Enjoy Sweets Hopping in the Historic Uda-Matsuyama
Hi there! It seems that autumn is completely here in Japan! Speaking of autumn, there is a Japanese saying “Autumn is the season for eating” which means our appetite increases because of lots of tasty foods available in this season. So today, I would like to stroll around Uda-Matsuyama (宇陀松山), an old neighborhood of Uda City, Nara Prefecture; and indulge myself in sweets!
Before the tour, let me give you a little information about Uda-Matsuyama. The area itself serves as a reminder of the Edo period; in the history, this area has flourished as a castle town, and then, as a merchant town. Also known as a “town of medicine”, there still remains the structures associated with medicine. These retro streets of Uda-Matsuyama are lined with not only old-established shops, but also new ones today; old houses have been renovated and turned into nice cafes, restaurants, and stores. Discover Nara’s lesser-known neighborhoods Uda-Matsuyama, a wonderful fusion of old and new!
Okay, let’s get started!
To get to Uda-Matsuyama, start from Haibara Station (榛原 / Kintetsu Railway, Osaka Line). At the station, take a bus bound for “Ouda (大宇陀)”. (20-min bus ride) Get off at the final stop Ouda, which is located at “Michi-no-Eki Udaji-Ouda (道の駅 宇陀路大宇陀 / Roadside Station) ”. Walk straight ahead for 5 minutes and you are already in Uda-Matsuyama!
Turn left into Matsuyama Street and you will soon find a retro house on your right, “Sengensha (千軒舎)”. This traditional townhouse used to be a medicine wholesaler then dentist’s office. The renovated building offers information on the Uda-Matsuyama, and the interior of the building gives you a glimpse of the lifestyle of people in the Edo period. I recommend you drop by and enter the house before starting sweets-hopping. It has a restroom as well.
Treat your sweet tooth with authentic French desserts
Exit from “Sengensha” and walk northward on Matsuyama Street. In less than a minute, you will find today’s first patisserie, “ANANDA”. Look! The entrance door has a hand whipper!
Cute display of a variety of pastries. Good taste! It has a small eat-in counter.
The owner of “ANANDA” has learned authentic French pastry in France and opened a patisserie here in Uda-Matsuyama. With the retro and rustic feel, this patisserie goes well with the atmosphere of this historic area.
Here, my recommendation is their cream puff. Whenever I visit this shop, I never fail to get them. The choux pastry is crispy just like other authentic French cream puff and the vanilla custard filling is so rich! Today I bought some and ate them at home with my family.
Long-Established Kudzu Shop with Japan’s Oldest Private Medicinal Herb Garden
Now we head north for about 5 minutes and find a long-established kudzu shop, “Morino Yoshino Kudzu Honpo (森野吉野葛本舗)”.
Kudzu is a perennial vine of the pea family, and the word kudzu refers to the plant itself, and also the powdered starch extracted from its root. It is a kind of medicinal herb. Dissolved in water, Kudzu gels and looks translucent, so in Japan, kudzu starch has long been used in cooking for making sauce, soup, and sweets. If you drink hot thick-textured kudzu-yu (kudzu mixed with hot water) when you get cold, it helps you warm your body. Also, and the smooth thick slippery texture of kudzu is good for sore throat.
This shop has been selling the highest grade of kudzu starch and the sweets made from the starch for more than 450 years! This shop has a medicinal herb garden in the back of the shop where about 250 medicinal herbs grow throughout the year. This is actually Japan’s first private medicinal herb garden! You can see the garden (entrance fee: 300 yen) if you would like. As it is located on a hill, walking up the stairs must be a good exercise and burn some calories! The place offers beautiful scenery of the whole townscape of Uda-Matsuyama below.
Enjoy Guilt-Free Healthy Kudzu Sweets
Okay, let’s get back to the sweets. You shouldn’t miss kudzu sweets if you come to Uda-Matsuyama, a town associated with medicinal herbs! So I head to “Kudzu no Yakata (葛の館)”, their sister store located within a 5-minute walk of this shop.
This shop/factory not only sells their Kudzu products but has a cafe “Kudzumi An (茶房・葛味庵)” that offers freshly made kudzu sweets!
Here is what I ordered, Kudzu-mochi (kudzu starch cake), and Kudzu-kiri (Kudzu starch noodles).
Kudzu-mochi comes with soybean flour, and kudzu-kiri comes with black sugar syrup. Kudzu-mochi has a bouncy, jiggly texture, and kudzu-kiri has a smooth, slippery texture. Both tastes refreshing! Above all things, these low-calorie sweets won’t make you feel guilty even after eating too much.
Customers came in this shop one after another, some of whom came here after visiting the medicinal herb garden.
Okay, let’s go back to Matsuyama Street.
Walking for about 5 minutes, you will see a gate called “Matsuyama Nishiguchi Kanmon (松山西口関門)”, which is also known as “Kuromon (黒門)”, meaning “black gate”. It served as the entrance to the Uda-Matsuyama Castle. Though the castle itself was destroyed about 400 years ago, the ruins remain on the mountain top, where a superb view can be enjoyed. So if you have time, I recommend you climb up the mountain. It’s just a 20-minute hike from Matsuyama Street, so it must be a good calorie-burning exercise!
Don’t Miss the Specialty Sweets of Uda-Matsuyama, “Kimigoromo”
Going southward on Matsuyama Street for about 5 minutes, you will find an old-established Japanese confectionery shop, “Shogetsudo (松月堂)”. This shop sells one of the specialty foods in Uda City, “Kimigoromo (きみごろも)”, the must-try confectionery in Uda-Matsuyama!
This yellow cushion-shaped stuff is made of well-whipped meringue wrapped in egg yolk and baked. The fluffy texture and the sweet delicate taste are so distinctive I can eat forever! The shop has an eating space, so you can have a break here with ‘Kimigoromo’ if you are tired of walking.
“Kimigoromo” is actually well-known sweets among sweets lovers throughout Japan, and actually they are available in Tokyo only once a week at Nara Mahoroba-kan .
A Retro Cozy Patisserie/Cafe That Just Opened This October
On the way back to the bus station, I came across another patisserie in a renovated old house!
This patisserie/cafe “abc” (pronounced ‘ah-beh-seh’ as French alphabet) just opened in October.
As the name suggests, this place offers a French atmosphere, with a warm rustic feel. The owner has learned cooking in France and worked in a patisserie in Kagurazaka, Tokyo (the neighborhood described as Tokyo’s little France). They sell a variety of pastries: quiche, pizzetta, tarts, and cookies.
As I feel like eating something salty, not sweet, I’ve decided to try their pizzetta. The green stuff scattered on the pizzetta is Yamato-toki (大和当帰 / Japanese Angelica), a kind of medicinal herb that is widely grown in Uda City. (As mentioned earlier, Uda-Matsuyama is known as the town associated with medicinal herbs since ancient times. ) The spicy flavor of Yamato-toki adds a nice accent to the savory pizzetta!
The “abc” has an eating area with a comfortable sofa, so you can enjoy a relaxing time here with their sweets and pastries. If you come with kids, don’t worry. This kid-friendly cafe has some baby chairs for you!
Well, it’s about time to go home. How did you like today’s sweets-hopping tour? For me, everything was the feast for the eye and the stomach. Eating too much? No worries! Walking around the Uda-Matsuyama takes long hours, and it must burn a lot of calories! I hope you will visit this historic Uda-Matsuyama, stop by these unique shops along the streets, and try as many sweets as you can!
At the end of the tour, I recommend that you try a foot bath available at Michi-no-Eki (Roadside Station) Udaji-Ouda, before taking a bus to the train station. It will get rid of your fatigue after the long walk!
Sengensha, Uda-Matsuyama Information Center
1846 Hiroo, Ouda, Uda City, Nara Prefecture
Public transport: From Haibara Station (榛原) of Kintetsu Railway, take a bus to the final bus stop “Ouda (大宇陀)” and walk 5 minutes.
By car, to Michi-no-Eki Udaji-Ouda: 30-minute drive from Hari (針) Exit of Meihan National Highway, 40-minute drive from Mihara-Kita (美原北) Exit of Hanwa Expressway