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09. MATSUMOTO
25 Things To Do In & Around Matsumoto

25 Things To Do In & Around Matsumoto

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cherry-blossom-sakura-matsumoto-castle

Located in the shadow the North Japan Alps, Matsumoto is a small historic city best-known for its castle. As a registered National Treasure, Matsumoto Castle is without doubt the beacon that draws visitors to the city but once here, you’ll discover a lovely little town with plenty to keep you entertained for a day.

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Once a wealthy merchant town, areas of Matsumoto retain its historic charm interspersed with modern development which caters to a burgeoning arts, music and food scene including Matsumoto City Art Museum and Kusama Yayoi collection.

Matsumoto-city-Museum-of-Art

Most visitors to the Matsumoto will arrive and depart via Matsumoto Station, with the Limited Express Azusa running to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Nearby the city, Matsumoto Airport is an increasingly popular point of arrival for international visitors.

limited-express-azusa

Once you’ve enjoyed your fill of the attractions and activities of Matsumoto City, head-out to the beautiful rural enclave of Azumino or explore the mountains of the North Japan Alps – Japan’s highest mountain ranges – including the stunning alpine valley of Kamikochi.

kamikochi-chubu-sangaku-national-park

To the south of Matsumoto, the Kiso Ontake Mountain and Kiso Valley including the historic Nakasendo are within easy reach; while the Limited Express Shinano – running from Nagoya to Nagano via Matsumoto – connects visitors to Nagano City, the Jigokudani Monkey Park and the region’s many ski resorts.

jigokudani-monkey

Based in Nagano City and operating all year round, we can arrange private transport to and of the destinations below, including guided tours by locally-based guides.

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For accommodation options in and around Matsumoto, please refer to our ‘Matsumoto Area’ hotel page. ‘Here’s our suggestion of 25 things to do in and around Matsumoto:

1 / Matsumoto Castle / all year round

You absolutely cannot come to Matsumoto without seeing the exceptional Matsumoto Castle. As a registered National Treasure, the castle is one of the oldest remaining original (not rebuilt) castles in the country.

matsumoto-castle

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.

cherry-blossom-sakura-matsumoto-castle

You will also find artefacts including 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.

matsumoto-castle

Come during early to mid-April to see the castle surrounded by a sea of blooming cherry trees!

matsumoto-castle

Want to visit the castle on a guided tour? See below for details!

2 / Nawate Street & Nakamachi Street / all year round

Located between Matsumoto Station and the castle, the popular and historic shopping streets of Nawate and Nakamachi are well-worth strolling.

Nawate-Dori or Nawate Street is a fun shopping area reminiscent of Edo Period shopping alley full of vendors selling food, knick-knacks antiques. Approximately 5-minutes walk from the castle, this small but cute precinct is one of the city’s most charming little discoveries.

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The street boasts some seriously good food vendors selling ‘soba’ and ‘udon’, ‘taiyaki’ and ‘senbei’ and is well-worth a stroll – especially for those frog-fans amongst us or if you’re searching for a unique souvenir or antique while in Japan.

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Directly across the Metoba River from Nawate Street is Nakamichi Street, a former merchant area characterized by its traditional storehouses called ‘kura’ that flank each side of the street.

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The distinctive white and black, criss-crossed pattern decorates the bottom half of the buildings, imbuing the street scene with a unique and pleasing character.

The street is known for its many stores selling traditional crafts including lacquerware, pottery and woodcraft. Several restaurants, cafes, confectionaries, good coffee houses and Matsumoto Beer Brewery’s small store make Nakamachi and the surrounding side streets worth exploring.

3 / Matsumoto City Museum of Art inc. Kusama Yayoi Collection / all year round

The Matsumoto City 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.

Matsumoto-city-Museum-of-Art

The museum also features an exhibit of works by local artists and visiting exhibitions of other Japanese and international artists. But for international visitors, it is Kusama’s collection which is likely to hold the most interest.

Matsumoto-city-Museum-of-Art

Although classically trained, Kusama’s defining style sits is heavily-influenced avant-garde, pop and conceptual art – of which, she is now a celebrated and pioneering artist. While you might not know her name, there’s a good chance you will recognise her artwork which is bright, playful and bold and uplifting.

4 / 1-Day Matsumoto Castle & Local Food Experience Tour / all year round

Want to visit the castle while getting a real taste of Matsumoto. Our 1-Day Matsumoto Castle & Local Food Experience Tour combines a morning visit to Daio Wasabi Farm followed by a hands-on ‘soba-making’ experience for lunch, before enjoying a quick stop at Kametaya Sake Brewery and afternoon guided visit the castle.

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Starting and finishing at Nagano Station, this tour is a great option for those short-on time or just wanting to dive a little deeper for a taste of the real Matsumoto.

5 / Shopping, Cafes & Restaurants / all year round

Though known for its historic importance, Matsumoto is also home to a burgeoning arts, music and food scene. Spurred by the international fame of Yayoi Kusama and the ‘Suzuki Method’ – a revolutionary music curriculum – both of which call Matsumoto home, the city’s profile as a creative hub is growing with many fantastic initiatives and independent stores opening-up each year.

matsumoto

It’s well worth grabbing a coffee and just wandering the streets where you’re certain to find another great café, bookstore, independent designer, craft beer brewery or any one of the city’s many fantastic restaurants.While the castle demands that you visit, it’s the many unexpected trimmings and discoveries that will keep you in Matsumoto!

Enjoy Local 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 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.

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Both breweries make top quality beers, often mixing in locally grown fruits, grains, hops, and other ingredients to make truly unique flavors.

Shinmai Media Garden inc. Matsumoto Brewery Tap Room

Opened in 2018 the Shinmai Media Garden is a multi-storey shopping, restaurant and office building in the heart of Matsumoto. There are 11 shops and restaurants in the building, with the Matsumoto Brewery Tap Room located on the third floor.

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With multiple beers on tap along with a menu of tasty snacks including ‘gyoza’ (dumplings), and both indoor and outdoor seating on the terrace, enjoying a cold beer at the end of the day is great way to cap-off your exploration of the city as look down one of the main thoroughfares toward the North Alps.

Restaurants & Nightlife

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.

matsumoto-soba-food

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.

Looking for some traditional fare? Why not try…

Ishii Miso Brewery

As Japan’s largest producer of miso, Nagano is synonymous with the tasty paste and there is no better place to it than Ishii Miso Brewery in Matsumoto.

matsumoto-ishii-miso

One of the few remaining breweries that still crafts its miso in the traditional way using wooden barrels and without use of modern methods to quicken the fermentation process, Ishii Miso produces some of the region’s best miso.

ishii-miso-matsumoto

You can sample and buy miso at the breweries shop, eat a miso-based lunch at their restaurant and even tour the brewery, with informative tours available in both English and Japanese. No advanced booking is needed for a tour. Simply enquire when you arrive and one of their friendly staff will assist you.

6 / Japan Ukiyo-e Museum / all year round

This small museum exhibits 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.

Matsumoto Ukiyoe Museum

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.

7 / Cherry Blossoms of Matsumoto / spring only

Blooming every spring, the cherry blossoms of Central Japan transform the atmosphere and character of the region and banish all thoughts of winter.

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Known as ‘sakura’ in Japan, the blossoms are viewed as symbolic of the fleeting beauty and fragility of life itself and Japanese look forward to ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) each spring.

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Matsumoto is a great place to see the blossoms. Usually blooming in early-April, the area in and around the castle has many trees which are illuminated at night for the local sakura festival – see below for details.

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Our ‘Cherry Blossoms in Nagano’ page introduces everything you need to know about the importance of the flowers and where to find them in Nagano.

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Want to experience the blossoms of Matsumoto on a tour? Our 1-Day Takato Castle Park Cherry Blossom Tour combines cherry blossom-viewing at Takato Castle Park – considered one of Japan’s top sakura spots – along with evening blossom festival at Matsumoto Castle – as described below.

8 / Festivals of Matsumoto / throughout the year

Matsumoto’s famous castle only survives due to the intervention of two notable local residents – Ishikawa Ryozo and Kobayashi Unari – who gathered public support and funds to purchase the castle and save it from destruction in the late 19th century before advocating for its restoration in the early 20th century.

matsumoto-castle

Thanks to them, and the efforts of many other local people, the castle survives to this day. Very much the peoples castle, it is no surpise that many of Matsumoto’s yearly festivals are centred around it. Here are just a few:

New Year Celebration / first week of January / 10:00 to 15:00 / admission is free

‘Taiko’ (traditional) drums boom as the gates open, welcoming visitors into the castle grounds to celebrate the New Year together with hot ‘amazake’ (non-alcoholic, sweet sake), traditional performances, and souvenirs available to buy.

Ice Carving Festival / first week of February / 18:00 to 23:30 / admission is free

Against the backdrop of the illuminated castle, professional ice sculptors carve beautiful statues with the public looking on. If you want to witness the carving please ensure you are there on the evening of the first night. The sculptures will then stay in place for viewing by the public for several days. 

Night-time Cherry Blossom Viewing & Corridor of Lights / April / 17:30 to 21:00 / admission is free

Held each year to celebrate the bloom of Matsumoto’s cherry blossoms, the exact timing of this event is a little tricky to predict. As the weather warms and the bloom can be forecast with some level of certainty, the official beginning of the cherry blossom season will be announced and the festivals will begin three days later.

matsumoto-castle-blossom

The Night-time Cherry Blossom Viewing will run for eight days and Corridor of Lights will run for ten days.

Taiko Drum Festival / late-July / 17:30 to 21:00 / admission is free

Taking place over two days in the castle grounds, ‘taiko’ drum performances thrill the crowd and hark back to the castle’s origin as a strategic battlement and field of conflict.

Matsumoto Bon Bon Festival / August / 17:00 to 21:30 / admission is free

Taking place on the first Satutrday of Augustm the Mastumoto Bon Bon Festival sees residents take to the streets, laugh, chat and dance!

Matsumoto BONBON

Dressed in traditional clothing and (some in) crazy costumes, the mood is infectious as troupes move through the streets, inviting onlookers to join the revellry. Great fun and not to be missed!

Soba Festival / early-October / 10:00 to 16:00 / admission is free

Taking place outside the castle, this is one delicious reason to head to Matsumoto.

Matsumoto SOBA Festival

The region is famous for its ‘soba’ (buckwheat) noodles and costing only JPY500 per bowl, the festival is a great chance to sample different varieties from local producers.

Old-fashioned Gunnery Demonstration / late-October / 13:30 to 15:00 / admission is free

The Matsumoto Castle Gun Corps puts on an impressive display of traditional gunnery in full armour. This popular event is captivating to watch and provides a running commentary in English.

Heading outside of the city, visitors can explore the wider region including:

9 / Daio Wasabi Farm / all year round

Azumino’s Daio Wasabi Farm is one of Japan’s largest producer of wasabi and in itself, a beautiful destination well-worth visiting. Known in the West for its nasal-clearing heat, real wasabi is a much more subtle and highly versatile taste than many people realize.

azumino-daio-wasabi

Wasabi requires large amounts of clear water to grow and the streams and pools that flow across the farm create a picturesque and idyllic setting in which to wander.

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Daio Shrine and wooden water wheels on the Tade and Yorozui Rivers – the setting for Kurosawa Akira’s 1989 film ‘Dreams’ – only add to that atmosphere. While at the farm you can delight in the varied uses of wasabi including both wasabi ice cream and wasabi beer.

10 / Stay & Enjoy the Hot Springs of Hotaka Onsen-kyo / all year round   

Situate around 40-minutes drive from Central Matsumoto, Hotaka Onsen-kyo is Azumino’s main onsen village and home to many ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouses) with their own ‘onsen’ (hot springs) and public baths including free ‘ashi-yu’ (foot onsen).

azumino-nishiya-besso

The surrounding region is home to numerous art galleries, museums, local cafes, and restaurants. You could easily spend an entire day exploring all the different locations.

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Noteworthy are the Azumino Art Hills Museum known for its glasswork art and glass-blowing activities, Jansem Art Museum featuring the paintings of Armenian-French artist Jean Jansem, and Tensan Silk Museum where you can learn all about Japanese silk weaving from silkworm ecology to kimono.

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Information regarding accommodation in and around Kusatsu Onsen can be found through our ‘Hotaka Onsen-kyo Area’ hotel page.

11 / Festivals of Azumino / best: summer & autumn

Known as ‘matsuri’ in Japanese, festivals occur throughout the country and throughout the year. From the largest cities to smallest communities, matsuri come in all shapes and sizes in celebration of the weird and the wonderful.

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While the large festivals of Tokyo, Kyoto and other major cities attract the most attention, joining a local matsuri is perhaps the best way to experience what they’re all about; and when doing so in a rural area, expect to be welcomed by warm smiles and kind locals who appreciate you’ve chosen their town to visit.

azumino-fireworks

Held on August 14th each year, the Azumino Fireworks Festival lays claim to being the third largest display in Nagano Prefecture. Set against the faint silhouette of the North Alps, around 12,000 fireworks burst and brighten the night sky.

azumino-fireworks

While this is a popular festival attracting lots of visitors, it retains a local atmosphere with plenty of food stalls and a night market providing further entertainment and nourishment. The main display begins at 19:00, so if you want to secure a good place to sit make sure to come early and bring something to sit on.

azumino-fireworks

Want to enjoy the festival on a guided tour? Our 1-Day Azumino Fireworks Festival & Snow Monkeys Tour includes a reserved ‘Manpuku Seat’ at the festival following a morning visit to the monkeys and filling summer lunch – a great way to get the most out of your time in Nagano!

azumino-ofune

Taking place in early-autumn, the O-Fune Matsuri/Festival is another fantastic local festival well-worth experiencing. With events held over two days – September 26-27th – the community comes together in celebration of Azumino’s founding-legends.

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The name ‘Azumino’ is derived from the ‘Azumi’ people, a clan said to have originated in Kyushu in the distant south of Japan. As skilled seafarers, the Azumi navigated their way north to what is today Nagano Prefecture and settled on the plains of Azumino, in the shadow of the North Alps.

azumino-ofune

In commemoration of that origin story, two boat like floats – one male and one female – are carried through town toward Hotaka Shrine, on the second day of the festival. Enroute they will collide, a symbolic wish for fertility and the continuation of the Azumino community – a raucous and entertaining celebration.

azumino-ofune

Our 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Azumino O-Fune Festival tour on Sept 27th includes reserved seating at the shrine – the best way to experience all the festivities up close and personal!

12 / Other Sightseeing & Activities in Azumino / all year round

Located just outside of Matsumoto, Azumino is a tranquil rural enclave in the shadow of the North Alps. Home to scenic farmlands producing some of Nagano’s best fruit and vegetables, exploring Azumino through summer and autumn is a great way to enjoy the harvest including fruit-picking at one of the many local farms.

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In recent years, a number of galleries and museums have opened in the area with restaurants and cafes complementing them perfectly. Cycling around the area from Hotaka Station is a great way to take in the atmosphere of the Azumino – just one of the many outdoor activities in the area.

azumino-landscape

For more tips and suggestions, please refer to our ’20 Thing to Do in & Around Azumino’ page.

13 / Walking in Kamikochi / April to November

Approximately 60-minutes drive from the centre of Matsumoto, the alpine valley of Kamikochi is one of Central Japan’s most rewarding experiences.

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Situated in the Chubu Sangaku National Park, Kamikochi is a pristine and beautiful alpine valley open to the public from mid-April until mid-November each year.

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The valley follows the Azusa River while some of Japan’s tallest mountain peaks rise to over 3000 meters above.

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From the Kamikochi Bus Terminal, walking trails span-out along the valley – suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness – before more advanced hiking and mountaineering trails lead into the mountains.

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Considered the jewel of the Chubu Sangaku National Park, visiting Kamikochi is one of Nagano’s most memorable experiences – a truly special place of natural and spiritual importance.

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For accommodation listings in and around Kamikochi, please see our ‘Kamikochi Area’ hotel page.

14 / 1-Day Matsumoto Castle & Kamikochi Alpine Valley Tour

Running from May until November, our 1-Day Matsumoto Castle & Kamikochi Alpine Valley Tour combines two of the region’s most iconic destinations in one convenient day-trip.

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Starting and ending at JR Nagano Station and led by an English-speaking guide, this is a great way to experience the best of Central Japan!

15 / Hiking in Norikura / best: spring to autumn

Also within easy reach from Matsumoto, Mount Norikura – or Norikuradake – stands at 3026 metres above sea level yet offers comfortable and leisurely walking trails for anyone of reasonable fitness. In winter, Norikura Ski Resort offers around 20 trails and on clear days, beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. From late-spring through to summer the receding snow then reveals a beautiful landscape of walking trails surrounded by lush alpine meadows and flowers.

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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.

norikura

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! 

norikura

While temperatures through summer will still be hot, Norikura’s elevation offers relief from the extreme heat and humidity of cities like Tokyo; while autumn brings the stunning colours of the changing leaves. No matter when you visit, Norikura is a great place to escape the crowds and congestion of the city.

Norikura

Information regarding accommodation in and around Mount Norikura can be found through our ‘Norikura Kogen Area’ page.

16 / Stay in Shirahone Onsen / all year round

Located nearby Norikura, the small and secluded hot spring town of Shirahone Onsen is known for the naturally bone white to milky colour of its baths and tranquility of the surrounding landscape.

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Shirahone Onsen boasts several guesthouses and one public bath, with most guesthouses allowing use of their onsen by day visitors. Information regarding accommodation in and around Shirahone can be found through our ‘Shirahone Onsen Area’ hotel page.

17 / Takayama Old Town / all year round

Lying on the side of the North Alps from Matsumoto, Takayama is a popular destination famous for the preservation of its Edo Period (1603-1868) historic centre.

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Takayama is equally well-known for its food culture including Hida beef – considered some of the best in Japan – and its famous beef sushi, Takayama ramen and more! For foodies, Takayama is a real treat. If you have your eye on a particular restaurant, make sure to book in advance!

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Try to avoid the middle of the day – between 11:00 and 15:00 – when large tour buses arrive and crowd the small historic area with tourists.

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For accommodation listings around Takayama, please refer to our ‘Takayama City Area’ hotel page.

18 / Shirakawa-go & Gokayama / all year round

Easily accessible via Takayama the villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama were inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1995. Actually consisting of three villages, they are known for their distinctive ‘gassho-style’ thatch-roofed houses set in a beautiful alpine setting of rice fields and high mountains above.

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World Heritage-listing has ensured that the villages are hugely popular with both domestic and international tourists but don’t let that put you off.

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The villages are well-worth visiting and walking away for the central area of the main village of Ogimachi, will quickly have you unencumbered by other visitors.

shirakawago-gokayama

If you really want to avoid the crowds, consider heading to the other villages of Suganuma and Ainokura. Much smaller than Ogimachi they are also far less visited and offer a peaceful experience of these important rural hamlets.

19 / Hiking in Utsukushigahara / best: spring to autumn

Utsukushigahara is a highland area on the eastern side of Matsumoto City. Rising to an elevation of around 2000 metres, the highland is free of trees and covered with open-grasslands, and from spring to autumn covered in wild flowers.

utsukushigahara

Ideally-suited as alpine pastures, the upper reaches of Utsukushigahara have long been used for grazing cattle.

utsukushigahara

Leisurely hiking trails span-out across the highlands which on a clear day affords beautiful 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

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Several hotels are in the area, allowing for overnight stays should you want to go slower and enjoy Utsukushigahara at night.

utsukushigahara-stars

Known for its stunning starscape, many Japanese travel to the highlands specially to view and cherish the night sky.

20 / Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route / spring to autumn

Heralded as one of Japan’s best experiences, traversing the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route takes approximately 6 hours without allowing for time to stop and enjoy all of its stunning sights. In reality, undertaking a visit to the Alpine Route is therefore a full-day activity.

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Visitors can start from Toyama via Tateyama Station or Nagano via Ogizawa Station, and choose to finish on the other side or return to their point of origin.

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A series of mountain transports including trolley buses, cable cars, a ropeway, and coaches transport visitors to and from Murodo Station – which at 2540 meters is the highest station in Japan.

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Open from mid-April to mid-November, the Alpine Route is most famous for its immense snow walls which, at their peak, ascend 20 meters above the road below.

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The walls are at their best from the opening day in April until late-June, after which outstanding hiking is available through summer and autumn, climaxing with stunning autumn colours in October until the route closes again in November.

21 / Kiso Ontake Mountain Range & Kiso Valley / all year round

The Kiso Ontake Mountain Range is one of several dramatic and beautiful alpine areas covering Central Japan. Dominated by the imposing volcanic peak of Mount Ontake – Japan’s second highest volcano behind Fuji – the region is known for its pristine nature, lush landscapes and stunningly-coloured water of its rivers and gorges.

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The geography of the mountain range including its rugged and high peaks, dense forests and deep gorge made the region somewhat inaccessible until modern times, and in doing so, allowed a strong and independent culture to develop; and though modern infrastructure has now opened Kiso Ontake to the wider world, it retains much of its historic character and maintains many traditions.

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Blessed with rare natural beauty the Kiso Ontake Mountain Range includes the stunning Kiso Valley and the most famous section of the Nakasendo, including the beautiful postal towns of Narai, Magome and Tsumago, which can still be walked today.

kiso-kakizore-gorge-keikoku

Somewhat undiscovered by international visitors, exploring Kiso Ontake and the Kiso Valley takes you deep into the heart of Central Japan.

22 / Walk the Historic Nakasendo / best: spring and autumn

Accessible from Matsumoto using the Limited Express Shinano – to either Kiso-Fukushima Station or Nakatsugawa Station – the Nakasendo Trail traces a historic highway that once connected Tokyo – then called Edo – and Kyoto during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

nakasendo-trail-narai-tour-guests

Though much of the route is now gone, several sections can still be walked including the picturesque ‘Kisoji’, the section of road that runs through the Kiso Valley.

nakasendo-trail-tsumago

Serviced by many ‘juku’ or post towns, the Kisoji isknown for the historic preservation of Narai-juku, Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku. These picturesque little towns are cared for by local residents who strive to maintain their traditional aesthetic and ways of life.

nakasendo-trail

The journey on-foot between the towns is a lovely experience, particularly in spring and autumn.

23 / Ski Resorts of Nagano / winter

As host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano is proud of its Olympic heritage. Events were spread across different resorts across the region and at several venues in Nagano City.

snowboard-ski-winter

Nagano is home to around 80 resorts however only a few were lucky enough to host events including Hakuba Happo One. Several events took place in and around Happo One, establishing Hakuba’s global profile. To this day, the resorts of Hakuba can lay claim to being Nagano’s most international and popular. Plenty to keep you entertained on your winter adventure!

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The Nagano Winter Olympics were the first to include snowboarding as a medaled sport, with all snowboarding events taking place in Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort.

central-area-shiga-kogen

Boasting Nagano’s longest season and most reliable snow conditions – given its higher altitude and prevailing weather conditions – Shiga is another resort quickly coming to the attention of international visitors.

Ryuoo ski park

Offering over 600 hectares of interconnected terrain, Shiga is likely to become much more poplar over the coming years so get there now while it’s still relatively quiet.

grand-phenix-okushiga

Less than an hours drive from Shiga, Nozawa Onsen is one of Nagano’s most popular resorts – offering skiers and boarders around 300 hectares of train between 565 and 1650 metres.

nozawa-onsen-snowboard

Also known for its great powder and setup for snowboarders, Nozawa is a lively resort serviced by a large villagefull of accommodation, restaurants and bars and ‘onsen’ (hot springs), Nozawa’s reputation is as much based on what happens off the mountain.

24 / Nagano City Area / all year round

Finally, visitors to Matsumoto are within close reach of Nagano City. Home to the near-1400 year old Zenko-ji Temple, Nagano is served by the Hokuriku Shinkansen via Nagano Station, connecting the region to Tokyo in the south and Toyama and Kanazawa in the northwest.

zenkoji-temple

Nagano is a great place to base yourself, and from there, explore the region on daytrips. Within the city itself, Zenko-ji Temple stands alone as the main attraction and spiritual heart of the region.

zenkoji-temple

For accommodation listings in the city, please see our ‘Nagano City Area’ hotel page.

zenkoji-temple

Housing the oldest known Buddhist statue in Japan, Zenko-ji is one of Japan’s most open and welcoming temples.

togakushi

From Nagano City, visitors can head to nearby Togakushi – home to some of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines and birthplace of the Togakure school of ninjitsu while also known for its delicious ‘soba’ (buckwheat) noodles.

matsushiro-chokokuji

For devotees to samurai culture, Matsushiro is only 30 minutes from the city centre. The former stronghold of the Sanada clan, Matsushiro is Nagano City’s renowned samurai town with a hidden secret beneath its feet…

25 / Jigokudani Monkey Park & Yamanouchi Area

Finally, no visit to Nagano is of course complete with a visit to its famous hot spring-loving monkeys! The Jigokudani Monkey Park lies around 50 to 60-minutes from the centre of Nagano City – home to the only troop of monkeys in the world known to enjoy soaking in natural thermal waters.

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Most famous for this behaviour in winter, the monkeys come to the park all year round, attracting visitors from all over the world.

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Located in the Yamanouchi area of Nagano, the area around the park is known for its many onsen guesthouses, farmlands and access to Joshinetsu Kogen National Park including Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest ski resort.

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While it might be the monkeys that draws you to Yamanouchi, we recommend going slow and enjoying the comfort and relaxation of a traditional ‘ryokan’ (guesthouse), an indulgent hot spring and food sourced directly from the local farms.

Private Tours & Charters to/from Matsumoto


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Based in Nagano City and operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1 rated charter and tour operator, offering a range of services including private charters along with private and group tours.

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When can arrange private transport to, from and between any of the destinations listed above (or any regional destination of your choosing), including the option of a locally-based guide.

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Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule including transport to and from any ski resort in the region.

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We can arrange both private tours with an English-speaking guide or a private charter, including a private vehicle and driver but without a guide. We’d love to be part of that experience and help you discover even more!

Why choose us?

Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we have the local knowledge and experience to help you get the most out of your time in Nagano.

Got a question about visiting Matsumoto and Central Japan? Feel free to contact us at snowmonkeyresorts@machinovate.com and let’s get planning together!