Matsumoto was on our Japanese itinerary because it’s home to Japan’s oldest and most authentic National Treasure castle, compared to most Japanese historic castles which are not authentic at all.
According to Japan Guide Matsumoto Castle (松本城, Matsumotojō):
“Is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan’s original castles. The wooden interior of Matsumoto Castle provides an authentic experience unlike that felt at many other castles rebuilt of ferro-concrete.”
“Interesting features of the castle include steep wooden stairs, openings to drop stones onto invaders, openings for archers, as well as an observation deck at the top, sixth floor of the main keep with nice views over the surrounding city”.
You can learn more about Matsumoto Castle’s history and National Treasure status at the official website.
Getting to Matsumoto from Nikko Using JR Pass
We travelled to Matsumoto from Nikko on a series of JR trains which took 236 minutes.
First we travelled back to Utsunomiya on a local Nikko line train. Then we caught a fast Nasuno 270 train to Omiya, where we changed to go to Nagano on a Kagayaki 509 train.
At Nagano we got on a Shinano (Wide View) Limited Express Shinkansen Bullet train, whose large windows allowed us to see the landscape we were zooming past on the way to Matsumoto.
Where to Stay & What to do in Matsumoto
From Matsumoto we walked 5 minutes to check-in at the Richmond Hotel Matsumoto which was quite inexpensive.
Our room was quite large and the front desk service was excellent, lending us umbrellas as it was raining. Another handy feature at the hotel was the coin operated washing machines and dryers, which we needed as we were mid trip and had plenty of clothes to wash.
After checking in to the hotel we walked about 15 minutes to Matsumoto Castle and joined the queue to enter. While in the queue we were approached by a friendly local volunteer who said that because we were “honoured foreign visitors” he would give us a free guided tour of the castle. We were very lucky this happened because the castle didn’t have English information inside.
The views from inside the castle were great. There was a tree near the castle which had especially good red Koyo autumn leaf colouration.
Afterwards it was dinner time. Happy Cow didn’t have any suggestions we liked so we went to Kobayashi-Soba, the most highly rated place to eat in all of Matsumoto.
We really enjoyed the excellent Soba noodles and other vegetarian Japanese food at this authentic local restaurant which is over 100 years old.
As a side note, while visiting Japan make sure you keep an eye out for the manhole covers on suburban streets. That probably sounds like a strange thing to look out for but I have a good reason, most Japanese towns and cities have colourful artwork on their manhole covers. What a great idea!
Example Japan By Train Itinerary
We decided upon this itinerary (fly in to Narita (NRT) Airport > Tokyo > Nikko > Matsumoto > Koyasan > Hiroshima > Miyajima Island > Kyoto > fly out from Kansai Airport (KIX)) because we thought we could return to Japan again in the future and use Tokyo as a base to do day trips to places like Kamakura and visit attractions like the Ghibli Museum and the Meiji shrine.
Key Japan Tips
We knew that vegetarians are rare in Japan and we can’t read Japanese so we bought the mobile app for Happy Cow Vegan/Vegetarian places to eat so it wouldn’t be as hard to find food for our meals.
If you are going to catch a lot of JR trains during your holiday in Japan we recommend considering purchasing a JR pass, which has to be bought before you leave your home country.
We strongly suggest using the super useful Japan Hyperdia website to look at train schedules and the cost of different tickets. It will save you a lot of time and tell you exactly which trains you can catch between 2 stations, with different options balancing speed/number of train changes/journey time.
We highly recommend having mobile data on your phone so you can use it for map directions and finding places to eat.
View my Japan Photo Gallery
Japan Travel FAQ
There is a great Japan travel tips FAQ page on Whirlpool forums, well worth visiting for advice.