Matsumoto castle

Contrasting to its surroundings, Matsumoto is reasonably flat so getting around town is an easy stroll, even easier if you hire a bicycle, but for short trips, nothing beats taking a walk through some of the alley ways as you make your way to one of the city’s main attractions, Japan’s oldest castle, Matsumoto castle. Also nicknamed Crow castle due to its black walls, it sits proudly beyond a moat with contrasting red railed bridges. Inside the grounds, you can explore the castle itself and surrounding buildings while themed samurai actors will happily pose for photos. Like most castles, it is surrounded by a lot of green space that you could easily spend a relaxing afternoon exploring and picnicking with the family.

Travel tip: Entrance fee is about 5-600Y. Got the goshuincho bug? (ink stamp collecting), there’s one before entering the grounds if you prefer to skip going into the grounds.

Travel tip: the Matsumoto time piece museum is a worthy stop if you like cogs and ticking things

Matsumoto may be over 200km from Tokyo but thanks to a direct line and an express train, you can roll into Shinjuku in about 2.5hrs.


Ashikaga Flower park

When travelling in spring its pretty much a given that a flower park is on the cards. There are plenty of public parks and gardens but if want a truly epic display you’ll need to head to a flower park. There are a few caveats though – you’ll need to pay, the large ones are out of the city and everyone else will have the same idea during the prime viewing times.

Travel tip: Trains from Shinjuku to Tomita station run regularly and take a bit under 2 hours. From Tomita station, its about a 15min walk to the park.
edit: as of 2018 there is now a Ashikaga flower park station which cuts the walk down to under 5min.

Ashikaga flower park is famed for its beautiful displays of wisteria, a hanging type flower which grows in bunches of pinks and purples, the tree itself ends up looking a little like a weeping willow. Just like the pink moss at Kawaguchiko, you can either see the wisteria in full bloom with thousands of your closest friends that you never knew you had, or you can go off peak and wander freely. Due to the timing of our trip we didn’t really have a choice but there are still plenty of other flowers to see even if the wisteria is scarce.

The huge walls and canopies set up for displaying the wisteria are impressive, even without the flowers.

Travel tip: temps can soar even on a spring day in June so pack the sunscreen or snag yourself a parasol, there is very little cover/shade.

There’s a small group of shops at the entrance selling souvenirs, groceries and snacks. Remember to check what the items are made of and if they adhere to Australian quarantine laws, and don’t forget to declare it.