4. Nagano/Matsumoto: Matsumoto Castle and Narai-juku Day Trip
Meet your guide at Nagano Station and board the bus to Matsumoto Station, the second pickup point of the tour. Once all guests are aboard, make your way to the historic center of Matsumoto, established as a castle town in the days of the Samurai. Begin the tour at Nawate-dori, known as “Frog Street”, home to more than 50 shops, restaurants, and cafes famous for selling all things frog-related. Browse shops selling an array of specialties including o-senbei (rice crackers), taiyaki (fish-shaped pastries), dagashi (candy), ice cream, and more. After looking at frog-themed sculptures and souvenirs, head to the Matsumoto Castle which dates to the end of the ‘Warring States Period’ with much of the original structure still intact. Explore the oldest surviving 5-tiered 6-story castle tower in Japan. Follow your guide into the castle grounds as you uncover the history and features that make it so lauded. Then, step into the castle itself, ascending all the way to the top of its 6 stories. Observe intricate woodwork and views of Matsumoto City. See a collection of historical guns, artifacts, and other items that offer a glimpse into the life of a Japanese warrior when the castle was first built. From there, enjoy some free time to take a longer look around the castle grounds and visit a few shops around the castle. Then, continue your journey to Narai-juku, which once flourished as a place for travelers to rest up on their journey from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Nakasendo road. Sit back and soak in scenic views of fields and mountains – often capped with a glistening blanket of snow. Arrive at the entrance to Narai-juku, near the train station, from where the guided portion of the tour begins. As you walk down the main street, learn about the quirks of Narai-juku’s construction and hear stories from its golden age. After the guided walk, get an hour of free time to look at the shops on the main street or grab a bite at a café or restaurant, before returning to Matsumoto or Nagano Station.