We went to Matsumoto on a whim earlier this year. We had been visiting the snow monkeys in Jigokudani in Nagano and decided to take a detour on the way back to Tokyo. I would never have thought of going there otherwise. It has a famous castle, but that wouldn’t normally be enough to tempt me somewhere (it takes something like monkeys in a natural hot tub to make me buy a train ticket!).
I loved it the second we arrived, there was just something in the air that suited me. It is a small low-key city; manageable, walkable and just enough choice to keep you interested without overwhelming you - a relief from Tokyo. There are distinctive old black and white storehouses dotted around the city, many of which have been changed into independent cafes, shops and small Japanese inns. Nakamachi Street is the most famous area for these architectural relics in Matsumoto but if you wander about you can find a lot more. One we found had Main Bar Coat tucked upstairs in its attic. The name nor the website quite capture the atmosphere of the place, it had an old-school whiskey bar vibe with staff in white shirts and waistcoats. The G&T was crisp and the service was the epitome of class.
The city had a kind of low-key under-the-radar cool that reminded me of Belfast in a way, with lots of creatives quietly doing their own thing. They are not shouting about it but they are there and, if you walk around a bit, you’ll find them. That’s how I found Amijok. You can tell the owners are incredibly serious about what they do. Their muffins, with unexpected ingredient combinations, are the size of your head, and the coffee is slow (as I said, serious about what they do) but worth it. Go there to sit, browse, eat, drink and read the curated selection of fine design books and magazines.
After your Amijok coffee break, there are plenty of zakka shops to explore. Zakka means ‘miscellaneous goods’ but refers to the lovely little bits and bobs you find in interior and lifestyle stores. There are so many in Tokyo but it’s worth seeking out the smaller-city variety, starting with Laboratorio. It has a little bit of everything for you and your home, along with food so obviously a winner! Galerie Kaigetsu is next, a celebration of everyday tools and craft in a beautiful space. If by now you need another caffeine hit, Sioribi, meaning ‘bookmark day’, is a design-led bookstore and coffee shop that specialises in books from independent publishers, along with hosting exhibitions and workshops.
I found this article on Haconiwa, an upbeat creative online magazine produced by a cohort of talented female contributors. In the article, they walk around Matsumoto in search of the unique and the rare, accompanied by some beautiful photography, of course. The article is all in Japanese so you can either stick it in Google Translate and work your way through the bizarre translation, or you can just look at the pictures, follow the links and enjoy the light, airy serenity of the Japanese eye for design.
All the best,
P.S. I actually loved the black and white, photogenic castle!