Matsumoto (pop. 203,000) lies at the heart of the Japanese Alps and geographic center of Nagano prefecture, roughly halfway between Nagoya and Niigata on the JR Chuo Line. It is a convenient base for treks to the Hodaka-dake and Kamikochi area, indulging in spa resorts, or to visit the well-preserved Edo-era post towns of the Kiso Valley.
The town was first mentioned in the 8th century. It became the stronghold of the Ogasawara clan in the 14th and 15th century.
The local culinary speciality is "soba" (buckwheat noodles).
Matsumoto-jo Castle 松本城
Matsumoto is famed above all for its splendid medieval castle, built between 1592 and 1614.
Matsumoto castle's singularity resides in its black and white colour, a unique contrast with other Japanese castles, which are all white. Furthermore, it is one of Japan's few remaining original castles (the vast majority are recent reconstructions), making it a must-see for castle lovers.
The castle is about 15min walk north-east from the station. It is open from 8:30am to 4:30pm (closed from 29 December to 3 January), and admission is ￥500 and includes the adjacent Japan Folklore Museum (日本民俗資料館).
The museum is located next to the castle's entrance. It displays various artifacts such as clocks and watches from the all over the world (including a Rolls Royce clock), and others related to folklore, history, archeology, fauna and flora of the Matsumoto region.
Related link: New York Times article on Matsumoto Castle
Old Kaichi School, Matsumoto
More photos of Matsumoto
Old Kaichi School 旧開智学校
200 metres north of the castle grounds stands the former Kaichi School, built between 1873 and 1876. It is one of the last surviving schools from the early Meiji Era, when Japan started to westernize its political, military, economic and educational systems. It was the first junior high school in Japan.
The school is now a museum displaying some of Japan's best collection of education documents and historical materials. Admission is ￥300 for adults and ￥150 for children up to 15 years old. The museum is open from 8:30am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm).
Japan Ukiyoe Museum (日本浮世絵博物館)
The world's largest ukiyo-e (Japanese wood block prints) museum is located in Matsumoto. Housed in an ultra-modern building, the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum was established in 1982 based on the Sakai collection, accumulated over five generations. The 100,000 works cover all range of ukiyo-e (on wood blocks, on canvas, on screens, in old books, contemporary prints) and has representative works by all famous and less famous artists, from early masters to modern days. Only 1,000 pieces are on display at any given time, and exhibitions change every three months and are also loaned to foreign institutions all over the world. It is indubitably a must-see for anyone interested in Japanese arts or history.
There are only limited signs in English, but explanatory leaflets in the tongue of Shakespeare are provided. The museum is situated 2.5 km west of the JR Matsumoto station, past the intersection of the Nomugi Highway with the Nagano Expresway.It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission cost a hefty ￥900, which adds up to the taxi fare to get there from Matsumoto station. Foot access is possible from Oniwa (大庭) station on the Dentetsu line, but it is rather difficult to find.
Other museums in town include the Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum, the Japanese Court and Open Air Architectural Museum (松本市歴史の里), the The Nakayama Cultural History Museum, the Matsumoto City Museum (松本市立博物館), and the Baba Family Residence (馬場家住宅旧灰部屋).
How to get to Matsumoto
By train, the journey from Tokyo's Shinjuku station with the Azusa limited express takes about 2 hours 40 minutes and cost a bit less than ￥4,000.
From Nagano, the JR Shinano limited express makes the trip in 50min for about ￥1,100.
From Nagoya, the same JR Shinano takes a bit over 2 hours and cost ￥3,250.
Shinshu Matsumoto Airport has flights to Sapporo, Osaka and Fukuoka.
Dentetsu has daily buses between Matsumoto and Shinjuku for about ￥3,400 one-way and ￥5,950 return.