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Yayoi Kusama’s All About My Love


At the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, I had the opportunity to surround myself with vibrant colors, emotive designs, and landscapes that seemed to go on without end. The museum is featuring a three-floor solo exhibition of works by the famed avant-garde artist and Matsumoto native Yayoi Kusama.




While her pumpkin pieces are particular favorites of mine, a number of other works including those incorporating mirrors and blacklights as well as collages were captivating also. Some of Kusama’s earliest pieces are included in the exhibits, and a short highlight real shows parts of her time in New York. While the museum is always displaying some of her work, this exhibition gives you a more complete picture of who Yayoi Kusama is as an artist.


Greeted by the giant tulips that bloom outside of the entrance year-round, you’ll also find a giant yellow 3D pumpkin in the museum’s courtyard just for this exhibition.


A giant eye watches you as you descend the staircase.

Take advantage of the photo opp just to the left of the stairs where you’ll find a cut-out of Kusama. You’ll also find a wide range of polka-dot themed souvenirs as well as towels, playing cards, and dishware designed with her other unique illustrations.

Ticket and Other Information

The exhibition will run until July 22, 2018 (Sun), and you do not need to specify a date when purchasing tickets. The official English website, which includes ticket information, can be found here.


Artwork on display at AEON Cinema

Crash-Course Taiko Drum Lesson


This past weekend I had a chance to take part in a one-hour taiko workshop that aims to introduce the basics of taiko while giving participants the opportunity to perform on stage. If you’ve seen taiko live during in your time in Japan and wanted to do more than just watch, this is the perfect opportunity to try it for yourself! No experience is necessary.

Hosted at Agetsuchi Theater, the workshop began with an impressive display by members of Hibikiza.

The piece they performed is meant to invoke an image of the silhouette of Matsumoto Castle at night and was truly exhilarating.

After their demonstration, we jumped right into learning the techniques.

From proper stance…


…to the way you hold the drumsticks. Drumsticks were provided for the lesson.

After some warm up, we began to learn basic rhythms. Our enthusiastic instructor and another member, who was assisting in English, gave step by step instructions as they led us through patterns that gradually increased in difficulty. Once we had mastered four variations of the beat, we strung them together for an invigorating group arrangement.


Now that everyone had gotten the hang of the basic elements, we were given the chance to try a solo performance on a variety of drums!


Our instructor giving a brief demonstration. See more of his solo performance on YouTube.


And to wrap up the hour, we were given some free time to play as we liked on the drums of our choosing.


The dedicated members of Hibikiza made for a very fun and memorable hour. If you have the chance to participate in one of their future workshops, you can also look forward to pictures in a happi (overcoat often worn in festivals) and a souvenir hachimaki (bandanna).



(example of a happi and hachimaki)

Workshop Details

  • Lesson Time/Hours: 60 min. lesson anytime between 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
  • Closed: Lessons are typically taught on a daily basis, however, there may be some weekends when they are closed.
  • Location: Agetsuchi (formerly Piccadilly) Hall (Location subject to change. If so, it will still be within walking distance from Matsumoto Castle.) View in Google Maps.
  • Rate: ¥4000 per person
  • For ages 5 & older
  • Reservations: Please reserve by noon of the previous day. Reservations can be made via this online form or by calling 090-4666-3954.

The After-New-Year’s Sankuro Fire Festival

About a week after New Year’s in Matsumoto as I was heading to the local vegetable market, I saw what looked to be a giant, several-meter-high Christmas tree has suddenly appeared on an empty lot in my neighborhood. For a second, I couldn’t believe my eyes; last time I checked, Christmas had ended two weeks ago and this “tree” was definitely not there the day before.

Looking closer, the tree was actually constructed out of pine boughs that were used as New Year’s decorations and “decorated” with several daruma dolls strung around or stuck into the top of the tree, making them appear like Christmas ornaments. There were also other kinds of charms and New Year’s decorations stuck into the structure, as well.


Continuing down the road, these “Christmas trees” were everywhere: along the river, in the fields, and on the side of the road.

It turns out the “trees” were actually for an event called the Sankuro (三九郎) Fire Festival (also known as “Dondoyaki” in other areas) where old New Year’s decorations such as pine boughs, straw ropes, kadomatsu, as well as last year’s “used” daruma dolls are burned.


New Year’s decorations are related to the religious and spiritual rituals that take place around the end and beginning of the year, when supposedly the Toshigamisama deity of the New Year comes and takes up residence in these sacred decorations, so it would not be a good idea to throw them away the regular trash. While the act of setting up the decorations for New Year welcomes the Toshishigamisama, the act of burning represents bidding the deity farewell.

The daruma dolls, which have ties to Buddhism, are used to represent a goal or wish you have for the year, and if it comes true, they get burned at the end of the year, as well (then you can get a new one!). Burning of daruma may also occur at temples or shrines.

sankuroSo, as you probably guessed already, what happens during the Sankuro Fire Festival is that each of the Sankuro trees gets turned into a huge bonfire!

Now, besides being a proper way to dispose of your used New Year decorations and daruma, the Sankuro Fire Festival is also considered a special festival for children. The neighborhood children will get a branch from a willow tree (sold at supermarkets and farmers markets around festival time) and stick colorful rice cakes called “mayudama” onto the end of each twig.

They then roast them in the Sankuro bonfire just like you would roast marshmallows! This fun custom is to wish for good health for each child for the rest of the year. (Eating snacks for health sounds like a dream to me!)

If you’re around Matsumoto or Nagano around the beginning of the year, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for.

A twig with several mayudama stuck on it

A twig with several mayudama stuck on it

A Matsumoto New Year

Happy New Year from Matsumoto! Hopefully everyone had a great beginning and end of the year ^^

Matsumoto was bustling with activity as people flocked to the local Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines to ring in the New Year. The New Year’s festivities and rituals at temples and shrines begin just before midnight on December 31st, as many people want to make their first visit right as the clock strikes twelve (even in the freezing cold!).

On their visit, temple- and shrine-goers will usually line up before the main hall of the temple or shrine, make a small offering and prayer for the New Year, and then draw a paper “o-mikuji” (おみくじ) fortune which gives insights into how the year is going to play out for you regarding general luck, family, childbirth, marriage/love, travel, and other life events (they kind of remind me of a horoscopes…). Many people also get new “o-mamori” (お守り: blessed personal amulets for good fortune, health, etc.) for themselves or their homes for the new year.

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

I also paid a visit to a few temples and shrines around Matsumoto to see what was going on, so I’ll share some photos and insights here :)

Just before midnight, I visited Tosenji Temple in the Yamabe area. According to my Japanese neighbor, it’s good fortune to do a “ni-nen mairi” (二年参り), which translates to a “2-year visit to a shrine/temple” — that is, by doing a double visit (including small offering and prayer) just before midnight and then right after midnight, you are in a way paying your respects to the shrine/temple over two separate years on the same day!

Upon arriving at Tosenji, they had a huge bonfire going, which not only helps keep people warm, but is also where you can “return” your old o-mamori amulets from the previous year by tossing them in the fire (you certainly wouldn’t want to toss an amulet blessed by a priest into the regular trash!).

Giant bofire at Tosenji

Giant bonfire at Tosenji

The temple was also decorated with lit paper lanterns, colorful drapes, and there was a multicolored streamer attached to a huge pole so it would fly in the wind above the temple.

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

To bring in some extra good fortune, some people (including me) did their “ni-nen mairi” double visit, but in general, it seemed like most people showed up just after midnight.

People lining up before Tosenji

People lining up before Tosenji Temple

The next day, New Year’s Day, I visited two of the main shrines in central Matsumoto: Fukashi Shrine and Yohashira Shrine.

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine was fairly busy, but nothing compared to Yohashira Shrine—here, hundreds of people were lined up all the way to the main street waiting to pay their first visit to the shrine. To help keep people warm while waiting, the shrine was selling cups of hot amazake, a traditional sweet drink made sake lees (sakekasu) or koji, and steamed rice. Amazake is one of my favorite things about New Year shrine visits!

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

My last stop was the quirky Kasamori Inari Shrine dedicated to the white “inari” foxes. Here, you could buy pieces of fried tofu and place them at the shrine altar or at the base of the fox statues as an offering (because the white foxes apparently love eating fried tofu!).

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

The shrine also sold bundles of incense sticks which you could light and place in the stone incense bowl in front of the shrine building. Some people actually like to douse themselves in the smoke from the incense. Inside the shrine, a priest was selling small protection amulets, inari fox statues, and other items.

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

Did you spend New Year’s in Matsumoto? If so, feel free to share any photos or experiences on our Facebook page!

Again, happy New Year, and keep tuned in for more blog posts in 2018 <3

Susuharai “Soot Sweeping” Ritual and Hanging of the Shimenawa at Matsumoto Castle

Yesterday, Matsumoto Castle held its annual end-of-the-year Susuharai event, a ritual performed in order to purify the castle of the year’s worth of dirt and soot and prepare it for the New Year. This custom originates from a religious ritual that dates back hundreds of years in which people cleaned their houses to welcome in the god of the New Year.

The susuharai team posing with their brooms in front of Taikomon Gate

The susuharai team posing with their brooms in front of Taikomon Gate

Starting in the morning, several workers dressed in bright orange coveralls take 4-meter long (12 feet!) bamboo broom in hand and sweep off the walls of the Taikomon Gate, Kuromon Gate, and the lower part of the castle tower. At some points, they even climb partially up the stone foundation of the tower in order to reach a few more meters up (I couldn’t get photos of this but you can see a couple photos on the Matsumoto Castle website here by scrolling down to the Susuharai event).

The super long susuharai brooms

The super long susuharai brooms

There are also other workers who actually go out on the castle’s roof and wipe the roof tiles. Lets hope that no one falls in the moat…

Workers wiping off the roof tiles of the castle tower

Workers wiping off the roof tiles of the castle tower

Besides sprucing up the castle, a sacred interwoven, straw rope called a shimenawa is also hung across each of the gates and the main entrance to the castle tower. The shimenawa represents the barrier between our world and the world of the gods, and the rope prevents any evil from entering. These are same kind of ropes that you’ll find year-round at Shinto shrines, but around New Year’s shimenawa are also hung up at homes and businesses.

The shimenawa across the castle tower entrance

The shimenawa across the castle tower entrance

The shimenawa hung up at Matsumoto Castle are huge—several meters in length and I imagine quite heavy. I watched them hang one of the ropes across the Taikomon Gate and it took five or six people to complete the task.

Preparing to lift the shimenawa up to hang

Preparing to lift the shimenawa up to hang



If you missed Susuharai this year, the event happen on the same date, December 28, every year at Matsumoto Castle!

Matsumoto Castle's main gate adorned with a shimenawa and kadomatsu

Matsumoto Castle’s main gate adorned with a shimenawa and kadomatsu

A sparkling Matsumoto Castle all ready for the New Year ;)

A sparkling Matsumoto Castle all ready for the New Year 😉

New Year’s Decorations and Preparations in Matsumoto

Places around Matsumoto have started adorning themselves with the traditional Japanese decorations for New Year’s! If you go to Matsumoto Castle or major shrines like Yohashira Shrine, you’ll find impressive kadomatsu set up at the castle gates and in front of the shrine — the ones at Matsumoto Castle are especially huge!

Kadomatsu at the gates of Matsumoto Castle

Kadomatsu at the gates of Matsumoto Castle

An up-close look at one of Matsumoto Castle's kadomatsu.

An up-close look at one of Matsumoto Castle’s kadomatsu.

Kadomatsu are usually constructed out of cut bamboo, pine branches, and sometimes other plants or ornaments, and almost look like giant flower arrangements. They come in many different styles, so it’s fun to walk around and see all the varieties (check out some of the photos below too!). You will find them set up in pairs in front of houses, businesses, and shrines from late December to early January. Kadomatsu are thought of as a kind of “temporary housing” for the gods during the New Year’s holidays and therefore bring in good fortune for the New Year.

Kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine by Nawate Street

Kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine by Nawate Street

A closer look at the kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine

A closer look at the kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine

Kadomatsu in front of a business in downtown Matsumoto

Kadomatsu in front of a business in downtown Matsumoto


Besides kadomatsu, there are many other kinds of New Year’s decorations which, depending on the type, may be hung above doorways, on doors, on gate posts, or simply set up on a shelf. Along the main street in downtown Matsumoto, the Christmas lights have been replaced with special New Year made of pine branches and bundles of rice attached to each of the light posts.

Decorations along the main street

Decorations along the main street

If you’re in decorating your own house Japanese style this New Year’s, go check out the New Year’s decoration market going on now until December 30 on Nawate Street right in front of Yohashira Shrine (Google map)! The vendors have a big selection of decorations (including both big and mini kadomatsu!) that, if nothing else, are fun to look and get a feel for the festive spirit of the Japanese New Year :)

New Year's decorations lined up on one of the market tables.

New Year's decorations lined up on one of the market tables.

One of the New Year's decoration vendors in front of Yohashira Shrine

One of the New Year’s decoration vendors in front of Yohashira Shrine

Some of the stands are selling daruma dolls of all colors and sizes, too! Daruma are often bought around the New Year, as they represent a wish, goal, or resolution you want to accomplish during the next year (you can read more about daruma on wikipedia).

A daruma seller at Yohashira Shrine

A daruma seller at Yohashira Shrine

And, some of the sellers are quite festive all by themselves!

Photo credit: from our Japanese blog

Photo credit: from our Japanese blog writer Yamamoto. See their article here.

Enjoy the New Year!!

Bamboo Craft Workshop Viewing in Nakamachi


The first project for beginners

Matsumoto City boasts a number of crafts including bambooworking. Come see how these intricate pieces are woven together! Although there is currently a waiting list to get into Instructor Masaaki IIJIMA’s classes, he allows people to observe his classes. If you are near Nakamachi Shopping Street, feel free to come and watch him and his students at work in the Kurassic-kan building!

Although classes are conducted in Japanese, Mr. Iijima welcomes foreign visitors. Please ask before taking photographs of students and/or their works.


Just a few of the things that can be made

Advanced students trim their own strips of bamboo while beginners start with already prepared pieces.

Advanced students trim their own strips of bamboo while beginners start with already prepared pieces.


The following Wednesdays:
Dec 20

Jan 17
Feb 07
Feb 21
Mar 07

[Times & Lesson Content]

AM Class: 9:30-12:30

Students are taught how to make the same item.



PM Class: 1:30-4:30

Students work on their own individual projects with guidance from the instructor.




Nakamachi Shopping Streets Kurassic-kan 2F



Head around to the left side.


Side entrance

The class is held on the 2nd floor of Kurassic-kan. You can enter from the side or stop by the front desk if you need someone to show you where to go.

Once you enter through the side door, head to the left and through a set of closed double-doors. The classroom is up the stairs. Please be sure to remove your shoes and don’t hesitate to use the slippers!







Other Places to Find Bamboo Crafts

Uehara Zenbei Store: Located on Yamabe Street, this shop offers baskets, strainers, and other bamboo goods for sale. However, the store is not open regularly, so you may want to call ahead at 0263-32-0144.

4-5-5 Ote, Matsumoto

Matsumoto Misuzuzaiku: This guild displays and sells their goods at various locations throughout the city such as the Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum, although these locations change every so often. This year they held demonstrations at Rekishi no Sato and are planning on holding demonstrations and the occasional work shop there from spring of next year (2018).

Workshop 1-5-14 Tsukama, Matsumoto

Matsumoto Winter Season Night Museum Events

Matsumoto Museum of Art and the Ukiyo-e Museum

Ukiyo-e Museum

Ukiyo-e Museum

Matsumoto Museum of Art

Matsumoto Museum of Art

The Matsumoto Museum of Art is holding a 3-month series of night museum days, in which one day each month until March it will keep the museum open for extended hours. Normally the museum closes at 5 p.m., but on night museum days, it will remain open until 9 p.m.

As a bonus, there are also special activities planned during the nighttime hours such as gallery talks and workshops, and for the first two event days, the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum (woodblock prints) will hold its own night museum events in conjunction with the Matsumoto Museum of Art (along with shuttle bus service between the two locations!).

These nights are especially nice if you’re visiting as a tourist, as it gives you something to do after most of the sightseeing spots close in the late afternoon.

Dates are as follows:
Note: Some activity details are still tentative, so may be subject to change

Click to see a PDF leaflet.

Click to see a PDF leaflet.

Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 (5 p.m.–9 p.m.)

Special Activity: Gallery talk featuring the artwork in the Matsumoto Museum of Art’s permanent exhibits. In conjunction with the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum’s nighttime event, which will also feature a gallery talk about certain pieces (e.g. ukiyo-e with snowy scenery) and an ukiyo-e demonstration. (Gallery talks are 5:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.)

Shuttle bus service available (timetable). The museums plan to provide multilingual (English/Chinese) explanatory materials for these activities.

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 (5 p.m.–9 p.m.)

Special Activity: Just in time for Valentine’s Day! Tentatively planned is a behind-the-scenes tour (with flashlights!) featuring the preparations for upcoming special Yayoi Kusama exhibit in March. In conjunction with the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum’s nighttime event which will feature a special talk about the culture of romance found in ukiyo-e wood block prints. (Tours planned for 6 p.m & 8 p.m, RSVP required. Talk planned for 7 p.m.)

Shuttle bus service available. Tours/Talks in Japanese only.

Saturday, Mar. 3, 2018 (5 p.m.–9 p.m.)

Special Activity: (Tentative) Gallery talk to commemorate the special Yayoi Kusama exhibit to be held Mar. 3 to Jul. 22, 2018. Multilingual (English/Chinese) interpretation of talks planned through use of headphones. (Gallery talks are planned for 6:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.)

Hot wine and other drinks to be served in the art museums garden.

More information

Learn more about what you can see at the Ukiyo-e Museum on exhibit page on their website or check out our info page here. For general info about the art museum, check out the Matsumoto Museum of Art website or see our page here.

Night Museum at the Japanese Court and Open-air Architectural Museum (Rekishi no Sato)

Enjoy special extended hours at the Japanese Court Museum which allows you to see the beauty of the traditional Japanese Meiji-style architecture of Japan’s oldest wooden court building lit up at night. Regular exhibits are also open during the extended hours (see more info about the museum here)

The court building lit up at night

The court building lit up at night

Dates: Saturday, Dec 9 – Sunday, Dec 10
Time: 9:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. (extended nighttime hours from 5:00 p.m.)
Location: Japanese Court and Open-air Architectural Museum (Rekishi no Sato, Google Map)
Admission: Adults ¥400, free for junior high school students and under

For more events for December, check out the December Events (2017) blog post.

Falcons Impress at the Traditional Falconry Show at Matsumoto Castle

Last weekend, Matsumoto Castle held its first ever falconry event!


Historically, during the Edo Period in Matsumoto, there were samurai who served as falconers under the feudal lord of Matsumoto Castle. This event was a demonstration of these traditions.

In the old castle town of Matsumoto, there was an area called Takajomachi(鷹匠町) named after the falconers, or “Takajo” in Japanese, that lived there. There was also another area called Esashimachi(餌差町) where the small birds that were used to feed the falcons were raised (in Japanese, “e” means feed or bait and here “sashi” refers to the person giving the food).

The falconry show was performed by the Suwa Falconry Preservation Society (see Japanese website here). Apparently members of this society go through a tiered qualification process in order to become falconers! The three types of birds of prey trained by falconers are the Harris Hawk, Norther Goshawk, and the Japanese Buzzard.

The show started off by the falconers walking the falcons slowly around the performance area, so the birds could adjust to their surroundings.

Next, the falcons flew between two people and then returned. They flew quite low! Falconers do not only train the falcons to use themselves, but the birds were trained in a way that anyone could use them, for example, in the past, the feudal lord himself.




So since anyone can technically have the falcon to do what it was trained to do, some people in the audience got to try it out themselves (including the mayor of Matsumoto!).

falconry6 falconry7

The next part of the show demonstrated how the falcons could strike other birds out of the sky: live pigeons were released and the falcons caught them with their talons right in mid-flight!

falconry8 falconry9

The last part of the event was all about letting the audience take photos of the falcons and their trainers. Let’s hope this event happens again next year!

DSC_0761-300x199 DSC_0764-300x199


This blog post is based off of the Falconry Show article on the Japanese website. Please check it out here if you are interested!

A Day of Samurai, Kendo, Taiko, and More at the Matsumoto Castle Festival

Every November on Culture Day, Matsumoto City puts on a huge city-wide festival that features all kinds of Japanese cultural goodies ranging from taiko drum performances to martial arts competitions, to the main event: the samurai parade around downtown!

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

The samurai parade starts off in Matsumoto Castle’s inner garden, where over one hundred people a dressed in the traditional wear of samurai, soldiers, court officials, and there’s even a princess. A taiko drum performance (video below!) and a speech by Matsumoto’s mayor officially kicks off the festivities before the parade procession marches out into the streets.

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

Taiko performance in the castle garden

Taiko performance in the castle garden

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession ;)

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession 😉

Besides the samurai parade and taiko, there were numerous other street performances that included not only traditional culture but also contemporary culture like street dancing and magic shows. I was lucky to run into this dance group in the photo below who performed a traditional women’s dance in beautiful blue kimono:

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

One of my personal favorites out of the festival events was the Kendo and Naginata Competition. It took place right in the castle garden, so you could get up close and watch the dueling, hakama-clad contestants show off their swordsmanship and naginata (aka polearm) skills.

Dueling kendo contestants

Dueling kendo contestants

En Garde!

En Garde!

There are so many events going on during this festival that it was hard to see them all (there’s also a big tea ceremony, Japanese archery competition, etc.), but if you missed something this year, you’ll always have another chance next year on November 3rd! It’s also a great time to plan a trip to Matsumoto because the autumn leaves are out in full color as well 😉

For more event info, see the event page or follow us on Facebook (we also have a Facebook event listing).

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