Are you planning a Matsumoto day trip from Tokyo or surrounding areas? Often overlooked in favour of other locations by first-timers, this fascinating city in the Japanese Alps has a few ace cards up its sleeve for curious visitors.

Once an important trading town between Edo (today’s Tokyo) and Nagoya, for those who enjoy art, culture and exploring off the beaten track in Japan, there is more to Matsumoto 松本 than first meets the eye!

Matsumoto Day Trip Itinerary: Castle & Town in One Day | The Invisible Tourist

Featuring canals lined with traditional wooden buildings, whitewashed stone warehouses converted into restaurants, an interesting story behind frog talismans, and hidden shrines all against a mountainous backdrop, Matsumoto pleasantly surprised me and is worth a night or two.

To help ease overtourism issues in Japan, I recommend visiting overlooked cities such as this. My one day Matsumoto itinerary covers the main sights as well as some lesser-known gems to help enrich your visit. Read on for more!

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Matsumoto Day Trip Itinerary: Castle & Town in One Day | The Invisible Tourist
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TIP: Matsumoto forms part of my 3 weeks in Japan itinerary which combines the Old & New Golden Routes, and guide to day trips from Tokyo. You could also incorporate it into your 2 week Japan itinerary, so take a look for more ideas once you’re done here.

Things to do in Matsumoto: One day itinerary

As well as the famed castle, Matsumoto is a compact city which is easily explored on foot. I’ll share the things to do in Matsumoto in one day, plus some options for day trips from the city if you have some extra time in the area. Let’s take a look!

Matsumoto Castle

Is Matsumoto worth visiting? In my opinion, a day trip to Matsumoto Castle from Tokyo is worth it because photos don’t do this structure any justice. The intricate details adorning it are much more striking and obvious in person!

Known affectionately to locals as the Black Crow for its dark appearance, Matsumoto Castle 松本城 is one of the only remaining 12 in Japan with its original keep. Personally I find this remarkable, as the castle dates back to 1504. During the Warring States Period, the castle changed hands six times

I do recommend exploring its interior, where wooden beams wear dark scars from fire and other evidence of historical events still visible today. Several artefacts are on display serving as a reminder of what the castle has endured throughout the past five centuries.

TIP: A word of warning: Shoes need to be removed before entering. The polished wooden staircases are ridiculously steep (and a little slippery in socks). As a short person measuring in at 5’2”, I had to shuffle down on my backside due to the spacing between steps. It really made me wonder how ninjas managed to hurl themselves up and down in a hurry!

Matsumoto Castle Grounds | The Invisible Tourist

TIP: Directly opposite the castle is Matsumoto City Museum (not to be confused with the Matsumoto Museum of Art further down the page). Home to 90,000 artefacts from the local region, learn about the city’s topography, its origins, roles of the shogun leaders throughout the centuries and more. Texts are in English, you can find more info about the museum here. It’s not usually busy and no reservations are required in advance. 

Nawate-dori 

This is one of the more unusual Matsumoto attractions! From the castle, meander south down to Nawate-dori 縄手通りrunning beside the Metoba River, around 5 mins walk.

Dating back to the early 16th century, today narrow Nawate Street is lined with small shops and cafes. You’ll notice hundreds of kitschy frog ornaments dotted everywhere, but why are they here?

The adjacent Metoba River was filled with the sounds of happily croaking frogs, until a large flood in 1959 destroyed the area. Unfortunately the frogs never returned afterwards, but the talismen instead fondly remind the locals they were once there. 

A huge sculpture of sword-wielding frogs marks the street’s entrance, thought to guard local businesses.

Yohashira Shrine

Make a wish at Yohashira Shrine 四柱神社. As the shrine is dedicated to four Shinto deities (which is rare in Japan) it’s been thought to have special wish-granting properties since the Meiji Period sine 1974 when it was built. This is a spot to see cherry blossoms during spring in Japan.

Yohashira Shrine, Matsumoto

Nakamachi-dori

Next up on this Matsumoto day trip, head to Nakamachi-dori 中町通り to see the old kura storehouses now converted into eateries and shop at the specialty stores. The whitewashed stone buildings feature contrasting dark-grey geometric patterns, making them a pretty sight.

Maybe even pick up some temari balls – these are old-school embroidered toys for kids and a symbol of Matsumoto.

The store Watashi no Heya is AMAZING for hand-crafted souvenirs. I picked up some small porcelain pieces and a gorgeous furoshiki cloth (find out what this is in my guide to traditional Japanese souvenirs).

TIP: Don’t forget to look down when you’re walking. You’ll notice the terami balls on pretty drain covers dotted throughout the streets!

Nakamachi-dori, Matsumoto

Genchi Well

Matsumoto is fortunate to have an abundant natural supply of groundwater flowing beneath it. As a result, the city is known for its numerous water fountains throughout its streets.

Geometric Genchi Well 源智の井戸 is a historical spot to try this refreshing water, it’s been popular here since the Edo Period. You can refill your water bottle at the classic hand-pump at Kurassic-kan.

Kasamori Inari Shrine

This is one you won’t find in many other Matsumoto day trip itineraries. In the shadow of towering skyscrapers and located beside Jorin-ji Temple 浄林寺, Kasamori Inari Shrine is a lovely overlooked gem.

Its signature vermilion torii gates enticing to walk beneath open to a small courtyard. It’s like a very miniature version of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto.

To the sounds of the small waterfall, admire the gorgeous little Japanese koi pond and mossy features. Jorin-ji’s main wooden gate is the oldest in Matsumoto, dating back to the late 17th century.

You’ll see a few Inari foxes, believed to be messengers to the gods in Shinto religion (native to Japan), and will be able to admire the detailed craftsmanship of the colourful wood carvings adorning the small shrine. Don’t forget to leave a coin and make a wish!

Don't miss lovely Kasamori Inari Shrine during your Matsumoto day trip

Indulge in the local sake 

Alpine cities in Japan such as Takayama are famed for their sake (rice wine)! This is because it’s believed the local mountain water is the most pure in these regions, which in turn creates the best sake (nihonshu in Japanese). 

If you’re staying at Hotel Kagestu as I did, directly opposite on the corner is a small local joint called Standing Bar 8 Ounce, which I recommend. 

My travel partners and I had a great time here trying the different kinds of sake and chatting to salarymen who were interested in why we were visiting Matsumoto! Really fun.

TIP: You can instead join a sake tasting walking tour of Matsumoto here.

Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Are you familiar with the works of Yayoi Kusama? Perhaps one of Japan’s most recognised artist on an international scale, her polka-dotted artworks are beloved by many. 

Having been born and raised locally, a collection of Yayoi Kusama’s work is on display at the The Matsumoto City Museum of Art 松本市美術館. 

I didn’t make the time to visit during my Matsumoto 1 day itinerary, but it gives me a reason to go back someday! There are also other renowned Japanese artists’ works to enjoy and special exhibitions.

Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Day trips if you have more than one day in Matsumoto

Why not extend your stay and choose from one or more of these nearby day trips from Matsumoto?

Daio Wasabi Farm

While the regional specialty is soba buckwheat noodles, Matsumoto is also known for its wasabi production! Take a guided trip out to the extensive farmlands and learn about its cultivation and even taste wasabi ice cream! 

TIP: Book your wasabi farm day trip here.

Ukiyo-e Woodblock Museum

Located in Matsumoto’s suburbs and housing the world’s largest private collection of woodblock prints in Japan, Ukiyo-e Woodblock Museum 日本浮世絵博物館 is not to be missed if you’re a Hokusai fan!

There are over 100,000 prints, books and painting screens, depicting lifestyle during the Edo Period (1604 – 1868), collected by a family over several generations.

TIP: Note the museum is closed on Mondays. Buy museum tickets in advance here.

Hiking Kamikochi day trip

Its turquoise rivers, lush greenery and snow-capped mountains created by volcanic eruptions in the distance, Kamikochi is a popular, scenic hiking destination nearby Matsumoto. 

TIP: You can do a guided Matsumoto to Kamikochi day trip hike here.

Walking the Nakasendo Trail day trip

Spanning 8 kilometres in the stunning Kiso Valley, the well-preserved old post towns between Tsumago and Magome are like stepping back in time. Spot waterfalls amongst stunning mountain landscapes!

TIP: You can take this guided day trip from Matsumoto to the Nakasendo Trail here

Magome, Kiso Valley is lovely to visit if you have more than one day in Matsumoto
Magome, Kiso Valley

What to eat in Matsumoto

Most regions in Japan are famous for a particular local specialty. Just like Nagano, Matsumoto is famous for soba buckwheat noodles, eaten hot or cold. Wasabi is also popular here – try wasabi on everything and even ice cream if you dare!

How to get to Matsumoto Japan

Matsumoto city is located in Nagano Prefecture. It can be reached in a few hours from either Tokyo or Nagano city:

Tokyo to Matsumoto

  • From Tokyo’s JR Shinjuku Station, take the JR Chuo Line Limited Express Azusa 37 to JR Matsumoto Station, 2.5 hours direct with no changes.
  • Cost: 6620 yen one way or covered by the Japan Rail Pass or JR East Niigata Area Pass.

Nagano to Matsumoto

  • From JR Nagano Station, take the JR Shinano Limited Express Shinano 18 to JR Matsumoto Station, 50 mins direct with no changes.
  • Cost: 2900 yen one way or covered by the Japan Rail Pass or JR East Niigata Area Pass.

Concluding this one day trip to Matsumoto itinerary 

This wraps up my suggestions for spending one day in Matsumoto! Now you know what to expect inside the city’s most significant structure, interesting places to see, stores to shop at, what to eat and even an option for a day trip from Matsumoto to a surrounding area if you wish. 

I hope this makes planning your Japan trip easier! What do you think of this Matsumoto guide? Will you visit the Black Crow castle on your Matsumoto day trip? Let me know or ask any questions in the comments below.

While you’re here, my detailed travel blog for Japan includes my recommended Tokyo itinerary you can tailor to suit your interests. And, my itineraries for other amazing cities in the Japanese Alps can help plan your trip in this beautiful area:

Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book!

Feeling social? Join my free Japan Off the Beaten Path Facebook Group or follow along Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram for more travel tips and inspiration for “blending in” in Japan and beyond!

Until next time,
The Invisible Tourist

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One Day in Matsumoto Itinerary: Castle Town Day Trip | The Invisible Tourist

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