Matsudo: Discovering the Unexpected Charms of a Tokyo Suburb City

In the eyes of the average Tokyoite, the city of Matsudo is a convenient place to live in, with affordable housing and a relatively short and easy commute to Tokyo. Over the past few years , the city has seen an increasing number of tourists staying in Matsudo for the same reasons. Tadaima Japan was nicely invited to a press tour in Matsudo, and we can testify the city has more to offer than just accommodation!


The city of Matsudo

The city of Matsudo (Photo Credit: Matsudo City official website)

Matsudo is a city in Chiba prefecture of about 480,000 inhabitants. It is located about 30 minutes from Tokyo station, which is a more than ideal commute duration for people working in Tokyo (most people spend about 1 hour to commute from the suburbs). It’s also about 1 hour by train from Narita Airport, which makes it a convenient place to stay for tourists . The accommodation is usually a bit cheaper than in the big city itself, so Matsudo is a great base to visit the Eastern Parts of Tokyo.

Just walking around will give you an idea about the kind of places where most Tokyo workers take their breakfast, shop for groceries and go back to sleep at night… where they actually live! However, the city also has its own sightseeing spots.

The Tojo-tei House and the Tojo Museum of History

A part of the Tojo-tei house as seen from its garden

If you like Japanese traditional architecture, the Tojo-tei House is a great place to visit. It’slocated in the small but charming Tojo Park and it was built in 1884 using mostly the best cedar wood available. The house was built in the style of a feudal lord mansion. The reason behind this is that the house was built by Akitake Tokugawa of the prestigious and powerful Tokugawa family, who would have most probably been the next shogun if the feudal system hadn’t been abolished during the Meiji era.

The main rooms, originally designed to welcome Akitake’s guests, are spacious enough to welcome a fair number of visitors, and today, musical events and concerts also take place there. They also offer a great view on the garden, and I sat a few minutes on the veranda just to appreciate the atmosphere. Thanks to the wide windows opening on the garden, on sunny days the house is warm and bright. Akitake was very attentive to the layout of his garden (which is also accessible a few days of the month) and was very fond of it.

The main tatami rooms, designed to welcome guests, offer a beautiful view on the garden

Inside, you will find the typical tatami and paper doors. but the house also has some charming architectural details, such as lovely round windows, or engravings of sparrows and butterflies in Akitake’s mother’s room.

Some of the butterfly engravings

In every room, you will find a panel with an explanation, and pictures of how the room looked like at the time. And don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese:  scan the QR code with your smartphone, and you’ll get an explanation in English and other languages. It’s a feature I wish I could see more often!

A happy detail: the explanation panels have online versions in several languages

The pictures representing the rooms as they were in Akitake’s time are often filled with Japanese and Western items. Akitake spent many years in Europe (especially in Paris) first as a child and later as an adult. There he discovered photography and fell in love with it. On the pictures, the house used is filled with cultural assets reflecting Akitake’s numerous hobbies, like making ceramics. Looking at the pictures, I regretted that some items were not put on display since it would have given given visitors an insight into the lives of the residents of Tojo-tei house. However, there were a few samurai armors (replicas) to remind us of the family’s warrior past.

One of the armors put on display

If you wish to learn more about Akitake Tokugawa and his life, you must head to the Tojo Museum of History, located very close to the house. There, you will learn more about Akitake, his life and his family. The theme of the exhibition changes regularly. As a French person, it was very interesting to learn that Akitake had been to the 1900 Paris Exposition as a child, and see the front pages of the French newspapers of the time reporting his travels in France. Some of his personal effects were also put on display. However, most of the exhibition consisted of handwritten documents and correspondence, and this time there were no English explanations making it harder to appreciate if you cannot read Japanese or don’t have much knowledge of Japanese history. Hopefully the museum will make some improvements when the number of foreign visitors to Tojo-tei increases!

A good reason to visit both places is that tickets are quite cheap. Entry to the House only costs 250 yen for an adult, and combined entry to the museum and the house costs only 320 yen for an adult.

Matsudo’s artist in residence project

Matsudo’s distinctive features are not only connected to the past; the city is also living with its times and open to new possibilities. Like other cities and villages of Japan (for example Kamiyama which I visited earlier this year), Matsudo is home to an artist-in-residence program. Called Paradise AIR, it mainly takes place in a building called Rakuen (paradise in Japanese), that used to be… a love hotel.

The old love hotel is now a place dedicated to art and creativity

Nowadays, the kitsch, old-fashioned rooms welcome artists and creators from all over the world (and from Japan too). Artists can stay there for short stays or long stays, during which they get inspiration from Matsudo city, meet the locals, exchange ideas with other artists, and unleash their creativity in an atmosphere they won’t find anywhere else! Their lodging and some daily expenses are covered in exchange for creating art and interacting with the local people. If you are an artist and are interested, click on the previous links for more information.

Each room is equipped with a bathroom and can be transformed into a living space, an atelier, or an office space. This room was used by an independent fashion brand until they had to move to a bigger location after becoming a huge success!

The building is usually not open to visitors, but Paradise AIR organizes workshops, concerts, screenings and exhibitions during which you can meet the locals and the artists. It’s definitely something to do if you want to discover new points of view about Japan and if you love to meet new people! Click here for a calendar of events.

Mr Shoji, producer of the project, introduces us to its concept

Mr. Wataru Shoji,  producer of Paradise AIR, let us visit the place and told us about the project. He explained that this is not his main job, but he decided to work on this project because he loves art and is a musician.  I wish I had more time to talk him and his experience running this project, and I am hoping to interview him in the near future!

Local delicacies

A visit to a place in Japan would not be complete without food and drinks! However, I had no idea what to expect gourmet-wise in the city of Matsudo.

We were offered a variety of finger food using local, fresh vegetables, especially spring onion

I learnt that Matsudo has two main agricultural products it is proud of: a sort of green lemon and ajisai negi, a sort of Japanese spring onion (‘negi’ in Japanese). The ajisai negi is so good it will feature in the National Negi Summit (yes it’s a thing) that will take place on November 23rd and 24th… in Matsudo!

During the summit, you can eat negi from all over Japan, and also meet negi-related Japanese mascots from all over the country. The kind of summit you can only find in Japan.

Matsudo’s lemons

The green lemons were served to us in a soda drink and had a lot of flavor, much more than the regular lemons I usually buy at the supermarket. Once home, I also used one in a dressing for a quick salad and found it made it better. I think from now on Matsudo’s lemons will help me overcome my craving for Tokushima prefecture’s sudachi (even if I am aware they taste completely different).

 Matsudo is also home to many sake breweries, and the Matsudo City Tourism Association organizes the Chiba Prefecture Sake Fair on a regular basis. It’s an event where you can taste different kinds of sake for free!

Matsudo is also a city that has plenty of good ramen restaurant, and the Tourism Bureau provides a detailed map in English; it even mentions the degree of thickness of the soup at every place.

I won’t give any more details about the sake fair and ramen restaurants in this article, as I don’t want to steal this great experience from Tadaima Japan’s sake specialist and ramen connoisseur David! He will have the pleasant task of visiting Matsudo later this month, so stay tuned for another article about Matsudo’s delicacies very soon!

A new window opens

A round window in Tojo-tei house

This visit to Matsudo made me realize you don’t necessarily need to go far from Tokyo to find enjoyable visits in Japan that are off the beaten track: they can be found right next door. All it takes is a little motivation and curiosity! Matsudo’s Paradise AIR cultural events or Chiba sake fair are good excuses to set foot in the city and be surprised. If you plan to visit Japan as a tourist and want to stay in Matsudo city for cheaper accommodation, I recommend taking at least half a day to have a look around and see all the sights.

If you decide to visit the city of Matsudo, make sure to stop by the Tourism Information Center (which is also where the sake fair takes place), about 5mn on foot from Matsudo station’s West exit. Their English website is currently under construction, but they have English speaking staff and pamphlets in several languages. They’ll make sure you don’t miss anything happening in the city during your visit.

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AUTHOR

Amelie

Amelie

Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.

Information

Address 7-3 Honcho, Matsudo, Chiba 271-0091
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Hours 10am - 6pm
Price Free
Close Monday
Access 5mn on foot from JR Matsudo Station
Phone 047-703-1100
Language Japanese
English
Website http://matsudoinfo.sakura.ne.jp/