A visit to the mountain city of Matsumoto wouldn’t be complete without a stroll down Nawate Street. Just 10 minutes’ walk from Matsumoto Castle, the quaint Nawate-dori looks as though it’s been plucked from the pages of history. As you make your way along the paved thoroughfare, you’ll spot everything from homewares to bric-a-brac, fish-shaped taiyaki to sushi-shaped fish. Between the wooden shops, you can enjoy glimpses of the Metoba River which runs alongside the street, adding to the peaceful atmosphere. And as it’s a one-stop-shop for food, retail therapy and plenty of other surprises, Nawate Street is high on the list of things to do in Matsumoto.  

You’ll be greeted at the entrance by a statue of three frogs locked in fierce battle—the first of many amphibian motifs you’ll see along what is affectionately known as ‘Frog Street.’ The name refers to the Kajika frogs that lived in the Metoba River long ago, as much a part of the city’s chorus as the Yohashira Shrine bells, the footsteps of pilgrims and the calls of shop vendors. When a 1959 flood destroyed their habitat—and Nawate Street along with it—the frogs relocated, but their legacy lives on in the ceramics and signboards throughout the alley. 

A decade or so after the devastating flood, efforts were made to revitalise the area and, as is common in Japan, a commemorative mascot was created. “Kaeru Daimyojin” the frog (kaeru) is enshrined at a small shrine about half way along Nawate street, and exists as a symbol of rebirth. After the store holders returned, Nawate dori started to return to its former glory. 

Window shopping on Nawate Street

Unlike the neighbouring Nakamachi-dori, Nawate street is pedestrian-only, meaning you can flit from store to store without worrying about the traffic. One of the first windows we peered into featured a snoozing proprietor enjoying forty winks—lucky it was a slow day! 

There’s a little bit of something for everyone here. You could peruse the retro toys while munching on some freshly cooked senbei rice crackers, look for the perfect souvenir or kick back with some ice cream. A popular snack here are the fish-shaped taiyaki sweets from Furusato. Made from pancake batter and stuffed with various fillings like custard, chocolate or red bean paste, these traditional snacks are definitely worth a try. 

But it’s not all shopping; one block in is Nawate-dori’s raison d’être: Yohashira Shrine.   

Visiting Yohashira Shrine 

Built in 1879, this small Shinto shrine is a popular spot among locals. Its name (Four Pillars) refers to the four deities enshrined within, who work together to make your dreams come true. The wooden shrine and its peaceful grounds make for a nice addition to your stroll through Nawate-dori, so make sure to pop in. From the annual festivals to the fiery autumn colours and the resident pigeons waiting for lunch, there’s always something to see. 

Across from Yohashira Shrine’s torii gate, fill up your water bottle at the fresh spring water well. It’s cold and pure and straight from the mountains. Then head down the nearby steps to the Metoba River to get a new perspective on frog street. 

After strolling Nawate Street, giddy from the retro charm and perhaps a little heavier with frog-shaped nic-nacks, it’s time to continue exploring Matsumoto. If you’ve still got a little pep in your step, head over to the nearby Nakamachi Street. It’s a great spot to do more shopping or refresh with a craft beer or green tea!

Name: Nawate Street / Nawate dori 
Official website: here

Post by Japan Journeys