MATSUMOTO (ATT.JAPAN ISSUE 13)
Catch an enchanted glimpse of the Japanese countryside. Bold mountain terrain is the backdrop for this land of streaming springs, boundless pastures, an ancient castle, and wonders yet to be found.
Matsumoto – One of Japan’s Mere Handful of Castle Towns
Nagano is a landlocked prefecture located in the middle of this island nation of Japan. Nagano Prefecture shares its borders with more prefectures than any other in the country. Among other cities in central Nagano, Matsumoto stands out. The prefectural capital, Nagano City is the city of Zenkoji Temple and Matsumoto, a castle city built up around Matsumoto Castle from days of old.
Matsumoto Castle has Japan’s oldest intact castle tower. The original castle is said to have been built in 1504, although from 1593~1594 its fifth level was modified to take on its present-day appearance.
The white plaster walls, with their black weather boarding towards the bottom brilliantly contrast the castle tower. The castle is the symbol of Matsumoto – the star of the show.
Set Out and Soak Up the Castle Town Vibrations
By foot is the best means to take in the scenery and culture of this castle town. Honmachi Dori stretching straight South from the castle, Nakamachi Dori stretching out into the East, and Higashimachi Dori running north-south on the castle’s east side are the perfect roads to roam in this quest. Segregation of industry is evident as we can see Honmachi’s warehouses, sake breweries, and kimono and fabric merchants; Nakamachi, and its abundance and variety warehouses; Higashimachi, with its neighborhood of traditional inns; and Isemachi with its abundance of smitheries. Nakamachi Dori was once known as Zenkoji Way. This village of storehouses is still in place today as fish wholesalers, fabric merchants, and sake breweries line this town of villagers. Higashimachi Dori’s prosperous and dynamic merchants are in plain sight, the glory of yesteryear is passed down even today.
The story behind Matsumoto’s numerous warehouses starts in the Edo Era. With Matsumoto being a central terminal to the then three major passages and areas in the country (Hokkoku Nishikaido, Itoigawakaido, and Nomugikaido), The flow of commodities was constant. The townspeople competed by constructing handsome fortified warehouses and living quarters with black and white crisscross patterned wainscot panels. These were possible due to Matsumoto’s low accumulation of snow, and are characteristic of the architecture that can be found here.
Former Kaichi School
Early Ambitions to the West and its Architecture
Former Kaichi School, north of Matsumoto Castle, is a designated important cultural property. It served as a school from the ninth to the eighteenth year of the Meiji Era and was built in the “imitation Western architecture” style as Japanese carpenters in the Meiji Era tried to copy the look of Western buildings using native building techniques. Former Kaichi School is one of the nation’s oldest elementary schools. The weathercock towers above from the top. Angels float under the green karahafu, a Japanese architectural feature of curving the roof and gables, on the front of this beautiful stained glass windowed Western building. But before you go calling it Western, check out the dragon on the balcony and other imbalances in design – this is truly a unique style of architecture from the blossoming of civilization.
Utsukushi-ga-Hara Highland Opens Out in the East
Matsumoto’s perimeter is surrounded by mountainous. On the city’s East Side stretches the Utsukushi-ga-hara Highland of flower farms and pastures. Right there at 2,000m elevation, on the stretch of the eastern slope is a great outdoors style art museum – Utsukushi-ga-hara Open-Air Museum. The roof of the building has a spectacular lookout where you can enjoy breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view from the Northern, Central, and Southern Alps, Mt. Fuji, Mt. Asama, to Yatsugatake. At the center of Utsukushi-ga-hara is the symbolic wistow stone obelisk-like bellfry tower standing some 6 meters tall. Around the tower, cows leisurely graze in the summertime pastures.
Village of Fresh Spring Water
On the West End of the city, facing the Northern Alps, you’ll find Azumino and Hotaka. Azumino is famous for the fresh snow runoff that overtime filters through the rocks to fill its water table, and gush out most deliciously. Rice paddies soak up this rich and clear water, and local wasabi cultivators won’t settle for anything less than this pure and clean out pour.
Savor this well known spring water as you explore this country town. Fresh local wasabi brought forth from these famous waters will also strike you. Down at the Dio Wasabi Farm is the best place to get to know the delicacy of this enchanted water country. Boasting some 150 thousand ha., this is Japan’s largest continuous wasabi farm. In just one day, around 15 tons of water gushes through. The on-flow of this water, carefully cleansed and filtered to perfect purity by the hand of nature, sways the fresh green wasabi leaves, making them dance on the water.
Azumino is also well known as a museum town. In recent years, a full spectrum of unique museums, with specialized exhibits, keying on specific themes, have emerged.
Hot Springs Speckle the Countryside
What makes the alluring Matsumoto even more so are its natural hot springs, studded all throughout its outskirts. First experience the gusto of the flood of unique local cuisine, then take it slow, drifting your cares away, refreshing with energy anew, in the sacred hot spring water.
Here, the soba is a must, and the scenery of the landscape embraced by the high Alps Mountains is absolutely breathtaking. Come on out and explore this special land where East is intertwined with West.