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Published: November 5th 2017
Hello my fellow travellers!
Yesterday I had a wonderful and relaxed time together with Junko and Bárbara in Fujieda and Shizuoka, enjoying a tea ceremony (chanoyu
) and I was able to purchase both a kimono and a pair of hakama
(trousers). Today it was time to continue my journey though and so I said my goodbyes to Junko for this year as I stepped on the shinkansen
(bullet train) going west. I left together with Bárbara who was heading towards Kyoto while I stepped of in Nagoya to switch for a train going to Matsumoto.
On the train station in Shizuoka she said that she was going to miss me, but I told her to look at it from the positive side. Now my befuddled face wouldn't drive her mad anymore. However, she said she was getting used to it by now and that I wasn't doing it as often anymore. I told her I'd miss her to, she's been very fun to hang out with and she's very kind. I'm pretty sure we'll meet again next year, either here in Japan or in Argentina.
When I arrived in Matsumoto there was a political rally going on by
Matsumoto Frog Festival, Matsumoto
the station, because it's election time here, and it was interesting to see the rally of a local official here in Japan. It felt a lot calmer than what I've gotten used to when it comes to politics lately, it was a nice change of pace to be honest. The rally was held next to a statue of Banryû (1786–1840) who was the first to climb the nearby Mount Yari (Yari-ga-take
) in 1828, it's one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains and stands 3,180 metres high.
From the station I set my aim on the sight that I came here for, the famous Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto-jô
It's quite close to the station, about a 15 minute walk or so. On my way to the castle I crossed the Tagwa River (Tagawa
) and stopped by the beautiful Yohashira Shrine (Yohashira Jinja
) where I offered up a prayer before it's haiden
(worship hall). This shrine was built during the Meiji Period and is dedicated to four different kami (deities). The name Yohashira literally means “four pillars” and is believed to have special wish-granting properties.
Located on the shrine grounds was something which
Haiden (Worship Hall)
Yohashira Shrine, Matsumoto
I haven't previously come across, something called shôkondono
(roughly, "spirit invitation hall"). As far as I can tell the shôkon
is a ritual to call the spirits back from the dead and seems to be a Daoist term. While I know of the family reunion of the Obon Festival (Obon
) where the departed family members are invited back to the realm of the living to appease their suffering, this is the first time I've come across the term shôkon. I wonder if I will ever be proficient enough in the Japanese language and culture to fully comprehend this but I hope I didn't get it too wrong.
Another thing I came across here was a small torii
(shrine gate) which marked a site specifically for venerating Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingû
). I also found a beautiful hokora
(miniature shrine) similar to those that I found at the Sasuke Inari Shrine (Sasuke Inari Jinja) in Kamakura.
Next to the shrine was a nice kôban
(police box), the small police stations that you'll find all over in Japan and which I expect are a contributing factor to the low crime rates. There was also some really cool frog statues that
Kuromon (Black Gate)
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
belong to the Matsumoto Frog Festival (Matsumoto Kaeru Matsuri
) that is held here every year.
As I came to the Matsumoto Castle the sight of it took my breath away, I knew that it would be beautiful because I've seen the pictures of it. However, seeing it for real defeats the pictures by a huge margin. What makes it even more beautiful is that the uchi-bori
(inner moat) that stretches around the castle is very wide and runs in a perfect circle around it which meant that I could get a completely unobstructed view of the castle already from the outside. There was absolutely nothing that blocked my view of this castle, no barriers, no trees, no people, there was nothing at all between me and an image of absolute perfection. It is designated as a National Treasure, one of only five castles in Japan which shares in that honour, and it's very easy to see why. This is the fourth of them that I visit, the other three that I visited last year are Himeji Castle (Himeji-jô
), Hikone Castle (Hikone-jô
) and Inuyama Castle (Inuyama-jô
I would say that Himeji Castle in and of it's own is more
beautiful than Matsumoto Castle due to it's glistening white exterior, but this sensation of being able to watch Matsumoto Castle without any form of disruption really elevated it to a position of it's own when it comes to castles I've visited. And then I'm not only talking about Japan but around the world in general. Matsumoto Castle might very well be the most beautiful castle I have ever laid eyes upon in my life.
Because of it's black exterior it's often called the "Crow Castle" (Karasu-jô
) and it's one of the oldest original castles in Japan with the current structures dating from 1594. The castle was in use from 1504 to the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868.
As I was walking around outside the castle I stopped for a moment and had a wonderful conversation with an elderly Japanese couple that spoke to me in a calm manner so that the conversation actually flowed quite well despite my shortcomings in Japanese. With the castle beside us, the sun above us and the serenity of Japan around us it made for such a wonderful meeting. This is what the Japanese call ichi-go ichi-e
(one time, one meeting).
This signifies that each meeting is special and should be treasured as it will never come again. This is an important part of the tea ceremony which I participated in yesterday but I didn't really talk about this concept in yesterday's post. Well, this meeting with them felt like a perfect representation of what that saying stands for and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it and I will treasure the memory.
Stretching around the uchi-bori is the Matsumoto Castle Park (Matsumoto-jô Kōen
) and as I kept walking around in it I soon found myself in another lovely conversation. This time with some Korean missionaries and this conversation was mainly done in English. When they asked me about my religious affiliation they were surprised to hear about my mix of Shintoism, Buddhism and Agnosticism and I agree that it is a strange combination.
When I came to the red Uzumibashi Bridge (Uzumibashi
) crossing the moat I turned back and walked back to same way to go inside the castle grounds. I paid the entrance fee and entered through the kuromon
(black gate). When I came inside the walls I noticed some coin lockers which
was nice since I'd brought my bag with me even though I had originally planned to leave it at the train station. I tucked my bag away inside one of the lockers and went to the toilet before I walked over to go inside the tenshu
(main keep) of the castle. As I stood in line to enter I saw the usual staff dressed up as the former residents of the castle, I have seen this at many major castles in Japan. It's a service to the tourists which is a really neat touch as it adds a lot to the experience in my opinion.
The inside of the tenshu is well maintained and there are plenty of uniformed guards around to make sure that it stays that way. As is customary in these castles I had to remove my shoes and put them in a plastic bag to bring with me. Inside there were a lot of interesting artefacts and plenty of good information about the history of both the castle itself and the various time periods of Japanese history. All of the floors were open to either visits or viewing and all I had to do was
to follow the path laid out for me. There were a lot of people here though so it was quite difficult to get decent pictures even though photography was allowed. As I reached the top floor of the castle I found that the view was unfortunately obscured by safety nets. All things put together I would say that the outside of the castle is better than the inside because it is a little bit difficult to get fully immersed when you're inside even if it's really beautiful.
If I would have had the opportunity to walk around completely alone inside the castle I expect I would have loved the inside just as much as I loved the outside. Because it really is beautiful inside but it's hard to really stop and enjoy it in the constant flow of people coming through. Don't get me wrong, it's not excessively crowded like Himeji Castle was last year where the lines where so great that I didn't even make it to the top. Here it is possible to get good photos inside but there will be a pretty constant and steady flow of people and you will have to wait for a
Getting Ready For Battle
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
while to get clear and uninterrupted photos.
On the top floor I found an interesting detail that I really loved and that shows how steeped in lore everything in Japan is. In the ceiling of the top floor there is an enshrined deity. In 1618 a beautiful woman, dressed as a miko
(shrine maiden) wearing the red hakama and white haori
appeared in front of a guard of the castle. She revealed herself to be Nijûroku Yashin, the goddess of the 26th day of the month.
The goddess told the guard that if the lord of the castle enshrined her together with 500 kg of cooked rice the castle would be protected against both fire and enemies. After delivering the message the goddess levitated away towards the top of the tenshu. The following day, upon hearing of this, the lord of the castle built a shrine in the ceiling of the top floor and enshrined the requested rice. From that day forward the lords of the castles kept bringing the goddess offerings on the 26th day of every month.
Because I had nothing else on my itinerary for the day I did my best to keep
a slow pace and allow people to walk past me while I took my time to explore the castle as thoroughly as I could. The last part of the castle that I passed, before exiting the tenshu, was the tsukimi yagura
(moon-viewing tower). It was a really beautiful spot so I remained there for quite some time before I finally left the tenshu. When I came back outside it was actually getting quite late and the closing hours was getting near so the crowds were beginning to thin out considerably even though they hadn't fully disappeared yet.
I noticed the costumed staff again and they were now taking a lot of pictures together with the visitors so I decided to be a bit touristy for a moment and go over to take a picture together with the lady dressed as Princess Toku (1576–1607). She was the granddaughter of both Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616) and Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582). She was married to Ogasawara Hidemasa (1569–1615) who was a vassal to Ieyasu and who died in the Siege of Osaka (1614-1615).
Another member of the staff, also dressed up in traditional attire, took our pictures but after a couple of photos
we were interrupted by a group of schoolgirls who jumped in. I backed out and let them finish a pretty long photo session before I asked for a couple more photos since the first ones didn't turn out that well. I felt a bit sorry for the lady as I could see that her smile was pretty forced by now. She had probably had a pretty long day dealing with a lot of tourists. I apologised to her and said that I wished that I had brought my own traditional clothes with me to have a better photo-shoot.
As I was thanking them for the photos and left the tenshu another member of the staff, dressed up as Matsudaira Naomasa (1601–1666) came along. Naomasa was the grandson of Ieyasu and he was very famous for his valour in battle. He distinguished himself already at the age of 14 in the Siege of Osaka and was even given a war fan, used to give commands during battle, by Sanada Yukimura (1567–1615). Yukimura was one of the most famous samurai of the Japanese history and the enemy of Naomasa and Ieyasu so this was an incredible token of respect. He was
given rule of the Matsue Domain and Matsue Castle (Matsue-jô
) in 1638 and the war fan he was given is still on display in the caslte ot this day. Matsue Castle is actually the last of the five National Treasure castles that I have left to visit so I hope to see this war fan with my own eyes some day.
With this new arrival I asked if I might take a few photographs of them all together and they were kind enough to allow me to do so and even posed quite majestically for them. After this I sat down at a cafe on the castle grounds and ate an ice cream when it suddenly dawned on me. I do have my traditional clothes here! They are in a coin locker not ten feet away from me! If I don't do this now, then when?
So, I went to the coin locker and collected my bag and then returned to the man who had been responsible for taking the photographs and sort of seemed to be the leader of the group. I told him that I had my own kimono, hakama and geta
(wooden sandals) in my
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
bag and asked him if it would be okay if I got dressed up and we all took some pictures together with me in traditional wear. He went ecstatic about the idea and called over the guy dressed as Naomasa as well and then they led me over to their own dressing area where I could change my clothes.
The guy dressed as Naomasa even helped me tie my hakama together in a proper battle tie as I'm still, since yesterday, trying to figure out the intricate details of tying it properly. It was hilarious with him sitting on his knees before me, dressed as the of the castle,
tying my hakama together with a stern look on his face. How do I end up in these kind of situations?
During this I learned the name of the guy dressed as Naomasa, Aruga Shinnosuke, though I will still refer to him as Naomasa while in character. After finishing with the knot he asked me to wait a moment and when he came back he handed me a katana from their armoury!
Anyway, said and done, I was dressed in traditional wear and as we say in Sweden
"If you've said A, you've got to say B" so we made our way back to the front of the tenshu and I must admit that I drew quite some attention from the other tourists still waiting to go inside.
At this time we were joined by another staff-member dressed as Hidemasa, the husband of Princess Toku,
and together the four of us was ready for en epic photo shoot with compact cameras and mobile phones! Unfortunately Princess Toku herself was no longer around so it was just us boys from here on out.
We started a bit away from the tenshu though as to not get other people caught up in our photos too much. We took both some single and group pictures and we even drew our blunted katana and fenced each other. It was quite amazing standing in the centre facing both of them down, we all had so much fun!
After a while we all walked over to the tenshu to take some photos in front of it, but we only managed to take a couple of pictures before the first curious tourist walked up to us and wanted to take some pictures
Posing With the Tourists
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
with us. He actually thought that I was part of the group, he said that he first thought that I was a tourist like him! He was right of course, but why ruin a good story, so I didn't correct him.
Since the first one had already joined us the floodgates opened up so to speak and soon the tourists just kept streaming up to us in a steady succession. But I can honestly say that I didn't mind it, it certainly wasn't what I had imagined when I had first thought of this idea but it actually made me really happy to be mistaken for member of the group by everyone else. I'm also really grateful that the actual members of the group treated me as such.
I learned that the group is actually known as the Matsumoto Castle Hospitality Group and you can find them on Facebook. Incidentally (I noticed later) I'm also featured there now which is so much fun! I'm known there now as the Last Samurai (Rasuto Samurai
Once closing hours actually rolled around, and everything shut down, we all made our way back to the dressing area and we got changed
Posing With the Tourists
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
back into our regular clothes. Princess Toku also rejoined us, now wearing her regular clothes, we all exchanged our contact information and we took some final group photos our in our regular clothes. Shinnosuke said it was the best day he had ever had and I shared his sentiment, this is a day that will always live very vividly in my memory.
This was an experience far from the ordinary and it just goes to show how hospitable people really are. Allowing me, a complete stranger, to become part of their group for a day. I will definitely return here again with my gear and do this again because it was such an amazing experience! I think I might very well be the only Swede so far to be fencing in traditional clothing in front of Matsumoto Castle.
After the castle closed I left through the taikomon
(drum tower) and crossed the uchi-bori to the small Matsumoto Shrine (Matsumoto Jinja
). The shrine was founded in 1636 and I performed a temizu
(ablution) in the Zen Ido
(Front Well) before I offered up my final prayer in Matsumoto. I don't know which kami that is enshrined here but I
Friendly Guard and Me
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
wanted to pay my respects regardless and I approached the haiden and presented it as earnestly as I could.
After this I made my way back to the train station. On my way back I walked a different route through Matsumoto and ended up meeting several nice people along the way. First I met a nice man with a beautiful dog and after that I met a really lovely group that owned a small store. They were closing up when I came but I started talking to them and told them about my kamidana
(god-shelf) at home. They showed me theirs in the store and they loved it when I bowed before it. They were really lovely people that were so easy to talk to and so hospitable!
From Matsumoto station I took the train to Nagano where I switched to a local train for Suzaka where I was to meet Trung whom I'll be spending my last few days in Japan with. It turned out that he wasn't there though so I sat down and waited at the station for a while, not much of a station really, more of a stop than anything else. After quite
a while of waiting and him not showing up I was wondering if I made it to the right spot or if I had misunderstood something.
Luckily a couple of nice young guys showed up with the next train and I asked them if they could make an internet hot spot for me which they did so I contacted Trung who lives nearby and he came down within a couple of minutes and apologised for keeping me waiting. It was no problems though, within a couple of minutes my batteries were charging and the two of us was sharing a couple of beers while talking about our experiences in Japan and our memories of last year. What more can a small Swede ask for as an ending of a marvellous day in this wonderful country.
Trung also gave me a really good suggestion on what to do tomorrow which is to visit the Togakushi Shrine (Togakushi Jinja
). It's a shrine which is composed of five subsidiary shrines, located deep within the mountains northwest of Nagano. I loved the idea so that's what I'll be doing tomorrow! Only problem is that the weather forecast for tomorrow promises a lot
Taikomon (Great Drum Gate)
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto
of rain but Trung will lend me an umbrella so hopefully it won't be to bad.
Another good recommendation he gave me was to visit the Zenkôji Temple (Zenkô-ji
), it contains the very first Buddha ever brought to Japan and is one of the most important Buddhist temple in all of Japan so of course I need visit it. I'm not sure if I'll manage both tomorrow though but I'll try. If I fail I will visit it on the last day because the day after tomorrow I've already planned to go to the Jigokudani Monkey Park (Jigokudani Yaen Kôen
). The park is located in Yamanouchi about an hour from here by train, it has a large population of Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, that go down and bathe in an onsen
(hot spring) which is located in the park.
I expect that this will be a very memorable experience, I've heard that it's at it's best in wintertime when the snow covers the ground. However, as long as the weather holds up I expect that I'll love this regardless of whether there is snow or not. It's always interesting to meet nature up close and
Haiden (Worship Hall)
Matsumoto Shrine, Matsumoto
I've heard that the monkeys here are very calm and accustomed to people visiting. I hope that you and me will both enjoy it!
Well, that's for the day after tomorrow though, tomorrow my path take me up into the mountains, I don't quite know what to expect from it, but if Trung recommends it I imagine it will be great!
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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