It was getting dark very quickly once we left Takasaki for Matsumoto. By the time we got at our Ryokan it was already pretty late at night. We stayed at Asama Onsen Tamanoyu. It was our first time staying at a Ryokan; the staff at the frot desk was very friendly, professional and spoke excellent English. They informed us about available booking hours for the private onsen and let us choose between Western and Japanese style breakfast. This time we both picked Western Style breakfast as Japanese buffet style was also available during breakfast at all times. We were quite tired after a long day of travel & sightseeing so we decided to quickly refresh, grab a yukata for me and head to the onsen to relax straight away. I have tattoos therefore I can’t enter most public bath houses without covering them up. Being able to experience private onsen is the most viable option for me. The hotel has a couple of choices of open air, rooftop onsen to choose from. Once on the roof we realized how cold it was. After all, it was autumn and in the middle of the mountains, the chill was serious. It was so amazing to soak up in the hot, healing onsen after an intense day. There really isn’t a more relaxing thing I can think of then unwinding in a private, open air onsen. Your skin feels amazing and I slept like a baby the whole night through.
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed into the city to explore. The receptionist highly recommend renting a kimono & taking a stroll around Matsumoto Castle. We got little temeri ball key charms as goodbye gifts and went on our way. Matsumoto is famous for it’s temari handballs; they are one of the more prominent symbols of the city. A legend says that over 200 years ago the spouse of a ruling samurai lord made the first temari. These folk crafts were originally made from scraps and odds of silk yarn and primarily used as toys. It’s actual history goes all the way back to Tang Dynasty, China, and the spread of cuju (kind of like a Chinese soccer.) So it makes sense that when those first made their way to Japan they were mostly used as playthings. Later on it evolved into the beautiful folk craft it is to this day. From gifts from bride to groom’s family representing harmony between the two bloodlines to a popular good luck souvenir.
Overall the ryokan experience was excellent and I’d highly recommend this place to any one interested in visiting Matsumoto city.
We parked our car at a little parking lot near the castle. It was a warm, sunny day & I slightly regretted putting on so many layers of clothing (turtle necks, dress, tights and thigh high socks.) Our first step: Nawate street. Nawate Dori is a shopping street along the river bank lined with about 50 shops that sell everything from antiques, “dagashi” sweets stalls, bakeries, souvenir shops to kimon rentals & boutiques. The street is dotted with images of frogs. It is said that it’s due to it’s proximity to the river bank which once echoed the croaking of frogs.
Originally we were going to explore a bit. Have some local snacks. Buy a few folk crafts and souvenirs, head to the castle and then finish the day off by visiting the Yayoi Kusama museum. However, as we were walking through Nawate Dori we passed many people wearing the kimono heading to the near by temple; Dan convinced me to follow the ryokan’s advice and see if we can rent a kimono for me. We ended up at Matcha Garden Cafe & Kimono Rental near by. The shop only rents out pure silk kimono & nagoya style obi. The staff is very friendly and helpful and speaks English very well. I was nervous but the staff was so welcoming and pleasant to talk to it made the whole experience much smoother than I anticipated. I got to choose my own kimono & accessories to match before getting dressed. I felt extremely privileged to be able to wear a kimono. I felt so beautiful and elegant! I’m glad Dan convinced me to give it a go!
address: Todoroki Bldg West 2F Chuo 2-3-20 Matsumoto city
Nagano, JAPAN 390-0811
Once we were ready we went on to the Matsumoto Castle. We took some pictures around the castle & than got our ticket to get in. The castle is one of Japan’s premier historic castles, along with Himeji and Kumamoto. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan, and is one of the twelve remaining original tenshu (‘the most important and symbolic architecture of castles. It is the highest place of the castle, so the lord residing could look all around the castle and direct its army. Therefore, tenshu was also a symbol of power in feudalism.’) in Japan. Definitely a must see in Matsumoto!
After exploring the castle we walked around the city for a couple of hours mostly buying gifts to send to Dan’s family in Singapore. After having some ramen we realized it was getting late so we decided to head back to Matcha Garden to return the kimono.
I really enjoyed my time in Matsumoto and it quickly became one of my favorite places in Japan. I regret only spending one day here. In the end I didn’t have enough time to see the Yayoi Kusama museum (the famous fine artist was born in Matsumoto.) ,which I was a bit bummed out about. I was hoping to be able to go the newly opened Yayoi Kusuma museum in Tokyo upon our return but the tickets were already sold out for weeks in advance so it’s still on my ‘must see’ places to visit in Japan.