Beyond Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, there are many cities in Japan with a long and rich history. Typically, these cities are castle towns. They were once the stronghold of a powerful family, and a center of commerce and culture for a whole region. Every one of these cities has a unique character, even to this day. One of the most celebrated of these is Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture. Matsumoto is situated at the southern end of a long valley that lies between high mountain ranges. The peaks of the Japan Alps soaring 3,000 meters into the sky to the west of the city are a splendid sight. To the east is a high mountain plateau, Utsukushigahara, with hot springs nestling in its foothills. The Azumino valley is covered with fields and orchards.
Matsumoto is perfectly surrounded by natural beauty and filled with pure mountain air. A superb castle, a magnificent setting, cultural sophistication, civic pride... these are some of the things that impress visitors about Matsumoto. It's also a compact city, still centered on the castle and a network of streets radiating from the castle walls and moat. It's quick and easy to get to know and feel at home in Matsumoto. There is also a great deal to do and see in Matsumoto. You can pick and choose from numerous museums, explore the castle, stroll around the old and new parts of the town, take a local bus to the charming villages on the city outskirts, or go up to the heights of Utsukushigahara for a panoramic view of the whole region. Matsumoto is also the gateway to Kamikochi, Norikura and other scenic areas in the Chubu Sangaku (Japan Alps) National Park.
Within the greater city, including the rural districts, there is a population of some 220,000 people. This will surprise you, because here you will not find crowds or traffic jams. But as a center for this population, Matsumoto is full of energy. The old and new are represented in a great variety of ways. Restaurants, interesting places to stay, shops that display the best in international fashion as well as fine traditional crafts are here to represent the old and the new of Matsumoto. In a setting of exceptional natural beauty, Matsumoto brings all these together in a unique way.
See also the New York Times article "A Japanese Castle Bares Its Secrets".
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