Brisk mountain air and local beers in Nagano's coolest city.
With a range of hotels and picturesque ryokan, plus the pristine Azusa River running through the city, Matsumoto is a mountain retreat with all the comforts of the city.
In Matsumoto City, you’ll find all the good stuff like a historic castle, local craft beer, clean water from the surrounding mountains, gorgeous onsen (hot springs) and even world-renowned pop art from legendary Yayoi Kusama. The city is also a great launch pad to go to other natural gems in Nagano Prefecture.
It’s a breeze to get to this chill getaway—only about three hours from Tokyo— so what are you waiting for? Here are some of the top spots, plus other highlights of Nagano if you decide to venture out of the city.
We’ll start with the biggest and best highlight, the great Matsumoto Castle. This behemoth is one of the last standing 12 original castles of Japan and is packed with history. The classic view of red bridges crossing moats is enhanced at night when the castle seems to glow with the moon overhead. The castle’s iconic scenery makes it worth visiting in any season, though if you can catch the cherry blossoms in spring, go for it! The impending black structure is one of the best places to experience a Japanese castle in central Japan.
Nearby is Nakamachi Street, where you can take atrip back to days bygone and visit old merchant houses.
Matsumoto City Museum of Art
Matsumoto’s breathtaking landscapes have inspired artists all across Japan. As such, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, built in 2002, has devoted its entire collection to artists who have come from or whose work has been influenced by the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. Undoubtedly, the most recognizable artist among them is the world-renowned avant-garde living legend Yayoi Kusama.
Food, beer and onsen
Fact: Nagano has its own distinct food culture and not trying it before leaving would be a sin. Matsumoto City offers up a range of izakaya and local spots to try regional eats like soba and even basashi (raw horse meat). For a taste of the local craft beer scene, hop (get it?) into Matsumoto Brewery, which has two locations in the city and has partnered with microbrewers in the U.S.
Of course, the best onsen are located up in the mountains of Nagano outside the city, but access can be a hassle. On the outskirts of Matsumoto lie beautiful onsen ryokan (Japanese inns) in Asama Onsen town. Prices here can range from a modest ¥10,000 to over ¥50,000.
If you don’t have time to be scaling mountains, and just need a quick refresher, check out Ringo No Yuya Obu Spa in the city as well as Hot Plaza Asama (Asama Hot Springs) which is 20 minutes by taxi from Matsumoto station.
Other things to do in Nagano Prefecture
As you’d expect of the host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano’s credentials as a skiing and snowboarding destination are world renowned. The beloved Japanese Alps mountain range provide excellent hiking and mountaineering opportunities.
If that sounds a little too taxing, then you’ll also find plenty of gentle hills and lush forests waiting to be explored in the Yatsugatake Mountain area, as well. Camping and hiking are popular throughout the entirety of the prefecture.
Nagano’s best natural assets are its aforementioned plentiful and diverse range of natural hot springs, whether you want to soak in a hot mountaintop bath as you watch the misty morning clouds gather below or soothe away those aches and pains in one of the many mineral-infused baths, using the likes of sulfur, salt or radium. Try onsen resorts such as Karuizawa and the ski haven of Hakuba. Approximately 45 minutes from Nagano City by train, Shibu Onsen also offers the chance to take in the local wildlife at the nearby Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Nagano has a lot to offer and a trip to Matsumoto City will be the best way to start it all off!