Wednesday, January 09, 2008


"Matsumotoooooooooo" was the sound I was lead to believe would great us on our arrival to Matsumoto station. While we didn't here the announcement with the very "oooooooo" until the second day, what we were greeted by was very friendly, smiley, helpful locals.

We went there for my traditional Christmas in Japan trip.

We loved Matsumoto! A leisurely stroll from our hotel near the station, through the pristine streets brought us to one of Matsumoto's most famous attractions, it's castle. The castle is nicknamed the "Crow" as it is predominantly black, in contrast to most white Japanese castles. The castle itself was most impressive and the extremely steep stairs a challenge. You could feel the history in the wood, a long history for Japanese castles, of over 400 years. I sat for a while on my own in the gorgeous moon-viewing room, a room that opens out on three sides to overlook the garden and moat. I closed my eyes and imagined women and their attendants dressed in their finest kimono, lovers looking at the moonlit scene, the ghosts of people passed.

The streets near the castle are wonderful for a stroll. By a stream runs a little street that is reminiscent of the ones going up to Kiyomizudera in Kyoto. There are many little craft and antique shops as well as places to buy the local handicraft, stunning temari balls. If that's not your thing, there are lots of funky modern shops nearby to entice as well.

Eating was a joy in Matsumoto. While we didn't partake in any of the local delicacies; soba, raw horse meat, bee larvae or crickets, we had plenty of different tastes to choose from. We ate Indonesian in a beautiful oasis, Spanish tapas and English pub food in a bar that almost would have made me think I was in England, except for the lack of English anywhere on the menu.

Matsumoto also has a good range of museums. The city museum entry is included in the castle ticket. While small, it had enough to entertain both the boy and I; stuff to kill people with for him, and cultural and handicraft items for me. We had planned to spend Christmas Day museum-hopping, but that was foiled. They were all closed. Not because it was Christmas Day, but because the day before, a Monday, the usual museum-closing day, was a public holiday, so the museum-closing day and was changed for the week to the Tuesday. Mind you, I don't think Wayne was too disappointed on missing out on the City Art Museum or the City Handicrafts Museum.

We did however, make it to the Ukiyo-e Museum, which was a highlight of the trip. Both Wayne and I love the traditional Edo-era woodblock prints. This museum has the largest collection in the world and has been run by the same family for five generations. The collection is housed in a funky modern building 3km outside of the city centre with the Japanese Alps as its backdrop and rice paddies as its neighbours. The current family member running the gallery was a delight to talk to. He had excellent English and joked to us about being both the curator and the janitor. I splurged and bought a print, a reproduction, but done in the traditional manner.

A friend of mine told me that she and her boyfriend are considering moving back to Nagano, his home prefecture. Matsumoto, she said, is where she wants to live. I can know understand why, it's such a beautiful, relaxing, inviting place.

An antique inro, medicine container, out the front of one of the many little quaint antique shops.

Even the manhole covers in Matsumoto are lovely. They are all decorated with temari balls, a famous local handicraft.

A bonsai getting some lovely winter sun.


Jason R. Taylor said...

Matsumoto castle is my favorite! Did you go into the moon viewing room?

Fuji Mama said...

I am dying to get out to Matsumoto! I'm so jealous!

Contamination said...

Looks great!
I'll do my best to post similar photos when I visit.

lina said...

what lovely photos. I'll make a point to visit Matsumoto just on your photos alone!

James Clarke said...

Excellent blog and photos. Matsumoto is one of my faves, especially the Castle, I had to walk side ways to navigate the stairs though. We stayed in Onsen Ryokan in Asama-town a bit out of the main city, run by a very friendly couple. Also we meet in Asama-town a very friend Getta-shop owner who proudly showed us his photos of Sydney. My only regret is that we should have stayed more than one night!

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. It's a great place to visit if you get a chance.

Jason, yeh, I loved the moon-viewing room! Wish I could have sat there on a moon-lit night.

Fuji Mama & Lina, I really recommend it if you get a chance

Contamination, I look forward to seeing some photos!

James, yeh, I had to go sideways down the stairs too! They were hard! The place you stayed sounds lovely. Wayne and I want to make it to a Ryokan sometime soon, but we need to make sure we can get a private bath - Wayne has a tattoo....

Anonymous said...

Beautiful shot of the castle. I have to admit, I didn't have much interest in going there before, but now I'm thinking it might be worth a trip.

ThePenguin said...

Hi there! Matsumoto is one of my favourite towns in Japan and one of the places I prefer to take visitors, as it's a nice ride out from Tokyo and not hopelessly touristy. And the castle is also not made out of concrete.

Have you been to Hikone? It should make a nice day trip out from the Nagoya area.