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Published: October 9th 2013
Tuesday morning started with packing the suitcase again. I really love the luggage transfer service they have here in Japan, because I could leave the suitcase with the hotel reception and travel to my next hotel with just my backpack. The downside is that it is an overnight service, so once again I would arrive at my hotel without most of my stuff. Not a big deal, really. I just made sure I had the crucial stuff in my backpack.
Then it was off to catch the trains. It was a decent train trip too. One hour to Okayama (a trip I have done a few times already), just over two hours to Nagoya on the shinkansen, then another two hours from Nagoya to Matsumoto. Plus there was some waiting at the stations in between, so all up it took me 6 hours to get from Takamatsu to Matsumoto. On the plus side, although I had travelled all the way to Nagoya on various trips before, the trip from Nagoya to Matsumoto was new and had some spectacular scenery. This is because Matsumoto is in Nagano prefecture. Nagano, as I’m sure you remember, held the 1998 Winter Olympics
(Confession: I had to look up the year). So as you can imagine, this is starting to be ski territory which of course means mountains.
From Matsumoto station, it was a fairly short walk to my hotel. My first impression of Matsumoto is that it’s probably the nicest town/city I’ve visited. I can’t put my finger on why, it just feels nice. Although for some reason, the traffic light cycles are rather long considering the small amount of traffic. This tends to result in more jaywalking than I’ve seen anywhere else.
My hotel is quite nice too. I have been lucky to get a twin room, which is nice when you consider Japanese hotel rooms tend to be on the small side. Another first (for this trip) is that this hotel has a safe in the room, so I don’t have to leave my valuables with the hotel reception and keep bothering them when I want to copy photos to one of my hard drives.
I had a sleep-in on Wednesday morning because I was only planning to look around Matsumoto. As the biggest highlight was going to be the castle,
and the castle is only two blocks from my hotel (not large blocks either), I figured I could take my time. Sure enough, it took all of about 5 minutes and I was there. It seems there is some kind of festival happening this weekend because there were a lot of tents and stuff being set up. Unfortunately I am heading to my last destination, Tokyo, on Saturday so I won’t be taking part.
Matsumoto castle looks great though. Because it is a wooden castle, some of the walls are lacquered black, giving it a black and white banding. The black walls have caused the castle to be known as the “crow castle”. Particularly from across the moat, it looks stunning.
I headed into the castle and was quickly accosted by a volunteer tour guide. The lovely lady asked me if I wanted a tour in English and I said yes please! So she led me into the grounds and gave me some history of the castle. When she asked me if I had visited any other Japanese castles, I almost laughed, but instead I listed most of the ones I have been to.
She seemed quite impressed. Matsumoto castle, like Hikone, Himeji and Inuyama, is a national treasure castle, and original. My guide told me that even though Inuyama claims to be the oldest castle in Japan, really Matsumoto is. Lonely Planet says that it is the oldest wooden castle, so who knows?
We headed into the keep via the small north tower. My guide had lots of interesting bits and pieces to tell me, some of which I knew, but a lot that I did not. Inside, you could see that it was original because the main pillars have marks where you can see they have been hewn with an axe. The effect was actually quite nice; I can only say it was kind of like a turtle shell. There was also a gun museum inside the keep, which was interesting. Unfortunately, I was so busy listening to my tour guide that I clean forgot to take any photos! I was thinking about heading back in after the tour, but there wasn’t that much to photograph really, and the view was a bit limited because of the clouds obscuring the nearby mountains.
On the top floor,
however, there is a small shrine. This relates to an event that happened on the 26th
January, 1618. One of the Daimyo’s vassals was on duty and saw a beautiful woman. She told him that if the lord of the castle enshrined her with a 500kg rice cake on the 26th
of every month, she would protect the castle from fire and enemies. She then rose to the top of the castle and disappeared. When the vassal told his lord, the spirit was deified and enshrined on the top floor. Sure enough, the keep has avoided fire when other buildings burned down, and Matsumoto castle has never been attacked.
Anyway, it was 2 o’clock when I finished the tour. I thanked my guide profusely and she insisted that I should go and have my photo taken with a fellow dressed in samurai armour. Which I did. Apparently it happens for 1 hour in the morning and between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. From there I had a bit of a walk around the grounds, taking more photos before heading to the souvenir shop.
I didn’t really have much else I wanted to see
in Matsumoto, so I spent about an hour walking around the town, looking at a few shops and snapping a couple of photos. In the end I just returned back to my hotel room. I was glad to see that my luggage had arrived – not least because overnight I had received a low battery warning on my kindle. Of course, I hadn’t brought the charger in my backpack so I was glad to be able to charge the kindle back up.
On Tuesday night, a fellow staying at the hotel showed me his pictures of the castle taken at night. They looked great. So after dinner on Wednesday night, I headed back to the castle and tried to take some of my own, despite not having the use of a tripod. The castle is fairly well lit, so they came out alright.
Tomorrow I am off to see a Japanese icon – Mount Fuji! I was originally going to do the trip from Tokyo, but then I realised I could do it from Matsumoto instead. This gives me an extra day in Tokyo, which is nice.
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