Matsumoto Castle was the seat of government for the Matsumoto Domain during the Edo Period. Its iconic black tenshu, or keep, lies directly on the inner moat and with no nearby tall buildings or power lines to distract, it is easily one of the most photogenic castles in all of Japan. Inside the castle is a collection of Edo Period firearms. Although beautiful year round, the castle is particularly striking in the spring when the cherry blossoms bloom and also in autumn when the trees on the surrounding mountains turn yellow and red. As the city center of Matsumoto is compact, you can easily use the castle as your base to explore the town.
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, established in 1982 by the Sakai family, houses the largest single collection of ukiyo-e in the world which the family has maintained since the 18th century. The museum curates amazing exhibits drawn from its 100,000 piece collection and offers a half hour movie in English which talks about the history of ukiyo-e and the entire wood block printing process from start to finish. Bring some cash because there’s an excellent gift shop selling some of the most beautiful and iconic prints. Pro-tip: If you buy a combo ticket at the Architectural Museum next door, you’ll get a discount at this museum.
Matsumoto Open Air Architectural Museum
If you visit the Ukiyo-museum, which you totally should, you might as well go next door to the Matsumoto Open Air Architectural Museum. This museum features the house where advocator for democratic rights Kinoshita Naoe was born, the Matsumoto city court house, the 1950’s era solitary confinement cell block of Matsumoto Juvenile Prison, a silk factory and dormitory, and some other interesting buildings. Architectural museums are usually a goldmine for photographers and this one is no exception.
Daio Wasabi Farm (Matsumoto Station Front Shop)
The Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino is Japan’s largest wasabi farm (15 hectares!) and is worthy of a road trip, but if you don’t have a car or can’t justify a 30 minute drive from Matsumoto just to run around a wasabi farm, don’t worry. The Daio Wasabi Farm (Matsumoto Station Front Shop) stocks all kinds of wasabi goodies. This is a wasabi specialty shop stocking specially selected products made with their produce. There are plenty of delicious souvenirs and ingredients on sale here.
Kaiun-do is a high end wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop located west of Matsumoto Castle. While it might not be well known outside of the city, it is certainly renowned among the locals as a very prestigious confectionary shop. The store was established at the beginning of the Meiji Period, 1884 to be precise, and is worth checking out on your walk from the station towards the castle or on the return trip. While anything they make is bound to be good, their signature sweets are Kaiun Rosho, a mix of sweet azuki beans and cinnamon that looks like a grand old pine tree trunk, and Shinmi-to, a taffy-like mixture of honey and Manchurian walnut. While Matsumoto natives usually pick something up for special occasions or as gifts, it’s also a nice way to indulge yourself at snack time.