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Kamikochi in Early Spring and the 49th Annual Kamikochi Opening Festival

While the emerald green mountains of Kamikochi are surely a beautiful sight to see in the summer, the snow-dusted peaks and crisp air of the early spring are also a wonderful experience. If you plan accordingly, you can catch Kamikochi’s Annual Opening Festival which is held every year in late April after Kamikochi opens in mid-April.

Azusa River

Azusa River

This year, in my first-ever trip to Kamikochi, I was lucky enough to attend the 49th Annual Opening Festival which featured a performance from Swiss Alpenhorn player, a traditional shishimai lion dance, a blessing from Shinto priests and special visitors from Matsumoto’s twin town, Grindelwald, Switzerland. After the ceremony, the ceremony officials broke open huge casks of local sake (rice wine) and doled it out to everyone attending.

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorns up close.

The Alpenhorns up close.

After enjoying my own cup of sake, I took walk around the park to take in the breath-taking scenery and learn about Kamikochi. One of the most famous spots in Kamikochi is Taisho Pond, which I was surprised to learn was only created 100 years ago when Mt. Yakedake erupted in 1915 and caused a section of the Azusa River to be blocked. This eruption occurred in the Taisho Period of Japan, hence the name “Taisho Pond.”

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

The mountain-scape

The mountain-scape

The Azusa River is fed not only by the melting snow from the surrounding mountains, but also natural springs in Kamikochi that bubble up pure groundwater. The waters are so clear that you can practically see every pebble at the bottom of the river and streams and water at the source of the natural springs is pure enough to drink (just make sure you don’t drink water from the river or too far downstream).

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Just look at this water!

Just look at this water!

Another interesting fact I learned about Kamikochi is that it is constantly in change. The creation of Taisho Pond is one obvious example, but every day, little by little, the water streaming down from mountains gradually carves out ridges in the steeps slopes, and as the sediment runs down into the Azusa River valley below, it gradually causes the valley to rise up. So even though Kamikochi is a nature “preserve,” the nature will never be preserved like a snapshot in time – it is always dynamically changing itself!

If you’re even thinking about coming to Matsumoto, then Kamikochi is a spot you do not want to miss! If you have the chance, I actually recommended visiting the park at least one time in each of the different seasons except for winter, as every season will have new scenery, new colors, and new wildlife to enjoy. (Thanks to some lucky circumstances, I got to see a rare horizontal rainbow over the Azusa River. You never know what’s waiting for you in Kamikochi!)

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

Find more information about how to get to Kamikochi in our article here, in the English language Kamikochi Guide (pdf), or learn more on the Japan Alps Kamikochi Website.

Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus and Sumo Road-show Again This Year & Castle Expo in Yokohama to Dec 25

Happy holidays! Snow falls in the north mountain areas in Nagano, so it is white Christmas.

hakubamatsumotowebIn the last year’s winter, I wrote about the launch of Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service. Again this year, it operates from Dec 17 till Mar 20!
Check out this new English website.

Free shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts are operating this year, too. You need reservation for them. See the details on Japanese websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass).

mainAnother good news, ‘Sumo road-show in Matsumoto’ will be also held next April again. It might be the season of cherry blossoms seen in and around Matsumoto Castle beautifully.

Time: 8 am to 3 pm, Friday 14th, April
Venue: Matsumoto City General Gymnasium (Google map)
Ticket: advance-sale tickets will be sold from Feb 1 (probably walk-up tickets will also be sold)
Refer to the Japanese website and our previous blog article.

Are you interested in Matsumoto Castle and other Japanese castles and cultures at the samurai age? If so, now ‘Castle Expo’ in Yokohama is being held to Dec 25. See this PDF document.

Fall Foliage Collaborates with Yayoi Kusama’s Artwork on City Museum of Art

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Now fall foliage in downtown Matsumoto is at the final stage.

This morning, at the entrance of Matsumoto City Museum of Art, I was surprised to see beautiful red colored trees collaborating with Matumoto-born Yayoi Kusama’s artwork on the building. Nature’s red and yellow colors are competing with artificial red and yellows.
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The artwork was created before fall foliage starts. Is it just coincidence, or calculated art by Yayoi Kusama? Genius!

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You can enjoy the Kusama world in the permanent exhibition inside the building.

Apple Picking with Pick-Up Service Starts!

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Now, autumn is a season of beautiful, colored foliage, mushrooms in forests, and don’t forget the harvesting of yummy FRUITS as one of Nagano’s specialty!

DSC_2457-768x513This year, a young farming couple (with a baby) who moved from Tokyo starts apple picking experience with pick-up service from Matsumoto Castle, on Oct 11.

They live in a traditional farmer house near Alps Park, so the experience is not only picking fresh apples in their orchard, but also sitting in their tatami room, having Japanese tea and various autumn food, and touring around their Japanese-style house if you want.

The fee ¥3000 includes all-you-can-eat picked apples and carry-out of two.

You can book the service from the reservation form on their English website. Reservation is required by noon of the day (preferably by the previous day). They are closed on Sundays.
See the following flyer for the details.

* The picking experience will end on Nov 21th because their apples will be finished earlier than expected.

About other orchards (without pick-up service) and more info about fruits including grapes, see this blog.

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Tea Ceremony at Matsumoto Castle and Tea Room in Hyakuchikutei

image1In the Matsumoto Castle garden, a tea ceremony is held several times a year.

This summer, it’ll be held on August 6th and 7th, at the beginning of the free admission period for visitors wearing kimono, and also the extension period of entrance hours (8:00 till door closes at 17:30 , normally 8:30-16:30) (until August 16).

Members of the youth group of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony school wearing yukata (a kind of kimono) will serve you cold green powdered tea with Japanese cake for 500 yen. The leader of the group speaks English.

ikegamiHyakuchikuChashitsuAlso, there is a full-scale tea-ceremony room (tyashitsu) with a tea garden in Ikegami Hyakuchikutei, just a few minutes walk northward from the castle.

You can look inside the tea room and garden freely (9:00-17:00 except Monday) without charge when it is not used.

13083097_1706562706266342_5794503086238738997_nHow about wearing kimono at newly opened Kimono & Ninja Costume Wearing & Rental Shop ‘Hanakomichi’, go to the castle, take your photo with an armored man of ‘omotenashi-tai’, enter the castle free of charge, taste cold tea at the castle garden (if you visit Aug 6 or 7), then visit the tea room in Hyakuchikutei?
This is a perfect plan to experience traditional castle culture!

New Kimono & Ninja Cosplay/Rental Shop

hanakomichi2A local beautician opened a fantastic shop of kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) and a ninja costume wearing & rental service on July 5th.

It is located close to the street toward the entrance of the Matsumoto Castle and you don’t need a reservation in advance if you are not from a large group.
So, why don’t you look into the shop? If you find your favorite costume from various kinds of them, use the wearing & rental service, walk to the castle (just 5 min) and take perfect photos with the castle in the background with your camera or cell phone.

A professional dresses you in kimono or ninja wear only within 15 mins.

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The rental fees start at 3,500 yen (for 2 hours).
And, if you wear a kimono around town, you can advantage of special discounts offered at times during the summer.

One is of these is the “Nakamachi Street Yukata Festival.” During July 1 and 18, visitors wearing kimono or yukata can get special service in 29 restaurants, cafes, izakaya (Japanese pubs) and bars.

Another is free admission to the Matsumoto Castle for visitors wearing kimono between August 6 and 16.

See this page for the details.

Good news: ATM for foreign C/Cards and Bus to Utsukushigahara

I heard two good news for foreign travelers to Matsumoto.

ATMPhotoOne is a new ATM machine has been installed in the tourist information center at one block south of Matsumoto Castle. You can withdraw Japanese yen by your international cash or credit card as well as ATMs in Seven-Eleven convenience stores and post offices.
See this PDF leaflet for the details.

Another is new bus service to Utsukushigahara Heights. Until last year, a bus to the Utsukushigahara Heights Art Museum operated only early August to mid-August. This year, another direct bus to Utsukushigahara Heights operates weekend of June 18 to Sep 19 and everyday of July 25 to August 31. It departs from the Alps (west) Exit of the station at 8:00 and 13:30 (twice per day).

11 Free Wi-fi Spots, Smartphone Screen, New Map Page are Available Now

This March, Matsumoto City installed free Wi-fi at 11 major sightseeing spots.

See this map to find the spots and here for the SSID and the condition of use.

Please look for the following symbol mark to find the wi-fi spots.
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Smartphone Screen

Smartphone Screen

At the same time, we optimized the screen of this site for smart phones and also developed a new Google map page to make it easier to find your destination, restaurants, shops and hotels.

Cherries and Sumo Wrestlers Coming Back Early April

Last year's cherries with the Castle (April 9th)

Last year’s cherries with the Castle (April 9th)

According to the ‘Cherry Blooming Forecast’, cherries at the Castle and downtown Matsumoto might begin blooming April 3rd. The event ‘Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing’ will be held from three days after cherries begin blooming and continue 8 days (so possibly around April 6th till 13th)
The special illumination for the cherries will start from the same day and will continue two days longer (10 days).

00006078On April 7th, ‘Sumo road-show in Matsumoto’ will be held again. The last year’s road-show was heated because of a new hero ‘Mitake-umi’ from Kiso in Nagano Prefecture. You might see some sumo wrestlers viewing cherries somewhere after the show if you are very lucky.


Hakuba – Matsumoto Express Bus Launch!

20151214snowmagicThis winter, Hakuba from/to Matsumoto direct express bus service has newly operated.

The bus connects Happo/Goryu/Sanosaka ski resorts to Matsumoto by 1,500 or 1,800 yen (depending the day). It departs Matsumoto 7:00 and departs Hakuba 16:00 (two hours ride).

So, after enjoying ski/snowboard in world-renowned ski resort Hakuba, why don’t you ride the bus and eat supper, drink at bar/izakaya, stay in Matsumoto, and see another world-renowned spot, Matsumoto Castle? (Hakuba has a “supper refugees” problem of a shortage of restaurants for skiers.)

Check out this website.

Also, there are winter-limited shuttle buses between Matsumoto and Mt. Norikura/Nomugi Pass ski resorts. You need reservation and the websites (Mt. Norikura / Nomugi Pass) are in Japanese, but they’re FREE! They depart Matsumoto 7:50/8:15 and depart Norikura/Nomugi 15:40/16:00 (only 1:40/1:15 ride).

Let’s stay in Matsumoto and enjoy skiing/snowboading/snowshoeing/sleigh in the Japan Alps!


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