Walking around Matsumoto – or any city or town in Japan – if you can’t read the signs it’s easy to miss stuff. I remember when I first got here (and to be honest it still happens at times) I’d find myself standing like a statue in front of a signboard trying to piece together what the basic message was.
Kind of like this guy.
The wooden sign he is facing reads “Takasago Street – Town of Water and Dolls” (with the capitalization mine, there are no capital letters in Japanese). The first time I actually noticed this sign – five years after moving here – I had to go check out the narrow road behind it.
Takasago-dori, also known as Ningyo-machi-dori (Doll Town Street), is rather unassuming, stuck in among the more well-known faces of Matsumoto. Branching off of Honmachi-dori, the main road leading north toward Matsumoto Castle, most people will walk right on by this side road that, at first glance, seems to offer little.
But start walking. Because as the name suggests, the street is populated with doll shops all done up in fantastic displays of elaborate, intricate, artistic and often expensive creations. In March the Japanese celebrate their Hina-matsuri, the Doll Festival. In May there’s Kodomo-no-hi – Children’s Day – somewhat of a misnomer as this day is reserved for the male children of the family. Nevertheless, during these times and all through the year you will find an impressive array of Japanese dolls and, as is the tradition for “Boys’ Day”, fantastic replicas of samurai helmets called Kabuto as well as displays of full samurai armor.
Feel free to look. Touching will probably not be so well received.
The spring water aspect of Takasago-dori is no more evident as the doll shops and the samurai armor when you first start walking. But soon you’ll notice stone aqueducts running along the side of the street, a foot or so below the pavement. If the water looks clean, that’s because it is. Clear, natural water flows up from the ground all over downtown, and this is one area blessed with an abundance of such water.
Likewise, you will probably notice fountains flowing with spring water all over town, but the Well of Genchi, near the eastern end of Takasago Street, may be the most famous and revered of them all. While you are there odds are good you’ll see one of the area’s residents come by with bottles and jugs to fill with water for drinking and cooking. You will also notice some ladles hanging from the rafters of the roof hanging over the well. Go ahead and use one to sample the water for yourself.
Takasago-dori is not particularly long, giving you more time to spend checking out the dolls and samurai displays. If you find yourself hanging around longer than you expected, know that there are a few places here to grab a bite to eat or snag a quick drink – making Takasago-dori a short but satisfying side trip to add to your visit to Matsumoto.
Takasago-dori is an easy walk from the train station, the castle, and pretty much anywhere downtown.