Staying the night in Shinjuku provided us the convenience to take the 7am Super Azusa limited express train to Matsumoto (松本) of Nagano Prefecture (長野県). Matsumoto was our entry point into the Japanese Alps. The reliable rail service enabled us to reach Matsumoto at 9:40am, giving us a couple of hours to explore the laid-back mountain city before continuing our journey to “Japanese Yosemite Valley” Kamikochi. After putting our backpacks in the lockers, we stepped out of Matsumoto Station in a fine Saturday morning. A small line of people were waiting for public bus outside the station, but we preferred to cover the small city on foot. We planned to visit Matsumoto Castle, Art Museum and Performing Arts Centre before the 14:30 train/ bus departing for Kamikochi. To avoid the crowd later in the day, we first headed to Matsumoto Castle, the city’s primary attraction. It took us 20 minutes to reach the castle park, a parcel of green space with the moat surrounded Matsumoto Castle as the centerpiece.
12 castles still standing in Japan today. Along with Himeji Castle (姫路城) and Kumamoto Castle (熊本城), Matsumoto Castle or Matsumotojo (松本城) is considered one of the three premiere castles in the country. Built during the Eisho Period of the Warring States Period (戦国時代) by the Toda Clan, Matsumoto Castle is the oldest extant five structures/six story castles in Japan, dating to the late 16th century.
We entered the castle park from the south entrance, and were immediately struck by the beauty of the contrasting black and white castle and its reflection in the moat.
Through the Kuromon Gate (黒門),we entered a nicely maintained courtyard in front of the imposing castle. The five structures of the castle clearly appeared in front of us. They were (right to left) Inui Keep (Inui Kotenshu), Watari Tower (Watariyagura), Great Keep (Dai-Tenshu), Tatsumitsuke Tower (Tatsumi Tsukeyagura), and Tsukimi Tower (Tsukimi Yagura). The Inui Keep, Watari Tower and Great Keep were built in the Warring States Period when defense was the utmost priority. The Tatsumitsuke and Tsukimi Tower (Moon Viewing Tower) were constructed 40 years later in the peaceful Edo era with almost no defense.
Staff in historical costumes posed for tourist photos in front of the castle.
The well maintained timber interior and structure of Matsumoto is a rarity for the surviving Japanese castles. No shoes were allowed during the visit. Visitors were allowed to climb to the top floor in a one-way route.
The Great Keep was built with high level of defense with small slot windows.
115 gun and arrow slots were provided on the structures for defense.
Among with weapons and artifacts, warrior armors were also on display. This typical armor is equipped with a sword, a ramrod for loading bullets on the back, a bullet case on the waist, and an ignition agent case hanging from the shoulder.
Small amount of paintings were on display illustrating the bloody history of the castle during the Warring States Period.
The third floor is a concealed level, and was used as a warehouse and war shelter.
The fourth floor was the living space for the lord.
All stairs were narrow and steep and sometimes slippery. Most visitors took their time to climb and descend each step one by one. The steepest one was between the fourth and the fifth at an angle of 61 degree.
The fifth floor was characterized by the gable windows. This floor was used as a strategy meeting room.
The sixth (top) floor offers nice views to all directions. The view of the Hida Range of the Japanese Alps is particularly lovely.
The Toda Clan of Matsumoto Castle worshiped the 26-day old moon. A small spiritual decoration could be seen in the ceiling of the top floor.
We passed by a photo spot while exiting the castle courtyard.
Below the castle, the castle park offers many pleasant resting spots under shade.
The view of Matsumoto Castle and the moat is spectacular. We walked along the moat to the photogenic red bridge at the far side.
In the water, hungry carps came to the surface whenever someone approached the water.
We were lucky to see the beautiful inhabitant, the swan, in the castle moat.
After taking photos at the red bridge, we walked along the moat back to the park entrance and moved on to our next destination in Matsumoto.
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CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE
Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)
Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)
Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)
Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)
Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)
Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)