Monday, June 12, 2006

visiting Matsumoto

Cassandra and I headed to the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano prefecture, for an overnight visit. Matsumoto is about 3500 yen and 4 hours by slow train via the Chuo line. We started out at 6am and slept most of the way there.

Arriving at Matsumoto station, we hit the tourist information center for maps then groggily stumbled into Doutor to get our bearings and ingest cheese toast and lattes. Fed, we struck out toward Matsumoto castle to drink in the history. On the way, we chanced upon the Mastumoto Kaerumatsuri. The 2 day frog festival is apparantly an annual occurance, and is held on the beautiful Nawate street, which runs for a few blocks alongside a small river and is filled with old timey shops selling name seals, osenbei, and other general rick-rack. We were delighted with all the frog paraphenalia, and also with the live music and kids running around in frog t-shirts and backpacks.

Built in the late 1500s, Matsumoto castle was formerly called Fukashi castle; the name was changed when the castle changed hands. The castle is surrounded by a moat filled with koi and swans, and the grounds are very pleasant. It's required to take off your shoes to enter, so we sock-footed around the castle, touching the old massive cedar pillars and peering through the tiny arrow-shooting windows (yazama) and checking out the view from the moon-viewing wing.

After the castle, we looked at the Matsumoto City Museum, which is on the castle grounds and has a bunch of alternate titles. The admission to the museum is included in the castle admission (600 yen). It had some cool stuff, including local folk art, but we were so tired from our journey that we opted to walk back toward the station and check in to our hotel, the Toco Hyper Hotel. This is a cheap business hotel right next to the station (in the same block as the Doutor) that costs only 6000 yen for a double room. It's a standard business hotel, but it's clean and convenient. Our room actually included a small extra single matress w/o bedding that doubled as a couch. We took a short nap and went back outside.

We immediately found an Indian restaurant called the Royal Hind. They had quite a few vegetarian options. Pretty standard Indian restaurant in Japan - they served ketchup with the samosas. But it was a welcome discovery after predicting that we'd be eating Italian and convenience store rice balls for the whole trip.

We walked back up to Nawatedori, and also walked along Nakamachidori, the old merchants' street. It was pretty dead by 6pm, though the buildings were cool. We continued along to the Jusco mall further up the street, where we got ice cream and window shopped.

We capped off the evening by returning to the hotel. On the second floor of the building is a karaoke parlor and a mangakiss called Wip, which, for some reason, is short for "What's up?" We joined Wip and checked our email and played pool for two hours before turning in for the night.

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