As much as I remain enamored with this town, after seven years in Matsumoto I’d recently begun to feel like there wasn’t much left downtown to discover. But that idea went right out the window this past weekend when I took part in a night walking tour with Matsumoto Experience.
Our evening took us through the Agetsuchi-machi neighborhood, a place I took a look at in a post from earlier this year. I’ve ridden my bike through this part of town countless times, both during the day and after dark but pretty much always alone, on my way to somewhere else. And while I knew the grounds of Matsumoto Castle extended out this far, there are details and spots hidden all over that until a couple of days ago I never knew about – like the narrow alleyway that runs right where part of the outer moat used to be, and the intersection marking what was once the only entryway to Matsumoto Castle, reserved exclusively for the samurai and the nobility.
There is no shortage of eateries in Matsumoto, both in Agetsuchi-machi and everywhere else in town. The thing is, with three children my nights eating out are generally spent at the dollar sushi shop or Bob’s Big Boy. This weekend provided a fantastic change – and would be a treat for any temporary visitor. The chance to try original dishes you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Japan, in small, local joints that see few if any foreigners, makes for the kind of evening so many people travel for.
I am happy to say, despite the ever-present influence of my kids on my eating habits, I have managed to try plenty of soba, one of the foods Matsumoto is most famous for. Yet I had never tried, or even ever heard of, soba shochu. Shochu is a distilled spirit usually made with rice, wheat, or satsuma sweet potatoes. One of the local establishments we visited served their own special brand of shochu, made with the same water they use to cook their soba. Whether you are familiar with shochu or not, it’s worth a try. You can ask for it hot or cold.
And while I’ve also seen Matsumoto Castle at night more times than I can remember, the good people I was with this past weekend had some interesting stories and trivia to share, making the evening complete, even for this long-time resident.
Matsumoto is compact and walkable, making it easy to navigate the town on your own. But for a tour of places most visitors never see, and some insights that even a guy who has been here seven years might not know, spending some time with folks like the ones at Matsumoto Experience might be a great call to make.