Matsumoto Castle & Takayama (Nagano & Gifu)

motsumoto castle kelly odonnell Matsumoto castle in Nagano was built more than 400 years ago and is one of the most unique castles I have ever seen. It was designed to be nearly all black to help keep it safe from enemies at night. It is sometimes referred to as the “Crow Castle.” It is surrounded by a traditional mote and beautiful grounds. It is listed as a National Treasures of Japan. You can tour the inside of the castle. There are six floors and many national treasurers are displayed in cases inside.  Beware however, the “stairs” are very steep and slippery, some are more like ladders. I wouldn’t recommend it for toddlers or older folks who may have difficulty climbing. It certainly is not stroller friendly. You also have to remove your shoes before entering the castle. We visited in November and the floors inside were very cold so make sure you have socks! English brochures and tour guides are available. After touring the castle we walked to some nearby shrines and walked along the river where there were lots of antique and souvenir shops. Admission cost 600¥ per adult, children are 300¥. The only days they are closed are December 29 – January 3rd.   www.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

motsumoto kelly odonnellDriving time from Yokota was approximately 2 1/2 hours. It is in the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture.  GPS coordinates to parking lot for Matsumoto castle, which was a two block walk from the castle. 36.235216, 137.969180 – updated post and photos by Kelly O’Donnell, November 2013

Matsumoto Castle, about 200km west of Yokota, is sure to be a hit with kids. It was built in the 1500s, and still has many tiny windows intended for firing arrows and early firearms. A gun museum is on the second floor. Visitors can climb up into the tower and have a lovely view of the moat and the city. The tourism bureau there is very active. On the castle grounds we found volunteer guides ready to give tours in English. Costumed “samurai” with long guns prowl the grounds, eager to have their picture taken with tourists. The day we were there, in July 2011, it was over 100•F, and there was a booth on the grounds giving out free snow cones! The city’s historic district lies along the river, and there were some intriguing antique/junk shops.
Another fascinating place to visit is a 10-minute walk from the castle: The Old Kaichi School (Kyu Kaichi Gakko 旧開智学校)
We then drove into the mountains, where it was lovely and cool and spent the night. We stayed in our camper, but we noticed several campsites and onsens with rooms and cabins.  Liz Ruskin, 2011

SIDE TRIPS:
Wasabi Farm tour (Daio Wasabi Farm) is one of the biggest distributors of wasabi in Japan.  The grounds are picturesque and touring the farm is free.  We enjoyed a clear bottom boat ride, seeing how wasabi is picked and processed, and tasting all the wasabi treats – including wasabi ice cream and wasabi beer.  Parking was free and easy.  It is located just north of Matsumoto on highway 147.   Anna Quan-Schmoldt, 2012

We went to Takayama, a picturesque city (aka Hida Takayama) where the streets are lined with old wooden houses and shops. A dozen or more have been turned into small history and craft museums. We also visited Hida Folk Village, just outside of Takayama. I thought it was going to be an icky tourist trap. Boy, was I wrong. It’s a nicely landscaped park where about 20 old thatch-roofed farmhouses from the region have been moved for preservation. As you walk through them, you learn not only about the buildings but about the life and history of the area. In some, traditional crafts are on display. Be sure not to miss the silkworm house! Takayama also has two well-regarded morning markets featuring produce from surrounding farms. Liz Ruskin, 2011

Also see the post on Kamicochi – the Yosemite of Japan.

PLACE TO STAY:
Northstar Lodge is a great place to stay in the Matsumoto area, with lots of recreational opportunity and nearby onsen.  – Theresa O, 2011

If you are going to Matsumoto Castle, consider staying at Kurobe View Hotel located 40 kilometers north of Matsumoto in the town Omachi.  Omachi is a mountain town in the Northern Japanese Alps, Nagano Prefecture.  The hotel has wonderful hot springs on site which are divided into his and hers. We enjoyed the Japanese breakfast and dinner that are included in the price.  It is located across from an apple orchard and there are apple festivals in August and September.  With Japanese-style rooms, the place was child-friendly and accommodating for our family of five – with a futon for each of us, all in the same room.  There is a cute downtown, walking distance from the hotel.  In town, we saw an entire troop of snow monkeys come out of the woods, which I understood was a fairly common occurrence.  For more things to do in Omachi, like seeing the highest damn in Japan and taking a ropeway through the mountains, check the Official Travel Guide of Japan entry for Omachi. Leaving Omachi, on 45 toward Hakuba, we found a fabulous place to eat Belgian waffles and ice cream in a log cabin chalet that looked like it came straight from the Swiss Alps.  I was impressed with the French press coffee. Yum.  Anna Quan-Schmoldt, 2012

DIRECTIONS: It’s a straight-forward drive to Matsumoto, taking the Chuo Expressway & Nagano Expressway. Plot a course on Googlemaps or talk to the folks at the Yujo to get their map on finding the Chuo entrance. Alternatively, you could take the train. There’s even an semi-express train from Tachikawa, but it only leaves a few times a day.

Tip: Rent a van from Vehicle Operations for this trip because toll prices are expensive.  Anna Quan-Schmoldt, 2012

Helpful websites

Matsumoto Castle

The Old Kaichi School (Kyu Kaichi Gakko 旧開智学校)

Takayama guide

Takayama museums


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