A journey through Yayoi Kusama’s birthplace on the world’s only “art-on-wheels”

Oct 26, 2018


  1. 1. An “art-on-wheels” in Matsumoto
  2. 2. Yayoi Kusama: an avant-garde artist born in Matsumoto
  3. 3. A strange world at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art
  4. 4. Lose yourself in Nakamachi Street - the city of kura
  5. 5. Hop on the Town Sneaker to visit the must-see sites
  6. 6. Another "art-on-wheels" bus?

An “art-on-wheels” in Matsumoto

In front of Matsumoto Station, there’s one bus that stands out from its surroundings. Covered in polka dots, this bus is the world’s one and only “Mizutama Ranbu (Polka-dot wild dance)” loop bus service which has been designed by Yayoi Kusama. It comes as no surprise to find this bus here in Matsumoto which is the birthplace of the internationally renowned avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama.

Did you know that Matsumoto, where Yayoi Kusama was born and raised, has long been famous for being a city of craftsmanship and is now on Japan’s radar as the city of art?

The city is full of many different must-see sites that range from museums and art galleries displaying various works of art and folk art, to shops, and bespoke streets. Sightseeing around Matsumoto, the city of Yayoi Kusama’s origins, cannot be done without the Town Sneaker loop bus service. Out of all the Town Sneaker buses, one bus that the locals are particularly fond of is the “Mizutama Ranbu” bus which the locals have come to affectionately refer to as, the “art-on-wheels”. Try exploring the art and culture of Matsumoto on board this moving Kusama artwork for a more in-depth and enjoyable Kusama and Matsumoto experience.

Yayoi Kusama: an avant-garde artist born in Matsumoto


One of Japan’s most famous and internationally renowned avant-garde artists, Yayoi Kusama was born into a wealthy family that ran a plant nursery near Matsumoto Station. In 1957, she left for the United States, where she not only produced paintings, drawings and three-dimensional artworks, but also staged radical performances known as happenings.

By the 1960s, she was known as “The Queen of Avant-Garde Art”. Kusama still vigorously produces art and continues to capture the hearts of people all around the world, and in 2016, she made the Time Magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People.

A strange world at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Yayoi Kusama, The Visionary Flowers,2002 ; To the Future, from Matsumoto, 2016

A museum that is loved by both tourists and locals alike, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art is easily recognizable – just look for the large floral, polka dot patterned object you can see before you even enter the museum grounds. This object displayed outside the museum, is one of Yayoi Kusama’s sculptural works titled The Visionary Flowers. You can also get a taste of Kusama’s unique world just by looking at the exterior of the museum, where one wall is in fact covered in a Kusama work titled, To the Future, from Matsumoto.

Many of her works are of course displayed as a part of the museum’s permanent collection, and you can also purchase popular Kusama merchandise, which make great souvenirs, from the museum shop. As well as being home to many Kusama works, the museum is striving to become a community-based art museum by providing permanent studio spaces and gallery facilities that are open to the public, in order to promote art from a broader perspective.

A popular photo spot: Vending machines, trash cans, benches and other objects engulfed by polka dots as part of the work Dots Obsession.

The adjoining museum shop sells an array of merchandise, including the hugely popular Yayoi Kusama products, exhibition catalogues and postcards picturing artworks from the museum collection.

*The PUMPKIN object: a favorite with international tourists
*The Dot hand towel: Yayoi Kusama merchandise exclusive to the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Lose yourself in Nakamachi Street - the city of kura

One spot that should not be missed is Nakamachi Street, famous for its traditional storehouses known as kura, which are characterized by their black-and-white grid patterned walls known as the namako wall. Accessible by the Town Sneaker, it has recently been gaining popularity as a tasteful and elegant area to explore, with many of the storehouses now converted into various cafes, stores selling folk art, craft and handicrafts, and other facilities. Here are some of our top picks where you can experience the culture of Matsumoto.

Ihara Lacquerware

Founded in 1907, Ihara Lacquerware is hard to miss with its kura-style façade and sign featuring a lion and peonies. The shop offers a huge selection of lacquerware, from traditional Kiso lacquerware and other prominent styles from all over Japan, to charming accessories, homewares, and lacquer works created by Living National Treasures.

With some affordable and reasonably priced items, you can be sure to find something that will make the perfect gift or can be put to everyday use.

Midori Pharmacy

Midori Pharmacy opened its doors in 1921 and still continues to trade as a pharmacy. Although this is impressive in itself, the main attraction is the “billboard architecture”. Billboard architecture is a western architectural style achieved by attaching a wall decorated with mortar and copper plates to the front of a building so that the roof can be obstructed from street view.

The exterior of the building was completed in 1927 and is so beautiful, that you don’t have to be an architecture lover to appreciate it.

Matsumoto Scale Museum

The building originally housed the Takeuchi Weights and Scales Shop that operated from the Meiji period until the end of the Showa period. After it closed, the building was converted into a museum with the materials and documents from the shop being used as the foundation of the collection.

Inside, around 1300 sets of scales are on display. The valuable scales are not the only things that make this place a hidden gem. You can also take in the tranquil atmosphere of the courtyard created by the earthen storehouses with namako walls, giyōfu (pseudo-Western style) architecture and tatami rooms.

Hop on the Town Sneaker to visit the must-see sites

Apart from the Matsumoto City Museum of Art and Nakamachi Street, there are several other cultural facilities and stores interspersed throughout the Matsumoto city center. The culture of Matsumoto is attracting not only nationwide but worldwide attention, and catching the Town Sneaker to explore all the sites will allow for an even more enjoyable experience.

Why not take a splendid ride around the city on the Mizutama Ranbu - the one and only artistic loop bus service in the world – while thinking of the young Yayoi Kusama?

※ To get to the Matsumoto City Museum of Art and Nakamachi Street, catch the 210 Town Sneaker (east course)

Matsumoto One-Day Pass

One day of unlimited rides on the Town Sneaker buses!

Adult: 500 yen

Child: 250 yen


Visit the Matsumoto Castle, the Former Kaichi School, the Matsumoto Scale Museum and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art at discounted rates with the One-Day Pass. One day of unlimited rides on the Town Sneaker buses!

Another "art-on-wheels" bus?

Not just in Matsumoto City! Make the journey between Matsumoto and Shinjuku on an express “art-on-wheels” bus designed by Yayoi Kusama.

The Matsumoto – Shinjuku highway bus route is currently run by a bus embellished with designs by avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama, who hails from Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture.

The design draws from the polka dot and net motifs of the sculpture, The Visionary Flowers, which is the face of the Matsumoto City Museum of Art where it is displayed outside. The motifs create a whimsical atmosphere and design that is not only extremely eye-catching, but also reminiscent of the city of Matsumoto.

Departing from Matsumoto Bus Terminal

7:50, 8:20 or 8:50


Departing from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal

16:55, 17:25 or 17:55


Only one of the above services will be the Kusama themed bus

*Please note that depart times may be subject to change without notice in the event of inspections and/or breakdowns.

See Matsumoto – Shinjuku Timetable >

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