The amazing Matsumoto is a beautiful city of history, art, and heritage and it’s only about 2 and a half hours away from central Tokyo.
The city has long flourished as the castle town surrounding the stunning Matsumoto Castle, a national treasure and right up there with the best castles in Japan.
Matsumoto is the second largest city in Nagano prefecture but you can still feel the history and culture within its streets that still resemble the castle town of old. Not to mention that there are plenty of galleries and museums where you can experience both modern and traditional Japanese art and craft.
For nature lovers, perhaps looking for a break from Tokyo there is a great expanse of nature just outside the city where you can enjoy trekking and snow activities, such as Kamikochi and Hakuba Village.
The marvelous Matsumoto Jo, one of the most beautiful castles in Japan is conveniently located in central Matsumoto and is the city’s pride and joy.
Originally, Matsumoto developed as a castle town surrounding Matsumoto Castle, so the town still has the feel and camaraderie of a castle town of old.
The beautiful Castle is one of the five castles in Japan designated as national treasures and the oldest existing castle in all of Japan, and many would rank it up alongside Himeji Castle as the top 2 castles in the archipelago.
Matsumoto Castle was built during the Warring States period by the Ogasawara clan, which ruled the area at the time, and at that time, it was called Fukashi Castle.
In 1582, the name was changed to Matsumoto Castle by Sadayoshi Ogasawara, and in 1590, Kazumasa Ishikawa became the lord of the castle, and he and his son Yasunaga went to work building the extensive castle town which quickly became the political heart of the Matsumoto clan during the Edo period.
Today, the area around the main citadel of the Castle is maintained as Matsumoto Castle Park and is a great spot to relax and enjoy the beautiful mountains of the Japanese Alps that can be seen far beyond.
Matsumoto City Museum of Art
The absolutely fabulous Matsumoto City Museum of Art has an impressive permanent collection of works by artists connected to the City.
Outside the museum is a huge artwork titled, Phantom Flower, by Yayoi Kusama, a famous avant-garde artist born in Matsumoto.
The exhibition rooms are also well-stocked with Yayoi Kusama’s collection, including the fantastic Love is Forever series.
The museum is unique in that even the vending machines are decorated with iconic polka dots
Nawate Dori Street
The beautiful Nawate Street is a nostalgic pedestrian street in the style of a castle town and an essential spot for walking around Matsumoto.
The street is a pedestrian paradise that recreates the scenery of the castle town from the Edo period and is packed with stores selling nostalgic toys, rare crafts candy, and other items.
Stone statues of frogs greet visitors along the street and are named after the Kajika frogs that once inhabited the nearby Metoba River.
Next up it’s another street, the wonderful Nakamachi Street where you can enjoy the atmosphere of the castle town. It is located on the way to Matsumoto Castle from Matsumoto Station, so we recommend taking this route as you stroll to the castle.
The contrast between the white walls and the black marbled storehouses somehow gives the street a sense of nostalgia and strength.
Nakamachi-Dori is also lined with unique stores selling accessories and miscellaneous goods. Although it is a short street, it may take you a while to visit all of them.
The center of Nakamachi street is an earthen storehouse and a detached house of the sake brewery where various events are held.
The storehouse is now used as a coffee shop and the perfect place to take a break.
Ukiyo-E Museum of Japan
The wonderful Japan Ukiyo-e Museum exhibits a large number of unique Japanese woodblock prints that have been collected by Yoshiaki Sakai and his family, since the Edo period.
The museum’s extensive collection is made up of hand-painted traditional Japanese block wood prints, making it the largest collection of Ukiyo-e from the latter part of the Edo period in Japan.
The world-class museum has been awarded two stars in the Michelin Green Guide and is one of the best things to do in Matsumoto
Former Kaichi School Building
The impressive Former Kaichi School Building is a great representation of the quasi-Western architecture of the Meiji era, and is symbolized by the soaring octagonal tower in its center,
Of note is also the imported German glass installed in the windows. Despite being an old building, it exudes an atmosphere that blends Japanese and Western styles, and the monument placed at the central entrance is also eye-catching.
Currently, the fascinating building is an educational museum, preserving educational materials from the Edo period to the present.
Stepping inside the building, visitors will find nostalgic classrooms and textbooks that were actually used offering a peak into the Japanese education system as it powered towards modernization.
The Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum
The intriguing Matsumoto Folk Crafts Museum houses a unique private collection of Japanese and international folk crafts collected by the late Taro Maruyama, the first owner of the Chikiriya Craft Shop on Matsumoto’s Nakamachi Street
Maruyama was a fan of Muneyoshi Yanagi’s folk craft movement that caught to find and appreciate the beauty in everyday objects.
Located east of Matsumoto City, adjacent to traditional Japanese houses and rustic rice paddies, the marvelous museum has a lovely storehouse-style building and a garden with large zelkova and beech trees.
It’s a great place to take in the blissful view of the Northern Japan Alps and vineyards from the windows while surrounded by folk art in the second-floor exhibition room.
The displays of traditional clothing were especially fascinating for us and the quality of many of the items can be easily appreciated without the need for descriptions. Special exhibitions and pottery classes are also held from time to time.
The majestic Yohashira Shrine is a well-known shrine located in the center of the city and a popular place to ask the heavenly realm for a bit of divine intervention.
The name of the shrine is basically “The Shrine Of Four Pillers” and the reason for this is that four gods are enshrined at Shihashira Shrine.
- Amaterasu Omikami
- Ameno-no-Ochinakunushi no Kami
- Takamimusubi no Kami
- Kaminomusubi no Kami
You may recognize the first name on the list as none other than the original Sun Goddess Amaterasu Herself.
Each of these deities is highly virtuous, and it is rare in Japan that so many high flyers of the spirit world are all enshrined together, so here’s your chance to bundle up all you’re hopes, dreams, and desires and say your pretty pleases to the four pillars of the heavenly realm.
Agata no Mori Park
The beautiful Agata no Mori Park is a place where the local residents go to relax which retains the atmosphere of Taisho Romanticism.
The tranquil park is surrounded by towering Himalayan cedars and has an open space and playground equipment which is popular with the local kids.
Carp and turtles live in the pond and the park is also famous as a scenic spot where you can enjoy the cherry blossom season in spring and wild ginkgo trees and petal-colored maples in autumn.
The Former Matsumoto High School, a wooden Western-style building from the Taisho Period (1912-1926), is also interesting to check out and now functions as the Agata no Mori Cultural Hall.
It was also used as a filming location for the morning TV drama “Asadora”
Matsumoto Timepiece Museum
The fantastic Matsumoto Timepeaice Museum with a beautiful exterior featuring a giant pendulum clock exhibits a dazzling collection of old clocks from Chikazo Honda, a researcher of old clocks.
In addition to large table clocks and cuckoo clocks, visitors can enjoy the sound and sight of a time signal every hour.
The museum is in downtown Matsumoto and not far from Matsumoto station so it’s worth strolling by to check out the external clock even if you don’t enter the museum.
Daoi Wasabi Farm
Another one of the best things to do near Matsumoto is to visit the award-winning Daio Wasabi Farm in nearby Azumino, a place with beautifully clear and abundant subterranean water from the Northern Alps.
Originally a field overgrown with weeds, it took 20 years to build up the amazing wasabi farm, which is the largest wasabi farm in the archipelago.
The renowned water flowing through the Tategawa River is clear and beautiful, and the water temperature does not exceed 15°C even in mid-summer.
One of the best things about the farm is the beauty of the Tategawa River flowing next to the gorgeous water mill. It’s an unbelievably beautiful and picturesque scene.
And if you want to enjoy the beautiful stream and the view, even more, you can also take a boat ride. The fare is 1,200 yen for a 20-minute paddle.
There is a store that is spacious and offers unique products using wasabi from the Daio Wasabi Farm. There are also specialty products and souvenirs from nearby areas.
The first thing that catches the eye is the display of delightful fresh wasabi that you can buy in various sizes.
A popular souvenir is Gokujo Wasabi-zuke which is delicious pickled wasabi. It is made on-site by maturing the harvested wasabi while it is still fresh and pickling it in, a blend of premium sake.
Located in the majestic Alps, to the west in the Chubu Sangaku National Park, the picturesque Kamikochi is known as one of the most scenic spots in all of Japan.
It is about an hour’s drive from downtown Matsumoto and you can take a direct bus from Matsumoto Station to the Kamikochi Bus Terminal.
The extraordinarily picturesque Taisho Pond in Kamikochi is one of the most scenic mountain spots in the archipelago and was created when the majestic Azusa River was dammed by the 1915 eruption of Yakidake.
This is one of the most beautiful spots in Kamikochi and on a clear day, the reflection of Yakidake and the Hotaka mountain range on the calm surface of the lake creates a breathtaking atmosphere.
For those wanting to get off the beaten track literally the walking route from Taisho Pond to Kappa Bridge is about 4 km one way and is a great way to fully enjoy the beautiful scenery of Kamikochi.
Asama Onsen Hot Springs
The idyllic Asama Onsen is a hot spring located at the foot of a mountain on the east bank of the Metoba River just 3km northeastern from downtown Matsumoto.
Nicknamed the “Back Seat of Matsumoto” it is said that there was a hot spring in Asama as early as the Asuka period (710-794), and it has been popular among people of all ages and classes.
In the Edo period, successive lords of the Matsumoto domain were fond of the impressive hot spring which is characterized by its abundant hot spring water, the most plentiful in Nagano Prefecture.
Interestingly, the temperature of the spring water is a perfect 50 degrees Celsius, so many inns allow their guests to enjoy the hot spring water completely unfiltered and without needing to add water to regulate the temperature.
There’s also a host of spectacular walking trails in the area. Nothing better than a hike and a hot spring. There’s also a public bath for those not staying overnight in a traditional Japanese Inn.
Next on our list of the best things to do in or around Matsumoto is the extraordinary Norikura Kogen highlands. Cool in summer and cold in winter the magnificent mountain scenery of the Japanese Alps and fresh air is wonderful no matter what season you visit.
There are also some great hot spring facilities near the tourist center, which are ideal for healing your body after a hard day’s mountain trekking.
For those who wish to stay overnight, the delightful nearby vacation village is also recommended. It’s a great place to enjoy hot spring and some local cuisine, then soak up the star-filled night sky.
During the winter there’s also the Norikura Ski Resort for those wanting to hit the slopes and enjoy the winter outdoor activities.
More Things To Do In Matsumoto And Surrounding Areas
We’ve given you 15 fun and interesting ideas for attractions to visit and the best things to do on your trip to Matsumoto but if you are still looking for more here are seven more ideas for you:
- Learn the craft of miso making at the Ishii Miso Brewery
- See the snow monkeys take a Hotspring at the Jigokudani Monkey Park
- Take the spectacular Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route to Toyama
- Take a day trip to the extraordinary Suwako Lake
- Eat Soba noodles with fresh wasabi at one of the many renowned soba restaurants
- Check out the food stalls at the JR Matsumoto Station for local produce and products
Town Sneaker Bus
For easy access to many of the best things to do in Matsumoto, we recommend grabbing a day pass on the highly distinctive and interestingly named “Town Sneaker Bus. It’s just 500 yen and includes some discounts on various attractions.