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Road Trip!! Special Passes for Tourists

Convenient access to some of Japan’s more remote regions with the following ETC (tolls) discount passes.

Central Nippon Expressway Pass (CEP)

Explore the central area of Japan’s largest island.

Requires:
– Non-Japanese passport if you are a visitor/proof of permanent residence in another country if you are Japanese
– Driver’s license that is valid in Japan  (or International Driving Permit)

Rates
The pass can be purchased for a period of as little as 2 days (5,000 yen) and up to 14 days (16,000 yen). Other optional areas can also be added.

For more information on rates, participating rental companies, routes, and more please visit the Central Nippon Expressway Company website.

*NEW* Japan Expressway Pass (JEP)

The new, expanded special discount ETC pass allows tourists to explore Japan from top to bottom (Hokkaido pass sold separately).

Requires:
– Non-Japanese passport if you are a visitor/proof of permanent residence in another country if you are Japanese
– Driver’s license that is valid in Japan (or International Driving Permit)

Rates
7-day pass: 20,000 yen
14-day pass: 34,000 yen

For more information on participating rental companies, routes, driving tips, and more please visit the national expressway information site DoRaPuRa (E-NEXCO Drive Plaza) website.

Reservations
Reservation must be made through participating rental companies listed on the above websites.

*WINTER DRIVING*

Please note that areas within Nagano Prefecture require winter tires or tires with chains. Your car will be inspected before you are allowed to drive on certain roads. Fortunately, rent-a-car locations in the area typically offer their rentals with winter tires or chains at no extra cost.

In addition, certain mountain passes are also closed during winter months as a result of heavy snowfall.

Matsumoto Soba Festival

The 14th Matsumoto Soba Festival was held at Matsumoto Castle this past three-day weekend October 7 – 9 (Sat – Mon), 2017. Soba, which means buckwheat, is also used to refer to buckwheat noodles. Due to the high altitudes and harsh winters of Nagano Prefecture, soba has long been cultivated as it is a robust crop that can withstand the elements.

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Since the festival was held on the outer edge of Matsumoto Castle, you could also enjoy the view of the historic wooden structure while browsing the various stalls. While the castle is walking distance from JR Matsumoto Station, temporary bicycle and scooter parking was also available at businesses around the castle.
 

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20171008_143011With nearly 20 soba vendors from all over the country, there was a variety of tasty noodles and broths to try. Soba is served both hot and cold.  While Nagano Prefecture is especially famous for its soba, other vendors representing prefectures such as Hokkaido, Fukui, and Fukushima allowed visitors opportunities to savor their spins on the dish.

 

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Soba noodles served cold in a tsuyu broth and topped with grated radish, chopped onions, and bonito flakes.

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Rows of food stalls offered freshly made soba and also dried soba to take home. Local fruits, vegetables, crafts, and more were also being sold, including apples, another Nagano specialty that is now in season. Other food trucks and stalls offered tacos, grilled meats, crepes, and more.

If you missed the festival, fear not, you can still find many local restaurants offering great soba year round!

Peak Autumn Colors in the Mountains of Matsumoto!

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Despite a sudden return to warm weather, autumn leaves have reached their peak in the following areas!

Kamikochi (open until Nov. 15)

View from Taisho Pond (Photo credit: Kamikochi.org)

View from Taisho Pond (Photo credit: Kamikochi.org)


Differing from the typical multi-color autumn foliage, the central area of Kamikochi turns a brilliant gold thanks to the large number of birch trees.

Karasawa area of Kamikochi

Karasawa area of Kamikochi (Photo credit: kamikochi.org)

Karasawa area of Kamikochi (Photo credit: kamikochi.org)


Karasawa is perhaps one of the most famous spots for seeing the fall colors in Nagano. Here the mountains are said to be “on fire” in the autumn. It requires a long hike from central kamikochi and an overnight stay at the Karasawa Hut, but it will be worth ever step. The leaves will fade soon, so now is the time to go! Check out this post on the Kamikochi site for more info and photos.

Norikura Highlands and Mt. Norikuradake

Fall leaves on Mt. Norikuradake (Photo credit: Norikura Highlands tourism website -  norikurakogen.info)

Fall leaves on Mt. Norikuradake (Photo credit: Norikura Highlands tourism website –
norikurakogen.info)


Another famous spot for seeing fall leaves in Nagano! The highlands are easy to access by bus from Matsumoto and there are several laid-back trails to walk. From there you can take another bus up to the summit of Mt. Norikuradake (though, the colors are starting to fade here). See more info on our Norikura page here. Also, see autumn photos of Norikura Highlands and Mt. Norikuradake on the Japanese Norikura tourism website.

Tengu no Taki (Waterfall)

Located in the Nagawa area of Matsumoto, off the beaten path, and a beautiful sight with the waterfall among the colorful leaves! Unfortunately, you need a car (or taxi) to get there. (See map)

Other areas currently good to see now (mid-Oct.)

Will start changing colors soon (end of Oct)

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Tsukimi–A Timeless Tradition of Appreciating the Beauty of the Moon

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Tsukimi means “moon viewing”, and in Japan, gatherings are held to view the harvest moon—often in conjunction with harvest festivals. Tsukimi is officially celebrated on the 15th night of the eighth month according to the lunar calendar.

Matsumoto Castle Tsukimi

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Live music being performed within the castle.

Matsumoto Castle is celebrating tsukimi with live music performances and tea ceremony demonstrations on the castle grounds. The event is being held this week 9/29(Fri)–10/4(Wed) 5:30–8:30 p.m. It is free to enter the castle grounds and ¥500 to view the tea ceremony up close and receive freshly whisked matcha or green tea. Other light snacks are also available for purchase.

Come bask in the radiance of the moon and illuminated castle while listening to traditional music. Instruments include the shamisen and the koto, and the sound of the music floating across the grounds leaves you feeling that you have been transported back in time.

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A flower display exhibiting the Japanese art ikebana and sweets called dango add a sense of festivity to the occasion. 

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Garbage Sorting App “threeR” – Free Download!

Constantly baffled by the complexity of Japan’s garbage sorting? Now there’s a free app to help you figure out how to properly dispose of your garbage.

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Called threeR (reduce, reuse, recycle) or さんあ~る, the free app is available for download via the App Store (iOS 8.0 or higher) or Google Play (Android OS 4.0 or higher). Matsumoto City is officially registered on the app.

After downloading the app choose “New Registration”, select “Nagano Prefecture”, then select “Matsumoto City”. After that, select your district and agree to the terms of service, and you’re all set!

Although some notices will appear in Japanese, you’ll find a calendar of when to take out certain items and charts detailing how to dispose of different types of garbage and recyclables written in English.

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While you may still need to carry your trash around with you due to the utter lack of public garbage cans, when you do finally happen upon that oasis of trash receptacles, hopefully you’ll be a little less confused about what goes where!

Japan Alps Kamikochi – A Serene Summer’s Day in the National Park

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Whether you’re an avid hiker or just looking to take in the world-famous scenery on a stroll at the base of the mountains, Kamikochi is an unforgettable outdoor experience. Even on a hot summer’s day, like the one I visited on, I was treated to a cool breeze, icy-cold water, and plenty of shade on well-maintained paths. Unless you hire a guide, you cannot access the park in the winter, but spring, summer, and fall give you a unique landscape depending on when you visit. The green season offers a barrage of colors including vibrant greens and other colors from the various foliage and sediment.

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Taisho Pond

Even before entering the heart of the park, you are treated to a expansive reflection of the mountains on Taisho Pond.

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Shimizu River

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Some of the clearest water you’ve ever seen.

In order to preserve the environment of the park, there are strict regulations including not allowing cars into the area. The regulations, higher altitude, and natural springs make for fresh air and stunningly clear water.

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Kappa Bashi (Kappa Bridge)

The view of the Kappa Bridge overlaid on Mt. Hotaka is one of the most famous images of the park. Crossing the suspension bridge, you can gaze out over the pristine water of the Azusa River.

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Kamonjigoya

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This century-old mountain hut now serves as a restaurant as well lodgings and makes for a great place to rest before visiting the nearby Hotaka Shrine and Myojin Pond. Try a classic summer dish, grilled ayu.

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Raised in the nearby river, this sweet-fish is fresh and juicy. Grilled over an open fire, the salted skin makes for a delicate crust while the meat is kept moist. You can eat the entire fish from head to tail!

Replenish your salt levels after your trek!

If eating fish heads isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is other food such as soba (buckwheat noodles) and cake available for you to enjoy.

Myojin Pond

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This area is said to be sacred to the gods and thus known as a place where the gods come down.

Myojin Pond has two areas: Ichino Pond and Nino Pond. The Hotaka Shrine sits just in front of Ichino Pond.

Although you cannot ride in them, two boats float on the pond and are used during a local festival.

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Hotaka Shrine

Ichino Pond

Ichino Pond

Nino Pond

Nino Pond

Tashiro Pond and Wetlands

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Although it has been steadily filled in by natural decay and sediment buildup, water still flows through this area, creating a stark contrast between the orange sand and the surrounding greenery.

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Mt. Yakedake

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Signs of the eruption that occurred 100 years ago still remain.

Mt. Yakedake is still an active volcano. It’s activity is constantly monitored and the current level is level 1.

Access and Accommodations

Details on how to get to the park and more information such as hotel and campsite information are available on the official English website here.

Easy to Reach Bath House Sakura no Yu

The entrance is brightly lit at night.

The entrance is brightly lit at night.

Sakura no Yu is a clean and reasonably priced bath house that was built relatively recently. It is located on a main street, but has a quiet atmosphere and visitors include both men and women, young and old.

The large bath is fairly spacious compared to baths at other traditional Japanese bath houses. It has a seating area with jets for your back and legs and also a section with bubbling water that you can submerge yourself in to ease your aching muscles.
The type of water in the smaller bath is rotated on a daily basis, allowing you to enjoy bath soaks such as lavender, lemon, floral, and more.

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Look for the yu (ゆ)sign which indicates that the building is a bath house.

Facility

Hours: 15:00 (3pm) – 22:00 (10pm)

Closed: Friday

Prices: ¥400 for entry

*Amenities such as shampoo and soap are not provided, so please bring your own or purchase some at the front desk.
A set of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and a towel costs ¥300 altogether (Items are sold individually).*

Other items available: hairdryer, lockers, vending machines

Access:

1-4-14 Metoba, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0806

By bus:
From Matsumoto Bus Terminal platform 3, you can take the 31/30 Utsukushigahara Onsen Line Bus bound for Utsukushigahara Onsen. (This bus runs until 9:45 pm on weekdays and 8:45 pm on weekends/holidays.) Get off at Sakuramachi. It takes about 13 minutes and costs ¥200.

From Matsumoto Station, you can take the 100 North City Bus bound for Jidosha Gakko and get off at Shimizu Nakaku. The ride takes about 8 minutes and costs ¥200. From that stop you will turn left at the light then cross the bridge.

Walking: The bath house is about a 22-minute walk from Matsumoto Station’s East Exit, but only about a 12-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle.
It is also walking distance from a number of hostels, so if you are staying around the Castle it’s an easy location to reach!

Parking: For those who drive, the parking lot is just across the street.

Bathing Etiquette and Tips

Here are a few tips to help make your bathing experience more enjoyable:

– Put your belongings in a locker and/or a wicker basket. (Be sure to put valuables in a locker. The bath house will not be responsible for stolen items.)

– Bathing with bathing suits or clothes on is not allowed.

– Be sure to wash your body first before entering the bath. There is no set order, but many people wash their body, warm themselves in the bath, then proceed to wash their hair and so forth.

– It is common to bring a small towel in the bathing area, but don’t put your bath towel in the water.

– Water temperatures can be quite hot, so take breaks. You may start to feel light headed and dizzy after more than a few minutes.

– When returning to the changing room, be sure to dry your body off near the doorway so you don’t get the floor wet.

– A common way to cool down after the bath is with a nice, refreshing bottle of milk!

 

 

Disaster/Emergency Warnings and Safety Tips App

Yesterday morning, when a missile passed over the northern part of Japan, 12 prefectures were alerted via their areas’ emergency alert systems which included sirens and warnings via mobile phones.
In light of this, we wanted to direct visitors and residents of Matsumoto to information and resources that may be of use to you during an emergency.
Please note that we are not experts and cannot bear any responsibility in the event of a disaster or emergency or for any loss or damage resulting from the use of third party websites or applications.

Although Japan is a relatively safe country, there is still a chance that you may find yourself awoken by a siren and/or a warning alarm coming from your phone.

Sirens: Typically, sirens are accompanied by loud speaker announcements that indicate what the sirens are being sounded for.
If you don’t hear any announcement accompanying the sound of siren, the chances are that the warning is not emergency related as sirens are sometimes used to indicate that it is a certain time.

Phone warnings: Warnings may appear on your phone for disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides. These warnings will indicate how you should react including if you should seek shelter or evacuate. Please see the information below on an app that will provide warnings in English, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Korean.

安全確保アプリSafetytips

Information Resources:

 Safety Tips App

The Safety Tips app is a free app created by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).  It is a push-enabled app that was originally designed to issue warnings for events including earthquakes and tsunamis. The app offers other functions in addition the warning function such as communication cards. It will allow you to add up to five locations that you would like to receive warnings for. Find out more about the app here. You can download the app via the JNTO or search for “Safety Tips” in your app store.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)

The JMA provides information on natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Their Emergency Warning System is detailed here and more information can be found on their homepage.

General Advice:

  • In most cases, you should not run outside during an earthquake. You may be hit by falling debris, so try to wait until the shaking stops.
  • If an earthquake occurs and you’re near the coast, move inland. Objects can be swept away in even shallow water.
  • If you are on or near a volcano and notice trembling or smoke, leave the area.
  • If there is heavy rainfall, either suddenly or continuously, and you are near a mountainous area, move away from the mountains, especially if you are near an area with few trees, which may be more susceptible to landslides.

Matsumoto Summer Fest 2017 – Beer Garden and Live Performances

Matsumoto Summer Fest 2017 is under way! Come out and enjoy a wide selection of food and drinks in the summer air. You’ll find a variety of German and local beers, wine, and dishes which include German sausage, Korean Samgyeopsal-gui, ramen with lobster, chicken tacos, pizza, Indian curry, steak, and more from numerous local restaurants and vendors! There are nearly 30 stalls all with multiple dishes or drinks. Live performances are also taking place on stage, making for a very festive atmosphere.

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I made it just before last order, so I only had time to try assorted sausage, kimbap, and a chicken taco accompanied by Kölsch beer (pictured above), but it was all delicious! I highly recommend going with friends and/or family so that you can share the dishes!

WHEN: August 17 (Thurs.) – August 28 (Mon.)
Weekdays: 5PM – 9PM (Order stop 8:45PM); Sat/Sun: 11AM – 9PM (Order stop 8:45PM)

WHERE: Hanadokei (flower clock) Park 花時計公園 (South side of the Matsumoto PARCO department store)
A six minute walk from Matsumoto Station.
*Seating with tents is available in case it rains.*

COST: Prices on beers range from around ¥600 to ¥1,200 and food items (both single-serving and sharing sizes) start at around ¥400. Coupons that can be used at participating shops and other local businesses are also available in the free Matsumoto Guide Book, and they are valid through November!
Glass system: In order to cover the cost of the glass in the event that it is not returned, a ¥1,000 deposit is required with the purchase of beer. The deposit will be returned to you when you turn in your glass.

 

Official website and Facebook page (Japanese only).

Sightseeing in Matsumoto Now Easier Via the Town Sneaker!

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Starting this month, the local bus line, the Town Sneaker, is now nearly 3 times as convenient! The number of buses per day has increased from 35 to 103!

Four Main Routes:

NORTH for Matsumoto Castle, the Former Kaichi School

Weekdays: Departs every 30 minutes! Weekends: Departs every 20 minutes!

First bus: 8:30am Last bus: 5:15pm

SOUTH for Aizawa Hospital, Yumehiroba Shonai

Departs every 30 minutes!

First bus: 7:30am Last bus: 6:35pm

EAST for Nakamachi, Agata-no-mori

Departs every 20 minutes!

First bus: 8:40am Last bus: 8:00pm

WEST short course for Marunouchi Hospital & Nagano Prefecture Matsumoto Regional Office, long course for the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum

Departs every 30 minutes!

First bus: 8:10am Last bus: 6:40pm

*Please note that portions of these routes have changed starting August 1*

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Japan Ukiyo-e Museum Access

Added to the Western Route is the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum which holds the world’s largest private collection of ukiyo-e, painted screens, and old books. Be sure to take the bus that runs the full “long course”!

Passes and Ticket Books

  • Town Sneaker One-day Bus Ticket
    At ¥500 for an adult ticket, you get unlimited rides on the Town Sneaker. This ticket also gives you discounts at other locations throughout Matsumoto including Matsumoto Castle and museums.
    Available for purchase on board or at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal
  • MATSUMOTO ONE DAY PASS
    This pass can be used on Matsumoto City’s local bus lines such as the Town Sneaker and also lines running to areas on the outskirts of the city including Matsumoto Airport and both Asama and Utsugushigahara Onsen. This pass also gives you discounts at other locations throughout Matsumoto including Matsumoto Castle and museums.
    Available for purchase at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal
    Adults: ¥800 Children: ¥400
  • “La Coupon”
    13 tickets for the price of 10!
    Available for purchase at the Matsumoto Bus Terminal

★The Matsumoto Bus Terminal is located here. It is open everyday from 6am to 8pm. ★

  • Sightseeing Pass
    A separate Sightseeing Pass that provides access to Matsumoto Castle and the city’s museums is also available for purchase at each of the sites included in the pass. The pass is valid through September 30, 2017, but each site can only be visited once. Further information about the pass is available in both Japanese and English here.
    Adults: ¥800 Children: ¥370

NAGANO NAVI

You can also search for bus routes and times with the app “Nagano Navi”.


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