Travel off the beaten path with a visit to Matsumoto
Getting out of the big city Tokyo for a weekend break is the best way to wind down and refresh.
Living in a big city like Tokyo is a truly life-changing experience. In the five years that I have been here, I've been lucky enough to experience so many amazing things, not to mention the day to day ease of 24-hour convenience stores on every corner, public transport that’s clean and runs on time, and a wealth of activities to keep me entertained in my free time.
But it's also a crowded city, with millions of people, overwhelming buildings, and busy rush hour trains, and it can feel like I need to get a break now and then. When those feelings hit, taking a day trip or weekend break outside of the city is essential to revitalize and rejuvenate.
Luckily there are so many recommended destinations within an hour or two of the city - places like Nikko, Hakone and Kawaguchiko are easy to reach by public transport but feel so different from Tokyo. But I have been to those places many times so for my most recent trip I wanted to visit somewhere I had never been before.
I first became familiar with the name Matsumoto because of its castle - Matsumoto Castle is famous for being one of the most beautiful in Japan and one of just 12 original castle structures to have survived unscathed despite centuries of upheaval.
Luckily, there was a great offer on a Jr East rail pass to Nagano prefecture from Tokyo, where Matsumoto is located, so I decided to take advantage of it - although you can also take regular trains or busses too.
Since Matsumoto Castle was the main thing I knew the city was famous for, I decided to go straight there as soon as my train arrived, and it did not disappoint.
The castle has an usual black-colored exterior, different from other castles I had seen in Japan, and is surrounded by a moat and beautiful gardens. During the day it was a little busy with tourists enjoying the sights so I also visited again at night when it was quieter to take in the views of the castle and moat lit up by lanterns.
As I walked the streets of Matsumoto I couldn't help noticing signs everywhere for Matsumoto Brewing company. This seemed like a good sign that I needed to take a break for a drink and some food so I visited and enjoyed a beer while the sunset over the city.
The next morning I was up bright and early, and hopped on a local train to visit the nearby Suwa Lake, the largest lake in Nagano prefecture. It took just about 40 minutes by train to the lake and I enjoyed watching the scenery pass by from the train window.
The lake has a beautiful walking or cycling course all around, covering about 16km in distance, and is dotted with many interesting sights to enjoy such as a geyser center.
On my return to Matsumoto, I decided a little souvenir shopping was needed before heading back to Tokyo. I went to Nawate Dori - or "frog street", as I began to call it, a little street with stalls and shops selling all manner of frog products and trinkets. I also popped into a nearby shrine that I discovered on my walk - a nice oasis of peacefulness among all the shopping.
Before I knew it, my time in Matsumoto was at an end but I was returning to Tokyo refreshed and full of energy for another week of work in the big city, and full of excitement about where my next weekend break would take me!
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