Following our three day "introduction" to Japan, spent in Tokyo, it was time to hop on the train to head on our eastward journey across country to Matsumoto (my quick guide to Japanese transport can be found HERE).
Matsumoto was to be simply a "stop gap" in our travels, as we were bound further onward toward Tsumago and eventually Kyoto. Just an overnight kind of thing, basically.
Thankfully the morning train from Tokyo was early enough for us to arrive in Matsumoto at a reasonable enough time to explore the area quickly before dusk, however it wasn't quite early enough to squeeze anything in other than visiting the famous Karasu-jō , aka "Crow Castle". More on that in a little while, but first, let me just share a handful of thoughts on Matsumoto itself.
Wikipedia says: "Matsumoto is a mountain city on Japan’s main island, Honshu. Nearby Nakamachi Street is lined with old merchant houses reminiscent of a bygone Japan. The Japanese Alps loom overhead, with hot springs, ski runs and hiking trails. In summer, a road to Mount Norikura is carved through deep walls of snow."
First impressions? Well Toto! I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, right? VERY different landscapes to Tokyo indeed. We were in a much more rural setting for sure.
Buildings are less compacted, and mostly no more than two stories in height (unless the building was a hotel or larger store in the area, for example). There are spaces of greenery and natural water sources, and plenty of local food establishments to choose from, particularly ramen dishes and curries.
Our hotel, Hotel Buena Vista, was positioned conveniently around a 10 minute walk from "Crow Castle". The hotel was the same kind of deal as the one in Tokyo in that it was a westernised affair, again, because it was simply a very brief stay before heading onward further.
The hotel itself though was very plush at a 4* grade, all staff more than happy to help, and you have around 4 restaurants to choose from, which is extremely fortunate because at the time of our arrival was a national holiday in Matsumoto (Matsumoto Soba Festival), and all of the local restaurants closed early!
Views from the room were very urban, but that's obviously fine by us. I wanted to see EVERYTHING!!! I didn't care what it was! Haha!!
The cutest part of the view actually, was to our neck craning left was a small apartment with huge french windows looking in on an elderly gentleman who would more than likely be kneeling at his table either eating or reading, with a perfectly formed and tended zen garden on his balcony areas. So dreamy. It almost made me burst into tears, infact...
"Crow Castle" Itself.
Ok, so more about our adventure to "Crow Castle" then! Here's a little formalised history before we continue.
Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle (hirajiro) because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. Its complete defences would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting walls, moats, and gatehouses."
"For the next 280 years until the abolition of the feudal system in the Meiji Restoration, the castle was ruled by the 23 lords of Matsumoto representing six different daimyō families. In this period the stronghold was also known as Crow Castle (烏城 Karasu-jo) because its black walls and roofs looked like spreading wings."
I have to add that the preservation of this guy has been utterly, utterly pristine in quality, and to the day of our visit, there was still work being done to keep the foundations in place. Beautiful.
The dusk of the evening framed 'Crow Castle' perfectly, and gave it all of the presence we could have wished from from it's angles, dominance, and ultimately the famous red bridge over the moat.
There was no fee to enter the 'Castle' grounds at the time of our visit, however if you wanted to climb the castle itself, then there was a fee of 100 yen to enter. A small price to pay, however we were nearing closing time and there was so much more for us to see around the outside, that we just lost all track of the clock, unfortunately.
Mind you, as I mentioned earlier, the Matsumoto Soba Festival was in full swing, and the Castle grounds were crammed with delicious Soba stalls and other delicious foods to celebrate. It naturally more than made up for the fact that none of the local restaurants were open, as you could literally eat your own weight in anything on offer for quite a reasonable price indeed (take up to 1000 yen for an absolute feast. 500 if your “pretty hungry”). You can just about see the covered stalls in the photograph above, but this was at a point where everything was beginning to wind down.
So as evening truly began to fall, we skipped back to the hotel to satisfy our hunger further with an all you can eat buffet option at one of the restaurants there (3000 yen/£20 ish).
The buffet consisted of lots of really tasty bits and bobs, from different varieties of Japanese curry, meats, fish, rice, and miso (my favourite) of course. There was even a grill there to cook you up some steak to your liking, if you fancied it. All desserts were also included, and I have absolutely no shame in showing you those in the closing photo below.
There was also an additional “all you can drink” option (paid separately), whereby you could literally help yourself to beer and wine all night. Now, if that was a deal ANYWHERE in England, there would be fatal HAVOC, I tell you. In Japan, however, it’s simply enjoyed slowly, before heading quietly off to bed for TV and pyjamas.
See you next in Tsumago!