Putting on a Facade: The Varied Architectural Faces of Matsumoto

Sightseeing / Culture Art
Mon, Mar 20, 2023


Most people, before they ever even get to Matsumoto, think they know what they’re going to see. And to an extent they’re right.

There’s the castle, of course (though not always with a parade of little kids)…


And the unmistakable exterior of the Matsumoto City Museum of Art…


Some people may even know to check out the black and white kura warehouses and the iconic, traditional architecture of the Kurassic-kan down on Nakamachi Street.



But these aren’t the only pretty faces in town. As you explore, keep your eyes peeled for a special kind of structural feature called kanban-kenchiku, which refers to the early 20th-Century practice of incorporating designs, symbols, and sometimes the name of the occupying business right into the facade of the building.




While examples of kanban-kenchiku can be seen scattered around downtown, around the outskirts of town and out in the countryside a different architectural feature prevails.

Unique to the Nagano area (as I’ve been told) are these rooftop decorations called suzume-dori. Serving no practical purpose, they adorned the rooftops of Edo-Era homes to give them an air of elegance. Interestingly, the homes bearing these suzume-dori were almost always built with the gable facing the road, showing off the impressive size of these residences, adding to the overall impression.




And so many more buildings – ancient, traditional and contemporary – are just waiting to be discovered.





So get your fill of the beauty of the castle and the colors of the art museum. Then go out and find your own architectural surprises. They’re all over the place. You just gotta keep your eyes peeled.