It’s no secret that Matsumoto is home to an array of amazing hikes. Tackling many of them, however, requires a full day, sometimes more. If you can swing it, awesome. But what if you don’t have the time it takes to go climb up and down the Northern Alps? What if you just want to spend a few hours in the woods between your visit to Matsumoto Castle and dinner down around Frog Street?
Here’s an idea: Rent a bicycle and head for the Koboyama Kid and his dragon.
The real name of this fictional kid is Kotaro Izumi. According to legend his parents were dragon deities, though this seems a bit far-fetched. He looks nothing like a dragon. He was likely adopted. Regardless, Kotaro and his foster-dragon, up there on a stone pedestal at the eastern foot of Mt. Koboyama, serve as the perfect landmark for the beginning of what may be Matsumoto’s best short hike.
Koboyama itself is great for a few reasons. One, in Spring the entire western side of the mountain explodes in a sea of cherry blossoms. Two, the entire top of the mountain is a burial mound dating back to the 3rd Century. And three, when the skies are cooperating you get a sweeping view of all those big beautiful Northern Alps peaks that you don’t have time to climb.
A Walk in the Woods
While Koboyama is great, it’s only the beginning. Across the parking lot on the south side of Koboyama is a stone staircase that puts you on the Nakayama trail and the main stretch of your hike.
Nakayama (“middle mountain”) is not hard to navigate. The trail may be blanketed with leaves (or snow) in places but there’s little to do but go straight.
And yes, this trail is doable even in the snow. There are a few sections that, though not particularly steep, can be a bit sketchy if the footing isn’t ideal. And then there are those couple of places where stepping or slipping three feet to one side can mean a speedy and likely very uncomfortable trip a hundred feet down.
I have to say these things, you know. But don’t be put off. The Nakayama trail brings you into the thick of nature, high enough to give you a sense of being far from town even as the quiet drone of civilization drifts in and out of your ears. The path rises and dips and rises for roughly two kilometers, passing through some varied terrain before suddenly spitting you out into the park at the top of Nakayama.
Here you’ll find a mallet golf course, a cemetery, a square of land that you aren’t supposed to step on, a sloping expanse of grass with a great view of those Northern Alps, an extremely simple shrine, a parking lot (of course), and a large grassy field in the middle of it all in case you want to play a little football.
Your walk back to Koboyama and Kotaro may take you back along the same path you just hiked, but the views are anything but redundant. You may also notice, now that it’s facing you, this old cracked sign.
It may not look like it, but there is a trail here that leads down to Yonezawa Shrine, which has likely never been mentioned in any guidebook but does have a stone statue of three monkeys. It’s also a good option if you want to extend your hike a bit. The path down to the shrine is steeper and less apparent than the main Nakayama trail, and may be a challenge in the snow. But when are you going to have another chance to see three stone monkeys?
Back up on the main trail and further along on your way back toward Koboyama you might see another sign you missed on the way out. Okay maybe you won’t miss it, but I did. It faces (but doesn’t actually point to) another path, perpendicular to the main trail. Check it out if you like. It’s nice, but it probably won’t take you anywhere you want to go (unless you want to go take a whiz).
All told, the hike from Dragon Boy to the top of Nakayama and back is around four kilometers. Add in the extra walk down to Yonezawa Shrine and back and it’s still under five. Take your time, and even including the bike ride from downtown to Koboyama and back the entire trip won’t take up more than four hours of your day.
And you’ll have gotten in a great half-day hike, quite possibly the best Matsumoto has to offer.
** Koboyama is easy to find!
Kotaro and his dragon-parent are down next to that little river on the map, near that traffic light just to the east. There’s also plenty of food around, just to the north and west. Happy Trails!