Matsumoto and Ryokan

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October 13th 2015
Published: October 22nd 2015
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Matsumoto castle by night
Nat and Bill 's trip 2015 Japan! We arrived in Tokyo on Saturday evening and caught a train (the slow one!) to central Tokyo to spend our first evening in Japan. The next morning we started early and took the short walk to Tokyo station to validate our JR rail pass(a must for any foreign tourist in Japan doing extensive travel by train) and reserve our tickets to Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture. Tokyo station is huge!! It was bustling with people on a Sunday morning, and the array of foods you can buy for your onward journey or just to sit, eat and people watch was astounding. We had a traditional bento box for our brunch. 2 hours later after a speedy journey on the Shinkansen (bullet train) we were in Matsumoto. A neat, compact and idyllic city in a valley, Matsumoto was cool and crisp. We walked to our accomodation and settled into our very pleasing accomodation with all the amenities one could need including Japan's famous electric toilets - seat warner, wash, bidet and dry!! The evening we took a stroll to the famed Matsumoto castle to take a few photos. We noticed lots of stalls set up and
Me and BillMe and BillMe and Bill

Matsumoto castle grounds
wondered if there were markets. On our walk back to town we saw a number of locals having a good time (maybe too much sake!) what is surprising to us, is in Japan (and many countries we have visited) people go out and have a good time, maybe drink a little too much, but unlike at home they aren't aggrevated our violent. They laugh amongst themselves, maybe stumble a bit, but are having a good time and respecting those around them. For a country where you can buy beer from vending machines you don't see drunks on the street or drunken teens! A lot is to be said about the drinking culture in Australia.

The next day we ventured out to the Castle, and by the amount of people that were out I remebered my friend Mika telling me it was a public holiday - Health and Sports day (who would have thought to have a national holiday for such an occasion - brilliant!) There was also a festival which ran for the entirety of the long weekend - which we later found out was a Soba noodle festval. Soba noodles are a local speciality of Nagano
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By Matsumoto artist Yayoi Kusama
prefecture. We joined the herds of tourists in going into the famed Matsumoto-Jo (castle) Japan's oldest wooden castle. Built in 1504 in the Eisho era, the castle interior itself is made out of beautiful timber with rectangular and square holes for combat fire. The timber itself reminded me of my grandad's house in Thailand. The stairs itself were quite steep particulary to the top floor! Amazing views - we were glad we went in when we did as there was a long line forming when we finished our tour! Later we watched a traditional performance (or tourist traditional!) of Taikko drumming, a geisha and samurai doing something quite iteresting with knives and an umbrella. As the line for Soba noodles was quite long we had beer and fried chicken before proceeding to find the Matsumoto city of (modern) art. We saw the temoporary exhibition of Kishin, a famous Japanese photographer which consisted of portaits from the 60' until present - which inluded a lot of nude photography towards the end of the exhibition! Next we saw the permanant exhibition of Yayoi Kusama - a lical artist who rose to fame during her brief residency in the US in the 50's - she apparently suffered a lot of hallucinations as a child and her work resulted un lots of dotted paintings - I noticed she has a thing for faces, eyes and lines. It was interesting to say the least! There was also a fixture of what I can only describe as metallic - tiled mirrors of cones on the floor and a room (30 second only viewing) full of lightblubs - and instillation of trippy colour changing lightbulbs and mirrors! After that we viewed paintings of other artists - Buddhist/ Hindu inspired paintings and Jesus and the last supper with the people depicted as fish!

The next day after a soba noodle lunch we ventured out of town to our Ryokan - a traditional Japanese Inn. The guest rooms in this historical timber house are laiden with tatami mat flooring, traditional sliding door dividers and yakuta robes for lounging in. The futons where we would be sleeping were already laid out. After we slipped into our Yukata (careful to fold right under left as left under right is for the deeased!) we enjoyed green tea at our traditional low table. Afterward we went on an adventure to find the outside gardens and onsen (hot springs). The indoor one was neat and clean - however we were on a mission to find a more traditional one! We finally found the garden with foot baths where we could sit and admire nature. The male and female ourdoor onsen were sectioned off from the public area and i tried the ladies onsen. As I was the only one there, it was good I didn't have to worry about any embarrassment stripping off in front of strangers! After a good scrubbing off the body one is deemed fit to enter the onsen. It was at least 40 or more degrees - very relaxing but at those temperatures you can only stay in for 15-20mins max before it gets a bit much! But I suppose the onsen officianado could stand it for longer! We retired to our rooms and had some vending machine beers (modern comforts!) before our multi-course dinner at the ryokan dining room. Seated on lowered tables, our table was adorned with food - sashimi, barbequed wagu beef, silken tofu, Japanese cheese gratin, pickles, soba noodles - the list goes on ! We also had a lovely citrus and unidentifed fruit flavoured aperatif (sochu?) which was divine. We then had our private onsen booking after dinner, which was around the corner from the public ones, tucked away at the corner of the garden. A beautiful large rock pool, the temperature rose to 45 degrees! We could only manage 30-40 mins with mini breaks getting in and out of the water. It was very beautiful at night. We retired to our rooms and made ourselves at home on our very comfy futons. The next morning we went to the dining hall and had ourselves a lavish full Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, tofu, preserved vegetables, mackeral....the list goes on. Then coffee was served downstairs in the reception hall. Alas our time at the ryokan was over and we were on our way to Kyoto. A stay at a Ryokan - preferably with onsen facilities - is a must on any trip to Japan!

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