Matsumoto (松本) is the second largest city in Nagano Prefecture. It is most famous for Matsumotojo, one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles. The city is also a good base for trips into the Japanese Alps, e.g. to Kamikochi, Norikura or the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route.
Matsumoto Castle, is the city’s must-see attraction and is among Japan’s oldest fortresses. Together with Himeji Castle, Hikone Castle and Inuyama Castle, the building is designated as a National Treasure.
Matsumoto’s black, wooden keep (donjon) is the oldest such structure in Japan, dating from 1595. The black paint gave the castle its nickname “Karasujo” (Crow Castle) and the dark color was designed to terrorize approaching opponents. Matsumoto Castle is built on level ground and this has a wide moat as its primary means of defense.
Matsumoto’s other attractions include the old merchant area of Nakamachi-dori, a street of restored Japanese inns, restaurants, sake breweries and shops. The Nakamachi Kura-Shikku-Kan (Tel: 0263 36 3053) has local products and crafts for sale including Matsumoto’s famed temari (colorful thread balls), dolls, sake and the local food specialty of Shinshu soba noodles.
Matsumoto has a couple of historic school buildings which have been preserved as museums: Kaichi School north of the castle and the Historical Matsumoto High School Museum in Agatanomori Park (Agata Forest Park).
The European-style Kaichi School was built in 1873 from contributions from local residents and was in use for almost 90 years. On display are photographs, school books and other educational items from the school’s long history.
Kaichi School (Tel: 0263 32 5725; admission 300 yen; 9 am – 5 pm; closed on the third Monday of the month from March to November, and Mondays from December to February (open if Monday is a national holiday and closed on the following day).
The Historical Matsumoto High School Museum has exhibits on the history of the adjoining Former Matsumoto High School built during the Taisho Period (1919). It is a fine, surviving example of wooden school architecture.
Matsumoto’s other museums are the Matsumoto City Museum (Tel: 0263 32 0133) in the grounds of the castle with displays of historical artifacts and folk art from around the region. The museum is open daily from 8.30 am – 5 pm. Admission is 200 yen for adults or purchase a combined ticket to visit the castle and the museum together. The museum also stages regular temporary exhibitions.
Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum (Tel: 0263 33 1569), housed in a preserved warehouse in the Yokota Spa area, has some beautiful objects including furniture, ceramics and lacquerware. Take a bus from the station to Shimoganai Mingeikan Guchi bus stop.
The Matsumoto City Museum of Art (Tel: 0263 39 7400) is a modern facility (opened 2002) showcasing Japanese modern art with an emphasis on locally-born artists. These include contemporary works by Kusama Yayoi, calligraphy from Shinzan Kamijyo and landscape paintings by Tamura Kazuo. The museum is directly east of the station on Agatanomori Street on one of the Town Sneaker loop bus routes. Get off at the Bijutsukan bus stop. Admission is 410 yen. The museum is open from 9 am – 5 pm, closed on Mondays unless Monday is a public holiday, when it closes the next day.
Across the street is the Matsumoto Performing Arts Center (Tel: 0263 33 3800) housed in a striking modern building designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect, Ito Toyo (b.1941). From mid-August to early-September the center plays hosts to the Saito Kinen Festival – a series of classical music performances in memory of the local conductor and music educator Saito Hideo (1902-1972).
Yet more Matsumoto museums are the Matsumoto City Museum of Measurement Instruments and the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum (Tel: 0263 36 0969) at opposite ends of Nakamachi, south of the Metoba River. The Matsumoto Timepiece Museum displays a collection of working clocks and watches, some of which were once owned by the clock collector, Chikazo Honda. The Matsumoto City Museum of Measurement Instruments (松本市はかり資料館 ) is housed in a former weights and measures shop dating from 1902.
The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum (Tel: 0263 47 4440), a 15-minute walk from Oniwa Station on the Matsumoto Dentetsu Line, three stops west of JR Matsumoto Station displays over a 100,000 wood block prints collected by the Sakai family. There are works by all the great masters including Utamaro Kitagawa and Hokusai Katsushika.
The Japan Radio Museum opened in 2012 in an 18th century warehouse (kura). The museum celebrates the early years of Japanese radio broadcasting. On display are 50 old radios from the 1950’s to 1970’s, TV sets, documents and radio-phonographs. The museum also stages temporary exhibitions. The museum is open from 1 pm – 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is 500 yen for adults; 200 yen for students. Tel: 0263 36 2515.
Matsumoto even boasts the Matsumoto Rekishi no Sato (Tel: 0263 47 4515 ) or Japan Judicature Museum, a wooden courthouse dating from 1908 and conveniently situated next to the Ukiyo-e Museum. Besides the last remaining Meiji-era courthouse, the open-air museum has a juvenile prison cell and Horaiya, an old hut where girls working in the silk industry once lived.