Matsumoto was the second Japanese city we visited after a week in Tokyo. It is a good starting point to do the Alpine Route. Unfortunately we got a bit “lost” in Tokyo (reason: shopping…. 🙂 ), so we did not arrive in Matsumoto until 4 p.m. (2 hours and 45 minutes by train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo).
After we had checked in to the nice Richmond Hotel in the middle of Matsumoto center, we rushed out to see the city`s main attraction: the castle Matsumoto-jo.
The castle truly is stunning!!
Matsumoto-jo Castle – The Crow Castle
Matsumoto-jo is Japan`s oldest wooden castle, built in 1595, and one of four castles designated “National Treasures”.
It is magnificent with it`s contrasting black and white colors. It`s colors has given the castle the nickname “Karasu-jo”, meaning “Crow Castle”.
We had read in our Lonely Planet guidebook that the castle was open until 6 p.m. in July and August, and we only had one hour left, so we rushed through the castle gates and ran over to the entrance but unfortunately it was already closed (at 5 p.m., so don`t always trust the guidebooks….). 🙁
We did however meet this “nice” fellow outside the entrance:
We were a bit sad that we missed the opening hours of the castle, but our mood got better once we went on the other side of the castle, as the views were stunning!
The castle is surrounded by a tranquil moat that is full of carps.
A lovely bright red bridge crosses the moat, with swans and birds gliding beneath it.
Taiko Matsuri Drum Festival
While we were walking around the castle and it`s surrounding moat and park, we all of a sudden heard heavy drumming. A lot of people had entered the castle ground, and there were also a big stage on the lawn. We followed the stream of people and the drumming sound, and it turned out that this was the weekend of the Matsumoto-jo Taiko Matsuri Drum Festival! Wow, we were so lucky to just stumble upon this festival! 🙂
The Taiko Matsuri Drum Festival is held on the castle grounds every year on the last weekend of July. And best of all – it is free! 🙂 So we spent the afternoon and early evening watching this awesome and spectacular drumming shows. It was really cool and fun!
It was a great show, and we were really impressed with the energy and rhythm of the Taiko bands. Apparently some of the best Taiko drumming bands in Japan participate at this festival.
Matsumoto is a relatively small city in Japanese scale (250 000 inhabitants), and is surrounded by seven great peaks each above 3000 m as well as three smaller mountains. So views of the Japan Alps are never far away in this narrow valley.
Matsumoto is an old city, dating back to the 8th century, and was the castle town of the Ogasawara clan.
Today Matsumoto is one of Japan`s finest cities. We liked it a lot! It has some pretty streets, a nice river running through it, as well as lots of museums, galleries, cozy cafes and restaurants. It feels like a little cosmopolitan place!
We especially loved the narrow streets around the banks of the river packed with restaurants and cafes. Some of the streets were walking streets full of small nice shops and food stalls. A part of this street was even a market and a concert place. Loved it!
We got hooked on crispy cakes in the shape of fish filled with chocolate and vanilla, which is a specialty of Matsumoto. They were delicious, and tasted like waffles! Had to come back to the “fish cake” stall two times to buy some more. Eh, what diet?! 🙂
We had a blast during our short time in Matsumoto. Matsumoto is a great, vibrant and cozy city that we unfortunately had too little time to explore and fully enjoy.
We only had one night in Matsumoto (so basically only one afternoon and evening), as we headed for our Japan Alps adventure early next morning.
How To Get There
- Train: Take the train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo (2 hours and 45 minutes, 6200 JPY=58 us$), Nagoya (2 hours, 5360 JPY=50 us$) or Nagano (50 min, 2260 JPY = 21 us$).
- Bus: Alpico has buses between Tokyo (Shinjuku Station) and Matsumoto (3 ¼ hours, 3400 JPY = 32 us$), Osaka (5 ¾ hours, 5700 JPY = 53 us$) and Nagoya (3,5 hours, 3460 JPY = 32 us$). Nohi Bus has buses from Takayama (2,5 hours, 3100 JPY = 20 us$).
- Air: Shinhu Matsumoto Airport has flights to Fukuoka, Osaka, and Sapporo.
How much did it cost
It is free to visit the castle grounds and park, and 610 JPY (6 us$) to enter the Matsumoto-jo Castle.
Where did we stay
We stayed at Richmond Hotel which was nice! The location is great, right in the middle of the center of Matsumoto with walking distance to everything. The hotel is very clean. The rooms are a bit small, but that`s normal in Japan.
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We used the Lonely Planet`s Japan travel guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below:
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Is Matsumoto a place you can picture yourself visiting? Have you ever stumbled upon a festival that you did not know of? Have you visited any cool castles? Please leave a comment in the comment area below. If you enjoyed this article, and found it useful, please share it on social media! Thank you! 🙂