Matsumoto has changed a lot just over the past few years. The old and (let’s face it) dreary Katakura Mall has been replaced by a bright, sprawling AEON Mall. New, more compact, more fuel-efficient buses now run in quick circles around town. There are new shops and eateries appearing on a weekly if not daily basis – and not only on Frog Street though that’s where it’s most noticeable. And yes, you may even get hit with free wi-fi! (Japan can be incongruously slow on the technological uptake. It’s one of the world’s great mysteries.)
Such changes are welcome to those of us who live here. They go unnoticed by people just traveling through town and don’t know what Frog Street looked like last year or last month or last week. Anyone visiting Matsumoto these days, however, might notice one glaring, ongoing, excruciatingly slow development in Matsumoto’s ever-evolving story: the road-widening work.
To the East
Most visitors to town who end up rolling through my neighborhood are either on their way to the Yamabe Winery or are on their way to getting lost. If you are either of these you may, after crossing the Metoba River, find yourself cruising along on a nice, wide, four-lane road that was, from the days of horses and dirt until now, been a narrow two-lane affair.
At the moment this road is in its slow-motion transition.
Widening this road has involved knocking down several rickety old homes and a corner hardware store, cutting an apartment building in half, and chopping down the huge, beautiful shade tree that used to stand in front of the entrance to Shimizu Elementary. New homes – and the new veterinarian clinic – have been built far enough away from the road to allow for more pavement and some nice clean brick sidewalks.
Along one long block there’s nothing left to do but move a few power line poles and traffic signals. Along the next block a few homes still stand in the way. While the process has been incremental at best, it’s interesting to see how each step is undertaken.
Straight Up from the Station
Walk directly east from Matsumoto Train Station and past the Museum of Modern Art and the south end of AEON Mall you’ll see another road project moving along at a snail’s pace.
Yet just today I saw, as I was cycling past the old “Higher School” at Agata-no-mori Park, a crew tackling the job of moving the power lines from the old poles to the new ones. The new traffic lights are already up, and the new sidewalk is in full use. Since the new AEON Mall opened a few years ago this entire area of town has become one massive, all day every day traffic cluster. Widening the block between Agata-no-mori Park and the mall may – may – help. It will certainly make the walk to the park nicer.
Making the Best Part of Town Even Better
But the road transformation that will make the most appealing and positive impact is the change going on along the southern edge of the castle grounds.
I’ve been told that much of the land lining the castle’s south side is – or was – privately-owned, perhaps for hundreds of years. To be quite honest I don’t think I’d want to sell either. But if the artist’s rendition posted along the construction going on is any indication all that land along the castle’s south side will get a tremendous facelift, turning this long swath of dirt and old ugly buildings into a place of leisure and beauty.
Those of us who live here are thankful for the road work and the ostensible easing of traffic. Those visiting won’t ever know it happened once it’s done – and won’t have any idea how lucky they are to be able to enjoy what is, right now, the Matsumoto – and the Matsumoto Castle – of the future.