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The First Wildflowers of Spring Bloom in Matsumoto!

Everyone rejoice because spring is here! Every year around mid-March, spring’s arrival is announced by a dainty, daisy-like flower called fukujuso, which is the first wildflower to bloom in the area.

Fukujuso in the snow

Fukujuso in the snow

In English, fukujuso (Adonis amurensis) is sometimes called amur adonis or amur peasant’s eye. It is a yellow gem that is often found in woodland habitats and pops its head up even through the snow.

Snow is not going to stop these guys!

Snow is not going to stop these guys!

In the Shiga area of northeastern Matsumoto, you’ll find a unique spot where the fukujuso has grown into a huge colony estimated to consist of 500,000 flowers.

Fukujuso on the hilltop

Fukujuso on the hilltop

Here, the blooms grown on a hillside spotted with trees. Fields and rice paddies cover the valley below and tall mountains rise up in the backdrop. When they are in full bloom, the entire hill is painted in gold yellow.

The farms near the Fukujuso habitat

The farms near the Fukujuso habitat

The hillside pathways

The hillside pathways

As mentioned in our March events, to celebrate the coming of the fukujuso blooms, the community here throws a little festival every year during the fukujuso season where you can walk around the flowery hillside and even grab some Japanese festival food or local goodies. This year the festival runs from March 10 to March 21.

Almost in full bloom...

Almost in full bloom…

I went last weekend, but the fukujuso weren’t quite in full bloom yet, due to the colder weather this year. But, with all the warm weather this week, they flowers are going to put on a full show by this weekend! Go check them out if you have the chance.

If you have a car, it only takes 25 to 30 minutes to drive from central Matsumoto. You can also take the Shiga Line bus from Matsumoto Bus Terminal (it runs infrequently, so make sure you check the schedule) to the the Kasekikan (Shiga Fossil Museum) Bus Stop. It’s a 10-minute walk from there. (You can see the bus schedule here, but it’s only available in Japanese)

While you’re at it, enjoy the beautiful countryside scenery and the mountains. I also recommend checking out the Shiga Fossil Museum, as it is filled with all sorts of interesting, fossilized goodies (including a whale skeleton!).

The hill of flowers and mountains in the background

The hill of flowers and mountains in the background

Here is the location of the fukujuso area:

Yayoi Kusama Special Exhibition and Other March Events

Spring is just around the corner and the cherry blossom will start blooming in April, but in the meantime, why not go check out the exclusive Yayoi Kusama exhibition coming to the Matsumoto Museum of Art?

Yayoi Kusama: All About My Love Exhibition

Exhibition poster

Exhibition poster


An exclusive exhibition in Matsumoto featuring the largest collection (180 pieces) of Kusama’s works to date. Definitely a must-see!

Dates: March 3, 2018 (Sat) to July 22, 2018 (Sun)
Location: Matsumoto Museum of Art (Map)
Tickets: Adults ¥1,200, University/High school students ¥800 (Presale tickets available until March 2 for a discounted price: Adults ¥1,000, University/High school students ¥600)
Official Website: https://kusama2018.com/english

Night Museum at the Matsumoto Museum of Art

Night Museum flyer

Night Museum flyer


The third installment of the museum’s nighttime series. Special extended hours on the first day of Yayoi Kusama’s All About My Love exhibition.

Date: March 3, 2018 (Sat)
Time: 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Museum of Art (Map)

Shiga Fukujuso Festival

Event flyer

Event flyer

An event celebrating the earliest wildflower, the fukujuso (known as the Amur adonis and pheasant’s eye), to show its blooms in Matsumoto. The festival site is a bit far from central Matsumoto so car is the easiest way to get there. You can also take Matsumoto’s Shiga Line bus to the Kasekikan (Shiga Fossil Museum) Bus Stop from which it’s a 10 minute walk from there (Japanese timetable).

Dates: March 10, 2018 (Sat) to March 21, 2018 (Wed/holiday)
Opening Festival: March 10
Location: Shiga Akanuta Fukujuso Park (map)

Obisha Matsuri at Hotaka Shrine

A 500-year-old Shinto ritual that involves priests shooting arrows at targets with a traditional bow. Takes place at Hotaka Shrine in the neighboring city of Azumino. See more info on Azumino’s event page.

Date: March 17, 2018 (Sat)
Time: Starts at 3:00 p.m.
Location: Hotaka Shrine (map)

7th Matsumoto Pub Crawl

Matsumoto Shiromachi (Castle Town) Baru (Bar)

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bar crawl

Drawn by the medley of options and undeterred by the cold, I savored the flavors of the 7th Matsumoto Pub Crawl. With 70 venues offering great selections, it was tough choosing where to go and required a bit of strategic planning to get some of the dishes before they were sold out. Although some of the places I had hoped to visit sold out early in the evening (e.g. the pub with the sea urchin dishes), I was not disappointed with my other selections.

If you purchase your tickets in advance, you get a booklet of five tickets for ¥3,500. Non-alcohol booklets were also available for ¥3,000. One ticket was good for a specially paired set of one food item and one drink item. You also had the option of forgoing the food item for two drinks instead. I used up all of my tickets, but those that don’t can still redeem them for a slightly cheaper value for about one week after the event.

I went with a full-course style for the evening. Below you’ll find the five places I visited.

1. Shiki Shunsai Bar Ichi

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Raw Oyster in a Ponzu Citrus Sauce

The oyster was very fresh and the wine had just enough sweetness. Both table and counter seating is available. The staff were very friendly, offering a nice atmosphere for drinking alone or in a group.

Map

2.Yakiniku Bansankan

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Kalbi with sides of kimchi and lettuce

The beef was tender and the kimchi had a nice kick to it. It seemed difficult to get the attention of the staff, but it could have been because of the large crowd.

Map

3. Cafe Dining Gaku’s

roast beef

Roast beef with mashed potatoes

I lucked out by getting one of the last servings of roast beef. It was delicious! The mashed potatoes were light and fluffy and paired nicely with the meat. The wine was full-bodied and smooth. The bright red walls and lighting created a nice ambiance. Additional seating is available on their second floor.

Map

4.  Hogyoku

hotpot

Massaman curry and chige motsunabe

Hogyoku is a Thai-Japanese fusion restaurant. Both their chige motsunabe (kimchi and offal hot pot) and massaman curry were fantastic. The chilled hard cider balanced out the slight spiciness of the dishes. The seats are comfortable leather couches, and a spot near the window offered a nice view of the area.

Map

5. Mukokuseki Dining Ku

chocoparfait

Parfait

I decided to end the evening with dessert, so I headed to Ku for their parfait. A nice mix of chocolate and vanilla ice cream and sherbet topped with chocolate cake and whipped cream awaited me. Counter and table seating is available. The background music consisted of more recent pop and electronic dance music making for a fairly energized atmosphere.

Map

 

Event organizers posted updates on their Facebook page throughout the night so that participants would know when places were running low or had run out of their dishes. Keep an eye on their page for the next event! It is scheduled for Tuesday, June 5, 2018. I know I’m looking forward to participating!

Crash-Course Taiko Drum Lesson

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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…

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…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.

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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!

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

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

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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).

happi

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(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.

Night Museum and Other Events for Chilly February in Matsumoto

Night Museum at Matsumoto Museum of Art and Japan Ukiyo-e Museum

Click to see a PDF leaflet.

Click to see a PDF leaflet.

The second event in the art museum’s Night Museum series and held especially on Valentine’s Day! (The third and last event will be on March 3rd)

Special events to be held at both the art museum and ukiyo-e museum. Tentatively planned is a behind-the-scenes tour (with flashlights!) featuring the preparations for upcoming special Yayoi Kusama exhibit in March. The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum’s talk event will feature a special discussion on 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.).

There will also be a special “MUSEUM BAR” set up at the Japan Ukiyoe Museum with mulled wine and chocolate, and a special print making activity where you can make your own ukiyo-e.

Shuttle bus service available to go between museums. Tours/Talks will feature interpreting into English and Chinese.

Date: Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018
Time: 5 p.m.–9 p.m. (Last admission at 8:30 p.m. Also open for regular hours from 9 to 5)
Location: Matsumoto Museum of Art (Map) and Japan Ukiyoe Museum (map)
Admission Fee: Pair ticket (2 adults, regardless of gender) for ¥1,000 / General ticket (adult) for ¥1,000 (Junior high school students and younger are free)
Notes: Ticket price includes admission into both museums, talk events, and shuttle bus service

Taiko Drum Workshop for Beginners

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No experience necessary! English speakers will be assisting!
Learn to play taiko like a pro, from correct stance to proper drumming techniques. This one-hour lesson starts with the introduction of basic rhythms and finishes with you giving your very own performance!

The workshop is being offered at a special discount price (¥3,000 OFF) this one time, so if you’ve ever thought about picking up taiko, now is a good time to try it out!
You will be instructed by a member of the group Hibikiza.
*Please note that participants will be filmed and/or have their pictures taken.*

Date: Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018
Time: 2 p.m. (lasts 1 hour)
Location: Agetsuchi Theater (map, formerly known as Piccadilly Hall). 8 min walk from the castle and 13 min from the station.
Price: ¥1,000 (discounted from ¥4,000!)
Registration: Online registration form is here or call 090-4666-3954

Setsubun Festival at Fukashi Shrine

節分②~1
Setsubun is a festival that celebrates the end of winter (though, it still feels cold to me!!) and often involves bean throwing and oni (a kind of Japanese demon). At Fukashi Shrine, they put on a huge bean throwing event at night and toss out roasted soy beans, lucky 5-yen coins, mochi, Japanese sweets, prize tickets, and more to the crowd surrounding the shrine hall. There is also a special bean throwing area just for kids (so they have a chance to catch some thing on their own and not get stepped on by the adults)! And, yes, the oni will make an appearance 😉

You can watch the bean roast ceremony from 2 p.m. but the festival part doesn’t officially start until 5 p.m. The bean throwing event starts at 6 p.m. Besides bean throwing, there is an arrow shooting ritual (around 5 p.m.) and taiko (before the bean throwing begins)

Date: Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018
Time: 2 p.m.–6:15 p.m.
Location: Fukashi Shrine (map)
Notes: You can see a couple of photos on one of our previous blog posts.

Photos from the 2018 Matsumoto Castle Ice Sculpture Festival

Last weekend was the 32nd annual Matsumoto Castle Ice Sculpture Festival! Top ice sculptors from around Japan come to participate in this event every year and this year there were 18 teams for the “Championship,” which featured long-time professional artists, and 5 teams for the “Pre-event,” which featured young artists with less experience.

Beautiful day, beautiful festival!

Beautiful day, beautiful festival!

It was a beautiful, sunny weekend perfect for walking around to see the sculptures, but the artists actually carved the pieces during the night! (brrrr…)

Getting to work at night

Getting to work at night

Get your ice saws ready and go!

Get your ice saws ready and go!

Check out some of the amazing pieces that were carved up below:

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Some ice blocks even had flowers or other things frozen inside, creating a pretty cool effect:
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One of Japan’s most famous ice sculptors, Junichi Nakamura, also participated. He has been an ice sculptor for going on 36 years and has participated in (and won prizes at) contests all over the world, including America, Canada, and Europe! One of his pieces for this year’s festival (below) is an especially intricate work of art.

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Junichi Nakamura working on his sculpture

Junichi Nakamura working on his sculpture

His other piece was an enormous, 7-meter carving of an image from the Winter Olympics:

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And for the kids — an icy slide!!

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Ameichi Candy Festival: Matsumoto’s Sweetest Event

What I’ve come to learn about Matsumoto since moving here is that the city seems to just love their huge street festivals. Not even the frigid winter is going to stop them from putting on couple of lively days of merrymaking like at last weekend’s Ameichi, a.k.a the Candy Festival. There are so many things going on during the Ameichi that it’s hard to know where to start!

Of course, it couldn’t be called a “Candy” festival without, well, a lot of candy, so you’ll find many street stalls selling all sorts of traditional Japanese candies called “Fukuame” (good luck candy), candy shaped into popular cartoon characters, and lollipops.

A girl selling traditional candies

A girl selling traditional candies

On Nakamachi Street, the Kurassic-kan had its own special market including the “Japan Candy Museum” where all kinds of traditional or craft candies were on display. You could also buy any of the candy from the museum. There were candies made with nuts, carrots, apples, herbs, and other natural ingredients, as well as many types that had been handcrafted by candy craftsmen.

Various candies from around the country

Various candies from around the country

One kind of traditionally made craft candy

One kind of traditionally made craft candy

Outside in the Kurassic-kan market, there was a traditional candy sculptor who crafted candy into cute animals right in front of your eyes. One stall had a special kind of soft candy called “taguri-ame,” that you had to twist and tread onto a stick from a large pot!

Lively market at the Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi

Lively market at the Kurassic-kan in Nakamachi

Taguri-ame candy

Taguri-ame candy

Another big part of Ameichi are the daruma doll sellers. As I mentioned in other blog posts, daruma are associated with achieving goals so they are often bought at the beginning of the year to represent a new resolution. During Ameichi, there are numerous street stalls that sell daruma in all sizes in colors, so people love to come here and pick out a perfect daruma for themselves.

Daruma galore!

Daruma galore!

Picking out the perfect daruma

Picking out the perfect daruma

Besides all the street stalls, there were performances of all kinds going on all over the city including those by several taiko drum groups, the Japan Defense Force marching band, dance groups and more.

A taiko group performing in the street

A taiko group performing in the street

The Japan Defense Force band performance

The Japan Defense Force band performance

One of the most fun parts of the whole festival is the Seven Gods of Good Luck parade. Here, the participants dress up in traditional costumes that represent the aforementioned Seven Gods and walk through the streets with interesting props while passing out good luck candy.

Part of the seven gods of fortune parade

Part of the Seven Gods of Good Luck parade

Members of the seven gods of fortune parade

Members of the seven gods of fortune parade

And, you can’t miss all the mikoshi (portable wooden shrines) that get carried around the neighborhoods of downtown Matsumoto during Ameichi! To transport them, two long, wooden poles are put through metal loops on the shrine. Then, several people lift the mikoshi up, resting the poles on their shoulders, and walk down the street. Because the mikoshi aren’t really that big, at first glance, they don’t look that heavy, but for our mikoshi, it took more than 20 people to pick it up and move it! Needless to say, usually all the carriers end up with very sore shoulders the next day.

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I actually got to participate in helping transport one of the mikoshi around Nakamachi myself, which was an exciting experience. We all wore a festival jacket called a “happi,” and to keep a good walking rhythm while carrying, every repeatedly chants “washoi, washoi.” To show gratitude to the shops and houses in the neighborhood, we stopped the mikoshi in front of each of their doors and lifted it up and down three times, all the while making a lot of noise by ringing a bell and shouting.

The mikoshi set up as an altar in Nakamachi surrounded by sake and the "shishimai" lion dance costumes

The mikoshi set up as an altar in Nakamachi surrounded by sake and the “shishimai” lion dance costumes

The Ameichi Festival happens every year in January, so keep an eye out on our website’s events page. Also, if you are up for braving the cold, this weekend it the Ice Sculpture Festival! See more info on event page on Facebook.

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.

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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.

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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

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

Success!

Success!

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 😉

Exciting January Events in Matsumoto (2018)

It might be cold in January, but Matsumoto has several events you don’t want to miss in the first month of the New Year!

New Year’s Celebration at Matsumoto Castle

People awaiting the opening of the castle gates

People awaiting the opening of the castle gates

Celebrate the New Year opening at Matsumoto Castle! Taiko drumming accompanies the opening of the Kuromon Gate, and once inside, you can enjoy hot amazake (a non-alcoholic, sweet drink made with rice koji), the souvenir shop, traditional Japanese games like “hanetsuki” shuttlecock and spinning “koma” tops, traditional kites, Alpenhorn performances, and more! Also the first 1,000 people in the gate will receive a wooden sake cup inscribed with castle family emblems.

Date: Wednesday, January 3 (holiday)
Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Castle’s Honmaru Garden, Kuromon Gate
Admission: Free

Ameichi Candy Festival

Carrying a mikoshi around the streets

Carrying a mikoshi around the streets

A big, lively festival taking place in downtown Matsumoto where portable shrines called “mikoshi” are carried around the streets by the different neighborhood groups of Matsumoto. Enjoy the spectacles, food, stalls selling candy and “daruma” dolls. See our event page for more information.

Date: Weekend of January 13 and 14
Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Outside in the streets of downtown Matsumoto

Ice Sculpture Festival

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Watch artists work with the ice and see the work that goes into producing these intricately carved sculptures. There will also be food stalls open from mid-morning to mid-afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. For kids, don’t miss the big slide carved out of ice! See our event page for more information.

Date: Friday, January 19 (evening) to Sunday, January 21
Location: Matsumoto Castle’s Honmaru Garden and surrounding park
Admission: Free

Schedule (tentative):
Jan 19 (Fri)
Carving from 6 p.m. to 12 midnight
Jan 20 (Sat)
Display from 12 midnight (0:00) to 2 p.m. on January 21
Carving from 5:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. of the following day
Jan 21 (Sun)
Display from 5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Firefighter training demo for Cultural Property Fire Safety Day

Watch firefighters practices their skills and techniques (including training on huge fire truck ladders!) at Matsumoto Castle. See more info on the Matsumoto Castle website here.

Date: Friday, January 26
Time: 9:00 to 9:55 a.m. (subject to change)
Location: Matsumoto Castle – Castle tower and Honmaru Garden
Admission: ¥610 for adults, ¥300 for children (includes entrance into the castle)


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