Favorite Things to Do in Matsumoto

I was going through my photos and realized I have not yet written about Matsumoto, the quaint city in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. It was actually out of the way coming from Kamikochi to Nagoya, but after a few searches in the internet we decided to spend a night in this lovely city, and boy did we make the right decision! In fact, from our last holiday in Japan, D commented he found Matsumoto as one of his personal favorites, and would not hesitate to go back. So here are the favorite things from our trip to Matsumoto: 

Cycling-friendly

With a pretty much flat terrain, it’s quite easy to cycle around Matsumoto. It was not part of the initial plan, but when we were walking to the hotel we saw these green-colored line of bicycles and discovered they were rented for free, compliments of Sui Sui Town. All we had to do was register our IDs at any of the allocated parking slots (we got ours from the Matsumoto City Museum next to the Matsumoto Castle). From thereon we were able to get to several of the destinations indicated in the city map that we got. It was quite fun!Free bike rental in Matsumoto

Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes
Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

The Matsumoto Timepiece Museum was a nice find for me, and I was glad that D brought me here. It’s a small museum showcasing well preserved clocks, sundials, and they also even have phonographs. I watched in awe as the mechanical clocks operated. There was a big pendulum clock outside the museum, and I was told it was the biggest in Japan.Largest pendulum clock in JapanInside the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

Matsumoto Castle

The one word I wrote to describe the Matsumoto Castle was magnificentIt is one of the top 3 most beautiful original castles in Japan, a black castle also known as Crow Castle. We were able to get inside the castle and climbed our way up through its wooden floors. I liked how it is surrounded by the Japan Alps in the distance, and I imagined it would be very pretty especially around winter. Matsumoto Castle

Nawate Dori 

This is a quirky frog-themed shopping street a few minutes away by foot (or closer by bike) from the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum and the Matsumoto Castle. Every shop had a frog statue, and I read from its history that these frogs brought good luck. Souvenirs and snacks fill the shops, and I guess D’s favorite shop would be the vintage shop at the street’s entrance. He was able to buy a vintage Seiko business man’s watch here for a very good deal.Nawate Dori, Matsumoto

Other things that added to the city’s charm

Well, for starters, there were the pretty manhole covers.

And then there’s the Town Sneakers, red-spotted buses following four inner city loops for easier sight-seeing.

And then there’s the Former Kaichi school built in 1876.

Lastly we also saw Genchi Well, a natural spring water source of the city.Sneaker bus, MatsumotoColorful flower themed manhole cover, MatsumotoColorful manhole cover showing two girls in kimonos, MatsumotoFormer Kaichi School

Genchi WellIt was also in that recent Japan trip that I discovered how awesome Japanese curry dishes are. When we were about to leave Matsumoto via bus, a man greeted us near the bus station, saying “Arigato Gozaimasu”. We greeted him an “Ohayo Gozaimasu” and smiled back, and then it was a bit later on realized he was the man from the Japanese curry restaurant we ate at the previous day. It was quite touching he remembered our faces, and even said thank you for visiting his city. We were thankful for having had the opportunity as well. It was a truly remarkable vacation.

 

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

Largest pendulum clock in Japan

Matsumoto is a lovely city, and is the 2nd largest in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. Coming from Hirayu Onsen, we arrived at Matsumoto through bus. It’s tourist destinations are pretty much walkable. We were off to the hotel when D spotted the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum on his Google Maps. Being a watch enthusiast that he is, I immediately agreed to check it out.

From the outside, we right away caught sight of a pendulum clock in Japan, which we later found is the biggest in Japan.

Largest pendulum clock in Japan
Largest pendulum clock in Japan

I was pretty touched when the lady at the reception gave me an origami souvenir. I honestly don’t know much about watches or clocks, so I came to the museum with an open mind.

On the first floor I saw how time was determined in ancient times like through sundials. There were also wall clocks stemming from medieval to modern times on display.

On the second floor, I saw several Japanese and Western timepieces, and mechanical and swinging clocks. I also saw a statue and photo of Mr. Chikazo Honda (1896-1985) who collected clocks since he was young and donated them to the city in 1974. Being an engineer, he fixed the clock collections and even produced a rolling ball clock.

Also on the second floor was an area where gramophones were displayed. A sign says they are scheduled to play three times a day.

I enjoyed browsing through the items exhibited in the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum. It’s amazing how most of the timepieces on display in the museum are still in good working condition up to this day!

Magnificent Mastumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

I used to think all castles in Japan looked the same until I started paying attention to history, art, and traditions. So when I planned this recent trip to Japan, I decided to include Matsumoto City, the second largest city in Nagano Prefecture, in our itinerary. Originally, our trip was exclusively just within the mountainous Gifu Prefecture, but when I saw photos of the Matsumoto Castle, I figured it will be worth travelling another couple of hours from Hirayu Onsen.

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

Mastsumoto Castle, locally referred to as “Matsumotojō“, is one of the top 3 most beautiful original castles in Japan, next to Kumamoto Castle and Himeji Castle. In contrast to the white Himeji Castle (known as the White Heron), Matsumoto Castle is black, and is also known as the Crow Castle. It is built on a plain instead of on a hill. It was built during the Sengoku period, or the “Warring State” period during Japan’s civil unrest. It started as a simple fort but was later on strengthened with defensive works in the late 1500s.

Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Matsumoto Castle, Japan

The castle grounds are enclosed by 3 original moats. The main keep, built between 1593-1594, was declared a national treasure in 1952.

Upon entering the castle, we took off our shoes. Climbing up the stairs was no easy feat as the steps were awkwardly high and narrow.

The tenshu (donjon tower) was used primarily for warfare. The second floor was where the armory was kept, and where the warriors assembled. It had distinctive warrior windows at the east, west and south walls.  I brooded over the openings used by archers and the ishiotoshi (stone drops). The openings were very strategic and gave a good vantage point on all angles surrounding the castle, and the ishiotoshis must have not given any chance for climbers of the castle to succeed.

The third floor was dark and had no windows and was considered to be the safest area as it was likewise a secret and could not be seen from the outside. The fourth floor was temporary private area where the lord stayed during emergencies. The fifth floor was where the tactical meetings took place.

The sixth floor lies 22.1 meters above the ground and is covered by tatami mats. This floor was designed as the warlord’s headquarters if the castle was under attack. On this floor is a shrine for the goddess of the 26th night of the month, Nijoruku-yashinLegend has it that on the 26th of January, on the year 1618, a young vassal on duty had a vision of a woman dressed in beautiful clothes handing him a bag. She told him that if the lord of the castle enshrines her with 500 kilos of rice on the 26th of each month, she would protect the castle against enemy and fire. It is believed that because of this bag, the castle was preserved and is now the oldest of its form.

3ddde604-9f53-4d1d-a249-fa78c030ba2b

The view from the sixth floor was spectacular – I saw the distant mountain ranges surrounding Matsumoto. How lucky for the locals to be waking up to these mountains everyday! I’d imagine the views would be beautiful in every season.

My favorite part of the castle would be the Moon-Viewing Wing which is connected to the Main Tower’s west side. These days, there are only two castles in Japan with a moon-viewing room: this, and Okayama Castle. The room was built during an era of peace following the warring states period, and had vermilion balcony with openings to the east, north and south. It also has a vaulted ceiling. As I looked out from the room, I daydreamed it was a tranquil night, crickets softly chirping, and I was looking out from the balcony. Oh how beautiful the sight must be!

Moon-vieiwing wing in the Matsumoto Castle
Moon-vieiwing wing in the Matsumoto Castle

I wrap up this post with a mood that longs for the big bright moon. This is what I’m listening to as I write this.