Matsumoto’s City Buses: Moving Works of Art

Culture / Culture Art / Access, Transportation
Thu, Dec 10, 2020

In recent years the name Alpico has become an almost ubiquitous aspect of life in Matsumoto. Known officially as the Alpico Group, the company has a fleet of taxis, is a major sponsor of Matsumoto’s Yamaga FC soccer club (yes, soccer, I’m from the US), and owns a number of hotels – though this is a relatively understated part of their tentacled reach as only one of their hotels actually has their name on it.

But for those visiting our lovely community here in the middle of Japan, Alpico’s presence is probably most visible thanks to the buses making the rounds up and down the streets all over town.

Yet although the word Alpico appears in no fewer than three places on the façade of the bus terminal building across the street from the train station, looking at the buses themselves one may never notice the name. There’s too much other stuff going on.

Much more widely-known throughout Japan and the world is the name Kusama Yayoi. An artist hailing from Matsumoto, Kusama Yayoi has her work on permanent display inside and outside of the Matsumoto City Museum of Art. Her red polka dots and her bright, bold flowers – two of her signature works – can also be seen on some of Alpico’s buses.


And at least one of them has her actual signature. (Or is that just printed on there?)

Other buses are all decked out with illustrations and pictures of Matsumoto’s best and most famous pieces of history – like the former Kaichi School, a designated National treasure…

…or that other National Treasure – you may have heard about it…

Paired with this overly-idyllic depiction of Matsumoto Castle is Arupi-chan, the official mascot of the city of Matsumoto. If you don’t happen to spot Arupi-chan on the side of a bus, don’t despair. She and her mountainous hair can be seen in plenty of places around town.

You’ll likely notice plenty of other interesting character mascots, which are evidently integral to the success of so many companies in Japan.



Some buses are simply done up in playful paint jobs…

…while some sport the classic Highland Express logo.

And then there are those showing off classic styles of advertising (sometimes with that English twist).

And these days, of course, some of them come with public service announcements. (“Mask up!”)

As compact and walkable as Matsumoto is, you may never feel the need to take a bus while you’re here. Then again, if you decide to head for Kamikochi you’ll likely get there with Alpico’s help.

If nothing else, you will inevitably notice the fun Alpico seems to be having with their buses. And that, in turn, may make your time here a little more interesting.