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Off The Beaten Path: Matsumoto

by Shigeki Abe December 12, 2014 4 Comments

Off the beaten path Matsumoto

There’s so much to see and do in Japan. The popular destinations of Tokyo and Kyoto are great, but there is so much more to Japan. “Off The Beaten Path” is a new series that explores some of the lesser known yet amazing places in Japan.

Matsumoto Japan Map

Our first stop was Nakasu (中洲) ( read about the night food market capital of Japan here). For our second stop, we go to Matsumoto(松本)in the Nagano prefecture, located northwest of Tokyo. Matsumoto is a small and tranquil city with a population of 250,000; though the city is small, it has a lot to offer. Surrounded by pristine mountains, Matsumoto is a gateway to the Japanese alps, offers great hotspring onsens, a craft goods and foodie mecca, and home to the oldest original Japanese castle.


Matsumoto castle

Matsumoto Castle

During the feudal ages (15 th century), there used to be hundreds of Japanese castles in Japan. However, at the end of the feudal age (1868) the government demolished many castles to rid the country of old traditions.  Additionally, during WW2 many remaining castles were destroyed during the air raids.  Unfortunately, today there are only a dozen original castles left. Matsumoto Castle is the oldest original castle (construction began in 1592) in Japan so it’s definitely a must see!  

Old Matsumoto Castle

Old Matsumoto Castle before upkeep

Formerly the site of the Fukashi Castle (1504), it was the seat of power for the Ogasawara family. In 1550, it came under the rule of the Takeda clan and eventually the Ishikawa clan, the daimyo of the area serving the then shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It was the Ishikawa family who constructed the Matsumoto castle that you see today. During the Edo period (1603), the Tokugawa shogunate established the Matsumoto domain and gave administrative rights of the region to the Matsudaira clan. The castle is also referred to as the Crow Castle (Karasu-jo) because of its black walls and roofs, resembling a crow spreading its wings.

matusmoto castle view

View of the city from Matsumoto Castle

Norikura Park

Norikura Park

Matsumoto is the gateway to the Japanese alps and is not too far from where the 1998 Nagano winter Olympics were held. For all the nature lovers, the Norikura park is not to be missed, with its beautiful hiking trails and breathtaking views.

Daio Wasabi Farm

Daio Wasabi Farm

Wasabi can only grow in the presence of extremely clean water. Thankfully, Matsumoto is at the base of the Japanese alps, giving it access to some of the most pristine water in the world. Because of this, the world’s largest wasabi farm “Daio” is located just north of the city and is quite a site to see. You can learn how wasabi is grown, try freshly grated wasabi, and even taste their famous wasabi ice cream!

Onsen Hot Springs

Tobira Onsen

Tobira Onsen in the winter

Japan has lots of hot springs, but the ones in Matsumoto are particularly well known. The clean volcanic waters combined with natural scenery and amazing food is unbeatable. Check out Tobira onsen for a great getaway.

Ukiyo-e Museum


Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige

Ukiyo-e (meaning ‘pictures of the floating world’) are traditional woodblock art prints which flourish in Japan during the 17 th-18 th century. One of the largest museums dedicated to Ukiyo-e is in Matsumoto. Famous ukiyo-e artists include Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Foodie Scene

Miyoda Soba

In addition to wasabi, Matsumoto is known for many other delicious regional foods. Soba (buckwheat) noodles from Matsumoto are some of the best in Japan ( check out Miyoda Soba Restaurant). For the more adventurous eaters, this region of Japan is also famous for “basashi” or horse meat sashimi. Horse meat from Matsumoto in particular is prized around the country. For more common foods, definitely try the Azusagawa apples and the Yamabe grapes, which are some of the best in Japan. Lastly, since Matsumoto is surrounded by the Japanese alps, be sure to try some unique edible mountain vegetables.

Matsumoto is the perfect quiet getaway, offering a mix of traditional and modern Japanese cultures. It's a tranquil city that is sure to offer something for everyone. 

Matsumoto city streets

Matsumoto City Streets

Traditional stores in Matsumoto

Back alleys of Matsumoto

Overlooking Matsumoto

If you liked this article, check out our post about other amazing places in Japan!

Shigeki Abe
Shigeki Abe

Founder of Snakku; Born in Tokyo and raised in New York, Shigeki has always traveled and explored the world through food.

4 Responses


November 10, 2019

Thanks for this article! Right now I’m looking in Yamanashi, I feel so lucky to live in Chubu! Though, all I knew about Nagano was snowboarding, the onsen monkeys, and the castle. I definitely want to check it that wasabi farm and try some Nagano specialities!


May 26, 2015

Beautiful! I love the ukiyoe. I was lucky eougnh to find a makeshift shop in Shinjuku station once selling thousands of ukiyoe prints for only a few hundred yen each. I stocked up!


May 25, 2015

you perhaps lokoing for an island with treasure right or take photo with monsters for Souvenirs. hee hee, monster monster…Or fight with those skeletons that insult you. hey niki, i am more thinner than you. just joking…Good Night

Chung C Y
Chung C Y

January 13, 2015

No comment – just a request – is there any tandem bicycle ( a bike for two ) for hire @ Hotaka station to Wasabi farm

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