After visiting the Japanese snow monkeys, my friend and I had some time to explore Matsumoto City, the second largest city in Nagano prefecture. While I visited it before, I only got to see the famous castle which draws most of the tourism to the city. To be honest, I thought that’s the only thing Matsumoto has to offer, but I couldn’t have been more mistaken. On my second visit, I decided to veer off to the side streets and explore more of Matsumoto’s gems. What I discovered was a charming town with rich historical and cultural scene, as well as enticing food choices. I think the city deserves at least a full day if not two of your time while visiting the prefecture. I put together the list with recommendations on what to see and do in Matsumoto City so that you don’t miss out on anything like I did on my first visit.
Visit Matsumoto Castle
I will start with the obvious because it would be a huge pity to skip the main sight in the city and perhaps the biggest jewel of the prefecture. Matsumoto Castle is indeed the crowning glory of the city dating back to the beginning of the 16th century. Nicknamed Crow Castle, this spectacular fortress seemed to be a black twin of Himeji Castle. It is one of the original castles in Japan and is built on plains rather than on a hill or mountain.
Admire Yayoi Kusama’s works
There are a few places in Japan where you can enjoy the creations of the world famous avand-garde artist Yayoi Kusama: her newly opened museum in Tokyo, the island of contemporary art Naoshima, and the artist’s hometown Matsumoto! Being her birthplace, it only makes sense that the local museum – Matsumoto City Museum of Arts – houses a permanent collection of her works. The exhibition displayed both outside and inside, was nothing short of amazing. The façade of the museum was adorned with Kusama’s famous red polka dots, and the courtyard featured a garden of giant flowers which made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. The museum is also home to some remarkable works of other prominent Japanese artists and is definitely worth your time.
Stroll through quaint streets
Matsumoto is a beautiful mixture of old and new. If you are looking for quaint neighborhoods that exude the atmosphere of olden days, then you have to check out Nakamachi Dori and Nawate Dori. The former is lined up with well-preserved warehouses which have been transformed into restaurants, shops and cafes; while the latter is located along the river and is a quirky narrow street dotted with wooden little shops and cafes.
Eat at local restaurants
I never got a chance to eat in Matsumoto City, but during both visits, I passed by quite a few cafes with enticing menus. I was impressed by the variety of the restaurants. Anything from coffee shops serving flavored lattes and pancakes, to bakeries and French restaurants. Nagano prefecture is famous for its buckwheat noodles, horse meat, and apples so make sure you try these during your visit.