I have mentioned previously that I would be perfectly content to spend a week doing nothing but eating and sitting in the onsen at KAI Matsumoto, but feel like it’s worth mentioning some of the great sightseeing spots that are in the area. Specifically, I want to talk about Matsumoto castle which is only a short journey from the hotel, and one of the most amazing examples of Japanese architecture that I’ve ever seen. KAI Matsumoto has an English-speaking guide who can take you around the castle, and will also arrange to bring you there and back to the hotel, so all you need to do is relax and enjoy the trip.
One of the most famous castles in all of Japan, Matsumoto castle is predominantly grey and white, apart from the blazing red bridges that lead across the moat to its doors. We visited on a crisp, clear-skyed winter morning, and the view of the castle against the snow capped mountains was truly a feast for the eyes.
When exploring the castle itself, you remove your shoes at the entrance and then climb flight after flight of wooden stairs that get steeper and steeper, until eventually it feels more like you are going up ladders than stairs. Located in the castle are a number of exhibitions about the history of Matsumoto and the castle, with explanations written in English as well as Japanese. I am not a history buff myself it was very interesting to learn about the area, and anyone interested in war history will be delighted to know that the main exhibition centers around guns, swords, and an assortment of other weapons! From the top of the castle you get a stunning view of the surroundings from four large windows facing north, south, east, and west respectively.
The thing I really like about the castle is that it doesn’t feel like a tourist site. All the signs and notices are very tasteful, and there really seems to be a lot of effort put in to keep the castle looking as authentic as possible. The only ‘touristy’ thing that we encountered was a samurai posing for pictures outside the castle, but as cynical as I am I will admit that this was pretty entertaining!
Nearby, you can also find the Nawate Dori shopping street on which are lined a row of shops that specialise in traditional foods and craft goods. It’s a great place to pick up a few gifts for people back home, and even sample some of Matsumoto’s famous soba noodles if you can find room after the extravagant breakfast that KAI provides.