Located in the very center of Mie, Matsusaka has historically been a town of merchants selling all sorts of goods to pilgrims travelling to the sacred shrine in Ise. In modern times, Matsusaka continues this tradition, but now serves tourists and pilgrims alike as people continue to pass by in droves to visit the shrine. The city is best known for 'Matsusaka beef', which is among the finest 'wagyu beef' in the country. Whether you're a twenty-something backpacker passing through, a family on vacation, or a culinary connoisseur, this city has something for everyone.
The city is serviced by the JR and Kintetsu railways. A ticket from Nagoya station costs ¥1250-1650. Add another ¥1300 if taking the faster and more comfortable 'Limited Express' option.
Most of the main sites can be traveled to on foot nearby Matsusaka station, where the majority of hotels and restaurants are located. Buses are available near the station that can take you to places such as Bell Farm and Iinan village. A car rental agency (Toyota Rent-a-car) is near the station.
- 1 Matsusaka Castle (松阪城). The name is deceiving because the castle was destroyed several hundred years ago. However, a set of beautiful ruins remains and functions as a sort of local park. The castle ruins are particularly beautiful during spring and autumn, when cherry blossoms and colorful autumn leaves fall around the complex. Historical monuments and markers dot the castle grounds, including a peculiar coffin at the top of the castle that was used when materials were lacking during its construction. Little shops are scattered around the castle and are usually open whenever the owners feel like opening them. Be extremely careful around the edges of the castle, as there are no guard rails near the steep castle walls.
- 2 Gojoban Yashiki (御城番屋敷). A traditional street right outside the castle with preserved houses from the Edo period that were inhabited by samurai, and are now inhabited by their descendants. Be mindful with noise and pictures as people do live in the houses here. An open house is found towards the end of the road across the street from the castle where you can walk around one of the houses for free.
- Motoori Norinaga Museum - A museum dedicated to a renowned scholar who came from the city. While largely unknown outside Japan, it's still quite interesting to tour his house and take a glimpse into the daily life of someone living in 18th century Japan.
- Matsuura Takeshirō Museum - This museum is a bit difficult to access but is an interesting experience. You can learn about the exploration of Hokkaido by the man from Matsusaka who gave the island its name. It's also fun to try on traditional Ainu clothing.
- Matusaka Rockers Club - A rowdy place where you can occasionally see performances by local punk and metal bands. Expect a crowd of punks, bikers, and businessmen who had a long week at work all drinking and moshing together. Don't forget to wear ear protection, as this place gets extremely loud.
- Hiking - Mt. Hossaka (堀坂山) looms over the city and is visible from almost anywhere. The mountain trail is great for people that are relatively new to hiking, as it isn't too rough or steep. From the summit, one can see as far as Nagoya on a clear day.
- Festivals - Seasonal festivals are held throughout the year. In particular, the 'Ujisato Festival' in November is quite the spectacle. Samurai march through the city streets and meet at the castle ruins to honor the former lord of Matsusaka.
Matsusaka has historically been a merchant city. It still continues this tradition to this day, and is a great place to shop for a variety of locally made goods.
- Souvenir Store - There's a souvenir store connected to the station and located right next to the JR entrance. If you're just passing through, it's a great place to pick up locally made snacks, sauces, crafts, and even a bottle of tea made from leaves grown in Iinan village.
- Bell Farm - A short bus ride away from Matsusaka station, Bell Farm is a local agricultural park that is very popular with locals. The park is famous for selling ice cream, though the place sells a little bit of everything. Local artisans sell handmade goods at the market, and farmers sell locally grown produce at the grocery store there.
- Matusaka Momen (松阪木綿) - Although mostly known for beef, the city is also renowned for its production of an indigo cloth known as Matusaka Momen. Kimono made from this cloth is unique and of great quality, but is extremely expensive. However, one can buy handkerchiefs, wallets, bags, and other goods made from the cloth at Matsusaka station.
Perhaps the main reason people visit Matsusaka is to eat some of the delicious food found at its prestigious restaurants. Matsusaka beef is the main attraction for most. The beef is regarded as nearly holy in nature, as every product that remotely includes it is marketed as 'Matsusaka beef'. This includes everything from rice crackers flavored with it to finely marbled choice cuts.
For those on a tight budget, most of the food people travel here for isn't exactly the cheapest. A cheap place to grab a snack is the takoyaki and taiyaki stand found on the main street near the station. Chain restaurants and mom-and-pop eateries with decent prices are found throughout the city.
- Kiosks - For those just passing through the city, a simple and relatively inexpensive way to sample the beloved beef is to get a Matusaka beef bento from one of the kiosks in the station. Prices range from ¥1000 to ¥2000. You'll know them when you see them because the lunchboxes are shaped like cattle heads. Matsusaka castle is a great place to eat them.
- Asanoya (浅野屋) - For pescatarians, or anyone who prefers seafood to meat, this place is a little restaurant that specializes in tuna. About a five-minute walk from the JR side of Matsusaka Station.
- Asiam (アジャム) - Great Thai restaurant located a short walk away from the Kintetsu side of Matsusaka station. Small portions, but relatively cheap.
- Aji Oimatsu (味老松) - A bento (lunchbox) store located along the main road on the JR side of Matsusaka station. The bento sold here are made by the local Okha High School students who are studying to become chefs. These students even served the First Ladies during the 2016 G7 summit. Prices here are expensive, but the quality is fantastic and the funds go towards a good cause.
- Otomoni Coffee (オトモニコーヒー) - Great for lunch. English-speaking staff and a menu with both western, Japanese, and fusion food. Coffee is expensive, but of excellent quality. Also serves as a hostel. 10-minute walk from the JR side of Matsusaka station.
- Cafe Hunky Dory (カフェ ハンキードリィ) - Near Tokuwa Station (one stop down from Matsusaka JR station). This place is a bar, cafe, and restaurant all in one. The owner is a friendly man who is very passionate about food and fashion. Connected to the restaurant is a clothing store where he sells handmade clothes that he designed. Just ask him for a recommendation and he'll whip up something delicious.
- Wadakin (和田金) - The premier place to eat Matsusaka beef. Be prepared to pay between ¥13,000 to 30,000 for a course meal. You get what you pay for, though.
- Chez Nyaqu (シェ・ニャック) - French-Japanese cuisine. Beautiful building and atmosphere with ivy covering the outside and an interesting interior that combines traditional Japanese and old fashioned French furniture. The chef studied in Provence and apparently the local French guy goes to eat there when he's homesick, so it must be pretty good.
Matsusaka has a vibrant nightlife, though a bit different from the youthful clubs of Osaka and Tokyo. The bars and clubs here are marketed towards a more middle aged working class audience. While not as energetic as a place such as Dotomburi or Roppongi, there's a genuinely friendly atmosphere in most of the local watering holes.
- Popcorn - Right outside Matsusaka station on the JR side. Owner/bartender is a friendly and funny man that speaks English well. Drinks are quite expensive, but he makes them very strong.
- Gappa Ramones - This little hole in the wall is a true gem of an establishment if you like punk music. The restaurant is decked out in punk memorabilia and everything from local underground metal to The Pogues is played on the speakers there.
- Posse - A brand new bar with a modern vibe to it. Like the aforementioned Gappa Ramones, the bartender has a penchant for heavy metal, so you'll often hear it playing.
- Shots Bar Owl - A cozy little bar hidden away in an alley near Matsusaka station. For some reason, they always have an Audrey Hepburn movie playing on the television with smooth jazz in the background.
- Wally Cook - Right in front of Matsusaka station on the Kintetsu side. Japanese style izakaya with a modern vibe to it. Food is pricy, but decent.
Most accommodations in Matsusaka are geared toward business trips, so you'll find a wide variety of mid-range hotels in the city. However, both an excellent hostel is available for people on a budget, as well as a renowned ryokan for those who can afford it.
- Lodger/Otomoni Coffee - A hostel that's perfect for backpackers or light travellers to stay. The staff speaks English and has a plethora of information regarding local sightseeing and events. A bit more expensive than the average hostel (around ¥3000 per night), but the atmosphere is great and you get a discount if you drink there in the evening.
- Toyoko Inn - Located right next to the station on the JR side. It's a Japanese chain hotel with clean, comfy rooms.
- AU Hotel - A short distance from the Kintetsu side of Matsusaka station, this hotel has a great rooftop bar and restaurant.
- Yachiyo (八千代) - Historical Ryokan built in the 1920s. Expensive, but, you get what you pay for. This place has nearly a century old reputation for its fine dining and authentic Japanese atmosphere. If unfamiliar with this type of establishment, see the Ryokan section on the general Japan page.
Matsusaka, like most Japanese cities, is extremely safe and crime against tourists is practically unheard of.
The city has a large red light district known as 'Atago-machi' that locals will claim is very dangerous, but it's not really the case. You'll definitely know if you wander into this district, but at the very worst you might get solicited (a simple 'no thank you' will always suffice), or hear a drunken businessman singing terrible karaoke through a thin wall. Avoid places with 'snack' in the name, unless you want to pay exorbitant prices for watered down drinks poured by pretty girls.
Do not go to the Matsusaka castle ruins after dark, unless there is an event going on. The walls are extremely steep with no guard railing, so it's very easy to lose your step.
People in Matsusaka can drive somewhat erratically compared to other places, so be careful along narrow and dark roads.
Matsusaka is centrally located in Mie Prefecture, so it's a decent base for travel no matter where you want to go in Mie. It's also well-connected to Nagoya.
|Routes through Matsusaka|
|Kameyama ← Tsu ←||N S||→ Owase → Kumano|
|Suzuka ← Tsu ←||N W||→ Iga Kanbe → Murouguchi Ōno|
|↑ ←||N S||→ Ise → Toba|
|Nagoya ← in to ← Tsu ←||N S||→ Ise|