On the 5th and final valid day of our Alpine-Takayama-Matsumoto Area Tourist Pass, we made a quick day trip to Matsumoto (松本) primarily to see the famous Matsumoto Castle (松本城). Notwithstanding, while a day trip is sufficient to explore the city, it is not quite accurate to conclude that the castle is the only thing worth seeing.
First off, Matsumoto City does seem to have the prettiest and most colourful manhole/drain covers I’ve seen in Japan thus far. I’ve long noticed the different city-specific manhole covers since our first long visit to Japan in 2007, and have been taking pictures of them since. And whenever I do that, I always feel strange stares directed at me, mostly from locals. These ‘localised’ manhole covers are likely not that unique in Japan but where I come from, they all look the same. So you can’t quite blame me for this unusual obsession. 😀
Matsumoto is home to several interesting museums, including a Timepiece Museum, Weighing Scale Museum and Ukiyoe (浮世絵) Museum situated a little out of the city centre. The Timepiece Museum also happens to house the largest pendulum clock in Japan, which can easily be seen on the building’s exterior.
As we walked further down south, we came by Yohashira Jinja Shrine (四柱神社) which tells us that we are very close by Nawate Street (ナワて通り). Ah… that was the quaint little street we passed by in the morning on our way to the castle. I’m not certain what the significance of frogs are to the city of Matsumoto, but the street is filled with subtle and not-so-subtle theme of frogs. There was even a shop that sold every knick knack imaginable with images of frogs on them. Having been recently frightened by a frog up at Midagahara Wetlands, I refused to walk into the shop, much to the amusement of the mister.
We ate our way down the street, stopping ever so oft to check out unique delicious snack offerings. Let’s see… we shared a handmade and very fragrant Ningyo-yaki (人形焼), attempted to buy some authentic Shinshu (信州) apples but in the end settled for some dried apple slices.
Then we crossed Ohashi Bridge (大橋) to Nakamachi Street (中町), the other attraction of Matsumoto. Nakamachi Street, also otherwise known as Old Street or Old House Street, is lined with traditional houses restored to their former look. Apart from cafes, eateries and shops selling traditional Japanese confections, we also came across several Kimono shops that were selling scraps off complete Kimono at a steal. The hobby sewist in me refused to move on; I had nothing in mind to buy but I had to buy something, I told myself. It took me quite a while before I could move on to other shops. 😆
During my very short-lived few months’ stint as a freelance travel planner, I ever researched on Matsumoto in order to create a day trip program for my clients. And it came in so handy when we decided on a whim, 2 days prior, to make a day trip here too! While strolling along Nakamachi Street (中町通り), I recalled a certain small shop well-known for its soba. The issue was, I also remembered that it wasn’t situated along the main street. Just when I was wondering how we should locate it, I looked into a side street and saw a queue.
Again, our years of training (since birth haha!) as typical Singaporeans prohibited us from merely walking away without finding out what the queue was for. And voila! We chanced upon the shop I was just wondering about – Nomugi (野麦).
Now, I am not in the least exaggerating when I claim that Nomugi has quite a cult following. Despite being a mere 12-seater, locals and foreigners alike were not in the least deterred while they waited patiently in the queue. The wait was rather substantial at 30 minutes upwards, but no one left the queue. While I can’t speak for the rest in queue, I personally love Zaru Soba (ざるそば) and I was willing to wait just to have a taste of how good Nomugi’s handmade soba is. Why, Lonely Planet even went as far as claiming that ‘this is one of central Japan’s finest soba shops’.
Not being able to read Japanese, the mister asked me what was available for order. I laughed a bit before answering, ‘ Zaru Soba, in regular, large or half size.’ Which is nothing but the truth yet at that instance when he asked, I thought it was hilarious.
Being a typical Singaporean, the mister figured that since a large portion only costs 200¥ more than the regular portion, he should stretch his dollar to the maximum and order that. He tried enticing me with his warped logic, but I declined since I really wasn’t that hungry then. Furthermore I wasn’t entirely certain I would be able to finish up the food.
We did not have to wait too long for our handmade soba on wicker baskets to be delivered to our table. Famished from the walking, we attacked our soba with much gutso and it was simply heavenly! We slurped our soba like locals, aware that the long queue behind us were waiting for our to vacate our seats. It was a most satisfying meal. We were very much satiated after that. If you ever do visit Matsumoto, this is a must-visit. However, do take note that they are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Incidentally, Matsumoto is also famed for something else. When we arrived at Matsumoto Train Station, one of our conversations went like this:
Me: Darling, do you know what Matsumoto is famous for?
Him: The castle?
Me: And Basashi (馬刺). Horse meat.
Him: You want to try?
Me: No. I want to see you try.
Him: Crazy fella, you!
Suffice it to say that none of us was up for trying this Matsumoto-famed delicacy. Nevertheless if you aren’t too squeamish about what you put into your mouth, it is actually worth a try. If not for anything, then for the sake of novelty, I guess.