Japan IV: Tokyo, Matsumoto

As stated, I checked out of my hostel in Kyoto and went straight to the train station and took the next train to Nagoya, a city that has nothing particular of note, except a robot museum, which intrigued me.  I rode the hour or so to Nagoya, got off, and then went off in search of the left luggage lockers.  This ended up being a complete failure, since all lockers big enough for my backpack were taken.  With one eye on my watch, the other looking at the limited things of interest to me in Nagoya, I decided it would be better to have a bit more time in Tokyo, since I would need to get to my hostel and check in before meeting a friend, set for 5:30 that evening.  So I boarded the next train to Tokyo, and by mid-afternoon, I found myself at Tokyo station.  I navigated the subway to the area near my hostel, and had a bit of a misadventure reading the map.  Normally I am quite good at maps, but somehow I made a mental error that cost me an extra half hour or so of walking with my heavy backpack, rendering me a bit sweaty by the time I actually got to the hostel.  Small matters, though.   I checked in, took a shower, and rushed off to meet my friend, running a bit late for our 5:30 meeting.  That was fortunate, though, since Akira, a half-Japanese friend from high school, ended up being even later than I was, having been held up at work.

After a phone call from a pay phone and a bit of waiting (during which I made seat reservations for the train the following day), I found Akira, and seeing him for the first time was a bit of a shock, I must say.  Quick background.  Akira graduated from my high school in 2003, and I am pretty sure I had not talked to him since December that same year.  We were in orchestra and Youth Symphony together.  I remember him always being on the good side of absurd, and, I might say, quite irresponsible.  It was a bit of a shock for me to see him in a suit, carrying a briefcase, and being a contributing member to society.  He is gainfully employed, and it was wonderful to catch up after all those years.  Funny, since I was 16 or 17 when we last talked.  Thus, the entirety of our college careers were mysteries to each other, giving us a lot to talk about, but leaving us clueless about where to start.  Plus, the sushi dinner was fabulous.  Puts very fresh sushi in the US to shame.

After dinner, we went up the Tokyo Tower, which was fun.  I enjoyed seeing all of Tokyo from above.  It is even more impossibly big than Seoul.  And the tower, interesting in and of itself, offers amazing views of the city.

view from the top of Tokyo tower

view from the top of Tokyo tower

view from the bottom

view from the bottom

And then we had to part ways, sadly, and I was left to wander the streets of Tokyo on my own.  I can’t say I took any particular liking to the city, but it was certainly interesting and fun to be there.

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Shinjuku, Tokyo

The next morning, I chatted with the hostel staff to see whether I could leave most of my luggage there while I went on for a couple days to see some more places and, if things came together, climb Fuji.  They said it was no problem, as long as I made a reservation for when I got back and paid in advance.  No problem.  So I did, and then headed out to see the nearby temple, Senso-ji, which was quite pretty, before going on to Matsumoto, a town that is the usual entry point to the “Northern Alps,” the mountain range that is to the west of Tokyo.  The ride there awarded some stunning views:

misty mountain hop?

misty mountain hop?

And of course, my love for trains means the two and a half hour ride was wonderfully pleasant.  Better yet, though the weather was not amazing, it was clearly much better than what I was leaving behind in Tokyo (apparently it rained all of that day, so I clearly chose wisely).

I arrived in Matsumoto, called the ryokan (a traditional Japanese guesthouse) where I was staying, and the owner came to pick me up 15 minutes later.  The big treat of going to Matsumoto was that I had splurged on having a private room in a ryokan there (not my first choice, admittedly, but there were limited accommodation possibilities).  This was one of many reasons why Matsumoto was one of the major highlights of the trip, second only to Fuji.  The owner showed me to my room and then gave me good directions to the castle that is the city’s main attraction, as well as to the two streets that are particularly nice.  I thanked her and went on my way.

The castle there I just fell in love with.  In contrast to Himeji-jo, nicknamed the “White Heron Castle,” the castle in Matsumoto was a striking black, gaining it the nickname “Black Crow Castle” or something like that.  The bridge leading up to it offered nice contrast with its bright red colour.  And inside was wonderfully preserved.  Awesome.

matsumoto castle

matsumoto castle

Then, following my tour, I stumbled across the Matsumoto Music Festival, which was finishing up that afternoon.  The group performing was fantastically hilarious.  Check it out:

can this really be taken seriously?!?

can this really be taken seriously?!?

band member with baby.

band member with baby.

I also wandered quickly through their city museum, which was a very eclectic assortment of items detailing “life in Matsumoto.”

inside the Matsumoto City Museum

inside the Matsumoto City Museum

Following my jaunt through the museum, I rambled down the two streets my hostess had recommended, which were also adorable.

downtown Matsumoto.

downtown Matsumoto.

I had a nice dinner of cold soba noodles and tempura (an excellent recommendation by Jessa which was enjoyed on several occasions) in a small, quiet restaurant, and then headed back to my guesthouse to make use of the mineral baths.  With my plans for the next night including climbing Fuji overnight, I called it an early night and slept well, feeling extremely clean and woke the next morning for a wonderful breakfast.  The ryokan was well worth the $45 or so I spent on it.

But, alas, again, it was time to move on, and mistakenly believing the best way to Fuji was through Tokyo, I took a train to Nagano (from where a bullet train goes to Tokyo in just 1 hour and 40 minutes).  Nagano apparently had a very nice temple, according to my trusty Rough Guide to Japan, so I climbed aboard and moved to my next destination.  Covered next.

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