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Matsumoto Castle Festival Guide and Other Notable November Events (2017)

The biggest event in November is the Matsumoto Castle/ Citizen’s Festival on the third that features all kinds of cultural treats! Check out individual events below. You can also bookmark your favorites on our Facebook events page.

Castle Festival and Citizen’s Festival:

Boys and Girls Kendo and Naginata Competition

Students of kendo and naginata (a type of Japanese polearm/bladed spear) show off their martial skills in the castle garden. Part of the Matsumoto Castle Festival.

A kendo match in progress!

A kendo match in progress!

Date: November 3
Time: 9:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Free admission into the garden

Castle Autumn Tea Ceremony

Enjoy traditional matcha green tea among the fall colors right in the castle garden. Part of the Castle Festival.

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Date: November 3
Time: 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Cost: 500 yen per seat (includes matcha and a Japanese sweet). Free admission into the garden.

Samurai Procession

A parade of samurai, ninja, and Japanese princesses and lords in downtown Matsumoto. Part of the Matsumoto Citizen’s Festival and the Castle Festival.

Samurai parading through the streets

Samurai parading through the streets

Date: November 3
Time: 12:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Location: Castle and Downtown

Taiko Performance at Castle

Powerful taiko drum show at the castle, performed as the Samurai Procession departs toward downtown Matsumoto.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Date: November 3
Time: Two performances, one at 12:00 p.m. and another at 3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden

Japanese Archery (Kyudo) Competition

Catch a glimpse of Japan’s longbow archery tradition. Part of the Castle Festival.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Time: 8:50 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Location: Kyudo Dojo (map)
Cost: Free

More Events in November

“Twin Illumination: Secrets of the Seven Jewels” Light Display

Elaborate displays of lights set up in the Alps Azumino National Government Park. See a video from the park’s Facebook page here.

Twin Illuminations poster

Twin Illuminations poster


Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino's tourism website

Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino’s tourism website)

Date: November 11, 2017 (Sat) through January 8, 2018 (Mon)
Location: Alps Azumino National Government Park (15 min by taxi from JR Toyoshina Station)
Cost: Adults – 410 yen, JHS and younger – 80 yen, Seniors: 210 yen

Kamikochi Closing Ceremony

A ceremony that marks the last day of Kamikochi’s open season. Dress warm if you plan to go! (Also listed on the Kamikochi website here with a photo)

Date: November 15
Time: St at 11:30 am
Location: Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge

Falconry Performance at Castle

Falconry has been a samurai tradition since the Edo Period (1603-1868). See it action at this live stage performance in the castle garden. Check out a photo on the bottom of the Autumn Events page on the Castle website.

Date: November 19
Time: 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden (Free admission into the garden)
*There will also be a free lecture (in Japanese) about falconry from 1:30–3:30 p.m. in the Ote Community near the castle.

Traditional Japanese Shamisen Music, Dances, and Songs and Culture Festival

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

See performances by students of traditional Japanese including traditional songs sang along to shamisen music and dances performed in kimono. Songs are of two types: hauta (唄, short songs that are a part of geisha culture) and nagauta (長唄, long songs). There will be several different songs and two different traditional dances. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the classical culture of Japan!

Date: November 19
Time: St at 1:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Performing Arts Center, Small Performance Hall (map)
Cost: Free!

Asama Hot Springs Torch Festival: Night of Flames and Fun

“Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting holes burned in” was the advice I got when asking how I should prepare for Asama Hot Springs’ Torch Festival (called “Taimatsu Matsuri” in Japanese). My work colleagues and I had been invited to participate in the festival and when I first imagined what a “torch festival” would be like, I envisioned a procession of people each carrying their own little handheld torch through the town like you see in movies about medieval Europe.

Not even close.

The torches were not small, handheld fire sticks—they were humongous, flaming bundles of straw that weighed hundreds of pounds, were taller than me, and required at least ten people just to drag through the street.

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Torch getting carried through Asama Hot Springs

Constructed from the straw, these giant torches represent the success of the autumn harvest. Every year in October, several groups ranging from the local kindergartens to the traditional inns in Asama Hot Springs make their own torch, and on the day of the festival, they light them on fire and bring them burning to the local shrine as a kind of offering. Once they arrive at the shrine, the torches are thrown into a huge fire which continues to grow as more of fiery offerings arrive. The fire creates thick plumes of smoke that rise into night sky, which also have an important role to play: the guardian spirit who has watched over the crops and the harvest here on earth “rides” the smoke to return to his home in the heavens.

Our group was to carry the torch for Umenoyu Hot Spring, one of the largest. So to get ready for the ceremony, we donned our festive happi coats, wrapped a towels around our heads (to help keep burning ashes off of our hair), and drug our torch into the road to await the official bringer of the fire.

Lighting of the torch

Lighting of the torch

Once lit, it was time to carry the torch to the shrine, as task requiring a total of one hour and whole lot of strength. Though I say “carry,” I think “drag” is probably a better word. Our torch was so big and heavy that it took six or seven of the young men in our group to surround the body of the torch and support its weight using their backs, while the rest of us grabbed the two attached ropes in order to pull and drag it along the path.

Ready, set, heave!

Ready, set, heave!

To my surprise, as we moved down the street, they continued to douse torch with water, at first almost extinguishing the flame. It didn’t take long to figure out why, however: the longer we heaved smoldering bundle of straw through the streets, the stronger and stronger the fire grew, burning through the core of the torch and causing chunks of fiery straw to rain down onto our heads and back. It quickly became difficult to keep the fire tame, no matter how much water we poured on top. At times the flames grew so tall that they threatened to scorch the lantern lights hanging across the arches above the streets.

Pouring buckets of water on the torch

Pouring buckets of water on the torch

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Torch passing under the lantern light arches

Chunks of flaming straw falling off the torch

Chunks of flaming straw falling off the torch

Besides all the fire, another one of the fun “highlights,” if you will, of this festival is getting your face smeared with torch soot. Not only the torch carriers themselves, but even most of the spectators (whether they like it or not) end up with a layer of charcoal black “make-up” on their cheeks before the end of the night. My first thought was that it must be some kind of rite of passage that proves you were actually there, but in fact this little “ritual” does have some meaning, as it is said to help protect one’s good health for the next year.

There is no escaping getting black smeared all over your face.

There is no escaping getting black smeared all over your face.

Needless to say, we all had our faces smeared black by the time we reached the bottom of the hill below the shrine. Our last task was to muster our remaining strength, drag our torch up to the big fire, and shove it into the flames (which felt more like an inferno when we got close to it). Luckily, after making it up the hill, we just needed to give our torch a good shove before firefighters clad in spiffy, silver fire-proof suit took over, quickly deconstructing the bundles of straw and tossing them into the fire.

Mission complete—the guardian spirit was now riding home with the help of our torch’s smoke! And for us, it was time to head back and take dip in the hot spring :)

Firefighters burning the torches as they arrive

Firefighters burning the torches as they arrive

Mission complete!

Mission complete!

If you want to see this fiery festival for yourself and maybe get your face rubbed in torch soot, the Torch Festival takes place every year on the night of the second Saturday of October. The best part is that you’ll be right in the center of Asama Hot Springs, one of Japan’s best hot spring towns, with plenty of beautiful ryokan and hot spring hotels to stay at, or for a quick visit, there’s the big public bath, Hot Plaza Asama.

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!

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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Almost 100 International Visitors to Nakamachi’s Japanese Culture Event, Day 2!

Nakamachi japanse culture event day 2

Almost 100 international tourists and foreign residents participated in the last day of Nakamachi’s hands-on Japanese culture event! The second, and last, day of the event was held this past Saturday. This time, two big taiko drums were set out in front of the Kurassic-kan and visitors, kids and adults alike, took no time to pick up the sticks to start drumming out some powerful beats that echoed throughout the town.

Inside the Kurassic-kan, the activity tables were full with people eagerly trying to fold origami into perfect shapes and writing their names translated into Japanese characters with a brush and ink. The tea ceremony corner was also full of enthusiastic “students” who enjoyed the grace and elegance of the tea making tradition.

Diligent origami folders

Diligent origami folders

Matsumoto’s resident ninja and rickshaw puller were especially popular with the kids and young visitors – they got shoot down imaginary enemy ninjas with the darts they blew out of the ninja blowguns and got to experience sitting in a real, traditional rickshaw.

Photo shoot on a rickshaw!

Photo shoot on a rickshaw!

Personally, it was my second time at the event, but I still got to try something new! This time, the experienced shamisen player from Itoya came out to demonstrate the classic geisha game called Konpira Fune-fune. It’s a simple yet challenging game involving two players in which you have tap a cup and pillow in a certain pattern along to shamisen music without making a mistake. The music keeps getting faster and faster, so becomes harder and harder to keep your concentration (not to mention your nerves!).

The Konpira Fune-Fune game in front of Itoya

The Konpira Fune-Fune game in front of Itoya

Although all the activities were engaging and fun, perhaps the best part was meeting new people from all over the world and interacting with the Matsumoto locals. I met a cyclist from Andorra (that tiny country between Spain and France) who had bike all the way from Aomori, a photographer from India, tourists from Egypt, and a researcher from England. In the end, I think it was more than just an event about sharing Japanese culture – it was a great opportunity for international culture exchange for everyone!

Visitors trying out the stilts - part of the old-fashioned Japanese toy corner

Visitors trying out the stilts – part of the old-fashioned Japanese toy corner

Let’s hope we see more events like this coming up again in Matsumoto!

* A report of the 1st day is here.

Japanese Culture Experience in Nakamachi – Day 1 Report

Looking for a chance to experience a piece of Japanese culture? This month, Nakamachi in central Matsumoto is holding a special event on two separate days for foreign visitors and residents to try out various Japanese arts, crafts, and other cultural activities. The first day of the event was last week so I went to try out a few of the activities (the next day is on Sep. 23).

Nakamachi Japanese Culture Event

The first day of the Japanese Culture event started off with a kagamibiraki ceremony that entails busting open a sake barrel with wooden mallets (and yes, the event does include sake tasting of Nakamachi original-brand sake!). To help out with the activities and interpreting Japanese to English, students from a local high school also came to lend a hand, as well.

Many visitors from all over the world, including France, Malaysia, Germany, Taiwan, Australia, and the U.S., came to try out the different kinds of hands-on activities like the Japanese tea ceremony, origami, and Japanese calligraphy. I also tried out as many activities as I could – and had a blast doing it! Even though I’ve been living in Japan for a few years now, I got to try some new things that I’ve never done before like riding in a rickshaw and shooting ninja darts through a blowgun.

The main activities are held at the Kurassic-kan, and here I started off with calligraphy, quickly realizing how challenging (yet fun!) it is to write well-balanced Japanese characters with a calligraphy brush. I saw other participants also getting their names translated into Japanese so they could write it themselves, and writing the names of the cities/places they had visited.

Learn to write your name in Japanese or any of your favorite words & phrases

Learn to write your name in Japanese or any of your favorite words & phrases

My next stop was at the Japanese tea ceremony activity. Here, the teacher taught me not only how to properly mix the matcha tea with the tea brush, but also how to properly sit, hold the cup, and drink the tea (not to mention you also get to munch on some tasty Japanese sweets while drinking the tea!).

Visitors learning the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and how to make matcha

Visitors learning the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and how to make matcha

After that, it was time for my first ride in a rickshaw! I had never ridden in a rickshaw before and it was so much more fun that I thought. The breeze feels nice as you get pulled down the street and you can see everything from the open carriage as if you’re riding in a kind of traditional convertible. Plus, seeing a rickshaw in Matsumoto is not so common as in some other cities like Kyoto, so everyone loves to wave at you as you ride by! Highly recommended if you’ve never tried a rickshaw ride before.

Matsumoto's one and only rickshaw!

Matsumoto’s one and only rickshaw!

Lastly, I did a quick kimono/yukata rental with my friend and walked around Nakamachi Street to some of the shops who were offering their own activities: I tried on different kinds of traditional Japanese footwear like geta at the Yaguchi shop, wine and amazake tasting at Senri, and the fun little bean-and-chopsticks game at the Ihara shop (you get a pair of your own chopsticks for trying the game!). All the shopkeepers were extremely nice and were happy to see us wearing yukata’s around the town.

Trying out Japanese footwear in my Yukata

Trying out Japanese footwear in my Yukata

By the way, I recommend trying out the ninja blowgun activity… it’s super fun no matter what your age, plus the blowgun is one of the weapons/techniques that ninjas actually used to get their job done way back in the day!

Ninja blowgun game. You can also rent a ninja outfit, like this  person here!

Ninja blowgun game. You can also rent a ninja outfit, like this person here!

Learn ninja tricks from this guy ;)

Learn ninja tricks from this guy ;)

If you missed the first day of the event, or didn’t get to do all the activities, the second day is being held on Saturday, Sep. 23 at the Kurassic-kan and various shops around Nakamachi Street.

See all the event details here or bookmark the event on Facebook here.

The origami table

The origami table

Rickshaw rides!!

Rickshaw rides!!

Japanese Culture Event at Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi!

Event flyer

As announced in our previous blog post, Nakamachi is holding a fun Japanese culture event at the Kurassic-kan on Sep. 6 (Wed) and Sep 23 (Sat). Here you can try all kinds of Japanese arts, crafts, activities, and other cultural experiences, not to mention everything is hands-on and mostly free! Besides the main event at the Kurassic-kan, several of the shops and restaurants around Nakamachi will also be offering cultural activities like traditional games or food/drink tastings. See below for a list of activities and where you can get the official details, event flyer, or see the event on Facebook!

There will also be volunteers providing translation/interpretation to help with communication, including local high school students and local guides. So not only is this a great opportunity to experience Japanese culture, but also a nice chance to communicate with the locals!

Event Details

Place: Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi, Matsumoto
Date & Time: Sep. 6 and Sep. 23, 10 am – 4 pm (times for activities at the shops differ. Check the event flyer or webpage)
Event webpage: http://nakamachi-street.com/en/experiencedays/
Event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1607791399271217/

Get the official PDF flyer here which includes a map and all activity details:

Japanese Culture Experience Days flyer

Click here to download the PDF

List of main activities at the Kurassic-kan:

  • Origami folding
  • Japanese calligraphy
  • Japanese Tea Ceremony (traditional way of making matcha green tea)
  • Japanese folding fan decorating
  • Play with old-fashioned and traditional Japanese toys
  • Sake tasting with Nakamachi’s original-brand sake
  • Kimono (yukata) and ninja costume rental (paid activity)
  • Rickshaw rides around Nakamachi (paid activity, discount with kimono rental)
  • Ninja blowgun activity (paid activity, free with ninja costume rental)


List of shops offering activities around Nakamachi:

  • Geiyukan: Try plaing the shamisen, a traditional Japanese music instrument.
  • Kuriya: Make fresh wasabi from real wasabi root.
  • Senri: Japanese wine, sake, amazake, and juice tasting
  • Yamahei: Introduction of some Japanese local foods
  • Yaguchi: Try wearing geta, a traditional form of Japanese footwear.
  • Ihara: Chopsticks and beans game
  • Itoya: Play the konpira fune-fune game, a traditional game played at geisha banquets, and other activities.
  • Okinado Kura Branch: Try playing the Japanese taiko drum. Also, exhibit of traditional tools used for making Japanese confections/sweets
  • Temariya: Free Japanese tea



Flyer page listing shop activities. Download the PDF for all the details.

Flyer page listing shop activities. Download the PDF for all the details.

Matsumoto Summer Festivals

One of the things I’ve been enjoying the most since moving to Matsumoto earlier this year are all the great summer festivities in the city, like the Taiko Festival and Matsumoto Bon Bon. There is so much going on that I don’t even have time to do it all! If you’re planning to come to Matsumoto, I think it would even more fun if you coordinate your visit with one of the festivals (of course, there are also festivals in other seasons of the year too!). Here, I want to introduce just a few of these great summer events.

Tenjin Festival

The Tenjin Festival is held in honor of the Tenjin deity, and it is celebrated not just in Matsumoto, but in many places around Japan where there are Shinto shrines dedicated to the Tenjin deity. Osaka’s Tenjin Festival is probably the most famous one of its kind in Japan. In Matsumoto, it is celebrated every year on July 24 & 25 at Fukashi Shrine. Eighteen enormous floats (a kind of traditional portable shrine called dashi or butai) from the different districts of downtown Matsumoto are pulled by hand through the streets, finally gathering at Fukashi Shrine. The Tenjin Festival in Matsumoto has been celebrated since the 1600s in Japan, so it has over 300 hundred years of history! The floats themselves are mostly over 100 years old, as well. Here you can enjoy Japanese street food, see festival-goers in yukata and happi outfits, and get a close look at the amazingly detailed ornaments and carvings on the butai!

Festival Floats lined up at the shrine

Festival Floats lined up at the shrine

Ornament on the front of one of the festival floats

Ornament on the front of one of the festival floats

Pulling one of the floats into the the shrine

Pulling one of the floats into the the shrine

Tenjin Matsuri

Main building of Fukashi Shrine

Main building of Fukashi Shrine

Taiko Festival

The Taiko Festival is a big, 2-day event held right on the doorstep of Matsumoto Castle (admission is free!). Taiko clubs and performers from all over Japan come to perform here, ranging from elementary school student clubs to professional groups. The performers use all kinds of different taiko drums including huge ones that are far bigger than the drummers themselves! Here you can see not only traditional taiko songs from different regions, but also more contemporary artistic performances and impressive show-like performances by the pro-drummers. I have to say though, I think I was most impressed by the amazing elementary school kid who seemed like pros in their own right! If you go, you definitely don’t want to miss the finally, where all of the different taiko clubs come to the stage at once and play together. The day I went it was raining so I couldn’t get any photos, but do check out the video of the finale below.

Matsumoto Bon Bon

Matsumoto Bon Bon, which first started back in 1975, is basically a gigantic line dance that takes place on the streets of downtown Matsumoto. It’s held on the night of the first Saturday of August every year, and more than 20,000 participants take part. Matsumoto Bon Bon is different from the traditional obon dances and requires you to be part of a team to participate as a dancer (teams must be 30 people or more), so you’ll see a lot of teams formed by local companies or schools. Each team has there own “uniforms” ranging from customized T-shirts to more traditional happi (a kind of Japanese festival outfit). Though technically you have to be on a team to participate, you might find a chance to sneak in the line and join dance for a minute or two 😉

On the festival day, pink and white paper lanterns are hung around the city and are lite up when it gets dark. The special “Matsumoto Bon Bon” song is played throughout the city for the entire 4 hours of the festival. Many restaurants and shops along the dance route set up street stalls selling food and drinks, so you can enjoy all kinds of Japanese goodies! Because the Bon Bon dance is such a spectacle, some onlookers even set up their own little “picnic” area with lawn chairs and their own cooler full of drinks and snacks.

Matsumoto Bon Bon

Matsumoto Bon Bon

Dancers trying to stay in sync!

Dancers trying to stay in sync!

Waiting for the festival to start under the lanterns

Waiting for the festival to start under the lanterns

Matsumoto Obon Dance

Matsumoto’s Obon Dance event (Oshiro Bon Odori) lasts the entire three days of Obon (usually Aug. 14 -16) and the great thing is that it takes place right in front of the castle! During the event, a stage is set up at night with a big taiko drum and dancers dressed up in summer yukata. Paper lanterns hang from the stage and cast a soft glow on the participants and onlookers below. Here you can here all sorts of traditional obon dance songs from Matsumoto and nearby areas like Azumino. Each song has its own particular dance and anyone can participate. It’s completely free plus you get to see the night light-up of the castle while you’re dancing! I went this year on the first night – there were people of all ages coming to watch and dance, including lots of foreign visitors.

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 and Times:

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 Park

Departs every 20 minutes!

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

WEST short course for Marunouchi Hospital & Nagano Pref. Gov. 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.
    Adults: ¥800 Children: ¥370

NAGANO NAVI

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

Baba Family Residence

Baba’s Family Residence is an immaculately preserved late-Edo period home of wealthy farmers. This estate is tucked into a pocket of farmland, giving the farm a surreal view of green fields and mountains from the front gate of the property. As a lover of history, there was a lot more here than I was expecting!

There isn’t much English information about this residence online. I was able to gather some information from knowledgeable people before my visit. I was also lucky enough to arrange a tour by the property’s curator, which isn’t normally done.

My research brought up a lot of important details for understanding and appreciating the residence that I certainly would have missed if I’d simply gone there after a couple of Google searches.

The Baba Family Residence.

The Baba Family Residence.

 

The Baba family descends from the relative of a vassal who served under the famous Japanese warrior, Takeda Shingen. In one of the front rooms, you can see a painting with Takeda at the top and some of the Baba descendants under him.

Takeda stands at the top of a painting of his descendants.

Takeda stands at the top of a painting of his descendants.

A line of 16 Babas extend from the 16th century through today. It was the 12th Baba, Gizaemon, who built most of the buildings you’ll find when visiting. The 16th and current Baba, Taro, donate much of the property to the city of Matsumoto in 1992. Matsumoto City’s renovation efforts go a long way toward making this such an amazing destination.

There was a surprising number of activities that kept me engaged much longer than I was expecting! Some details could be easy to miss, so let me be your tour guide!

The walkway from the street, leading to the inner-gate.

The walkway from the street, leading to the inner-gate.

Surroundings – Riding my bicycle set a relaxing, peaceful mood for my visit. The 40 minute bike trip from Matsumoto Station to the residence winds through small neighborhoods and patches of farmland. The front of the entrance is opposite wide open fields, making the property really pop. There’s a manicured space between the street and the gate with a path, trees, and flowers.

I parked my bike out front and wandered the front garden area before entering the inner-gate. At 10 in the morning, I was the only visitor. This enhanced the beauty of the experience after my relaxing bicycle ride.

The inner-gate, looking out toward farmland.

The inner-gate, looking out toward farmland.

Inner-Gate – Legend has it that the impressive inner-gate was built to welcome the lord of Takashima Castle, in neighboring Suwa. Being close to the family, the lord was known to visit the property. The family’s wealth when the buildings were constructed in the 1850s and their ongoing friendship with the castle lord certainly make this story plausible.

View of the house through the mouth of the inner-gate.

View of the house through the mouth of the inner-gate.

The Home – After entering the gate, I walked straight to the office to begin my tour of the home. The first room is an open area where you should take your shoes off before continuing deeper into the home. In this area, you’ll already see historic photos, art, and model recreations. Almost all of the home is open for visitors. You’re allowed to explore the Lord’s Entrance, the lord’s room (and lord’s bathroom!), the master baba’s room, common rooms, the kitchen, one of the upstairs areas, and more.

It should be obvious which stairs you are allowed to go up because there will be no ropes or blockades. Upstairs is where the house caretaker lived. I enjoyed looking out over the property from the upper windows. The caretaker had a clear view of everyone coming and going through the front gate. There’s also a beautiful painting of the Baba home on display.

The welcoming kitchen made me hungry.

The welcoming kitchen made me hungry.

The Kitchen – The kitchen has the traditional cooking pit surrounded by mats, a cooking stove, a sink, and lots of photos, displays, and decorations. The pot over the cooking pit is suspended by a really cool device that allows the pod to be easily raised and lowered (I should have taken a picture of it!). The kitchen ceiling is high, using the traditional Japanese method of opening windows or the roof vent to get rid of smoke. This gives the kitchen an open, welcoming feel.

I’ve seen a few of these cooking areas in old Japanese homes, but I found this one particularly welcoming. It made me want to sit and eat with friends in a circle around a pot of delicious food!

The entrance reserved for the visiting lord of Takeshima Castle

The entrance reserved for the visiting lord of Takashima Castle

The Lord’s Entrance – The visiting lord of Takashima Castle didn’t enter through the same door as other visitors. You’ll find the lord’s ornate entrance positioned off the courtyard in line with the inner-gate. The room he entered would be closed off to others when he arrived. In this room, the head Baba and the lord would commune. Directly off of this room, toward the garden, you’ll find the room where the lord slept. This is the room where you’ll find the painting of Takeda and his descendants.

This area made my imagination run wild. It made me think of the first episode of Game of Thrones where King Robert was talking to Lord Stark Winterfell. I kept wondering what kind of political intrigue was discussed behind closed doors. What sorts of real-life historical dramas could have been set in this home?

View of the inner-gate from the Lord's Entrance.

View of the inner-gate from the Lord’s Entrance.

 

The Bathroom – Just off of the lord’s room, you’ll find a bathroom! I’ve visited quite a few old Japanese homes and I’d never seen a bathroom built inside a home! There is a wooden sink, a urinal, and a small room with a hole to squat over. Above the sink, you’ll find holes where water would have been piped down. The sink had a slight slope toward a hole in the wall that drained outside. I hope you’re as excited as I am about this (rudimentary, but highly functional) toilet area! But… maybe it’s just me…

View of the garden from inside the home.

View of the garden from inside the home.

The Garden – The gate to the most beautiful garden on the property is closed off to the public. But, don’t worry! The Garden is in full display from the home itself! The garden has a series of ponds, connected by a small creek. I enjoyed sitting on the edge of the home and soaking up the greenery.

The Storehouse – There’s a storehouse directly behind the home that’s open to the public and that I was pretty excited about. I’ve seen so many of these storehouses along Nakamachi Street in downtown Matsumoto, but I’d never been able to explore one in its original condition! The storehouse was set up to showcase a few artifacts related to the storehouse and the home’s architecture.

In the upstairs of the storehouse, you’ll see photos and luggage of a Baba who had travelled the world as a diplomat in the early 20th century. I love exploring this Baba’s adventures through the photos on display!

Farm equipment on display.

Farm equipment on display.

Farm Equipment Showcase – In the courtyard in front of the home, you’ll find a few other buildings to explore, including one dedicated to showing the Babas’ retired farm equipment. There are saws, sickles, carts, and all sorts contraptions I couldn’t identify. My favorite part were the old photos of the Babas’ fields being worked. These photos reminded me of visiting my ancestors’ farms back in western Washington, USA.

Silk Weaving Machines – Another building off the front courtyard showcases silk weaving equipment. The family raised silkworms in layered beds that you can see on display. You can see the many machines used to process the silk.

Neolithic settlement, dating thousands of years before the Babas.

Neolithic settlement, dating thousands of years before the Babas.

Neolithic Artifacts – The last building off the courtyard was my favorite. This was surprising because I hadn’t read anything about this during my research of the property! Apparently, the Baba Family Residence is on the site of Neolithic community, dating back thousands of years. You can see many artifacts excavated from the area. There are tools, arrowheads, 4,000 year old pots, and lots of photos of the excavated homes. There’s even a model recreation of what the homes looked like at the time.

My favorite artifact was the 3,000 year old stone figure. It’s carved on a flat stone, about the size of a doll. It’s cracked in half, but the carved features are still easy to identify.

Stone Figure on display.

Stone Figure on display.

I knew there would be lots of history at the Baba Family Residence, but the Neolithic artifacts really impressed me! I can’t believe this isn’t promoted more!

Baba family shrine, sitting in front of an 800 year old tree.

Baba family shrine, sitting in front of an 800 year old tree.

Baba Family Shrine – On your way out of the property, there’s still one more stop! The Baba family’s shrine is in the middle of a batch of trees in front of the property. It’s hard to miss because the trees are an island in the middle of flat farmland. The shrine is a traditional shrine with a Shinto gate and a little enclosed shrine building. The key feature is the 800 year old tree directly behind it! The trunk is massive!

Walkway to the office.

Walkway to the office.

Overall, the Baba Family Residence has a lot more to offer than you might expect. There were a few pamphlets in English, but expect to be on your own after paying the entrance fee. Although it has such a small presence online, it has jumped high on my list of places I recommend tourists visit. It’s a great place to explore, relax, and soak up the beauty – especially if the weather is clear enough for a bike ride.

For information on opening times, admission fees, etc., please see the Baba Family Residence page.


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