When Winter Turns Up In Spring
It is supposed to be spring, isn’t it, a friendly auntie stopped to tell us. No sooner have you removed your jacket, and you have to put it on again. And then it becomes hot and makes you want to remove it and throw it away. That much I could make of what she was trying to tell us in Japanese. She laughed and we laughed together. The snow was thick on the ground but our hearts warmed.
We met at a quiet corner of Matsumoto castle; we were admiring the cherry blossom trees. Most of the Sakuras had gone. The few that were left felt extra precious. and beautiful.
This was April, the peak of spring. We had arrived in Matsumoto the night before to a cold rainy welcome. In the morning, it had turned into winter wonderland.
No, we didn’t stay at Dormy. We stayed at Toyoko. It was a pretty big one and served the best breakfast amongst the other Toyokos I’ve been. The manager was at the front of counter greeting every guest who came down; they even prepared umbrellas for everyone. Talk about service! We lost 1 umbrella (left it on the bus). When we went back to inform them sheepishly and offered to compensate, they waved it off nonchalantly. I guess, it would be returned to them soon when found.
When spring and winter converge, it can get pretty interesting. Here’s some shots from our circling of the castle grounds outside. We were so thorough (took too long) we almost didn’t make it to the inside.
At the entrance (ticket: 600 yen), the ticket staff asked – would you like to have an English-speaking tour guide? It is free. ‘Free’ got my attention. Well, no harm having one. But I regretted immediately. What if we were so slow that the guide became bored? What if we couldn’t explore freely? Too late. A distinguished looking old gentleman had been assigned to us – Dr. Kenji Akahane (Dr. A). Turned out to be the best decision.
Dr. A (think he’s a retired professor) is a volunteer English tour guide – he was animated and humorous and made the tour really interesting for us. I believe we took away more history than some of the locals who explored by themselves. He explained about the architecture – no nails, curved corridor to accommodate samurai warriors in their fighting get-up, the old pile that was recently discovered. We saw guns, exhibits explaining how they improved on the guns bought from Europeans, gun-powder making. we saw Darth Vader’s predecessor (samurai – inspiration for Darth Vader’s costume) and the 26th Night Moon Goddess shrine at the rooftop.
Finally we came to the last bit of the tour. It was the moon viewing platform. Here, it is possible to see 3 moons, he said. 3 moons? Aha, 1 in the sky, 1 in the moat … and 1 in the sake! And then when you drink more sake, the number of moons will increase …. ha ha. Yes indeed. Thank you Dr. A!
Want to know more about Japan’s castles? Check out this excellent blog.
After the castle, we took a bus to Asama Onsen to Biwa no Yu, a public bathhouse. Asama Onsen is steeped in history – 1300 years and a popular retreat place for many notable people. But we didn’t meet many people there that day.
No photo-taking in onsens so, that’s all I can show. There was a beautiful garden outside and here’s what we saw.
Back in Asama Town Centre, we took a dip in the foot onsen outside Hot Plaza Aama while waiting for the soba shop to open.
Here’s the soba shop front, taken from the Matsumoto-bound bus-stop. This soba shop was 118 years old (we didn’t even realise)!
Back at Matsumoto, we walked back to Toyoko and came across this.
And so, ended our first day in Matsumoto.