The Best Things to Do in Matsumoto, Japan
On my first visit to Matsumoto, I had no idea how much I would fall in love with this charming city and even though I’ve visited many places in Japan, Matsumoto is still one of my favorites. I was first surprised by the amount of art and historical museums in the area including many displaying works by artist, Yayoi Kusama. Matsumoto also has a rich food culture and unique shopping streets. Here are the best things to do in Matsumoto, Japan!
Where is Matsumoto?
Matsumoto is a city located in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan within the Chubu Region. It is well known for its history with miso, soba, and sake as well as the historic black and white castle!
How to Get to Matsumoto
How to Get to Matsumoto by Train
How to Get to Matsumoto from Nagano
The fastest way to get from Nagano to Matsumoto by train is by taking the Shinano Limited Express Line from Nagano Station to Matsumoto Station. The journey is around three stops and takes about an hour costing around 2,700 yen.
How to Get to Matsumoto from Tokyo
Depending on where you are staying in Tokyo, you have a few ways to get to Matsumoto from Tokyo. The first is by taking the JR Azuza Limited Express from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto Station. This direct journey takes around 2.5 hours and costs approximately 6,620 yen one-way or is covered with the Japan Rail Pass or the JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass.
The second way to get to Matsumoto from Tokyo is by taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano (roughly 80 minutes) and then transferring to the JR Shinano Limited Express to Matsumoto (50 minutes, one train/hour). Without any delays, the journey takes around 2.5 hours and costs around 10,000 yen or is covered by the Japan Rail Pass or JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass.
If you are looking for the most cost-effective way to get to Matsumoto from Tokyo by train you can also take local trains from Shinjuku Station along the JR Chuo and Shinanoi Lines to Matsumoto Station. This journey takes around five hours and usually has three transfers and costs around 4,070 yen one way. Although this route is doable, I would only recommend it if you are on a strict budget, don’t have a JR pass, and need flexibility with your schedule. Otherwise, taking the highway bus from Tokyo to Matsumoto is a much better cost-effective option!
How to Get to Matsumoto by Bus
If traveling from Tokyo, highway buses operate from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal in Tokyo to the Matsumoto Bus Terminal near Matsumoto Station. This trip takes a little over three hours one way and costs around 3,900 yen. If you purchase tickets in advance through Willer, you can often get discounts.
How to Get Around Matsumoto
Matsumoto has four tourist-oriented loop bus lines called The Town Sneakers. This bus line costs 200 yen per ride or 500 yen per day if you purchase a one-day pass. This one-day pass also includes a 10% discount on admission to Matsumoto Castle. These buses operate every 30 minutes.
In addition to The Town Sneakers, Matsumoto has several regular city buses that can take you to additional places within and outside of the tourist hotspots in Matsumoto.
Matsumoto is also a fairly walkable city with it only taking around 15 minutes to walk from Matsumoto Station to Matsumoto Castle. However, there are a few things to do in Matsumoto that are further away and would require public transportation, taxi services, or rental car.
Last, Matsumoto is a very bicycle-friendly city! We explored a lot of different areas by bike on our first trip to Matsumoto. Some hotels offer bicycle rentals or you can rent bikes for free from multiple places in Matsumoto. Here is a helpful guide to free bike rentals in Matsumoto.
The city also has a bicycle rental program called “Hello Cycling” but it isn’t the easiest to use because it requires you to have a Google Japan email address and pay by credit card or IC Card. Instead, I recommend renting from one of the previously mentioned locations or a local bicycle rental shop.
Where to Stay in Matsumoto
Hotel Buena Vista
During our first visit to Matsumoto, we stayed at Hotel Buena Vista. We enjoyed this hotel because it was close to Matsumoto Station and centrally located to many things to do in Matsumoto. The rooms were spacious enough for our stay and most rooms have a nice view of the mountains and the city below! If you are driving to Matsumoto they do have a car park (charges apply) but it’s nice to know you can park and then explore the city on foot!
Matsumoto Marunouchi Hotel
Another hotel we’ve stayed at in Matsumoto is the Matsumoto Marunouchi Hotel which was in a great location walking distance from all the popular attractions and many restaurants in Matsumoto. While the hotel rooms are a little dated in decor, they are clean and well-kept. In addition, they are extremely spacious! They also have a designated parking area for those traveling by car.
Places to Eat in Matsumoto
Like many places in Japan, Matsumoto has its own unique food culture. For starters, the Nagano Prefecture is one of the main producers of soba so it’s no surprise that many soba shops are readily found in Matsumoto. In addition to soba, the Nagano Prefecture produces nearly half of Japan’s miso making it a popular addition to many dishes and desserts. Local specialties include sanzokuyaki (Matsumoto-style fried chicken), Shinshu soba, and locally brewed sake!
Nakamachi Cafe offers light breakfast and lunch fare alongside specialty roasted coffee. I recommend ordering their soufflé pancakes which have a fluffy, chiffon cake texture and are drizzled with a homemade berry compote. If you aren’t a fan of berries, they also have regular maple syrup or a kinako and azuki topping which is a roasted soybean flour and red bean – two of the best flavors in my opinion!
Location: 3 Chome-3-17 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Soba is a very popular dish in Japan, but the Nagano Prefecture is where most soba noodles are produced so it only makes sense that Matsumoto has a lot of soba restaurants to choose from! One thing that makes these restaurants unique is that they offer 100% Shinshu Soba from the Nagano Prefecture.
Truly you can’t go wrong with any of the soba restaurants in Matsumoto but one of my favorites is Kobayashi Soba which has delicious soba, tempura, and a selection of regional and traditional starters. I recommend ordering either Tenzaru Soba, a cold soba with dipping sauce and tempura, or Sansai Soba which is a hot soba in broth with fresh local veggies and often some tofu.
Location: 3 Chome-3-20 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0874, Japan // MAP
Itoya is a small izakaya we found on Nakamachi Street on our last trip to Matsumoto. We were casually looking for a place to eat and decided to take a chance and see if there were seats inside and despite there maybe being only around 8-10 seats, we lucked out!
We enjoyed the cozy atmosphere while chatting with the owner and feasting on a variety of dishes she makes from scratch. Some of our favorites were the juicy gyoza, fluffy tamagoyaki, perfectly crispy sanzoku yaki (regional fried chicken thigh), and my favorite of the night – koji natto, fermented soybeans with shredded carrot, malted rice, seaweed, and sesame.
Don’t miss out on trying some of her homemade umeshu (plum wine) or getting some sake or draft beer to go with your order. The owner also has several dishes she can make to accommodate vegetarian and vegan diets which are listed on notecards with descriptions!
Location: 2 Chome-10-16 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Doon Shokudo Indoyama
One day while in Matsumoto I was randomly searching for curry and found Doon Shokudo Indoyama and was sold on visiting after seeing only one photo. The owner is incredibly welcoming and spent some time sharing the story of his restaurant with us. He explained that he wanted to share his mother’s recipes with others and missed the food from his home in India.
Because everything is made from scratch by himself, he offers a small menu but everything is done exceptionally. I ordered a comforting special set that included dal, raita, basmati rice, roti, and my choice of curry with options of chicken, keema (pork minced), mutton, or vegetable. I chose chicken which was tender and paired nicely with the medley of flavors from the curry. There are vegan, halal, and gluten-free options as well!
Location: Japan, 〒390-0874 Nagano, Matsumoto, Ote, 4 Chome−6−18 はしご横丁 12号 // MAP
I know what you’re thinking… pizza? Really? But after living in Japan for some time we needed a pizza fix and found Pizza Verde. This small pizza restaurant serves delicious Napoli-style pizza. I recommend their regular Margherita or quattro formaggi (four cheese) or if you want to try something more unique, try the Shinshu apples and honey pizza! Pizza Verde is popular so I recommend making a reservation on their website before visiting.
Location: 4 Chome-8-22 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0874, Japan // MAP
Things to Do in Matsumoto
Matsumoto Castle is a 16th-century castle well known for its black and white exterior and is often referred to as the “Crow Castle” because of this. Throughout its history, it changed hands many times with the rise and fall of different clans and shogunate then in 1872 the new Meiji government ordered the destruction of all former feudal fortifications. This led to residents campaigning to save the castle. Their efforts were later awarded when the castle went through renovations and was later declared a National Historic Site in 1930.
After visiting the castle, stop by Ikegami Hyakuchikutei, a historical Japanese tea room and garden, and house right across the road from the castle that is perfect for experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony while admiring the views of the garden.
Location: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0873, Japan // MAP
Matsumoto City Museum of Art
If you are a fan of art, you’ve probably heard of Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan’s most well-known artists for her vivid displays of vibrant colors, textures, and design. But did you know Matsumoto that Kusama was born in Matsumoto?
As a child, Yayoi Kusama began struggling with her mental health having visual and auditory hallucinations that led to her finding some healing in artistic expression through early drawings, some of which you can see on display at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art. After living in the United States for some time she moved back to Japan and settled in Tokyo in 1973.
Although Kusama has openly struggled with her mental health throughout her life, it was during this period that she was unable to work. In 1977 she found a doctor who was using art therapy as a way to help those struggling with their mental health. Kusama became a permanent resident and has since lived in the hospital by choice with her studio a short distance away.
At the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, you can view a permanent collection of Kusama’s works and learn more about her artistic process. Although there are museums around the world that have a permanent collection of Kusama’s work, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art is one of the only museums with a collection of works from childhood to adulthood allowing visitors to experience her soul.
Location: 4 Chome-2-22 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Yohashira Shrine was built in 1874 right on the Metoba River along Nawate Street. Although this shrine complex isn’t as large as some of the popular shrines in Kyoto, it is very special because it is dedicated to not one, but four Shinto deities which is very rare. Because of this, Yohashira Jinja is believed to have special powers for wishes. During the spring you’ll find the shrine surrounded by blooming sakura trees whereas in the fall the trees are illuminated with vibrant autumn colors, both of which make for an exceptionally picturesque view.
Location: 3 Chome-3-20 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0874, Japan // MAP
One evening in Matsumoto make sure you visit Eonta, a jazz bar that has been popular with locals since the 1970s! They have an exceptional vinyl collection as well as coffee and cocktails to enjoy while listening to music in the cozy atmosphere.
Location: 4 Chome-9-7 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0874, Japan // MAP
Matsumoto Timepiece Museum
In 1974 Mr. Chikazo Honda donated his extensive collection of antique clocks and timepieces in hopes that people could enjoy the history of these pieces leading to the creation of the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum. The museum starts with an introduction to the history of watches showing how they evolved. After you’ll find an extensive collection of clocks from many different eras and other timepieces that are all in working condition. It’s truly a fascinating historical museum with over 300 timepieces to view.
Location: 1 Chome-21-15 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Nakamachi Shopping Street
Nakamachi Shopping Street is known for its historic traditional storehouses called kura. Although these black-and-white buildings are no longer storehouses, they are still largely in use as cafes, restaurants, and shops where you can find traditional Japanese handicrafts like pottery, wooden crafts, and lacquerware.
Here are some stores to visit on Nakamachi Shopping Street:
- Masaki Amsei: Jewelry store with unique and dainty pieces
- Chikiriya Craft Shop: Pottery and ceramics store
- Antiquarian Bookstore Shuousha: Used bookstore
- Ichi no Kura: Dried fruits and vegetable snack store
- ChuPa: Thrift store with unique second-hand items
Location: 3 Chome-2-14 Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Nawate Shopping Street
If you’re looking for another shopping street to visit in Matsumoto pop over to Nawate Shopping Street after browsing Nakamachi which is just across the river. This pedestrian street has a similar feel as Nakamachi because of its historic buildings but one unique charm of this street is a recurring frog theme!
The Metoba River, which runs parallel to Nawate was once filled with Kajika frogs which live only in clear waters. Unfortunately, the river flooded destroying the frog habitats and the waters have since lost some of their clarity but the symbol of the frog remained as a beloved symbol of revitalization.
Here are some stores to visit on Nawate Shopping Street:
- Itta Leather: Leather goods store
- Raijindo: Homemade rice crackers including some with miso from the area!
- Pino Libro: Japanese handicrafts store that sells ceramics and other items.
- RiBBit: Cute frog souvenirs as well as other Japanese textiles and handicrafts.
- Mina Perhonen: Textile store with clothing and accessories.
Location: Japan, 〒390-0874 Nagano, Matsumoto, Ote, 3 Chome−4−3 松本Ｍ―１// MAP
Matsumoto Brewery & Tap Room
The craft beer scene has become very popular in Japan over the years and Matsumoto Brewery Tap Room has been a widespread success in the area. Stop in for a pint of one of their beers on tap while relaxing in the tap room or purchase some bottles to-go to enjoy back at your hotel!
Location: 3 Chome-4-２１−イ Central, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0811, Japan // MAP
Ishii Miso Factory
Located on Nakamachi Street, Ishii Miso Factory was founded in 1868 and still uses traditional brewing methods of making miso. Inside the factory, you can view the brewing process inside wooden barrels used for the fermentation process. After, be sure to try miso dishes such as traditional miso soup, miso dressing on a salad, and even miso ice cream!
Location: 1 Chome-8-1 Uzuhashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0813, Japan // MAP
Kametaya Sake Brewery
Interested in learning more about sake? The Kametaya Sake Brewery is well worth the short trip out of the city. This brewery tour transports you to a pastime where you’ll walk along the paths of long-ago merchants. Within the rooms of the farmhouse, you’ll see most of the original furniture! Of course, while visiting you’ll learn more about sake production as well as get to try some of the sake from the brewery. Don’t leave without purchasing a little to take home with you!
TIP: Be sure to make a reservation for the brewery tour on their website beforehand if this is something you are interested in. Otherwise, you can simply visit the storefront!
Location: 2748 Shimadachi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0852, Japan // MAP
Eh-Shuzo Sake Brewery
While the Kametaya Sake Brewery tour is more of a historical sake tour, you can also take a sake brewery and tasting tour at Eh-Shuzo Sake Brewery. This brewery tour guides you through a more modern sake brewing process followed by a visit to the tasting room where you can also view a collection of sake-related historical artifacts.
Location: 1090-1 Toyoshinatakibe, Azumino, Nagano 399-8204, Japan // MAP
Do you have an interest in learning more about Japanese wine or is wine more your style than sake? Take a short trip to Yamabe Winery which makes their wine from single varieties of grapes. You can enjoy trying their wines at the winery or alongside items from the lunch cafe. During certain seasons you can also visit the Farmer’s Garden which is next to the winery and you can enjoy fresh grapes and other fruits and vegetables.
Location: 1315-2 Iriyamabe, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0222, Japan // MAP
Matsumoto Mingeikan Folk Art Museum
If you are interested in traditional Japanese folkcrafts then you must visit Matsumoto Mingeikan Folk Art Museum which is a short distance away from the city center. Although the museum is small, it has an impressive collection of over 7,000 articles of porcelain, ceramics, bamboo ware, wooden crafts, and other traditional arts.
Location: 1313-1 Satoyamabe, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0221, Japan // MAP
Also consider visiting: Daio Wasabi Farm, A Quick Day Trip From Matsumoto