Riding around town I see them here and there. They stand out, though they rarely glitter. They all have names, but they don’t always tell you. They are lightly-trafficked and often elderly-operated. They can be a real treat to visit.
I’m talking, of course, of the Yaoya, the old mom and pop fruit and vegetable shops that still dot the streets of Matsumoto. A more accurate term might be grandmom and grandpop shops, which to me is both a part of their appeal and a sign that they will someday go the way of the dodo.
These shops harken back to the days when people ran small establishments with big hearts. These particular people still do. I always get a kind smile and a few friendly words when I stop by one of these places. I don’t always understand what mom or pop is saying, but that hardly takes away from the experience.
Many of these fruit and vegetable stores are found along the side streets of town, making them elusive to the average visitor. There is one relatively large one off to the left and across the road as you exit the train station. Nawate-dori has one as well (though to be honest I find the service there somewhat less than enthusiastic).
If a piece of fruit or a bag of salad-makings isn’t quite what you’re looking for, Matsumoto offers a growing if still modest number of sweet bread shops. Again, Nawate-dori (aka Frog Street) is one place to look – ‘Sweet’ has a history that goes back more than a century – but small business bakeries, like your typical yaoya, are less obvious than the convenience stores that infest the Japanese landscape. They take a keener eye. They also often make the search worthwhile.
So as you explore our lovely castle town, keep your eyes open for a chance to pick up more than just an apple or a mikan or a cheese croissant. Mom and Pop will be happy to serve you, and odds are you’ll walk away happier for the experience – even if you didn’t understand a single word they said.