25 Things To Do Around Matsumoto & Where To Stay
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 or two. On this page you will find the following information:
Once a wealthy merchant town, the people of Matsumoto are proud of their city’s heritage and have actively tried to retain much of its historic character. Local intervention saved the now iconic castle from demolition while serving to also retain much of the historic Nawate-Dori and Nakamachi precincts; former merchant areas that now house many shops selling Matsumoto’s heradled ‘mingei’ (folkcraft) and furniture. From that hertiage, a thriving and youthful city has developed with Matsumoto now boasting many great boutique shops, cafes, museums, galleries and restaurants.
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 range – including Norikura Kogen, Kamikochi and onto the historic old town of Takayama.
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.
Based in Nagano and operating all year round, we are the region’s No.1 tour and charter operator. Our group tours run throughout the year, including mutliple tours operating to and from Matsumoto Station. We can also arrange private tours and charters to any destinations in the region, and as a registered travel agent, we can package transport, accommodation and more together so you save and get the most out of your time in Matsumoto and beyond – scroll to the bottom for details.
WHERE IS MATSUMOTO?
Matsumoto is the second largest city in Nagano Prefecture – behind Nagano City – and is located around 230KM / 3.5 hours to the north-west of Tokyo or only 70KM / 70-minutes to the south-west of Nagano City. Most famous for its iconic castle, Matsumoto lies in the valley below Japan’s highest mountain range – the Hida Mountains, also called the North Alps – and is one of Japan’s most liveable cities, blending a proud samurai history and ‘mingei’ (folk craft) culture with a thriving arts and food scene. Matsumoto Station lies in the centre of the city and is serviced by the Limited Express Azusa running to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and the Limited Express Shinano running to Nagano and Nagoya. Nearby the city, Matsumoto Airport is an increasingly popular point of arrival for international visitors.
25 THINGS TO DO AROUND MATSUMOTO
Many if not most visitors heading to Matsumoto are drawn by its iconic castle, one of the few remaining original castles in Japan and a registered National Treasure. Once in Matsumoto, visitors discover a historic and pleasant city with a thriving folk craft, art and dining scene. So while it’s castle that might attract people to visit, it’s everything else that the city has to offer that makes them want to stay. Matsumoto is also a convenient launching point from where to dive deeper into Central Japan including Mount Norikura, Kamikochi and onto Takayama in the west, the rural enclave of Azuimno and ski resorts of Hakuba to the north, or toward Nagano City and the snow monkeys in the east. Here’s our suggestion of the best things on offer when visiting Matsumoto:
1 / MATSUMOTO CASTLE / all year round
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Highlights of Central Japan Tour: Matsumoto Castle & Kamikochi Alpine Valley|
|Period||May to November|
|Time||10:00 – 18:30|
|Meeting Place||Outside West Exit Matsumoto Station|
You absolutely cannot come to Matsumoto without seeing Matsumoto Castle. As a registered National Treasure, the 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 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.
2 / NAWATE-DORI & NAKAMACHI / 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. 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.
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. 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 taproom 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 best 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 colourful outdoor sculpture created by Kusama. 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. 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 / 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. 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
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. 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.
Shinmai Media Garden
Opened in 2018 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
5 / JAPAN UKIYO-E MUSEUM / all year round
This small museum exhibits one of the world’s largest collections of ‘ukiyo-e’ 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.
6 / CHERRRY BLOSSOMS OF MATSUMOTO / late-March to April
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. 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. Our ‘Cherry Blossoms’ page introduces everything you need to know about the importance of the flowers and where to find them in Nagano.
7 / 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. 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 surprise 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.
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 Saturday of August the Mastumoto Bon Bon Festival sees residents take to the streets, laugh, chat and dance!
Dressed in traditional clothing and (some in) crazy costumes, the mood is infectious as troupes move through the streets, inviting onlookers to join the revelry. 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. 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.
8 / DAIO WASABI FARM / all year round
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Tour: Wasabi-Picking Experience & Kamikochi Alpine Valley|
|Period||May to November|
|Time||09:00 – 18:30|
|Meeting Place||Outside West Exit of Matsumoto Station|
Heading outside of the city, visitors can explore Azumino’s Daio Wasabi Farm – 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. 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.
9 / THE HOT SPRINGS OF HOTAKA ONSEN-KYO / all year round
Situated 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). 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. 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. Information regarding accommodation in and around Hotaka Onsen-kyo can be found through our ‘Hotaka Onsen-kyo Area’ hotel page.
10 / FESTIVALS OF AZUMINO / August & September
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. 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.
1 Day Tour
|[AUG 14 ONLY] 1-Day Tour: Azumino Fireworks Festival & Snow Monkeys|
|Time||11:00 – 22:30|
|Meeting Place||JR Nagano Station Information Board|
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. 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. 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!
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. 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.
1 Day Tour
|[SEPT 27 ONLY] 1-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys & Local O-Fune Festival In Nagano|
|Time||8:30 – 17:30|
|Meeting Place||Nagano Station Information Board|
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. 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!
11 / OTHER 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 farmsn 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. For more tips and suggestions, please refer to our ’20 Thing to Do in & Around Azumino’ page.
12 / EXPLORE 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. 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. The valley follows the Azusa River while some of Japan’s tallest mountain peaks rise to over 3000 meters above. 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. 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. For accommodation listings in and around Kamikochi, please see our ‘Kamikochi Area’ hotel page.
13 / HIKING MOUNT NORIKURA / June to November
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. 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. Information regarding accommodation in and around Mount Norikura can be found through our ‘Norikura Kogen Area’ page.
14 / 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. 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.
15 / OKUHIDA ONSEN-KYO inc. HIRAYU ONSEN / all year round
Travellers heading to Kamikochi from Matsumoto and then onto Takayama – see below – also ahve the option of staying in Okuhida Onsen. There are five onsen towns in the Okuhida area and of them, Hirayu is the oldest and largest. It is said to have been discovered in the mid-16th century. There are two main public hot spring baths in the town as well as the onsen found in each of the local inns. If you are not staying overnight, most of the inns open their onsen baths to the public for a small fee of anywhere from JPY500 to JPY2000 per person.
16 / TAKAYAMA / 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. 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!
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. For accommodation listings around Takayama, please refer to our ‘Takayama City Area’ hotel page.
17 / 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. 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. 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. 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.
18 / HIKING IN UTSUKUSHIGAHARA / best: June to November
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. Ideally-suited as alpine pastures, the upper reaches of Utsukushigahara have long been used for grazing cattle. Leisurely hiking trails span-out across the highlands which on a clear day affords beautiful 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. Several hotels are in the area, allowing for overnight stays should you want to go slower and enjoy Utsukushigahara at night. Known for its stunning starscape, many Japanese travel to the highlands specially to view and cherish the night sky.
19 / TATEYAMA-KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE / April to November
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
20 / TOYAMA / all year round
The Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route traverses the North Alps from the Nagano-side of the mountain range and into Toyama Prefecture. The coastal city of Toyama is located nearby Toyama Bay, an area known throughout Japan for its fantastic seafood. One of the great pleasures of visiting the city is trying its famous seafood, best experienced at the seafood markets on the coast or at one of the many seafood restaurants dotted throughout the city. Toyama is a modern and youthful city without the crowds of nearby Kanazawa making it an attractive and convenient option for many travellers.
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. 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.
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. 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: April to November
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). 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. Serviced by many ‘juku’ or post towns, the Kisoji is known 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. The journey on-foot between the towns is a lovely experience, particularly in spring and autumn.
23 / SKI RESORTS OF NAGANO / December to April
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. 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! The Nagano Winter Olympics were the first to include snowboarding as a medalled sport, with all snowboarding events taking place in Shiga Kogen – Japan’s largest and highest ski resort.
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. Offering over 600 hectares of terrain, Shiga is likely to become much more popular over the coming years so get there now while it’s still relatively quiet. 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.
Also known for its great powder and setup for snowboarders, Nozawa is a lively resort serviced by a large village full 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 / all year round
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake In Nagano|
|Period||All Year Round|
|Time||09:35 – 17:35|
|Meeting Place||Nagano Station / Hakuba (winter-only)|
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. Nagano is a great place to base yourself, and from there, explore the region on day-trips. Within the city itself, Zenko-ji Temple stands alone as the main attraction and spiritual heart of the region. For accommodation listings in the city, please see our ‘Nagano City Area’ hotel page.
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.
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 an open secret beneath its feet…
25 / EXPLORE YAMANOUCHI: HOME OF THE SNOW MONKEYS / all year round
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. Most famous for this behaviour in winter, the monkeys come to the park all year round, attracting visitors from all over the world.
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. 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. For more information, see our ‘Explore Yamanouchi – Home of the Snow Monkeys’ page.
WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING MATSUMOTO
Visitors to Matsumoto have a good range of accommodation to choose from. Most options within the city are mid-sized, mid-range business hotels while in the surrounding areas, you have some excellent options including traditional hot spring guesthouses, for visitors willing to go a little bit further or visiting Matsumoto in combination with other regional destinations. Let’s begin by looking at the most convenient option:
MATSUMOTO CITY AREA
While Matsumoto is the second largest city in Nagano Prefecture, it is in itself small – a great city to explore on-foot or by bicycle. Most accommodation in the city is located to the east of Matsumoto Station, around the station itself and toward the castle. Accommodation is mostly mid-sized, mid-range business and other Western-style hotels, with some smaller guesthouses and a couple of high-end options. Most hotels and guesthouses are within 10 to 20-minutes walk of the station and castle making it easy to choose where to stay. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Matsumoto Area’ hotel page.
AZUMINO / HOTAKA ONSEN-KYO AREA
Located in the rural enclave of Azumino, Hotaka Onsen-kyo lies around 15KM to the north of Matsumoto City. As a traditional ‘onsen’ (hot spring) area, accommodation in this area is mostly limited to traditional guesthouses with their own hot springs. There are some excellent options in the area, including high-end ‘ryokan’ (guesthouses), most of which are within easy reach of nearby Hotaka Station. It takes a little extra effort to get there, but guests who do make the journey to Hotaka Onsen-kyo can really unwind and indulge in the shadows of the North Alps. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Hotaka Onsen-kyo’ hotel page.
SHIRAHONE ONSEN AREA
Moving further away from Matsumoto, Shirahone Onsen is a renowned hot spring area sitting high in the North Alps, around 40KM / 60-minutes drive from the city. Located nearby Norikura Kogen – a popular hiking destination from late-spring to autumn – Shirahone Onsen is a good option for travelers moving through the area on their way to Norikura, Kamikochi or Matsumoto. For visitors only wanting to spend time in Matsumoto City, staying in Shirahone Onsen won’t suit your plans however if you want to spend a couple of days exploring the area, it’s a great option. Accommodation is limited to ‘onsen’ hotels and guesthouse ranging from basic to high-end. Most popular in summer and autumn, try to avoid weekends and holidays when prices can be very high. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Shirahone Onsen Area’ hotel page.
NORIKURA KOGEN AREA
Around 20-minutes drive from Shirahone Onsen – and around 70-minutes from Matsumoto City – Norikura Kogen is one of Central Japan’s most popular hiking destinations. Rising to over 3000 metres above sea level, this is a beautiful mountain that can be hiked by anyone of reasonable fitness, making it a popular destination through summer and autumn while in winter, a small ski resort draws a devoted group of mostly skiers and the odd snowboarder. Most accommodation in the area are family-run lodges and guesthouses offering a warm welcome. Much like accommodation in and around Shirahone, staying in Norikura isn’t suited to those only planning to explore Matsumoto City and prices can be steep on weekends and holidays so try to avoid those. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Norikura Kogen Area’ hotel page.
Further to the west from Matsumoto City, Kamikochi is one of the most popular destination in the North Alps. Taking around 70-minutes to get there from Matsumoto, it is an ideal destination for travelers headed over the mountains to or from the old town of Takayama. The beautiful alpine valley is open to the public from mid-April until late-November with summer – especially the school holidays in August – and early autumn being the busiest times to year. There are some excellent accommodation options in Kamikochi including high-end hotels however it’s important to note that given demand, prices can be exceptionally high. For accommodation listings, see our ‘Kamikochi Area’ hotel page. If you can’t find anything or prices are too steep, try nearby Hirayu Onsen, which has a good range of accommodation, from high-end to budget and within 10 to 15-minutes of Kamikochi.
HOW TO GET TO MATSUMOTO
Matsumoto Station is located in the centre of the city, within 30-minutes walk of almost all popular attractions. Serviced by the Limited Express Azusa service running to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and the Limited Express Shinano service running to Nagano and Nagoya, Matsumoto is easy to reach using the rail network. For more information, see our ‘How To Get To Matsumoto’ page.
BOOK WITH US! NAGANO’S NO.1 TOUR & CHARTER OPERATOR
Central Japan offers many, many reasons to visit. Operating all year round, we are Nagano’s No.1-rated tour and charter operator, offering a range of services including group tours, private tours and charters. We can arrange transport including a private vehicle and driver, along with an English-speaking guide, to transport to, from and between any destinations in the region including Matsumoto.
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 schedule. All vehicles are fitted with a protective screen – separating the driver from passenger and luggage area – and our drivers wear protective masks, allowing you to move between your destinations in comfort and safety.
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 your adventure in Central Japan 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? Contact us at email@example.com and let’s get planning together!