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2018 Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Forecast

city_sakura

With cherry-blossom-flavored everything emerging across the country, we bring you the projected dates for the area and details of the major hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots in Matsumoto. Grab your tarp and stake out your spot (don’t take someone else’s spot!) or enjoy the flowers as you stroll along.

WHEN can I see the cherry blossoms?

As of Feb 8, 2018, the sakura are projected to begin blooming in Nagano City (temperature similar to Matsumoto’s) from Apr 14 while places further south are expected to begin blooming a few days to a week sooner. These dates are of course subject to change. The flowers typically last about two weeks, but can start falling sooner depending on the weather. In previous years, the first blooms at Matsumoto Castle have been as follows:

Year Month & Day
2017 4/10
2016 4/1
2015 4/4
2014 4/9
2013 4/3

WHERE can I see the cherry blossoms?

The following locations can also be found on the downloadable Matsumoto Concierge Map.

Matsumoto Castle

castle_sakura

The castle’s inner grounds offer splendid views of pearly pink cherry blossoms against a backdrop of the dark crow castle. Do be aware that drinking and eating is typically prohibited in the Honmaru Garden.

Illuminated Cherry Trees
Both inner and outer areas of the castle, including the trees along the eastern moat, are also spectacularly lit.  At night, the fairy-tale like illuminated cherry blossoms are free to view.

夜桜

Hours & Admission

8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m.) Regular entry to the inner area is ¥610 for adults, ¥300 for elementary and middle school students.

5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. FREE

Access from Matsumoto Station

Bus: Town Sneaker Northern Course, Matsumotojo/Shiyakushomae stop; 5 min (¥200)

Walking: 15 min

Bicycle: Free rental bicycles are available at the bike parking area in front of the Matsumoto Station Oshiro (Castle) Exit. See our Local Transportation page for more information including other rental locations.

Mt. Kobo – Koboyama Tumulus

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This hill – the top of which once served as a tomb – is covered in over 4,000 cherry trees with blossoms of various shades of pink. You can observe the trees from below or walk to the top of the hill for an expansive view of the snow-capped Japan Alps.

Illuminated Cherry Trees

Lanterns are strung through the trees and lit up at night.

Hours & Admission

The park is open 24-hours and is free to enter.

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: Namiyanagidanchi Line, Koboyama Iriguchi stop; 15 min (¥260); 6 buses per day (times subject to change): 7:20, 9:05, 11:05, 14:05, 16:05, 18:55

Walking (from Minami-Matsumoto Station): 30 min

Susuki River, Just South-East of Agatanomori Park

susuki_river_sakura

Cherry blossom trees line the raised embankments of the Susuki River, and there are wide-open spaces to sit along the water. Also near one of the Orange (anime/manga) locations!

Access from Matsumoto Station

Depending on what part of the river you would like to get to, their are a few different methods you can use.

Quick Access

Take the Town Sneaker Southern Course bus and get off at stops such as Aizawa Hospital.

Bicycle: just 5−10 min by free rental bicycle from the station

Upstream

Bus & Walking: Town Sneaker Eastern Course, 10 min (¥200). The closest drop-off point brings you to Agatanomori Park. From Agatanomori Park, it is about a 10-minute walk to the river.

Joyama Park

jyouyama_park

Located near a temple, you’ll also find a zoo, playgrounds, and an art museum in and around the premises.

Hours & Admission

The park is open 24-hours and is free to enter.

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: 100 Kita-Shinai Line (western route 西まわり) bus bound for Jidosha Gakko, Joyama Koenguchi(城山公園口) stop; 20 min (¥210)
OR 41 Okada Line bus bound for Yamashiroguchi(山城口), Joyama Koenguchi(城山公園口) stop; 20 min (¥200)
OR 45 Alps Koen Line bus bound for Matsumoto Bus Terminal, Hokoji(放光寺) stop; 13 min (¥260); only 2 buses per day

Alps Park

Alps_park_sakura

Less crowded than some of the other flower-viewing spots, there are trails for exploring and areas for picnicking under the blossoms. You’ll also find a look-out area with a full view of the Japan Alps. Cherry trees in Alps Park bloom a little later than those in downtown areas such as the castle.

Hours & Admission

9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. FREE

Access from Matsumoto Station Area

Bus: 45 Alps Koen Line , Alps Koen(アルプス公園, the terminal) stop; 20 min (¥340); only 2 buses per day

 

Hidden Matsumoto: Kasamori Inari Shrine

Kasamori Inari Shrine

Kasamori Inari Shrine

The quirky Kasamori Inari Shrine is hidden among the tall buildings in downtown Matsumoto, but it’s a little easier to find than my last “hidden Matsumoto” spot, Tsukiizumi Shrine.

Like the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Kasamori Inari Shrine is dedicated to the Inari deity (associated with the rice harvest, prosperity in business, among other things) and is characterized by fox figures and rows of red torii gates.

Foxy!

Foxy!

The path through the torii gates

The path through the torii gates

The foxes—white foxes, to be exact—are not gods themselves; rather, they are kindred spirits that act as messengers to the Inari deity. Although most fox figures at Inari shrines are fashioned out of stone, the quirky thing about Kasamori Inari Shrine are the two enormous white fox statures constructed out of what seems to be some sort of papier-mâché!

A very large inari constructed out of paper mache??

A very large white fox constructed out of paper mache??

Besides the giant papier-mâché foxes, on certain days, they open the doors to the shrines hall so you can see the altar and set up large speakers in front playing ominous, instrumental music (I’m not sure what is up with the music…). I’m not sure how they decide the days to open the shrine yet, but on these days at the small building on the corner next to the shrine, someone will be selling packages of fried tofu (!) and bundles of incense sticks used to make offerings at the shrine.

Although offerings of incense are common at shrines and temples, you might be wondering, why the fried tofu??

Well, I visited the Kasamori Inari Shrine during New Year’s, as I figured there would be something interesting going on, and indeed, the incense/fried tofu stall was open for business and instead of the strange, ominous music, the speakers were playing pleasant, traditional Japanese music for New Year’s.

I wanted to find out more about the offerings of fried tofu, so I asked the lady selling it. As the story goes, the absolute favorite food of the white foxes is fried tofu. And, according to the lady, if you make an offering of fried tofu when making your request or wish at the shrine, the foxes (being messengers to the Inari deity) will be so happy that they will deliver your message to the deity without fail!

So, why not give it a try? I bought my piece of fried tofu, took it to the shrine, placed it in the pile before the altar and made a New Year’s wish.

My slice of fried tofu, ready to offer to the foxes!

My slice of fried tofu, ready to offer to the foxes!

For New Year’s, there was also priest sitting inside the shrine before the altar selling small charms and ceramic white fox statues.

The priest fixing the candles before the altar with a piles fried tofu in front

The priest fixing the candles before the altar with a piles fried tofu in front

I noticed that some people also lay the tofu at the feet of the stone fox statues.

Stone inari with incense and fried tofu at its feet

Stone fox with incense and fried tofu at its feet

Other people got the bundles of incense instead, and burned them in the large, stone incense bowl at the end of the torii gate tunnels. Some like to douse themselves in the smoke, as it is said to have healing effects.

Bathing in incense

Bathing in incense

Aside from all its quirkiness, Kasamori Inari Shrine has many beautiful features, too, such as colorfully painted wooden adornments and intricate carvings. Connected directly to the shrine is the large Jorinji Temple with an over 200-year-old wooden gate that is apparently the oldest in Matsumoto.

Colorfully painted wooden adornments

Colorfully painted wooden adornments

Kasamori Inari Shrine is only five minutes from Matsumoto Station and on the way to the castle (see map), so do go check it out! You can read more about the history of the shrine and temple here on the Kasamori Inari Shrine/Jorinji Temple page, too.

If you are interested in learning more about Inari shrines in general, the Fushimi Inari Shrine website has a great FAQ page that can answer a lot of your questions!

A Matsumoto New Year

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

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

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

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

Paper fortunes from Tosenji Temple

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

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

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

Giant bofire at Tosenji

Giant bonfire at Tosenji

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

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Tosenji lit up in red paper lanterns

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

Colorful streamer flying above the temple in the moonlight

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

People lining up before Tosenji

People lining up before Tosenji Temple

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

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

Visitors at Fukashi Shrine

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

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

Hundreds of people lined up before Yohashira Shrine

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

People doing prayers once they reach the shrine hall.

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

A cup of hot amazake, yum!

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

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

A visitor at Kasamori Inari Shrine.

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

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Offerings of fried tofu before the shrine altar

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

Someone dousing themselves in incense smoke.

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

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

Earth あーす: Handmade Glass Accessories, Candles, and More!

あーす

Located on Nawate Street just down the road from Matsumoto Castle, this charming shop specializes in glass accessories and other crafts and even lets you try making things yourself!

bead-making

Order custom-made glass charms!

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bead_selection

Choose ready-made pieces to customize your accessories!

Hands-on Courses

Try making your own unique pieces to take home!
*Some activities have minimum age requirements

Candle

candle_making

S-Course

Price: ¥1,300

Time required to make: 15 min (+20 min to set)

L-Course: Larger containers and more time to create

Price: ¥1,600

Time required to make: 20 min (+30 min to set)


Snow Globe

snow_dome

Children can enjoy making these as well!

Price: From ¥2,300

Time required to make: 15 min (+40 min to set)


Kaleidoscope

Price: From ¥1,200

Time required to make: 20 min


Leather Stamping

Price: From ¥1,000

Time required to make: 15 min


Music Box

Price: From ¥2,300

Time required to make: 30 min (+30 min to set)


 

Other goods are also available for purchase.

copeau

Why not bring home something to commemorate your time on Matsumoto’s “Frog Street”?

temari

Or Matsumoto’s renowned temari silk-thread balls

store items

Shop Info

*Credit cards are not accepted*

Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dec thru Feb)

Closed: Wednesdays

Location: 3-3 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0874

 

New Year’s Decorations and Preparations in Matsumoto

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

Kadomatsu at the gates of Matsumoto Castle

Kadomatsu at the gates of Matsumoto Castle

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

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

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

Kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine by Nawate Street

Kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine by Nawate Street

A closer look at the kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine

A closer look at the kadomatsu at Yohashira Shrine

Kadomatsu in front of a business in downtown Matsumoto

Kadomatsu in front of a business in downtown Matsumoto

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

Decorations along the main street

Decorations along the main street

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

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

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

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

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

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

A daruma seller at Yohashira Shrine

A daruma seller at Yohashira Shrine

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

Photo credit: from our Japanese blog

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

Enjoy the New Year!!

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

ice_sculptures

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)

Hidden Matsumoto: Tsukiizumi Shrine and Its Natural Spring

If you’re into finding nifty, off-the-beaten-path treasures, then I think you’ll really enjoy Tsukiizumi Shrine. It may appear low-key to some, but this is probably one of my favorite spots in Matsumoto!

The wooden torii gate in front of the shrine

The wooden torii gate in front of the shrine

You’ll find Tsukiizumi Shrine on a side road right off of the Metoba River. At the entrance to the shrine, a small, red bridge leads you over a pool of water which is actually formed by the ground water bubbling up right from the natural spring on the right side of the bridge. There are some koi carp living peacefully in the pool, too. In front of the bridge, there is a stone carved with the image of a man and a women, which represents a guardian spirit for travelers (all the more reason to stop by this shrine on your trip!) and also keeps evil from entering the town (in Japanese it is called 双体道祖神 or “sotai dosojin”).

Bubbling natural spring

Bubbling natural spring

Koi carp!

Koi carp!

At the other side of the bridge, you’ll see that the spring water also flows out from a spout. Since this water comes directly from the spring, it is safe to drink and many of the Matsumoto locals come here to fill up several jugs with water so they can use it at home! If you have a water bottle with you, fill it up here with the natural spring water–it’s cold even in the summer and tastes great.

Natural spring water from the spout. Fill up your water bottle!

Natural spring water from the spout. Fill up your water bottle!

According the sign board at the entrance, the spring here has been used since at least the Edo Period (1603–1868) and the water was used for dyeing and paper making. As for the shrine, it may date as far back as the year 881(!) but it is not confirmed.

Up close to the shrine structure

Up close to the shrine structure

Then, there is the humongous tree! It stands 25 meters (82 feet) tall, its trunk is about 1.6 meters (over 5 feet) wide and it is estimated that the tree is around 300 years old. Now, if you don’t look closely, you will miss the coolest part about this whole place: the hidden guardian spirit inside a big crack in the trunk of the tree! There’s even a little platform to put offerings of coins next to the figure.

The old tree at Tsukiizumi Shrine

The old tree at Tsukiizumi Shrine

A guardian spirit for travelers, hidden inside the tree!!

A guardian spirit, hidden inside the tree!!

If you have a few spare minutes while you’re in Matsumoto, I hope you’ll come check out this special spot. It’s about a 20-25 minute walk from the station or Matsumoto Castle, but if you have a bicycle, it won’t take you long to get there. If you’re going to the Aeon Mall, it’s quite close to there, too. See a Google Map here.

Enjoy!

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FYI, if you’re interested, here are some Japanese language references/articles on Tsukiizumi Shrine with more photos:
http://takara.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/city/142.html
http://www.i-turn.jp/wakimizu-tukiizumijinnjya-matumoto.html

Light Hiking in Asama Hot Springs with an Amazing View

While climbing the rugged Japan Alps is quite an adventure, if you’re looking for a more laid-back option, there is a nice hiking trail in the Asama Hot Springs area that has a lot to offer: easy access by bus or even bicycle from downtown Matsumoto, historical Shinto shrines in the forest, and best of all, a spectacular view of the Japan Alps (sometimes it’s just as impressive to see the Alps from afar as it is climbing the mountains themselves!). I checked it out last weekend and I’ve got a custom Google Map of the trails and points of interest below! If you prefer a Japanese map, there is a hiking map available in PDF format for this course here as well.

View from the look out point above Asama Hot Springs

View from the look out point above Asama Hot Springs

The trail up to the view point, which is on Mt. Gotenyama, takes 30 to 45 minutes from the trail heads and is easy enough for just about anyone to walk. First off, if you’re taking the bus, you can use the Asama Onsen bound bus (departs from Matsumoto Bus Terminal by the Matsumoto Station. See schedule here) and get off at the Asama Onsen bus stop. You just need to walk up the hill for about 10 minutes to get to the trail heads.

I started at Trail Head A (see map) and ended at Misha Shrine (where Trail Head B is located). I’ll go through the course I took below, photos included.

Fudo Falls (optional)

Now, before heading to the trail head, I would recommend checking out this cool little waterfall hidden just off the road on the way to Trail Head A and C. The waterfall itself is small, but it runs down from a small temple/shrine into a natural hollow carved into the rock wall. There is also a Buddhist carving in the wall as well as a fearsome stone sculpture. When walking through the town, you might notice there are some street signs pointing in the direction to the falls. Once you get near the falls, you’ll have to walk down a narrow path along a stream to find the actual waterfall. There isn’t an obvious sign in English at the entrance to the path so it can be hard to miss (use the map as guide).

Sign pointing to the Fudo Falls in the Asama Hot Springs area

Sign pointing to the Fudo Falls in the Asama Hot Springs area

The Buddhist stone sculpture at Fudo Falls

The Buddhist stone sculpture at Fudo Falls

A Buddhist carving behind the trickling Fudo Falls

A Buddhist carving behind the trickling Fudo Falls

Trail Head A to the Look Out Point

I started from Trail Head A located above the whole Asama Hot Springs area at the top of a steep hill. There is a big trail map at the entrance and a nice view of Mt. Norikuradake! In the fall, if it’s a nice day, you’ll be able to see the mountains through the trees as you’re hiking. Walk down the trail for about 15 minutes and you’ll come to a fork: take a right here to get to the look out point.

Trail map at trail head A

Trail map at trail head A

Mt. Norikuradake from trail head A

Mt. Norikuradake from trail head A

The Japan Alps peaking through the trees.

The Japan Alps peaking through the trees.

Trail near the look out point

Trail just below the look out point

The Look Out Point!

Once you get to the look out point, you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the city of Matsumoto and the Japan Alps (assuming there aren’t clouds hanging over the mountains)! There are also a couple of wooden benches here, so you can take a break or eat a snack.

Matsumoto with a snowy Mt. Norikuradake above

Matsumoto with a snowy Mt. Norikuradake above

Look Out Point to Tenmangu Shrine (天満宮)

After you had your fill of the look out point view, head back down the trail you came up until you reach the fork in the road again. Turn right to go toward Tenmangu Shrine (天満宮). Shortly after, there is another fork in the trail, where you ‘ll turn left to continue toward the shrine. After passing through a pleasant forest trail, you will see Tenmangu Shrine come into sight after just a couple minutes. Once you reach the shrine, check out its red torii gate, the small wooden pavilion, and the main shrine structure at the top of the stairs.

According to the sign standing next to the shrine, it was originally built back in the year 1659 as offering of gratitude to the gods after a source of lead was found in the area.

Pretty trail with fallen leaves

Pretty trail with fallen leaves

Torii gate in the woods below Tenmangu Shrine

Torii gate in the woods below Tenmangu Shrine

A wooden pavilion below Tenmangu Shrine

A wooden pavilion below Tenmangu Shrine

Tenmangu Shrine in the forest

Tenmangu Shrine in the forest

Tenmangu Shrine to Misha Shrine (御射神社)

Just below Tenmangu Shrine is a small suspended bridge. Check out the bridge if you like, then head down the trail towards Misha Shrine (御射神社 in Japanese; toward the right if Tenmagu Shrine is at your back). The trail will exit the forest and you will briefly walk through a residential area. Misha Shrine shouldn’t be hard to miss because it has an impressive red torii gate at its entrance. To see the main building of Misha Shrine, take the trek up the stone steps.

A small, but fun suspended bridge constructed out of wood.

A small, but fun suspended bridge constructed out of wood.

Beautiful torii gate at Misha Shrine

Beautiful torii gate at Misha Shrine

After you’re all finished exploring, you can take the bus back to downtown, or even better, take a soak in at the Hot Plaza Asama hot spring facility first! This is the only public hot spring in Asama Hot Springs, and here you don’t need a reservation. It only costs ¥650 – see more details here.

If you’re looking for some more light hiking, check out the Hayashi Castle course in the Satoyamabe area here.

Winter Light Displays

Christmas Candle Night at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Yayoi Kusama's gigantic flower sculpture lit up in candlelight

Yayoi Kusama’s gigantic flower sculpture lit up in candlelight


Enjoy listening to music while strolling around the art museum garden lit up in numerous soft candle lights.

Date: Saturday, December 9
Time: 4:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Museum of Art
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lights Pageant in Daimyocho and on the Chitose Bridge

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Nearly 80,000 lights decorate the trees lining Daimyocho, the road leading up to Matsumoto Castle. After viewing the lit-up trees, you can see the lit-up Matsumoto Castle just down the road.
The lights are up from early December until February 28 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (on until later Dec. 20 through Jan. 3)20171204_194838

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JR Matsumoto Station

The front of Matsumoto Station is lit up with a festive images on the side of the station building.

Matsumoto Station Illumination

Asama Onsen

Look forward to the warm glow of decorative lights when you visit Asama Onsen’s Hot Plaza. Hot Plaza offers day-trip bathing and a hot spring foot bath, while overnight stays are available at a number of traditional Japanese inns in the area. Find out more about the area here.

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Foot Hot Spring

Forest of Lights Pageant in Azumino

Twin Illlumination
The Alps Azumino National Government Park is holding an illumination event from Nov. 11, 2017 (Sat) to Jan. 8, 2018 (Mon/holiday). The displays tell the story of “The Secret of the Seven Jewels”.

The illumination will be on display in two separate areas: the Horigane-Hotaka area and the Omachi-Matsugawa area. Please see below for access information.

In addition to the light displays, various other activities will be taking place. A single ticket allows you to enter both areas on the same day. Visit the official website here (Japanese only).

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Admission

Hours: 4:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
* Park hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but you may remain in the park to view the lights.

Prices

Adult: 410 yen

Elementary/Junior High School Student: 80 yen

Senior (65+): 210 yen

Preschool: Free

 

Fireworks (Horigane-Hotaka Area)

A 5-minute fireworks show will take place every Saturday between Nov. 11, 2017 (Sat) and Jan. 6, 2018 (Sat) and also on Christmas Eve from 8 p.m. to 8:05 p.m.

The show will be cancelled in the event of rain or bad weather.

Food Tasting (Omachi-Matsukawa Area)

Grilled mochi, mochi in a sweet bean sauce, and baked apples!

100 yen *Limited to the first 100 people.

Live Performances (Omachi-Matsukawa Area)

Christmas Stage: Various performances (dates and times)

Magic Show: Jan. 6 (Sat)-8 (Mon/holiday) 4:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m., and from 7:30 p.m. FREE

Crafts (Both Areas)

Horigane-Hotaka Area

Omachi-Matsugawa Area

Miniature Aquariums Display (Horigane-Hotaka Area)

Tropical Christmas

Access

Free Shuttle Bus

JR Matsumoto Station –> Toyoshina Station –> Horigane-Hotaka Area: Dec. 23 (Sat/holiday)-24(Sun) 4:00 p.m.-9:15 p.m.

View in Google Maps

JR Matsumoto Station –> Shinano Omachi Station –> Omachi-Matsukawa Area: Dec. 23 (Sat/holiday)-24(Sun) 3:45 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

View in Google Maps

By Taxi

(JR Oita Line) Matsumoto Station –> Toyoshina Station + taxi

(JR Oita Line) Matsumoto Station –> Shinano Omachi Station + taxi

Inquiries (Japanese)

Horigane-Hotaka Area: 0263-71-5511

Omachi-Matsukawa Area: 0261-21-1212

 

Former Kaichi School: Go Back to School a Century and Half in the Past

View of the Former Kaichi School from outside

View of the Former Kaichi School from outside

The Former Kaichi School was built back in the late 1800s—almost 150 years ago. When I first visited the Former Kaichi School back in the summer, I was struck by its peculiar architecture. At first glance it looked like a beautiful European building, but as I walked closer and started looking at the details, I found hints of Japanese-ness that had snuck into the design: Carved dragons along with the flying cherubs above the entrance, chandeliers hanging over bamboo flooring, and other such opposing style quirks.

Who know that cherubs and dragons got along so well?

Who know that cherubs and dragons got along so well?

Going inside was almost like going back to school a century and a half in the past. One of the classrooms was preserved as it was when the school was still in commission, complete with tiny wooden desks, black board, and teacher’s podium. The best part was that you could actually sit in the desks (if your legs fits…) and play around with everything in the room! Getting to walk through the same halls and climb the same wooden stairs as the little students did in the past also adds to the atmosphere.

Kaichi School

Former Kaichi School

Most the other rooms in the school were filled with displays of old building plans, learning materials like text books, and other school-related artifacts like writing tools and even dumbbells used for fitness. Also, the former principal’s office and a special room for the Meiji emperor were open for viewing, too.

Wooden dumbbells! I wonder how heavy they are. Notice the diagrams of exercises in the book to the left.

Wooden dumbbells! I wonder how heavy they are. Notice the diagrams of exercises in the book to the left.

Book for kids to learn katakana characters

Book for kids to learn katakana characters

Textbook with flags of the world.

Textbook with flags of the world.

My favorite artifacts were the picture textbooks for primary school kids, old toys and, check these out, old baseball cards!

Old baseball cards ! Check out the interesting shape.

Old baseball cards ! Check out the interesting shape.

Perhaps a book for learning how to count? I remember using something like this in my primary school (minus the silk worms and bamboo shoots...)

Perhaps a book for learning how to count? I remember using something like this in my primary school (minus the silk worms and bamboo shoots…)

It was also nice to see some of the cool dragon carvings and other pieces from the building design, like the “East, West, North, South” direction markers for the tower’s compass piece.

Carving with a dragon and  a wave.

Carving with a dragon and a wave.

"East, west, north, south" markers in Japanese for the school's tower.

“East, west, north, south” markers in Japanese for the school’s tower.

Overall, the Former Kaichi School was a short, but worthwhile stop. The school is beautiful and a lot of the artifacts are fun to see. Plus, it’s only a few minutes from Matsumoto Castle. My only complaint was that there aren’t enough English explanations for the interesting things on display!

For more info, check out the main page on the Former Kaichi School here.


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