Something Old, Something New, All of It Subdued

Sat, Dec 24, 2022


I’m seeing winter descend upon Matsumoto for the ninth time since I moved here. And just like every other year the Japanese version of Christmas and the subsequent festivities are coming around in turns. Ignoring the quiet havoc the recent pandemic wrought, I’d noticed few changes from year to year. The Christmas tree decorating contest up and down Ise-machi Street; the lights along Daimyocho-dori; the holiday season music that all the stores play although no one understands the words; it has all become the standard fare here in our modest little town.

Until last year, when the folks in one of the government buildings around here came up with the idea of illuminating Matsumoto Castle with colorful laser lights. This year they’re doing it again, and for no good reason I thought it might be different and decided to go check it out, along with the rest of the glittery holiday decorations adorning downtown.

My tour of Matsumoto Christmas 2022 began in the evening when I got off the train. (A personal new addition to my winter is leading tours to see the snow monkeys of Jigokudani up north.) Just inside the ticket gates there’s this bit of Christmas cheer.


I’m hoping next year the train conductors will wear Santa hats.

Outside I looked up at the facade of the train station building. They normally have a light display featuring a green bear, a train, and swaths of lights that resemble more a rainbow than anything like Christmas. But like I said in my last post, I kind of like Japan doing Christmas their own twisted way.

But this year, or up to yesterday evening anyway, there were no lights decorating the station. Just the bare naked usual building, with the digital thermometer reading -3 Celcius.

Shops and bars all over downtown have their own individual holiday displays up, but I had to pedal over to Ise-machi Street to see any more of the town’s efforts, in the form of the aforementioned tree decorating contest along the brightly-lit boulevard.


Combine this brilliant stretch of downtown with the white lights clinging to the railing on either side of Sensai-bashi Bridge and up along Daimyocho-dori and it apppeared that Christmas had indeed returned to Matsumoto.


In past years there would be colored lights along the length of the bridge, but as they say, variety is the spice of Christmas. As an addded bonus, on the far side of the bridge was something new: the Twilight Christmas Market, which occasionally extends past twilight.


Along Daimyocho-dori the annual white-light glare was in effect.


And at the bridge leading over the old second moat, the proud announcement of the return of the 松本城氷晶きらめく水鏡 – i.e. the Matsumoto Castle “Kirameku” Laser Illumination Display.


Last year the show consisted of five minutes of wild, crazed lights dancing and racing all over the front of the castle followed by twenty-five minutes of quiet music and bare dribbles of leftover lights drifting down the castle walls – and me standing in the freezing cold, one hand on my camera, praying and cursing in turns, waiting for the wild and crazy lasers to come back.

Walking toward the castle I had high hopes that the folks in that government building had taken a look at last year’s initial performance and decided they needed to add more wild and crazy lights, with less sleepiness in between.

After forty-five minutes standing in the freezing cold, one hand on my camera, praying and cursing through my chattering teeth, it was clear that this year’s display had drifted toward the sleepy side of things.





That’s not to say sleepy can’t be cool, or festive, or beautiful. The show was all of those things. I guess I was just expecting something more like last year. At least something close to what the brochure seems to promise.


On the bright side (pun not intended but I’ll leave it there) the City of Matsumoto is doing something else new and cool this year: night tours of the castle, specially for visitors to Matsumoto. On Saturday and Sunday evenings throughout February residents of Matsumoto will have the chance once again to join a limited number of people for a night tour of the inside of the castle. But on January 21st and 28th visitors to Matsumoto will have a special opportunity to experience the same.

Check out the details at Matsumoto Experience – and wear plenty of warm clothes!

If you’re in town on the 28th you have the chance to take in the annual Ice Sculpture Festival as well, taking place over the entire last weekend of January.

So yeah, maybe the station is rather devoid of those rainbow lights this year. And the laser light show has fallen toward the serene side of things. But Matsumoto keeps on rolling with its version of the Christmas holiday season.

Until my teeth start chattering I kind of like it.