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Matsumoto’s Crow Castle

The signature anilmal for Matsumoto's historic district - a frog

I loved the ride to Matsumoto – lots of mountains and not too many tunnels (although one was so long it had cut-outs for breakdowns). I had wanted to stay in a ryokan between Takayama and Matsumoto, but even with KJ’s help I hadn’t been able to find one that was both near public transport and willing to take a solo foreigner. So I thought I’d just stop off in Kamikochi on the way for a little hiking – with a bad foot I’d had to abandon that plan, too, and just went straight through. The more I saw of the mountains, though, the more I wanted to come back and stay longer – when I could hike.

I had booked the Toyoko Inn in Matsumoto, and found it, like the one in Tokyo, a great deal for a single. The room might be small, but it had everything I could want. As with every room I stayed in in Japan, aside from the temple and the farmhouse, it had AC and en suite bath, and secure internet. (While I appreciated the security, I rather missed the freedom of wifi, as the wired connections kept me chained to the desk.)

Matsumoto's historic district

Just as in Takayama, I found the historic district in Matsmoto sterile and overly touristy, but Matsumoto had an honest-to-goodness historic castle to make up for it. Apparently it’s the oldest wooden castle in Japan – many castles having been destroyed during the Meiji Restoration in the 1800s. I found it rather surprising that it had survived since 1595 – was it never besieged, or did the Japanese not use fire arrows? Surely it would have been fatally easy to burn it down?

Entering the castle

Crow Castle: Black and Beautiful

While the associated museum didn’t interest me much, the castle kept me occupied for most of the morning. I thought it a great improvement over Nijo in Kyoto. The same formidable foundations were topped by three black and white towers. I was pleased that my bad foot held up while I climbed the steep stairs inside, although I skipped the topmost floor, and came down most of the staircases (more like ladders) backwards. Once I successfully made it back to solid ground, and put my boots back on, I enjoyed the moat, the trees, the swans and the view of the castle.

I enjoyed lunch too – at the “French” cafe at the station I had a chicken salad pita followed by a chestnut and sesame roll just oozing cream. Then I took a bus to Utsukushi-ga-hara Spa for what I hoped would be an outdoor hot bath. Alas, only a small triangle of sky and leaves was visible between the walls and roof. The town itself was dead, although the surrounding hills were pretty enough. It was my last taste of the countryside – I took a train to Tokyo the next morning.

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