Matsumoto is a place you should definitely take time to visit. The football aspect is excellent as you’ll struggle to find a more fervent fan base in Japan, but also the city itself is a bit of a hidden gem. More on that later, but let’s get to the football side of it. (And whatever you do, don’t mention Nagano Parceiro….)
How to get there:
From Tokyo/the east – The Limited express “Super Azusa” does the trip between JR Shinjuku station and Matsumoto in around 2.5 hours (¥6,300). If using the Seishun 18 ticket (which means you can only take local JR trains, and some rapid services), expect it to take anywhere between 4.5 hours-5 hours.
If you fancy doing the trip by bus, regular bus services depart from either Tokyo Station or Shinjuku station in Tokyo and take about 3.5 hours to get there. It’ll set you back in the region of ¥3500. From Yokohama Station will cost about ¥3000-¥3500 depending on the company.
From the west – If coming from Kyoto/Osaka side of the country, you will be probably go through Nagoya. From JR Nagoya, take the “Wide View Shinano” which connects Nagoya directly with Matsumoto (just over two hours, ¥5,500). If you are traveling on the Seishun 18 ticket, expect it to take around four hours from Nagoya.
Matsumoto does bus routes to the major cities in the west. Matsumoto – Kyoto/Osaka will set you back between ¥5000-¥6000 (6 hours), Nagoya – Matsumoto comes in at around ¥3500 (3.5 hours)
How to get to the stadium:
By public transport, you’ll have to head to the Matsumoto bus centre, which, as you walk out of JR Matsumoto Station will be diagonally to the right in front of you (think of 2pm on a clock and you won’t go far wrong). On game day you won’t be able to miss the hordes of green waiting for the frequent shuttle buses to Alwin stadium. However, if you are over 160cm in height, be prepared for a tight ride – the Matsumoto city buses are some of the smallest/tightest I’ve ever come across. It is free though, so it isn’t all bad news. But the seats ARE tight….
At the Stadium:
If you get there on a nice day, you’ll have a stunning view of the Japanese Alps as you walk up to the stadium. If it is raining, boy, are you in a for rough day/night. There is almost no cover in the stadium (save for the expensive main stand). However, you can take shelter on the concourse.
The home end behind the goal will be full almost the instant the gates are opened, but a lot of people hang around outside and take advantage of the grassland around the stadium to play football, watch football or have picnics. Outside the ground it is very serene. But once inside, the Matsumoto support do it like very few others.
The view from the stands are superb. No running track and an elevated stand mean it is easy to see the pitch from your seat – even in the away section. Like mentioned before, the lack of roofing makes it problematic for day games – if it is sunny you’ll be looking into the sun, if it rains – well, you get wet. Simple.
Food in Matsumoto means Soba. And apples. And vegetables. And there is a huge range of options at the stadium. Check this link for a full breakdown of what is available, but this writer recommends “Iidaya soba”, and the “Baden Baden” array of German sausages & beer.
Pre/post match in Matsumoto
As said before, Matsumoto is a bit of a hidden gem in Japan. Not to say that few people visit, but because it is located in central and doesn’t have access to a mainline Shinkansen station, it gets left off a lot visitors’ lists.
For football purposes, the recently re-opened Yamaga Cafe – Kissa Yamaga (喫茶山雅 in Japanese) is, unsuprisingly, a Yamaga themed cafe with memorabilia and goods for the club. It was still being refurbished when I went in February, but it is fully open now.
The most famous part of Matsumoto is the castle, and it is stunning. Set in the centre of the city and surrounded by a moat, it is by far one of the best castles (some might say THE best) in the land. You can go inside for around ¥600 and you can go to the top and get a nice view of the city itself. If you just want to wander around the moat, that is free and it will probably give you some fantastic photo opportunities.
If hot springs & spas are your thing, the Asama Onsen hot spring area to the east of the city (past Shinshu University) has lots of hot springs that you can try.
Nakayama-dori is a series of roads roughly equidistant from the station & the castle and has a lot of nice little speciality shops and cafes. A favourite for locals is the very homely Marumo coffee shop where it is easy to relax in the very cozy interior.
One new place on the map is the Matsumoto brewery tap room. It was closed when I went there in February (closed on Mondays apparently) but I went to search their bottle store and can confirm that the brews they make are first class. Hopefully next time I’ll get to go into the tap rooms.
At the station, in the souvenir shop on the ticket gate level you’ll be able to find Oyagi – the local Nagano speciality. Kind of like filled dumplings (not too dissimilar from Gyoza), most selections have Matsumoto/Shinshu vegetables in them. But, if you can find the ones with mushroom & cheese in them, you won’t be disappointed. Finally, at street level you have the famous soba restaurant “Kurekino” – Great food & cheap, perfect for pre-train bite to eat.
If you do end up going to Matsumoto, let me know what you think of it!!