Japan 2015: Matsumoto, oh what a castle
Welcome to the second instalment of this series of blog posts about our trip through central Japan (with a 14-month old baby no less). After making our way from O-Tsumago to Nagiso by bus, we got on a train for Matsumoto, partially as a transit stop, but also to see the castle. This train was really busy and I’m not sure if they had reserved seats or not, but we only got non-reserved seats, and with all our luggage we only managed to scramble a few empty seats right at the back of the train after pulling luggage through several carriages (as we weren’t sure where the non-reserved carriages were).
It was a pretty smooth ride as most train rides in Japan are, and we arrived in Matsumoto a little after 1pm I believe (about two hours or so), we stayed at Hotel Matsumoto Yorozuya which was again a bit of a business hotel (I guess they’re cheaper than normal hotels), it was pretty close to the train station, and pretty close to the castle, halfway in between each I would say. Convenient and efficient, otherwise a pretty forgettable experience (in terms of I can’t remember it or the breakfast at all) but a perfectly fine hotel since I can’t remember anything bad about it.
On to the castle, what a marvel, we weren’t able to see Himeji last time because it was being renovated (we didn’t want to see it in those conditions) and had to settle for Hikone Castle (which is also a national treasure and an impressive castle but not on the same scale), I’ve seen pictures of Matsumoto Castle before and was really looking forward to this, it was the main reason I wanted to come through Matsumoto. I can honestly say that it didn’t disappoint, what a magnificent castle and in such great condition, never having been attacked certainly helped protect its beautiful façade and surrounds. There was even a free English tour guide (the program apparently runs from April to November) which was a very nice addition. Unfortunately with a young baby we did not have the opportunity to visit the castle at night (nor did we get a chance to visit the museum, there’s also a woodblock print museum which I would recommend having bought some prints but not having actually seen the museum, the prints were very nice), so maybe if we ever come back this way (skiing? Probably not) we can see it in all its illuminated glory at night.
Matsumoto is also apparently well-known for having very fresh wasabi and they also eat horse meat sushi (basashi) as a delicacy. Well, when in Rome, we went to a soba restaurant just a couple blocks south east of the castle (they had English menus) and tried the basashi set as with some fresh cold soba. The soba was great, the wasabi was a real fresh thing that you grate onto your food that isn’t anywhere near as tear-inducing as the packaged product, the horse meat sushi was okay, but nothing special (a bit tougher than beef) give me fatty tuna or salmon any day.
Other than that we didn’t spend much time in this place, a pretty small city, I planned to use it as a transit to Takayama as the bus from Matsumoto only takes a couple hours, and the castle was a bonus (which I totally recommend 100%). Next stop, Takayama.