Matsumoto, Kanazawa, and Takayama are three great cities to go to in between Tokyo and Kyoto. They are all small, friendly places and are all very easy to get to by train, but it does require a little backtracking. I recommend staying in Matsumoto for 1 night to see the famous castle, Kanazawa for 2 nights to see the snow monkeys and the amazing shrines and temples, and Takayama for 2 nights to really get a feel of the whole city and spend time in different areas like Old Town. We had an awesome time in all of these cities, but remember to wear layers because it’s way colder than Tokyo!
WHAT TO DO IN MATSUMOTO.
Matsumoto Castle, also known as Crow Castle for its black exterior, is probably the coolest architecture I’ve ever seen. After we took some pictures from across the moat, we got to go all the way up to the top floor to experience what it would be like to be a samurai and have to hustle around the fort while in battle. Once we got to the top, it was amazing! We could see the whole area and also walked around a mini museum that showed all of the samurai’s weapons. It was really interesting and educational!
FOOD IN MATSUMOTO
For lunch, just before we went to Crow Castle, we went to a little cafe and had some good food to hold us over until dinner. I do not know the name, but I think there are many good cafes right by the castle. For dinner, we ate at our hotel which was Matsumoto Hotel Kagetsu, and had an OK dinner because it was a kids meal. My mom’s, on the other hand, looked really good because it was a 3 course meal of fish and other Japanese stuff. I would definitely recommend staying at that hotel because it was right by the castle, everyone was really nice, and the whole place had a really cool vibe.
WHAT TO DO IN KANAZAWA.
JIGOKUDANI MONKEY PARK
Out of every activity that we did in Japan, going to the Jigokudani Monkey Park was by far my favorite. On the way from Matsumoto to Kanazawa, we decided to stop in Nagano to have this once in a lifetime experience. We hadn’t totally planned this adventure, so we only had 20 minutes to get off the train, stash our bags in the lockers, grab an umbrella for the heavy snowfall, and find the bus. Thankfully we made it onto the bus, and after about 30 minutes, we were dropped off at Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. Let’s just say the mountains surrounding the visitor center were probably the coolest things I’ve ever seen. They were all white and had snow capped trees. For us Californians, it was like heaven. Along the 1 mile walk up the mountain to get to the monkey lagoon, we were so tempted to jump into the 3 foot piles of snow, but then our mom reminded us that we would be freezing. As we got closer and closer we could start smelling the hot springs, but it wasn’t until a monkey walked right by us that we knew we must be really close. Eventually, we got to the monkey hang out, and everywhere we looked we could see the little red faced creatures. It was amazing to see them in the wild, just doing their daily routine. It was seriously the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
The Oyama Shrine is right in the middle of Kanazawa and it is beautiful. There is a huge staircase leading up to the shrine and also a beautiful garden surrounding it. After I did the “washing hands” ritual, I went and explored the hidden parts of the shrine up a hill. It was so cool and I found a path that led to a pond with a small bridge going over it. We took some pictures and then relaxed in the quiet area that we were in. It is a perfect thing to do in Kanazawa on a nice, sunny day.
WALK AROUND NAGAMACHI BUKE YASHIKI
There was honestly nothing more peaceful than spending time in the old area of Kanazawa called Nagamachi Buke Yashiki. We walked around, catching snowflakes on our tongue, and occasionally popping into little museums. My favorite museum was the one about Zen Buddhism. Then, we went to the Omicho Market which wasn’t far away. At this famous market they sold everything from mochi to octopus on a skewer. It was really cool to see all types of food that I honestly never knew people ate. I definitely recommend walking around this area and especially going to the Omicho Market.
FOOD IN KANAZAWA.
CURIO ESPRESSO AND VINTAGE DESIGN
We were really craving more of an American-style breakfast and were so happy to find Curio Espresso and Vintage Design. My mom had heard about this brunch restaurant having great breakfast sandwiches, so we tried it! We all ordered their specialty sandwich and they got it to us in no time. From my first bite I knew this was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had. There was something about the way they made it that was just amazing! I 100% recommend this restaurant if you want to start your day with something good.
You know, I never knew the best Nepalese food in the whole wide world would be right in Kanazawa! After exploring Nagamachi Buke Yashiki, we went right into Aashirwad because my mom heard it was an unbelievably good restaurant. The woman who ran the restaurant greeted us, gave us recommendations on what to eat, took our order, and brought the food out very quickly. I really didn’t know where to start eating because it all looked so good, but I decided on starting with the huge piece of naan that they are known for. It was SO good, especially dipped in the chicken curry that was my main meal. Though “Nepalese food” sounds kind of odd in Japan, you won’t be disappointed by this food!
MORI MORI SUSHI
Mori Mori Sushi is in a mall in the main part of Kanazawa, and no matter how long the wait is, you must go there while in Kanazawa. It is a conveyer belt sushi restaurant and has the best salmon cut rolls and eel. You can either pick a dish off of the conveyer belt or specifically order something and have it delivered to you by Shinkansen (The Bullet Train) on a separate track! It was so good that we went there both nights that we were in Kanazawa.
WHAT TO DO IN TAKAYAMA.
HIDA KOKOBUNJI TEMPLE
The Hida Kokobunji Temple is an amazing thing to see while in Takayama. It’s literally right on the main street and impossible to miss. The temple is designed beautifully and looks like 3 amazing rooms stacked on top of each other. We had a fun time looking at the architecture and jumping into the snow piles.
WALK AROUND OLD TOWN
Old Town is the cutest little area in Takayama and is worth spending some time in. The day that we decided to walk through the area was nice and snowy. We walked past awesome traditional houses, crossed little red bridges, popped in and out of shops, and stopped to see a temple or two. Once we got to the mountain, we reached a graveyard that was covered in snow and kept walking up it until we got to a row of hidden temples. It was so peaceful that I wish I could’ve stayed there forever! Then, we headed back to the main street and decided to check out the Miyagawa Morning Market. We walked past people selling herbs, soy crackers, apples, sarubobo dolls, and much more. We eventually came across what would be my favorite food in Takayama. The rice stick lady. This little old lady had a stand and she made these rice sticks dipped in soy sauce and they were more than delicious! It was really a great, quiet morning and a perfect way to start our day.
FOODS TO TRY…
WHERE TO STAY…
Oyado Koto No Yume was the ryokan that we stayed in for 2 nights in Takayama. We had such a great stay because everyone was SO nice, our room was really different but cool, and the location was right in the center of town. They told us where to go for food, what areas to check out, and how to put our yukata on. I highly recommend staying at this ryokan for a fun taste of traditional Japanese living.