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FIVE THOUSAND MILES One Prew's adventures in Japan. April, 2014.

Day 10: Matsumoto

I got up at 6.30am with the intention of getting the earliest bus to Matsumoto (7.50am) – I only had one day there and wanted to get to the Ukiyo-e museum as well as general wandering around (castle!). I packed up my things ready to leave immediately after breakfast. I ended up being the typical Brit on holiday and eating entirely western food for my breakfast, unless you count the strange sweet and slightly curdled yogurt they had on offer.

So I quickly ate my breakfast and shot back upstairs – easier said than done at 7.30am in the morning and when your room is on the 11th floor. Grabbed my suitcase, rucksack and jacket and went back downstairs, squeezing into the lift full of people – I was not going to attempt to walk down 11 flights of stairs with my suitcase though! I retrieved my shoes from their shoe locker, handed over my room key and was off to the station.

Luckily it was only a few minutes from my hotel. With a few minutes to spare, I quickly checked Internet things using their free wifi then got onto my bus (suitcase stowed away in the luggage bit underneath – my first and only time on a bus with my suitcase). I was sat down for only a few minutes before it pulled away. The journey would be just over two hours long so I made myself comfortable, got my camera at the ready for the stunning mountain scenery and put The Menzingers on on my iPod – the soundtrack to the whole trip.

We stopped briefly halfway into the journey and I took the opportunity to hop off the bus and photograph the snow and mountains surrounding the car park.

Back on the bus, we wound our way through the mountains and along a sparkling turquoise river with a number of industrial-sized dams along it. At certain points, the road was far above the river and the drop looked a little scary. But generally the stunning scenery made up for the slight fear. I didn't have my camera at the ready, but I spotted some kind of mountain dwelling Japanese primate at one point!

We arrived in Matsumoto just before 10.30am and I went straight into the train station building in search of the tourist information place. I ended up with many more maps and leaflets than I needed for my one day in Matsumoto, but it's somewhere I'd definitely like to visit again. I also asked the lady behind the counter what the best way of getting to the Ukiyo-e Museum was. She gave me a more detailed map – the museum is not in the centre/touristy area of the town – and a bus timetable. Although in the end I decided it was cheaper and quicker to get a train there. I had my suitcase with me from Takayama so I located my hotel and dropped off my suitcase to collect when I checked in later.

Then back to the station, I first bought some lunch then bought my train ticket – from a machine, unaided! – and got the next train to Oniwa station.

I sampled some of these chocolate mushrooms on the train. Delicious.

So, getting to the right train station was fine but then finding the actual museum was the difficult bit. Oniwa seemed to be quite a deserted place, if I had needed to ask someone it may have been difficult.

However, my map reading skills were a success and I even managed to read the Japanese on a sign and match it to the Japanese for the name of the museum on my map. So I knew I was in the right place in the end!

The Ukiyo-e Museum itself is supposedly one of the best collections in Japan, maybe the world. It wasn't a huge museum but there was a lot packed into it and it sure was worth the trouble of finding. I didn't think it was appropriate to take photos inside, although I did sneak a couple but not of specific artworks. I bought a museum catalogue instead.

Ukiyo-e (a kind of woodblock printing) is not only my favourite Japanese style of art, it is one of my favourite art forms overall. With Hiroshige being one of my very favourite artists – I referenced him on my personal statement when applying for university, rather than an actual graphic designer! The museum had a selection of prints for sale, which I would love to own but, alas, they would not make it home in one piece.

Upstairs in the museum there was a video showing how the carving of the wood block and printing of various layers is carried out. It was in Japanese but still fascinating to watch, especially to appreciate how much time and effort goes in to the process.

Deciding that I was finished at the museum, I headed back to the station slightly less lost than on the way there.

Cute barber shop character!

I had to wait a little while for the train (it was just one track, so the train went one way and then came back again) but that gave me time to eat my lunch at least – a brown rice ball wrapped in nori with fish inside… tuna, maybe? Once again, very tasty.

The train had a manga-style character painted on it… for some reason. The Japanese don't need a reason really.

When I got back to Central Matsumoto it was time to check into my hotel so I did that before heading back out, bag unloaded of a few things, to the famous black crow castle.

On the way to the castle I found a very peculiar large statue of two frogs in samurai attire attacking a toad, so of course I photographed them.

There were quite a few other frogs around. I probably should have looked into their significance.

This was also the location of a shrine. I didn't stay at the shrine/temple for too long, as by this point in my trip, I’m ashamed to say, all the shrine and temples were beginning to look the same to me.

Feeding the fishes.

Arriving at Matsumoto castle, I was both impressed by its beauty and surprised by how small it was. I guess compared to British-style castles it was small. I had no trouble taking decent photos as the moat surrounding it meant that no people could get in the way! Just the odd pigeon or two.

I did a full lap of the castle moat, snapping plenty of photos as I walked around, and explored one of the castle gates to one side.

I really love onigawara like this one, below.

I decided it was worth paying to go inside the castle as it was unlikely I'd do that anywhere else – as it turned out, I ended up visiting a few more castles but Matsumoto was the best. It being already gone 3.30pm, I got a discount on the entrance price – more discounts from friendly Japanese people! Inside the castle itself you have to take your shoes off and carry them with you in a plastic bag. There is a specific route set out inside the castle that takes you up through each floor, until you get to the top, then it goes back down another way and finishes in the moon viewing room.

On certain floors there were things to look at – samurai armour, swords, guns, architectural drawings etc. – and information about what each floor was used for. There were also a variety of different shaped windows, shaped according to their purpose – for example, narrow windows for shooting arrows out of – and I took some photos of and out of these.

I found it crazy how most fellow visitors to the castle, Japanese and foreign tourists alike, just stormed straight to the top and didn't read any of the information or really look at anything on the way. I took my time. Well, everyone took their time of the stairs because they were really, really steep.

The stairs were indeed steep.

The view from the top was just as impressive as the building itself.

In the ground surrounding the castle there was a mini exhibition showing the 48 castles around Japan. Oh how I would love to see them all one day.

When I was satisfied that I'd seen enough of the castle, and taken enough photographs, I wandered off in search of nothing in particular.

I took the photograph below because it was Easter Sunday when I was in Matsumoto, so photographing these bunnies seemed appropriate at the time. The Japanese do not celebrate Easter. I mean, obviously, it is not a Christian country but then I'm not a Christian and I still eat the occasional Lindt bunny or hot cross bun at this time of year.

I must have happened to wander in a good direction as I found a lovely little fox (kitsune) shrine next to a normal-looking temple that was closed off for the evening. The shrine, however, was not gated off and I could go right up to the foxes – a pair of stone foxes and two large… actually I'm not sure what they were made out of, maybe wood but not stone… painted foxes.

Is that a Japanese punk in the photo, below, on the right?

When I left the shrine, I didn't do much else. I headed back to the station and on to my hotel from there, popping in a 7-11 on the way to buy something for dinner. I also picked up another green tea kit kat but after eating a whole box of chocolate mushrooms that day, I decided the kit kat would be for another day.

As everything closed by 5pm and I didn't have much else in mind to do, I went back to my hotel to rest my feet. The next day would involve a three hour walk from one village to the next, so a relaxing evening would so me good! I ate my dinner of noodles and salad, went to organise my luggage forwarding for the next day – nicest hotel staff member so far and spoke fluent English – and then had a quick bath to relax.

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Day 11: Magome & TsumagoNext