Sakura beauty in Matsumoto
Walk around Matsumoto Castle, the river and old residential area - you will be overwhelmed by the beauty of Sakura (cherry-blossoms). Its a dreamy world and one feels so happy and refreshed. Breathe the fresh air and open your heart.
Walk along 1920's Art Deco Buildings
Along Nawate and Agetsuchi Streets are another facet of Matsumoto's dedication to preserve old construction techniques. The shops here are typically local confections and food specialties, tea houses, and the like. These nostalgic walking areas are closely linked to each other, though this general area is located about 20-30 walk from JR Matsumoto Station, but are also well-served by various buses.
This is a quaint, if slightly (but only slightly) touristy street not far from the castle. This street once formed the border between the Samurai residences and the commoners’ homes in the Edo era (1603 – 1868).
The name means "Frog" street. It acquired this name at a time when the nearby river became so polluted that even the frogs died. The city managed to clean up the river, and named the street nearby after the frogs that returned to its waters. The name is also related to a pun on the Japanese word for "return" kaeru. The mountains that surround Matsumoto could be treacherous, so frogs were given as a charm so that travellers would return safely.
You will find the street easily, as there is this very large fibreglass statue of a samurai frog by the entrance on Daimyocho Street. This was created by students from the Tokyo University for the Arts. The street is pedestrianised and not long – if you don’t stop to shop or browse you can walk it in about five minutes. But there are plenty of interesting shops selling antiques and bric-a-brac, and others with gift items (one of which has only frog-related items!) I was very tempted by some antique sake cups but persuaded (probably rightly!) by Chris that we had already bought more than enough souvenirs.
There are also some quaint corners likely to catch your eye if you’re a keen photographer, and several places to eat, both stalls selling local snacks such as soy bean dumplings, and more substantial sit-down places.
Halfway along the street is the Yohashira Shrine.
The main sight in Matsumoto, and the only one we had time properly to visit, is its castle. This is one of relatively few original castles in Japan; as they were built mostly of wood they often burned down and were rebuilt, some many times. This though is one of just four castles designated as “National Treasures of Japan” and is the oldest castle donjon still standing in the country.
The castle was built at the end of the 16th century on the site of an earlier fort by the Ishikawa
family. It has a striking black and white colour scheme, and three turrets. It is sometimes called “Crow Castle” because of the black walls. Both the wooden interiors and external stonework are original. It is known as a flatland castle or hirajiro because it is built not on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. It is surrounded by a wide moat which makes for lovely photos, although some of the best appear to be from the far side of the castle (as you approach it from the ticket office) where a red bridge crosses the moat – an area of the park that was closed when we visited for construction work. So for us the best views were probably those from the park that surrounds it, as seen in my first three photos.
You can get these outside views of the castle for free but to get closer or to go inside you must pay the admission fee of 600¥. You'll be given an informative leaflet in English and if you want can also get a free English language guided tour from a volunteer guide. We didn't do this as we only wanted a quick look round, but we did chat briefly to one of the guides whose English seemed OK and who was interested to chat about the differences between Japanese and English castles.
Once inside the castle's precincts you can see some displays about its history and of course go inside. To do the latter you must remove your shoes and carry them in a plastic bag provided. Note that the stairs are all very steep and of polished wood - I found it tricky going in just socks! Various artefacts are displayed (swords, costumes, building materials etc) but very few signs are in English. At the top (six floors up) you get good views of Matsumoto and on a clear day, of the Japanese Alps in the distance – or so I understand. We gave up part way, deciding that the slippery steps weren't worth the trouble for relatively little reward when we had such limited time in the town.
But even if you don't want to go inside it's worth paying the admission to get a closer look at the castle and see the historical displays, and the guy dressed up as a samurai who I gather is usually there (see photo four). And if you're feeling adventurous, do buy a bar of the wasabi chocolate from the small gift shop inside the grounds as this is apparently one of the few places you can get it. It's a white chocolate and we rather liked it – but it won't appeal to everyone I suspect!
When we had seen enough of the castle we retraced our steps to nearby Nawate-dori.
- Castles and Palaces
Part way along Nawate-dori, on your left if walking away from the main road, you will find this tranquil Shinto shrine. I haven’t been able to find out much about it, as the only website I could find was entirely Japanese, but if Google Translate was doing its job properly, the shrine was built in 1924 to replace an earlier one (1874?) that was destroyed by fire in 1888.
It seems to be something of a haven in the city for locals, several of whom stopped briefly to pray while we were here – I enjoyed seeing the little boy in photo three who was being shown by his mother how to ring the bell (photo four) that draws the attention of the spirits or kami to the presence of the would-be petitioner.
It also seems to be a popular spot for pigeons – one man was feeding them here when we came, and there are several references to them among the brief descriptions of the shrine that I’ve been able to track down.
We took a few photos here and enjoyed the tranquillity for a while but moved on when a small group arrived, armed with a set of metal steps, to set up a group photo in front of the main shrine. In any case, it was time for some lunch.
- Religious Travel
The first construction of this castle was from the late 1590's and has been through numerous restorations until at least 1999. This lovely castle has nice mountain views in the background and wide open space.
Here can be reached from Matsumoto Station on foot walking about 20-mins. or by the North (Orange) Loop of the "Town Sneaker" bus.
- Castles and Palaces
Tracing the memory of Shogun period
"Narai-Juku" is a post town in Kisokaido. Almost all people pass through this town or spend a night in this town (on way to Edo) during Tokugawa Shougun period. It is one of the most famous post town.
The atomosphere of old days can be felt when walking through this town (only 300 meter long).
You can see old restaurants, tea shops and souvenir shops. Its a lovely old town.
Visiting Suzuki Memorial Museum
Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) is known for so called "Suzuki Violin Teaching Methods" (see Wikipedia for details).
The last photo presents his necessary conditions for early violin teaching (my translation into English):
-early violin teaching and learning
-good violin learning environments
-good teaching methods
Matsumoto Castle（松本城） is one of the best castles I've seen in Japan. Nice grounds, nice site, and a real original castle.
Inside the stairs are very steep in parts, and you can really imagine things as they must have been back in the day.
Of the Japanese castles I've seen (closing in on 20), this would be my second favourite after Himeji.
Admission is 600 yen, which also includes admission to the adjacent city museum.
- Castles and Palaces
Visit Japan's oldest castle.
Matusmoto-jo is Japan's oldest castle. It was built over 400 years ago. The entrance fee is JPY600 (NZ$8.60).
You need to take your shoes off when you enter the castle and can carry them around with you in a supplied plastic bag.
The castle contains displays of artifacts and information about Matsumoto-jo's history. The views from the top floor are excellent in Matsumoto's clear mountain air. The moon viewing pavilion is the last room you pass through on the route through the castle and is a relatively recent addition to the castle.
Be warned that some of the stairways in the castle are very steep and narrow - more like ladders really. Elderly people will find these very difficult to navigate.
The castle is very photogenic from the south and west sides, in particular.
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Watch the Karakuri Clock on the hour.
A free sight in Matsumoto is the quaint Karakuri Clock on Isemachi Street, striking the hour. The ball opens and little people come out and circulate round the clock accompanied by music. There are two different performances, the second one starting a little after the hour and taking us by surprise when we thought the show had ended. I took this photo at 5pm.
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
Matsumoto Timepiece Museum.
On a chilly April morning, before heading to the castle, we called in to have a look around the Timepiece Museum. It was lovely and warm inside. Entrance was JPY300 (2006).
Clocks from around the world are on display, as well as several unusual oddly Dalek like Japanese ones!
The museum is closed on Mondays.
- Museum Visits
Walk down Nakamachi Street.
Nakamachi Street has some well restored traditonal shop houses and architecture. The area is probably a bit overhyped as a tourist attraction, though things were probably quiet when we walked down there, because it was late in the afternoon. Things close early in quiet Matsumoto. There are several interesting shops on this road and places to eat. There is a ryokan in the street too.
See stunning sakura on Cherry Blossom Avenue.
Cherry Blossom Avenue is the name given to the road running along the north side of the Matsumoto castle. The white sakura in April is stunning here. Through the blossom laden branches, picturesque views of the castle's main tower can be gained.
- Budget Travel
Ukiyoe Museum.. JUM or the...
Ukiyoe Museum.. JUM or the Japan Ukiyoe Museum is a really ulgy building that the brochures call modern which houses some very beautiful woodblock prints. Basically it’s the Sakai family’s collection (they were the second richest merchants in the area) of prints. The curator is also the lecturer and family member. The slideshow presentation makes some interesting arguments about Japanese heritage!! The main room houses a rotating collection of prints, but head towards the bathroom to see the really interesting pieces.
The everyday life scenes were very interesting – especially the women fighting in the bathhouse! I also got to see some of Hokusai’s famous 36 Views of Fuji series.
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