“Matsumoto Castle”

Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan. November 2018 – February 2019 (18 photos)

This is part 8 of my Japan 2018-19 photo series.

Matsumoto (松本市) is a city located in Nagano Prefecture, Japan with an estimated population of just over 240,000. Back in November 2018, I was checking the Tokyo weather report one evening. It was supposed to be raining in Tokyo the next day. So I went to the Japan Rail ticket office at 8pm and bought a return train ticket for the next day to Matsumoto for a day trip which I had planned to do at some stage during my trip. Fortunately I made the right choice in regards to the weather. Here are some of my Matsumoto moments…

“Autumn leaves at the Yohashira Shrine”

“Ninja alert”

This is a classic looking Japanese wall I found at the Yohashira Shrine, and I expected to find ninja silently stalking the area, at least based on the TV shows and movies I’ve seen. I half expected to see a ninja being thrown through that wall whilst battling a samurai or secret agent but there was no such action that day.

“Nawate dori”

Nawate dori is a street lined with quaint small shops with a recurring frog theme. The banks of the river once echoed with the voices of frogs. Kaeru, the Japanese word for “frog” can also mean “to return home.” Thus, as a symbol of the frog history and to invoke a safe return home, statues of frogs can be found along the street. There’s also a great rice cracker shop on this street, with many varied flavours to enjoy.

“A frog shrine on Nawate dori”

“Autumn in Agatonomori”

Strolling through Agatonomori, the Agata Forest Park.

By the way, most regions in Japan have a food specialty. Luckily for me, Matsumoto is famous for its Shinshu soba noodles, wasabi and sake. I ate well that day.

“The Crow Castle”

Matsumoto Castle is the major attraction of Matsumoto and is among Japan’s oldest fortresses. It is designated as a National Treasure of Japan.

Matsumoto’s black, wooden keep (donjon) is the oldest such structure in Japan, dating from 1595. The black paint gave the castle its nickname “Karasujo” (Crow Castle) and the dark color was designed to intimidate approaching opponents. Matsumoto Castle is built on level ground and has a wide moat as its primary means of defense.

“The defence of Matsumoto Castle”

Tourists can enter Matsumoto Castle for some great views from the top floor. Of course, you must first get past the shogun warrior to be allowed in. Not a problem to this dragon warrior.

In 1872, following the Meiji Restoration, the site, along with many former feudal/shogun castles, was sold at auction for redevelopment. When news broke that the keep was going to be demolished, however, an influential local Ichikawa Ryōzō, along with residents from Matsumoto, started a campaign to save the building. Their efforts were rewarded and the site was saved.

“Autumn at Matsumoto Castle”

“Matsumoto City Museum of Art”

The Matsumoto City Museum of Art showcases Japanese modern art with an emphasis on locally-born artists. Of particular note, it includes contemporary works by Yayoi Kusama. Born in Matsumoto in 1929, Yayoi Kusama is commonly regarded as the most popular living artist in the world, thanks in large part to Instagram. In the past five years, more than five million visitors have queued at museums to see her stuffed sculptures, mirrored rooms and expanses of brightly coloured spots.

“Random shop frontage”

Again, no luck with seeing a ninja. But ninja are skilled in the art of stealth, so just maybe…

I lost my wallet on the train trip back from Matsumoto to Tokyo. About 80 000 yen, 3 credit cards and my driver’s licence were gone, the wallet probably having slid out of my back pocket when I fell asleep on the train. Twelve hours afterwards when the lost property office opened, I called but no luck. However, another ten hours later, the kindly people of Japan Rail contacted me to tell me my wallet was found. Nothing had been taken from the wallet. I was immensely grateful that the stories one hears about honesty in Japan were true.

“Snow Monkey”

So, as I mentioned in my previous post about Snow Monkey Park I returned to Australia barely a week ago from another trip to Japan to visit the snow monkeys in Nagano Prefecture. Since it was just a short train ride from Nagano to Matsumoto before continuing to Tokyo, it was easy to decide to return to Matsumoto to take another wander around town, eat more soba and drink more sake.

“Lost in the crowd”

By the way, snow monkeys and humans mingle freely at Snow Monkey Park. There are no fences, just natural landscape features which restrict the humans, not the monkeys. People are asked to stay at least a metre away from them. In putting my previous post together, I forgot to include this photo of a baby snow monkey as it scrambled past me.

“Nakamachi dori”

Round two in Matsumoto. Given the great snow at snow monkey park I was hoping there’d be more snow cover on the surrounding mountains but it wasn’t to be. The old merchant area of Nakamachi dori, is a street of restored Japanese inns, restaurants, sake breweries and shops.

“Prayer cards in the afternoon sun”

Prayers and wishes are written onto wooden plaques at Tenjin Fukashi Shrine. I liked the sight of the afternoon sun shining around the plaques. I liked even more, the soothing sounds the plaques made as they swayed and rustled in the gentle breeze.

“Matsumoto moments”

“Life and death in Matsumoto”

The cemetary at Daisho-ji. I liked the way the memorials seemingly blended in with the surrounding buildings.

“The crow”

A crow on a branch looking over the Crow Castle. From here I went back to the train station to return to Tokyo. I was careful not to lose my wallet on the train a second time.

This is part 8 of my Japan 2018-19 photo series.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

Matsumoto Moments


93 thoughts on “Matsumoto Moments

    • Isn’t it beautiful? In addition to hoping there would be more snow on the surrounding mountains, I had hoped there might even be snow on the castle and grounds. I’ve been pictures like that. Maybe I should go in January sometime. 🙂

  1. Beautiful images as always dear Draco, so lovely to see Matsumoto in different seasons and I’m glad you included more photographs of the snow monkeys 🐒 So happy your wallet was handed in with all its contents – it happens here too and it’s lovely to see there are plenty of honest people left in the world 🙂🕊

    • Thank you very much, Xenia. Matsumoto is a lovely little city, and very easy to get around in. I couldn’t resist including the photo of the baby snow monkey – I did mean to include it in the previous post.
      I wasn’t hopeful about finding my wallet, particularly when it hadn’t been found 12 hours later, but I was immensely grateful it was returned and I thanked the JR staff profusely. 🙂 Yes, honesty, kindness and goodwill still exist.

  2. Absolutely stunning images… !!!

    I am not in a position to comment on the quality of these images… all are just top class.

    The short and simple narrative goes well with the flow of images and keeps you glued to the screen.

    The lost and found wallet story is the best advertisement to visit this amazing country and I hope I will be able to do it one day 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing and being an inspiration to all of us 🙂

    • Thank you very much. Yes, honesty, honour and respect are well known facets of the Japanese personna and only enhance Japan’s reputation. I do hope you get there one day. You won’t regret it.

  3. You ate well that day…is there a day that you don’t eat well on your journeys. 😉 How funny that the word for frog also means to return home. Japanese honesty is legendary and it’s wonderful that you got to experience it. Beautiful photos, as always.

    • Yes, well, I’m often thinking about food – it’s all part of the travel experience and there is so much good food, including desserts in Japan. Experiencing the culture, the honesty, the politeness, even the cartoon-like elements of Japan puts a smile on my face. I enjoy it there so much. 🙂

    • Thank you very much. They are cute, and you can be only a couple of feet away from them, and they completely ignore you. I thought it was funny the number of people I heard making sounds to try and get the snow monkeys to look at them. 🙂

    • It is a beautiful place and I’m glad I returned there, even though there is so much to see throughout Japan. I’ve heard so many similar stories about lost property in Japan. I would have preferred not to go through that experience but I was very happy, as was the attendant who handed my wallet back to me.

  4. I like the wonderful set of photos which open this post, but I love that blue wall with the creepers.

    Isn’t it too bad that one has to lose something to find out this wonderful aspect of Japan?

    • True but through my initial misfortune, I experienced the true heart of Japan. Everyone I spoke to expressed genuine concern, and when the attendant handed my wallet to me she was incredibly happy for me. Thank you, wandering away from the tourist locations on my second visit was just as interesting as my first visit.

    • Thank you very much for that information, Sally. I’ll look it up. I believe she still lives in a hospital for the mentally ill in Tokyo, near her workshop. I’m glad her work is being appreciated while she is alive. So many artists are denied that.

  5. “Autumn leaves at the Yohashira Shrine” is simply stunning. I have just been watching a TV programme about Monty Don (a famous UK gardener) visiting Japanese gardens in both spring and autumn. All fabulous. I think you should make your next visit in the springtime, you would capture the cherry blossom so perfectly.

    • Thank you very much, Jude. I spent quite a bit of time in Japanese gardens, particularly in Kyoto. Serenity is an immediate sensation. The interplay of plants, water, rock and graded sand is beautiful to see. I was admiring a section of one garden when the gardener deliberately walked up to me, bowed before me, smiled and went back to work. I’d love to see the cherry blossom season. Correct timing is an issue though, since I believe the flowering period is only short, and then there are the crowds. 🙂

      • From what I saw there are a lot of gardeners employed, the Japanese are meticulous, and although I like Japanese gardens and Zen gardens, they are on the whole too perfect for me. I like a few weeds and wildness 🙂 The Japanese garden near me is a little less perfect.

        • I think it’s more of “attention to detail” rather than perfection. There is the Japanese aesthetic concept of wabi sabi centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection which features in some gardens I’ve seen. In saying that, a weed may be “too imperfect” for a Japanese garden.

  6. Again – wonderful moments. I had never heard of this city, neither had the rest of my family (who have visited Japan all of them…). I feel I will include it whenever I get the chance to go.

  7. What wonderful autumnal colors and a magnificent castle! I’m glad they saved it. I could almost hear the soft clicking of the prayer plaques. Everything about this post was delightful, so thank you for that. I, too, was happy to read about the return of the wallet with everything intact. What a shame that we have to marvel at the honesty of the Japanese rather than taking it for granted because it’s that way everywhere.


    • Thank you, Janet. Yes, anywhere else I would have immediately reported to the police (to be able to claim insurance) but in Japan, I was another recipient of Japanese honesty. It makes me wonder how Japanese tourists react when they lose items on overseas holidays.
      It was a pleasure just wandering around Matsumoto. There’s so much beauty in the small details.

    • To my eyes, many of the small statues you see around Japan have a kind of childish-comic-cartoon character. I suppose it’s not surprising given that Japan is the home of Manga. Regardless, the shrines are always so serene.

  8. oh, shrines, castles, fortresses…. sounds like a magical place…. with frogs (i’d have tried to kiss one if i were there, just to see).
    And i’m glad you got the wallet back, i was half expecting you to say the contents didn’t return.
    And i like the part about restrictions being for the humans not the monkeys.

  9. Lovely building, interesting about the frogs, nice capture of the crow, gorgeous groundcover. Who needs Tokyo when you can go here? What a near miss in saving the crow’s nest building!

    • You’re right, the diversity of experiences in Japan is incredible. Yes, I was very fortunate to get my wallet back and I’m just that little bit more careful now when travelling.

  10. Heide says:

    Here’s another set of photos that literally took my breath away, Mr. Draco. Gorgeous, gorgeous work! That last image, especially … I can almost feel the breeze that’s whipping up those distant clouds. Arigato. [Heide bows in deference.]

    • Domo arigato. If I didn’t have a train to catch I would have stood there for a while longer to watch the sunset and then see the castle lights turned on. The castle is quite magnificent.

  11. Some of your images make me gasp 🙂 🙂 Your photos and Julie Riso’s words. What more does a person need to start the day? Thank you so much for sharing. I’ll brace myself for the cold now and go play with your Snow Monkeys.

    • Thanks very much, Jo. It’s a beautiful town and I felt quite at ease just strolling around doing nothing. If a go a third time, I will have to make time to visit the Suntory Hakushu distillery which is nearby. 🙂

  12. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous photos. I find it amazing how beautiful the castles are – the one in your photo looks very much like the beautiful one I saw in Nagoya – with the blossoms all around.

  13. Hey Mr Draco … another superb collection of photos. I love the framing of the castle and the leaves. And that dear little monkey. Can’t bear to think about losing my wallet how wonderful to have it returned!

    • Thanks, Julie. The day after losing my wallet and before it was found, I was at a complete loss. Fortunately I keep a card card separate to the others for “just in case”. You’d love Matsumoto. The Suntory Hakushu distillery is also near there. 🙂

  14. I’ve always been a little intimidated by the idea of going to Japan, but it seems like there is much beauty there. Thanks for the reminder, and maybe another small prod that I should check it out.

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