Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Matsumoto and Crow Castle

August 10th

We left Tsumago and took a tiny two car local train to Matsumoto. The train followed along a beautiful river with many power plants. Matsumoto is a castle town about half the size of Himeji with 220,000 people. It is near the "Japan Alps", so you can see the mountains from town. It's also one of Himeji's sister cities. Matsumoto is famous for their castle, nearby wasabi farms, temari balls, and soba. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the wasabi farms, but we were able to try some wasabi products- yum!

When we arrived we decided to walk around and explore. There was a section of town with many old buildings with funky shops, cafes and souvenirs.

Pictured above is a sewer cover with colorful "temari" balls.

Historically, temari balls were made from old kimonos. They were traditional toys made by mothers and given to children on new year's day. I read that mother's would put their wishes and hopes on a piece of paper that was placed in the center of the ball. It was a folk craft, but later, they became art pieces because the embroidery and wrapping became more decorative and intricate. There are numerous designs and colors.

Along the way, we saw many wells with spring water. You could fill your bottle up anytime. Julian commented about all of the water gurgling out of the ground in contrast to the dry, Arizona desert.

That night we got dinner at a small yakitori restaurant and ice, cold Japanese beer. A yakitori restaurant usually has grilled meat and vegetables on a stick. I'll take pictures next time I go to my favorite restaurant in Himeji. Afterwards, we walked all over town and ended up in the entertainment district, usually signified by bright lights a variety of bars, host bars, snack bars and restaurants that are stacked on top of each other in tall buildings and lots of drunken people. There weren't that many people out on a Sunday night. As we were walking, we could see a large animal in the distance. As we got closer, we realized it was a big, fat pig just wandering around the entertainment area looking for a good time. It was surreal to say the least. Again, I wish I had my camera. We saw the pig wander into a restaurant. We ended our night at a Spanish restaurant drinking Coronas.

The next day, we wanted to bike around town. I had read that we could get free bikes. As we were checking out of our business hotel, Toyoko Inn, I found out we could get free bikes from the hotel. We were both so happy! We biked all over town and visited the castle. Matsumoto Castle was built more than 400 years ago. It is also called Crow Castle (Karasu Jō) because of its black appearance.

We saw this mini parade of a dog in a captain's hat, 2 doves and an anpanman doll (a cute Japanese cartoon character made of bread) with children's music in the castle grounds. The owner travels around with his animals and brings them to different places around Japan. He was hanging out in the back secretly using a remote control to move the mini-car and wagon. Later he introduced himself and had his dog preform some tricks for the crowd. It was odd, but cute. I didn't realize Julian was filming, so you can hear me blabbing way too much in the video. This is my first time posting a video on here, so let me know if it works or not.

We really enjoyed spending a day in Matsumoto. For a small size town, it seemed like a really nice place with a lot going on. As we were biking around, Julian spotted the building in the picture below that looks like a mini replica of the castle. I think the picture sums up Matsumoto in so many ways, a little bit of the old with a little bit of the new.

Next stop Kamikochi in the Japan Alps...to be continued...


Anonymous said...

It totally works.
I love going places and having totally wierd things be normal. In Scotland, at the zoo, they have a daily penguin walk. The zookeeper opens the door and walks out and all the penguins follow him in a straight line.
Those sewer caps are kick ass!

Megumi said...

I enjoyed reading your stories. Magome and Tsumago looks very nice!
I haven't been to Gifu, so now I really want to go there.
I didn't know Matsumoto castle's walls are black. I think white is better. I think Himeji castle is the best! :)

Mom51 said...

I think you have some Temari balls in the attic. I remember buying them for you. I didn't know they were made from kimonos.

Also, re crickets, I have a basement full - enough for a feast. Big, fat and probably juicy. Bring beer, we'll eat!