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Great Places to Get Ice Cream in Matsumoto

Wow, it is HOT in Matsumoto. Luckily, there are plenty of places to get ice cream downtown! I’ve been researching as many ice cream shops as possible for the past several weeks around downtown/central Matsumoto. This list contains the best places I’ve found so far, that is, not just any average, old cone that you can buy anywhere, but ice cream that has a unique, Japanese twist or just really tastes good. I’m sure I’m probably missing some places, so if you know any other good ice cream in Matsumoto, let me know!

Nakamachi Street

Oimo Biyori (おいも日和) – Chunky Roasted Sweet Potato Ice Cream

Oimo Biyori is a shop that specializes in sweets and snacks made from Japanese sweet potatoes, including simple roasted sweet potatoes. If you’ve never had a roasted Japanese sweet potato, it’s basically like eating a soft, melty, creamy, golden, and toasty mouthful of deliciousness. In what I think might be the most genius idea ever, Oimo Biyori decided to mix chunks of these creamy and delicious sweet potatoes into vanilla ice cream and top it with nuts! It was so good that I didn’t want to go to any other ice cream shop for a couple of weeks. Recently, they also started selling three different flavors of Japanese shaved ice as seasonal menu. Oimo Biyori is located on Nakamachi Street (map).

Sweet potato ice cream. It's hard to see, but there are chunks of creamy roasted sweet potato mixed in. Deliciousness!

Sweet potato ice cream. It’s hard to see, but there are chunks of creamy roasted sweet potato mixed in. Deliciousness!

Storefront of Oimo Biyori

Storefront of Oimo Biyori



Cafe Senri – Royal Sweet Vanilla Soft-serve

This cafe (facebook page, japanese) is located near Oimo Biyori on Nakamachi Street (Map). They serve “Royal Sweet Vanilla” soft-serve, originally served at the Minoriya cafe in Karuizawa. The soft serve is so good that it’s apparently been praised by several celebrities including John Lennon! It’s a little more expensive than the other places, but it really is good – silky, high quality ice cream with a nice vanilla flavor, yet not overly sweet. Plus, they serve it in a waffle cone! You can get plain or make a super deluxe ice cream using the many toppings available like real fruit syrups, cookies, and more.

Silky, delicious, and in a waffle cone!

Silky, delicious, and in a waffle cone!

Storefront of Cafe SenRi

Storefront of Cafe Senri



Nakamachi Kura Marche – Gelato Made with Local Ingredients

This shop sells produce and other goodies made in the local area, and for the summer they have a little gelato stand set up where you can get gelato that has been made with local fruits, vegetables, or eggs. They have some really unique flavors so worth checking out. This time their flavors were sweet corn, blueberries & milk, watermelon, edamame, vanilla (with local eggs), Nagano miso caramel (think salt caramel, but with miso). Bonus: they use chocolate cones! Located on the east end of Nakamachi Street (map)

Watermelon and corn gelato in a chocolate cone

Watermelon and corn gelato in a chocolate cone

Shopfront of Nakamachi Kura Marche

Shopfront of Nakamachi Kura Marche

Around the Station

Shinshu Honey (信州蜂蜜本舗) – Honey Soft-serve Ice Cream

Shinshu Honey, right across from the Parco department store (map), sells different varieties of local honey from Nagano. They also use the local honey to make their excellent honey soft-serve ice cream! Of all of the ice cream in this blog post, this soft-serve is the silkiest of them all. Eaten plain, it has a subtle, but nice honey flavor and the ice cream itself feels light and isn’t overly sweet. Of course, it’s great plain, but you can also choose from four different kinds of local honey as a topping, too, which I recommend trying.

Drizzling honey over the ice cream - yum!

Drizzling honey over the ice cream – yum!

The finished cone (already starting to melt because it's so hot...)

The finished cone (already starting to melt because it’s so hot…)

Storefront of Shinshu Honey

Storefront of Shinshu Honey



Kaiundo (開運堂) – Robot Ice Cream

Also near Parco in Japanese sweets shop called Kaiundo (map), you can get soft-serve made and served to you by a robot (oh Japan…). The ice cream itself is basically the kind of general (and quite sweet) soft-serve that you’ll find at most ice cream vendors in Japan, but I have to admit, it’s pretty fun watching the robot arm swirl the soft-serve into the cone and then hand it to you through a little window! The other cool thing about Kaiundo is that they change the flavor of their ice cream every single day, so you can try some unique and rare flavors (when I went it was milk coffee, and the next day it had changed to blueberry). You can choose from a regular (regular cone) and large size (waffle cone) which are mysteriously the same price. I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of this place yet, but it might be fun to check out, especially with kids 😉


Kuraso (倉惣) – Matcha Green Tea Soft-serve

Matcha ice cream is probably one of Japan’s greatest inventions, and if you’re on the look out for some of the best matcha ice cream, then what better place get it than an authentic Japanese teashop! Kuraso, which has been open since 1945, is a specialty shop selling Japanese green tea, tea pots, and matcha. Thankfully for us ice cream lovers, not too long ago they also decided to start serving matcha ice cream, and I must say, it is delicious! I think what makes it so good is that, first and foremost, the base ice cream itself tastes super good on its own, but also because Kuraso actually uses their own matcha powder to make the matcha green tea flavor! You can choose from matcha, milk, or mixed soft-serve flavors. If you’ve had your fill of matcha ice cream already, I also highly recommend the toppings – hojicha (roasted green tea) and genmaicha (toasted rice green tea) –  which are sprinkled over the milk flavored ice cream. You can also get sweet red beans on top of your cone too! Bonus: if you eat inside of the shop, you’ll get a complimentary cup of the shop’s green tea (iced green tea in the summer). Kuraso is located only 5 minutes from Matsumoto Station on the main road (map), just keep an eye out for the big, green ice cream cone standing in front of the shop 😉

Matcha ice cream (right) and milk ice cream with genmaicha topping (left)

Matcha ice cream (right) and milk ice cream with genmaicha topping (left)

Storefront of Kuraso

Storefront of Kuraso



Near (and near-ish) Matsumoto Castle

The Storyhouse Cafe – Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

The Storyhouse Cafe (facebook page) is about 5 minutes by bicycle or 10-15 minute walk from the castle, tucked away in a quiet residential area (map). The cafe, which just recently opened at the time of writing this post, is owned by a friendly American and Japanese husband-wife couple. When I heard they added an ice cream cookie sandwich (a rarity in Japan) to their menu, I just had to go and investigate! The sandwich is made using The Storyhouse Cafe’s homemade, American-style chocolate chip cookies (which are already tasty enough on their own) with vanilla ice cream in between. They are just the right size for when you’re craving some ice cream but don’t want a huge, towering cone of soft-serve. Not to mention, you can get a great cup of high quality coffee at a very good price (another rarity in Japan) to go with your snack! The cafe also makes for a good place to relax after seeing the castle and has a spacious play area for kids.

American-style chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Yes please!

American-style chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Yes please!



Storefront of The Storyhouse Cafe

Storefront of The Storyhouse Cafe

Inside The Storyhouse Cafe

Inside The Storyhouse Cafe



Ajisai Coffee & Lounge (紫陽花) – Homemade Gelato

The Ajisai cafe is located practically right in front of the main entrance to Matsumoto Castle (map). It’s a classic example of a Japanese-style “western” cafe, but most importantly for this blog post is that they have some good ice cream, in this case gelato! According to their signage, the gelato is homemade in the cafe and when I went to try it out, they had four different flavors available, including milk, matcha green tea, and a chocolatey mocha flavor, which you can get in a single (1 flavor) or double size (2 flavors). Since it was my first time there, I tried the simplest milk flavor. It had everything you want from a serving of gelato – the characteristic texture, nice flavor, and a square cone! I’m definitely planning to go there again to try their other flavors.

Milk flavor gelato from Ajisai

Milk flavor gelato from Ajisai

Storefront of Ajisai Coffee & Lounge

Storefront of Ajisai Coffee & Lounge



Nawate Street

Mono Store – Japanese “Ice Candy”

Ice candy are basically popsicles, and are usually made with different kind of fruits, often with no dairy added. In Japan some popular flavors are sweet red bean, plain milk flavor, and various fruits like strawberry. I’m a big fan of the unique texture of the ice candy and especially the fun Japanese flavors! Today I found that the Mono Store, a cute shop on Nawate Street, sells homemade ice candy during the summer! They’re a great, light snack and very affordable (only 150 yen), plus the ice candy comes in interesting flavors like matcha green tea, red bean, “amao” strawberry, milk, and blood orange. Check it out here (map).

Ice candy sign

Sign advertising ice candy in front of the Mono Store

Red bean ice candy

Red bean ice candy in its super cute hippo packaging!



Hopefully this list of ice cream shops helps you stay cool while you’re walking around Matsumoto this summer! I’ll add more shops as I find them too. If you’re around for a while why not try them all 😉 Enjoy!

Shinshu Wine Summit This Week in Matsumoto

The light-bodied, white wine selection

The light-bodied, white wine selection

Wine fans! This week the Shinshu Wine Summit is being held in Matsumoto (Wed., June 21st to Mon., June 26th), and if you’re interested in wine, I’d definitely recommend checking it out! Yesterday, I was invited by one of my friends and it really turned out to be a fun time so I just had to share on the blog.

The Wine Summit is set up in the plaza/park next to the Parco department store. On weekdays, it’s open from 5 pm to 9 pm, and on weekends from 11 am to 9 pm. There are over 120 kinds of wine from 40 wineries, all from Nagano. There are four wine counters where you go and order the wine, which are separated by type: full-bodied white, light-bodied white/sparkling, full-bodied red, and light-bodied red. Though the wine list only seemed to be available in Japanese, at each counter they had the actual bottles out in front to view (most of them have English labels) and on top of that, there were sommeliers (at least a couple could speak English) waiting on each customer to explain the different wines.

The wine ordering counters

The wine ordering counters

One glass coming right up!

One glass coming right up!

To be honest, I’ve had a lot of bad luck with Japanese wines, but yesterday at the Wine Summit, I got to taste a couple of really nice ones, both red and white, and they weren’t necessarily expensive! In general, the wines ranged from 600 yen to 2,000 yen for a full glass, with a couple of more expensive selections. Half glasses at half the price were also available.

The food was pretty good (good pizzas, grilled seafood like oysters & scallops, fresh fruits, etc.) and not to pricey, too. The seating was set up like those German-style beer tents, so the atmosphere was fun and casual, and it wasn’t too crowded, though it will probably more crowded on the weekend. If you need a break from wine, you can get a glass of locally-brewed, Hotaka Beer.

The party tent ;)

The party tent ;)

White mushroom pizza

White mushroom pizza

Nuggets of fried fish

Nuggets of fried fish

Locally brewed Hotaka Beer is also making an appearance!

Locally brewed Hotaka Beer is also making an appearance!

I’m so used to the super crowded, super expensive festivals like this in Tokyo and Yokohama, I was pleasantly surprised at the Wine Summit. So, if you’re eager to try some Japanese wines or just enjoy the fun, party-like atmosphere, then I highly recommend checking out the wine summit before it ends!

My personal recommendation is the Riesling on the right. A little on the sweet side, but good balance.

My personal recommendation is the Riesling on the right. A little on the sweet side, but good balance. Also, the Sogga pere et fils Merlot & Cabernet for red.

Hashigo Yokocho food court : vegan options available

So you’ve come to Matsumoto and have been to eat at all the usual tourist spots, or you just want to get away from the crowds and try something a bit different, Hashigo Yokocho on Uramachi Street is the perfect place for you. Tucked away between all the bars, clubs and sunakku is the perfect little food court. The name Hashigo, meaning ladder, is also used in Japanese for hopping from one place to another, e.g bar hopping, and Yokocho are the little narrow alleys full of shops and cheap places to eat. The name suits the place perfectly as you can easily hop from one store to the next and there are plenty of choices for food available.

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Whether driving, cycling, walking or taking the bus you shouldn’t have any problem at all, there is free parking for both bikes and cars, it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus stop. However, even if you are walking from the station it is only about 15 minutes and from the castle, only 10. On a nice day I’m sure you will love the walk.

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Upon arriving, you first notice the beautiful traditional Japanese style entrance and just inside there is a small Torii (archway) and miniature shrine which really adds a nice touch. Inside is like stepping back in time to a more traditional Japan. I found myself instantly reminded of the movie spirited away with the amazing style of everything.

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Taking a walk around, you can check out all the cute little stores. Most only big enough for a handful of people. Every store has its own style, for starters, right by the entrance there is a store called “Shun” where you can try “Oden” a Japanese dish consisting of different vegetables, fish cakes and eggs all boiled together in a delicious broth.

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You can try Chinese food at “Lili’s Kitchen”, Teppanyaki (food cooked on the hotplate right in front of you) at “Teppanyaki Fumoto” or go to an izakaya (Japanese style bar) for a beer or sake.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you can go early to buy fresh locally grown vegetables from “Sasaki Seeds” and take home with you to cook later.

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All your tea needs can be met at “Chahua” selling a wide range of different Chinese and herbal teas and accessories such as cute little tea pots. Although the owner doesn’t speak much English, they are very friendly and helpful and will happily brew a tea for you in store.

.tea shop

 

My personal favorites, however, are the 5 star Indian restaurant “Doon Shokudo Indoyama” and the cafe “Chokonto”

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Doon Shokudo Indoyama is run by a lovely couple who speak fluent English. You have your choice of three delicious curries including a vegan option if you are not much of a meat eater. All curries come with a popadom, chapati and great conversation. Also feel free to ask the owner for extra rice if you’re feeling hungry.

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Chokonto is by far one of the cutest cafes I have ever stepped inside, it has a real lovely style of all its own. It even has cute little handmade menus. Besides the nice variety of western style and Japanese style food and drinks, there are lots of really nice local made products that would make a great souvenir to take back home.

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As a bonus, if you happen to be in Matsumoto on the 7th of July, Hashigo Yokocho, will be hosting a small festival from 4m till 9pm where everyone will be wearing yukata (a light summer kimono) and there will special items for sale. And then everyone will head downtown afterwards.

 

So please come and join the fun. :)

Apple Picking with Pick-Up Service Starts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AppleA4_tate_v2

Fruit Harvest and Picking Season

Fuji Apples with “Honeycore”

Two Kinds of Fresh Grapes



In Matsumoto, Nagano, Autumn is a season for beautiful colored leaves, mushrooms in forests, and yummy FRUITS!

You can buy and eat various kinds of apples and grapes in farmers’ markets.

But, if you pick apples in orchards and eat them immediately, you would be surprised that taste of fresh apples are different from usual ones you eat.

Experience of picking grapes and eating under grapes is fun and it will be good memory.

Some of the orchards where you can experience fruit picking in or around Matsumoto are,

Five tips to enjoy Matsumoto Craft Fair

Craft Fair Matsumoto is the biggest and oldest craft fair in Japan, attracting 50,000 ~ 70,000 visitors during the event.
This year, celebrating its 30th anniversary with 280 craftsmen from all over Japan, along with many relative events in downtown Matsumoto city.

May 24th (Saturday) & 25th (Sunday) / Free admission

The “Five Tips” to enjoy Matsumoto craft fair even more are….

1) 歩・・・Take a walk

The craft fair venue is at “Agata-no-mori Park“, just 2 kilo meters away from JR. Matsumoto station. It is a nice walking course with lots of natural spring wells (w/ drinkable water) and unique shops. Arriving Agata-no-mori, exploring the buildings of the “Former Matsumoto High School” . The school buildings full of western influences were constructed in 1920, and designated as a national important cultural properties. In the campus, old trees of zelkova and cherry are forming an atmosphere of small forests.

2) 知・・・Expand the knowledge

280 craftsmen including wood carvings, ceramics, lacquer wares, metal works, weaving, dyeing, glass works, leather and food producers will be all over the park. From traditional to modern techniques you can learn various craft art forms all together.

3) 聴・・・Live concerts
As you may already know, Matsumoto is so-called the town of music. Here at the site, live music concerts will be held on Saturday evening (May 24th). Admission Free, can bring your own food and drink, or temporary mini bar is available at the site. It is so relaxing to listen to nice music on live in homey atmosphere.

4) 食・・・Eat
There are always full of booths selling various foods and drinks. Usually they are situated at the north-east side of the park, and so many to choose from: Japanese, Cambodian, Indian, Italian, German,  Macrobiotic and so on. And there are many nice restaurants on the way from the station, too. It’s worth visiting just for experiencing different taste!

5) 買・・・Shopping

Nothing to explain here, I guess!
Hope you are able to find a special piece and take home with other beautiful & unforgettable memories of Matsumoto City.
*The vendors often don’t accept credit cards at the site. Go to International ATM (the main post office on Honmachi St. is closer from the park) before visiting the event if you wish to purchase there.)

Read also an article of Matsumoto Craft Fair by Winifred Bird on The Japan Times

Plum Blossoms Festival in Norikura

The 43rd Plum Blossoms Festival(sumomo-matsuri) will be held at Ichinose Ranch(一の瀬牧場)in Norikura Highlands on May 18th Sunday.

The ceremony starts from 10:30 a.m., admission is “free”. Live music with Alpine Horns, Taiko(Japanese drums), Yodel Chorus and Japanese traditional dance are offered to the visitors along with “Sake”, “soba” and “Miso soup” services.

Sumomo(Japanese plum) trees grow naturally in Norikura Highlands, they usually start blooming from mid- May and last until Mid June.

Sumomo jam, wine and ice ream are on sale at the shop in Ichinose ranch.

And don’t forget about famous Norikura Onsen(hot springs)! There are several inns and public bathhouse for day trip visitors.

Yukemurikan(湯けむり館)opens from 9:30~20:00, admission fee is 720 yen for adults, 300 yen for kids.
There are many small inns and hotels with onsen in Norikura area. ⇒Norikura accomodations

To reach Norikura highlands, Haruyama bus(春山バス) services are available until June 30th.
The bus departs from Shinshimashima bus terminal in Matsumoto, and takes visitors to the snowy corridors on Mt. Kuraigahara.
Haruyama bus info

“Matsumoto Concierge Map” will be distributed

“Matsumoto Concierge” is a civic volunteer group guiding tourists from JR Matsumoto Station and the downtown tourist information booth.
The Castle Town: Matsumoto Concierge Map” was created by “Matsumoto Concierge” members after numerous discussions, and the most useful, often unwritten, tourist information has been selected.

Recommended restaurants with price range, availabilities of credit cards, free wi-fi and English menus, and the locations for  free bicycle pick-up, convenience stores, drug stores, banks, coin lockers, camera equipment stores are addressed on the map.  Since all the spots, shops and restaurants introduced on the map are selected by the locos (Matsumotorian),  the short comments tell real stories of Matsumoto.

This unique and very useful map is provided at the major hotels and inns in the downtown area, and will be distributed at the “Matsumoto Concierge” booth which is located in front of the wicket gate of JR Matsumoto station during tourist season starting from this golden week.

However, the number of the map is very limited, it may not be available to every tourist who will visit Matsumoto in this year.

Please download the map image from ⇒ “Matsumoto Concierge Map“, so you can install in the tablets of yours and use them while strolling the town.

Have lots of fun along with this handy information!

Yebisu Festival Nov 16th & 17th

Annual Yebisu Festival (a festival honoring Yebisu [the God of Wealth]) will be held at Yohashira Shrine downtown Matsumoto city from November 16th to 17th. Shrine maidens are going to give out talismans made of bamboo grass to worshippers and visitors. During this festival, popular traditional confectionery, “Kintsuba” will be sold in the shrine precinct. Dozens of various sweet shops around this region are selling their specially made kintsuba on both days. Kintsuba is a round or sometimes square shaped traditional cake made of bean paste covered with lightly baked mochi like skin, which signify squarish guard at the end of the grip of a bladed ‘katana’ samurai sword. There must be some plausible reasons or anecdotes to consume Kintsuba on Yebisu festival day for such a long period of time especially in this area, yet I haven’t been found one still.


Kintsuba is also available on local traditional confectionery shops. The photo of Kintsuba is provided by “Hanayagi” 3-7-49 Fukashi, Matsumoto (near Fukashi Shrine).

Yebisu Festival・・・・・Yohashira Shrine Nov 16th & 17th

Nagawa “Soba Festa” Oct 20th

Nagawa is a small village located on the western mountain range, about one hour away from JR Matsumoto Station by both train and local bus.
There, “Soba Festa” has been held until November 4th. During the festival, various Soba restaurants are serving this year’s first cropped soba and having stamp rally. Collect stamps by trying at different soba restaurants during this season, guests will get some prize.  But forget about prize and such, Soba in Nagawa is already rewarding!!

This Sunday the 20th, they are serving “Nagawa Soba” which only use this region’s buckwheat for 500 yen at Sansai kan.  After having wonderful meal, travelers can relax at the local inn’s natural hot spring “Onsen”. Enjoy autumn’s breath taking colorful foliage on the mountain and delicious local soba in Matsumoto’s back yard!


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