235km (146 miles) NW of Tokyo

Located in the middle of a wide plateau about 200m (660 ft.) above sea level and surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, Matsumoto boasts a fine feudal castle with the oldest existing donjon (keep) in Japan, as well as an outstanding woodblock-print museum. Although the city itself (pop. 230,000) is modern with little remaining from its castle days, it does boast approximately 100 kura (storehouses) scattered throughout town, built more than a century ago after a devastating fire destroyed much of the town. Some of the kura, made of earth and straw and then painted many times to protect valuables against future flames, have been renovated into shops, restaurants, and other establishments, especially on Nakamachi Street.

In any event, I find Matsumoto pleasant, the air fresh, and its people among the nicest I've encountered in Japan. Encircled by towering peaks, sparkling mountain lakes, and colorful wildflowers, Matsumoto also serves as the gateway to the hiking trails of Japan Alps National Park; most travelers heading to the more remote regions of the Japan Alps pass through here on their way.