Nagano is one of my favorite prefectures in Japan. The Japanese Alps are a stunning backdrop and have proudly influenced Nagano`s culture, biodiversity, and cuisine. Today, I will talk about the city that I had the good fortune of visiting in Nagano a few years ago, the city of Matsumoto. Matsumoto is a former castle town, possessing one of the few original castles in Japan.
The shopping street leading to the castle is actually the subject of today`s post for it is uniquely themed around frogs. I promise you will find it very ribbeting.My apologies in advance for all the corny frog puns, please frogive me.
We all know, it’s not easy being green but Nawate Street is a good place to try. Nawate Street is colloquially known as frog street, an apt nickname as statues, figurines, and other decorations are everywhere you look. So what are these frogs doing on the street, dodging cars to get to the other side? The reason is the croaking of Kajika frogs was once as part of the night soundscape of Nawate Street as is sirens and the yells of drunken unlicensed mascots fighting are to New Yorkers.
But in 1959, a typhoon caused the nearby Metoba river to flood and spread debris destroying the frogs’ habitat. The nights were silent, not a ribbit, a croak, or even a gero gero. Residents missing their amphibian neighbors worked tiredly to clean the river but they still did not return. Without the frogs, many felt the spirit of Nawate Street was gone so they placed faux frogs outside of their shops to bring it back and so the frogs would not be forgotten. The street is nicknamed Kaeru no Machi or Frog Street.
The word for frogs in Japanese Kaeru has a homonym that means to return. This perfectly sums up the street, it is a frog-themed shopping street that wants both its frogs to return as well as the prosperity it enjoyed in the past. Frogs figurines can be purchased at many of the shops. The street is also known for its delicious Taiyaki, a fish-shaped pastry with a sweet filling like red bean paste or custard.
A small shrine dedicated to the frogs called Kaeru Daimyoujin was created in 1972. You can quite literally pay your respects to the spirit of the frogs with the donation of a few coins. 5 yen coins are most often given at shrines because they are called go-en in Japanese which also is the same word for good luck.
Every year, Nawate Street holds a 2 day long frog festival with games, performances, mascots, snacks, and merchandise centered around the jumpy water loving vertebrates. There is a variety of stalls selling both frog and non-frog goods. The festival is typically held during one weekend in late June. Unfortunately, like many events, the 2022 Frog Festival has been canceled due to the Corona Virus. I hope the festival will return someday soon but as of now those that run the event can`t Kermit to any specific dates.
That`s my last pun, I swear.
There are limited express trains from Shinjuku station in Tokyo go to Matsumoto station in 2.5-3 hours(¥6710 one way). There also cheaper highway buses(¥3400) that run from Shinjuka that take the same amount of time to Matsumoto.
Nagoya is another major city with easy access to Matsumoto with limited express trains ( 2hrs,¥6070) and highway buses( 3 hrs ¥3460).
Nawate Street(Nawate-dori) is a ten minute walk from Matsumoto station. From there it is less than a 5 minute walk to Matsumoto castle.