, I started to get hungry.  Because I didn’t want to spoil my supper completely, I headed to Nawate Street for some snacks and shopping.

Frogs and Sweets

Photo of the Japanese alps: take a break from Tokyo and enjoy Nagano prefectureNawate Street is sometimes nicknamed Frog Street because of the frog statues that you will find along the street.  Frogs are considered lucky because the word for frog kaeru also sounds like the verb “to return”.  Supposedly frogs will bring back things that you have lost.  Nawate-dori is a scenic street on the banks of the river.  Along with many souvenir shops,  you can buy delicious Tai-yaki or sweet cakes made in the shape of a fish.  Tai-yaki come with a choice of filling from the traditional red bean paste to custard.

Matsumoto is also famous for the many local wells that are still functioning in the city.  Matsumoto is known for the purity of the city water and there are over 20 local wells where you can stop and get a drink if you are thirsty.  If you do want to drink from the city wells, I would recommend a water purification system to be on the safe side.  The Genchi well is the most famous of the city wells.  The well is in the middle of the city in a quiet neighborhood.   Many locals use the well, and it is a nice place to stop and rest in the shade.  The day I visited Matsumoto, the weather was unseasonably warm for the mountains.  I enjoyed resting next to the well and watching people walking on the street.Photo of the Genchi well in Matsumoto: the well is part of a network of functioning wells in the city

Where to Eat

After a busy day, I wanted to relax and enjoy a good meal.  Like most cities in Japan, Matsumoto has its own local delicacies.  Matsumoto is famous for its soba and wasabi.  Both can be found at Kobayashi Soba.  The Kobayashi family have made soba for over a hundred years.

Photo of the outside of Kobayashi Soba restaurant. A small well sits outside the restaurant.
Kobayashi Soba: one hundred years of great soba. Can you find the small well outside the restaurant?

I had two boxes of cold soba which comes with dipping sauce and a piece of fresh wasabi.  You grate with wasabi into your dipping sauce and dip your noodles. Most of the wasabi that we eat outside of Japan isn’t really wasabi.  The real wasabi plant needs a specific climate and soil with high mineral content to grow.

Photo of wasabi and tea and Kobayashi soba. Matsumoto is known for its soba and wasabi.

Eat soba quickly so that the noodles don’t fall apart.  Don’t worry about slurping- it’s fine.  I also tried the soba-yu, or the hot water that the soba is cooked in. Mixing the soba-yu with a bit of dipping sauce makes for a delicious drink.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the DORMY Inn Matsmoto.  I highly recommend the hotel.  Not only is the hotel a short walk from the train station, the rooms are huge by Japanese standards.  A breakfast buffet featuring Japanese and western breakfast dishes comes with the cost of the room.  Be sure to try the onsen as well!

Matsumoto is a beautiful city with lots of things to do besides seeing the castle.  In my next post, I will talk about Matsumoto Castle itself and the history and architecture of this well-preserved castle.

Have you been to Matsumoto?    If  so, what are your recommendations?  If not, what would you like to learn about the city or the castle?  Let me know in the comments!

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Matsumoto travel guide: what to see and do in Matsumoto Japan (besides the castle)



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