15 THINGS TO DO IN THE MATSUMOTO AREA
There are tons of things to do in the Matsumoto area that will satisfy any visitor from nature lovers and art fans to foodies and history buffs. Check out our recommendations below!
1. Matsumoto Castle
You absolutely cannot come to Matsumoto without seeing the exceptional Matsumoto Castle. A national treasure of Japan, this castle is one of the oldest remaining original (not rebuilt) castles in the country. Construction was completed in the late 1500s during the Warring States period of Japan, thus it was built as a fortress ready for battle. You can explore the inside of the castle, climbing all the way to the top of the castle tower for a great view of the city. You will also find several artifacts such as old cannons, guns, swords, and more on display inside. Matsumoto Castle is still surrounded by part of its original moat and a nice garden with plenty of picture-perfect spots. Come during early to mid-April to see the castle surrounded by a sea of blooming cherry trees!
Our 1-day Matsumoto Castle and Local Food Experience Tour is the perfect way to learn all about the castle’s history and so much more.
2. Nawate Street and Nakamachi Street
Strolling through these two historical streets will transport you back to Matsumoto’s castle town days. Nawate Street is a fun shopping area reminisce of Edo period Japan lined with trinket and antique shops and snack and food stalls. It is also the location of Yohashira Shrine, which is known as “power spot” and the home of some important Shinto deities. Directly across the Metoba River from Nawate Street is Nakamachi Street, a former merchant area characterized by its traditional storehouses called “kura” that flank each side of the street. These sturdy buildings used to protect the merchandise of the local merchants from long ago and are now home to several handicraft shops and restaurants.
Our 1-day Matsumoto Castle and Local Food Experience Tour also takes you through Nawate Street and Yohashira Shrine.
3. Sightseeing in Azumino
Azumino is a small farming town just a 30-minute train ride away from Matsumoto and the perfect place to experience a piece of the charming Japanese countryside. With the unparalleled scenery, we recommended renting a bike and cycling to see Azumino’s popular attractions such as the Daio Wasabi Farm, the many small art galleries and museums, and the beautiful Hotaka Shrine. We have some great tours (see below), as well, that let you experience Azumino’s unique local events and get an in-depth look at the area. See also our 15 Things To Do In Azumino article.
– AZUMINO FIREWORKS FESTIVAL & SNOW MONKEYS 1-DAY TOUR (Aug. 14 only)
– SNOW MONKEYS & LOCAL O-FUNE FESTIVAL IN NAGANO/1-DAY TOUR (Sept. 27 only)
– 1-DAY MATSUMOTO CASTLE & LOCAL FOOD EXPERIENCE TOUR (Includes a visit to Daio Wasabi Farm)
4. Sightseeing in the Post Towns of Kiso
Just an hour’s train ride from Matsumoto is the Kiso Valley, the location of some of the most well-preserved post towns along the ancient Nakasendo Road that ran between Kyoto and Edo (present-day Tokyo). In the Kiso Valley, you can still hike the original paths that were once trodden by samurai, merchants, and pilgrims long ago. The most famous post towns are Narai, Tsumago, and Magome. Here you will find old inns and residences that have hundreds of years of history and family-run traditional craftsman business that have been run for several generations.
For an in-depth look at this area, check out our 2-day guided tour of this historic area including a stay in Magome!
5. Hiking in Kamikochi
Kamikochi, located in the heart of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, is renowned for its untouched natural beauty. Here, you can walk gentle hiking trails through lush marshes and ponds, pristine rivers that reflect light in emerald greens and cerulean blues, and a valley surrounded by stunning mountains. You can visit the main areas of Kamikochi in just one day, but Kamikochi also serves as a gateway for backpackers and campers that want to explore deep into the national park or climb up the high peaks of the Japan Alps. For visitors who want a look at both Japan’s natural and historical side, we offer a great tour of Kamikochi combined with a visit to the historical town in Takayama.
6. Hiking in Norikura
Norikura Highlands is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination in winter, but it is also great for hiking during the rest of the year that is easily accessible by bus. There are several easy trails that let you hike through deep forests and open highland areas where you can see breathtaking waterfalls, mountains streams, and highland marshes. For a more challenging hike, you can trek all the way to the top of Mt. Norikura (3026 m) where you can explore a series of small peaks created by an ancient volcanic eruption and observe the alpine flora and fauna, not to mention the amazing view. You can also take a bus to just below the summit if you wish to forgo the long hike. In the autumn, the fall colors are stunning and in spring you can see humongous walls of snow!
7. Hiking in Utsukushigahara
Utsukushigahara is a highland area on the east side of Matsumoto. Reaching an elevation of about the 2,000 meters just above the treeline, the area around the summit is covered in grasslands rather than forests making for some spectacular panoramic views. This makes for excellent pastureland and thus this area has been used for grazing since the Heian period. Even now during the summer, grazing cows are part of this beautiful landscape! There are many hiking trails that lead up to and through the Utsukushigahara Highlands. Staying at the Ougatou Hotel located at Utsukushigahara’s highest point and waking up to the highlands being surrounded by a mystical sea of clouds is an especially breathtaking experience.
8. Asama and Utsukushigahara Hot Springs
Like many places in Nagano, the Matsumoto area is blessed with many hot springs where you can spend your time relaxing in the steaming hot waters. Although hot spring resort areas are often located in mountainous areas or off the beaten path, Matsumoto has two hot spring areas, Asama Hot Springs and Utsukushigahara Hots Springs, that are easily accessible from the station by a short bus ride or even bicycle. Asama Hot Springs was even the preferred getaway for the lord of Matsumoto Castle! Both areas have several ryokans and hotels with natural hot spring baths as well as public baths that can be visited without reservations or an overnight stay.
9. Ishii Miso
Nagano Prefecture is Japan’s biggest producer of miso paste, a fermented food made from soybeans. Miso is perhaps most well-known around the world for its use in miso soup, but it can be used in countless ways to enhance and flavor your cooking. Ishii Miso in Matsumoto is one of the few remaining miso makers that still crafts its miso in the traditional way in which the paste is allowed ferment naturally in wooden barrels for at least one year (most modern factories now use additives to speed up fermentation and make up for the loss of flavor). The resulting miso paste is a true gastronomic delight exploding in umami flavors that you won’t find in modern miso products. At Ishii Miso, you can take a free tour (English or Japanese) of the storehouses where the miso is fermented in century-old wooden barrels.
Afterward, enjoy a Japanese-style lunch featuring various sorts of dishes made with Ishii’s miso paste, including tonjiru (miso soup with pork and vegetables) made with their delicious 3-year-fermented miso. You can also sample various pickles and sweets that use the miso as an ingredient. Don’t forget to try the unique 3-year miso soft-serve ice cream, too!
Our 2-day Snow Monkey Tour: Nagano to Takayama via Matsumoto includes a stop at Ishii Miso!
10. Craft Beer
Over the past couple of years, Matsumoto has become a craft beer hotspot. There are now two breweries within the city: Matsumoto Brewery and Bacca Brewery, both of which are located within walking distance from Matsumoto Station. Matsumoto Brewery has two “tap rooms,” one located in the Shinmai Media Garden building and other in Nakamachi. Bacca Brewery is a nano-brewery that makes their beer right on the premises—in fact, you can see the brewing room right from the counter. Both breweries make top quality beers, often mixing in locally grown fruits, grains, hops, and other ingredients to make truly unique flavors. The Hop Frog Cafe, also near the station, is another excellent craft beer restaurant that features a frequently changing line of craft beers on tap both from around Japan and from overseas. The food is highly recommended too!
11. Kametaya Sake Brewery
With traditional breweries in every corner of the prefecture, Nagano is heaven for sake lovers. Kametaya is one of the top breweries in the Matsumoto area and this year, it is celebrating its 150th anniversary as a family-owned brewery. Even if you have never tried sake before, Kametaya is the perfect place to get started and learn all about it. You can take a tour of the brewery and the property’s traditional farmhouse, where you can hear interesting stories about the brewery’s history. Kametaya also has a shop where you can try all the different types of sakes they make and grab a bottle or two as a souvenir. Our 1-DAY Matsumoto Castle & Local Food Experience Tour includes a stop at the Kametaya Brewery as well as a soba-making workshop and other local food activities. Be sure to check it out!
12. Gastronomic Delights
With countless traditional and modern local restaurants, Matsumoto has a bustling food culture that is worth exploring. In the central area around the castle, you can find a wonderful variety of gastronomic delights ranging from traditional Japanese izakaya and long-standing soba shops to high-class French and Italian restaurants and modern eateries and diners run by young, hip owners. Some great places to check out are the Source Diner, Onjaku, Hikariya, BUN, Miyo Shokudo, Fukazake, Moriyoshi, Itoya, and almost any soba shop in town, but the list is practically endless.
With a long history of music education and big-ticket events like the Ringo Music Festival and the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, Matsumoto is a city of music. Not surprisingly, you will also find a number of small venues that host live shows by indie artists and DJ events. We recommend checking out events at the eclectic Give Me Little More and Kawara Record for a fun night out! BAR Aquavitae and GNU also hold a variety of nighttime events.
14. Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
This small museum owns one of the world’s largest collections of Japanese woodblock prints, including those made by the famous artist Hokusai. The collection is not displayed in its entirety, but rather the prints on display are rotated in themed-exhibitions throughout the year. The museum is located outside of the city center but can be easily accessed by train, bus, or taxi. A must-see for those interested in Japanese woodblock prints.
15. Art and Architecture at Matsumoto Museum of Art and Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre
The Matsumoto Museum of Art is most known for its permanent exhibition of artwork by the world-famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who was born in Matsumoto. In fact, before you even step foot inside, you will be greeted by a humungous, colorful outdoor sculpture created by Kusama. The museum also features an exhibit of wors by local artists and visiting exhibitions of other Japanese and international artists. If you are an architecture lover, pay a visit to the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre designed by the internationally renowned Japanese architect Toyo Ito. The building is characterized by its intriguing curved walls speckled with thousands of pieces of inlaid glass. Even if you are not coming for a performance, the building is open to the public so you can see this unique work of architecture from both inside and outside. Don’t forget to check out the rooftop garden, as well!