This post may ultimately serve no purpose.
The spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 has changed things a bit, or a lot, for us all. Back at the end of February when I heard that schools all across Japan would be closed for the month of March I thought it a little extreme. Now it seems one of the best moves this country has made in a while. Cities are not being locked down. Curfews have not been put in effect. But travel restrictions are tight and tourism is taking a hit so who is even going to be visiting Matsumoto this month, or next?
Nevertheless, I’ve been tasked with bringing you info and insights into our town twice a month. So off I went this morning, out into the streets, to see what was still open and available to the few intrepid travelers in town.
Not much, it turns out.
I shouldn’t say that. Restaurants and shops are open for business as usual, in large part if not entirely. A walk up Nakamachi-dori, Matsumoto’s old merchant street and down Nawate-dori, affectionately named Frog Street, remains an attractive possibility.
The city’s main attraction, Matsumoto Castle, is also open to visitors – mostly. The castle itself is closed through March 24th as of this writing, but to make up for that the city is allowing visitors to enter and explore the Inner Gardens free of charge.
So while it’s a bummer that Japan’s oldest castle keep is closed for the moment, you still get to take in everything around it. And today, at least, there was hardly anyone around to get in my pictures.
For more of what’s still open in Matsumoto head for the far end of Agata-no-mori-dori, the main avenue leading directly east from Matsumoto Station. There you’ll find Agata-no-mori Park and one of the city’s many historic buildings. I was surprised, to be honest, to find the old school building open. Take a quick look inside and imagine what it might have been like going to school here – and what the area around the school might have looked like many years ago. (Hey, sometimes a global pandemic requires a little imagination.)
Behind this is the actual park, boasting a serene pondscape and some of the largest swaths of level grassy ground in the entire downtown area. Use that for what you will. (Note: That banner photo at the top of this post is the pond at Agata-no-mori Park.)
If you want to go a little further afield you can head out to Koboyama and make the hike up Nakayama, laid out in this earlier post. Or you can take a taxi (or a really long walk) up to the Yamabe Winery, open every day for free tastings and a pretty cool view of the Northern Alps as well as Matsumoto’s bucolic and understated wine valley of Iri-yamabe.
Unfortunately, bike rentals are another aspect of your visit to Matsumoto that is temporarily unavailable. Cycling over to Agata-no-mori Park, out to Koboyama and up to the Yamabe Winery makes for a fun and unique Matsumoto experience. It may be well worth it to inquire into the rent-a-cycle situation at one of the Visitor Centers; there’s one in the train station and another out near the main entrance to the castle. They should be able to tell you what your immediate options are. Things might be back to normal by the time you read this.
If not, remember: the coronavirus can’t hide the fact that it’s beautiful out there.