Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Yokoso! Japan: Day 06

Limited Express SUPER AZUSA

According to the train schedule, it would take us about 3 hours to get from Tokyo to the town of Matsumoto in central Honshu. So-far, the Japan Railway timings had proven to be perfectly accurate. This train ride turned out to be the exception.

First off, we were rushing to catch the train with no reserved seats. Bad choice, the non-reserved non-smoking section was full, leaving only the smoking car. Sitting for 3 hours in an air-conditioned car filled with people killing themselves with tobacco was a pretty hellish experience. The smell gets into everything: your clothes, your hair, your skin. Unless you love the smell of stale cigarette smoke, NEVER EVER ride in the smoking car of a Japanese train.

The other thing was that our train was delayed by 1 hour. Guess the railway company got spooked after the big train crash in Osaka a few days before. But still, this was such a different experience from zero-delay Tokyo.

On a positive note, we got some pretty good views of rural Japan from the train.

Matsumoto City

The tourist information office and travel agencies at the JR station turned out to be exceedingly efficient. Within a few minutes, we got directions to the major attraction of the town, as well as booked my accomodation for the night.

If you're an avid fan of Japanese anime, you'd probably have noticed that wide, shallow rivers appear frequently. After being in Japan these last few days, I could understand why. They're beautiful settings: clear, shallow water running down pebbled riverbeds with distant mountains in the background. Serene.

More flying koi.

Pigeons at a Yohashira shrine, near the NTT office.

Matsumoto is so far the smallest Japanese town that we've been to. Its very quaint, very quiet. Surprisingly, it was hotter here than it was in Tokyo, despite the town being near a mountain range.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan's original castles. Its made entirely of wood, and is now a little bit like a museum.

The castle was designed to be difficult to attack but easy to defend, so the staircases inside are very steep.

We got pretty good views of the city from the windows on the higher levels.

Above: Enjoying the breeze

There was a group of adorable children touring the castle the same time as us. They were calling each other on their toy mobile phones and making pretend-conversations.

Above: Outside the castle. Today would be the last day that we would be travelling together. My friend would be heading back to Nagoya while I would spend the night in Matsumoto.

Sakura & Soba

Not-sakura! This was one of those cases of mistaken identity that we frequently had. Throughout this trip, we had been looking out for Sakura but unfortunately for us, they had flowered a few weeks back and by now most were gone. The tree above was probably a plum blossom.

The speciality food of Matsumoto was horse sushi and soba. We weren't too keen to try raw horse meat, so we went for the soba instead. I had my first taste of sake as well. Smooth...

Most excellent soba. The tempura was not as great as the one we had at Nara, but it was good nonetheless.

After sunset, the weather turned cold very quickly. By now it was a little colder than Tokyo at night. I guess the proximity to the mountains makes the temperatures more extreme.

After dinner, we parted ways and I turned in for the night.

Click here for more pictures from Matsumoto

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