Shinshu Matsumoto Airport: Gateway to the Center of Japan

Shinshu Matsumoto Airport is a modest affair. There’s just one gate, one luggage carousel, and one runway for the twelve flights going in and out daily. But dive in and you’ll see not only why at least one person thinks this is the world’s greatest airport, but why this quiet strip of asphalt has earned the nickname Gateway to the Center of Japan.

Anatomy of an Airport in the Highlands

Shinshu Matsumoto Airport sits at 657.5 meters above sea level, making it the highest commercial airport in Japan. When it was built back in the 1960s the layout of the airport didn’t require much deliberation; with mountains to the east and west the runway quite obviously had to be oriented north-south. (Imagine the insane takeoffs and landings if the runway was laid out sideways!)

For reasons that make sense to someone, Matsumoto Airport has no Instrument Landing System in place. Instead of an ILS, which uses radio signals to give the pilot horizontal and vertical location information relative to the runway for safer landings at night or in bad weather, Shinshu Matsumoto Airport offers RNAV, a navigation system whereby a series of beacons gives the pilot a general idea of where things are and lets him or her take it from there.

Serving the Outdoor Recreation Community

Matsumoto Airport serves the domestic market, with a focus on recreational rather than business travelers. Mountaineering in summer and snow sports in winter are the main drivers of the air traffic bringing people in from all over Japan, with flights connecting Matsumoto with Kobe, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, along with service in August to and from Osaka. And with the next closest airport in any direction lying three hours or more away, for most domestic travelers, Shinshu Matsumoto Airport really is the Gateway to the Center of Japan.

If you happen to spot an airplane flying in or out of Shinshu Airport, you’ll probably see the letters FDA on the sidel. This stands for Fuji Dream Airlines, based out of Shizuoka and seemingly the only airline offering those twelve daily flights in and out (or, sorry Osaka, fourteen in August). From the flight schedule FDA seems to have an ostensible carrier agreement with JAL, but personally I’ve never seen a single JAL aircraft on the Matsumoto tarmac.

I did see a Korean Air plane there once. Shinshu Matsumoto Airport does occasionally serve international charter flights from Korea, China, and Russia. But unless you have the means to charter your own private jet, you’ll have to take a train to Nagoya or Tokyo if you want to fly internationally.

The Greatest Airport in the World

Granted, Shinshu Matsumoto Airport itself will likely never win any international acclaim. But I still think it’s the best airport in the world – not for what’s in it, but because of what’s around it.

Spread out along both sides of the two-kilometer runway, and stretching further out from the north and south ends, is a sprawling, rolling, green public space called Shinshu Sky Park. This massive park is a great mix of wide lawns, sports facilities, playgrounds, flower parks, forested groves, picnic areas, and a place where you can rent bicycles and go off and enjoy the ten-kilometer jogging/cycling path that rolls along the perimeter of the park.

The track and field venue hosts competitions and tournaments year-round, and serves as the finish line of the annual Matsumoto Marathon. But the crown jewel of the park is Sunpro Alwin Stadium, where Matsumoto’s beloved Yamaga FC play their home matches.

Get Out There

Aside from flying in from Kobe, Fukuoka or Sapporo (or, yes, Osaka in August), Shinshu Matsumoto Airport is most easily accessed by bus, direct from the bus terminal across from Matsumoto Station. Even if you have no plans on flying anywhere, you can still enjoy all that Sky Park has to offer, along with a great view of the surrounding land and the runway from the viewing deck on the roof of the airport.

If you are coming to Matsumoto from the Kobe, Fukuoka or Sapporo area, check FDA’s flights and fares and see if it makes sense to fly here, to the highest airport in the country and the Gateway to the Center of Japan. And watch those mountains on your way in!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *