A trip to Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture has everything one can ask for. You can find a perfect blend of modern and traditional Japan, from visiting the wonderful Matsumoto Castle, museums, and shrines, to eating delicious soba and oyaki (I am obsessed with these vegetable dumplings). But before telling you more about the destination, let me share some insights about the train journey itself.
How We Reached Matsumoto
Instead of taking the Shinkansen, we preferred a local train to get the best out of our trip. We took a train from Urasa Station in the morning to reach Matsumoto Station by afternoon, and luckily, it was more fun than expected. We stopped at various stations and explored them too. One of my favourite memories is in Tokamachi Station, where I saw a play area for kids with swings, slides, and books. Such a fun way to spend time in the station, no? Actually, there could be a whole new article about things to do in Tokamachi as the town has many offers, like a trip to Kiyotsu Gorge or Echigo Tsumari Art Field.
The journey was more than four hours long, and we discovered many other small stations until we finally reached Matsumoto. I was super hungry, and the food hunt started when my friend saw a café with canelé. Canelé is a French dessert that is soft inside, coated with a thick dark crust. It has become our favorite go-to dessert during trips. After eating some pasta, salad, and of course, canelé, we were ready to explore the town.
Matsumoto Museum of Arts
Matsumoto Museum of Arts has many temporary and permanent exhibitions, but its highlight is the work of Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto and found a sense of relief from visual hallucinations through her art. Art with Polka dots is her signature style. Entering the museum is like entering her world – from childhood up to adulthood. It is so amazing you’re sure to be completely astonished by her artwork. The room with infinite reflections and an apartment with glowing dots were the highlights of the museum. The museum also offers an exhibition of other Japanese artists like Kazuo Tamura and Shizan Kamijo. Don’t forget to take pictures in front of the big pumpkin inside the museum!
How can a blog about Matsumoto be complete without talking about Matsumoto Castle? It is special because it is one of the most beautiful, complete, and original castles in Japan. It is also unique because rather than hills or mountains like most castles, it was built on extended plains, with a beautiful background of the Northern Alps. The castle looks mesmerizing, with cherry blossom trees in the spring and the picturesque garden framing it.
The castle has very steep stairs, archer stations, and openings where stones were dropped to impede invaders. You can see an expansive view of the city from the observation deck at the top. Also, it is surprising to see how it looks like there are five floors from the outside, but actually, it has six from the inside. The extra floor is actually a loft above the third floor. My advice would be to watch your step, as stairways in the castle are very narrow and steep in some places.
At night, we visited the powerful Yohashira Jinja, dedicated to four Shinto deities. It is special because it is rare in Japan to see four Gods in one place, no wonder the shrine is famous for its wish-granting properties. The jinja is extra crowded during New Year’s and fall time. It is a must-visit during your trip to Matsumoto as it is located very close to the castle. There are many delicious soba restaurants and izakaya with fried wild vegetables from the mountains nearby. We stayed in a traditional Matsukaze Ryokan, which was within walking distance from both JR Station and the Castle. It has tatami floors to give an authentic Japanese ryokan experience, along with a private onsen (free) that you need to reserve beforehand.
Daio Wasabi Farm – A 30 Min Train Ride From Matsumoto
If you ask me to choose the single best place on the trip, I will choose Daio Wasabi Farm. It is located outside Matsumoto, so you have to take a train to Hotaka Station, followed by a 30-minute walk or bus ride. It was best because it offered things quite unheard of, such as wasabi ice cream and croquettes. Yes, you heard it right, WASABI ICE CREAM!
You can try almost anything made of wasabi! Juice, pickles, rice crackers, chocolate, soba noodles, and beer – all made with wasabi. Admission is free, and I recommend you to walk to the farm from Hotaka Station because then you can try delicious local Nagano food like oyaki filled with nasu (eggplant) or nozawana (leaf vegetable like a turnip). Overall, the trip to Matsumoto was a beautiful experience filled with wonderful memories and unique yummy food. If you like this travel journey, don’t forget to read more articles on other locations and message us on Instagram.
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Feature Image Credits: Author