Japan 2014, Part 9.

The next place we went to was Matsumoto in the Nagano Prefecture (where the Winter Olympics were held a little while back). We went to see Matsumoto Castle, also known as Crow Castle because it is black. It’s not really a castle the way we think of them, it was where samurai protected the ammo and guns. It’s got a big moat all around it, and many of the windows are made for firing arrows. It’s located in what is called the Japanese Alps, and it is a photographer’s dream.


I mean, really.


I don’t know how the samurais did it with all that heavy, heavy armor on. There were five or six floors and the stairs were steep like on a ship. Many of them were also extremely tall. I took a photo of someone on our tour descending the stairs and while it’s a blurry shot (not a ton of light in there) you can see the steps are as high as her knee. The man on the left, his entire job all day was to catch you if you fell.


But once again, if there’s an experience to experience, we’re gonna experience it. The Moomins, who is 77 years old, trucked up those stairs like a pro all while wearing ill-fitting slippers (you had to check your shoes at the door). I took a picture of her reaching the top. Look how proud she is of herself (as she should be, good job Moomins).


The view of the surrounding area was beautiful from there. I love how they wrapped up the shrubbery for winter. It gave me a Tim Burton vibe.


The details on the building were also beautiful. I believe those are the emblems of the either the emperor or lord who owned the castle.


There was a covered patio off to the side of the building. I was told this was called “The Moon-Viewing Room.” I found this description online.

A Moon Viewing Party is held every autumn on the grounds in the specially built moon viewing room of the Castle. It is said, that “the moon can be seen three times from the moon viewing room”. Once in the sky, once in the water below and once in your cup of sake (but six if the sake is strong).

As we were walking down to the path towards the entrance, we were joined by a giant crane.


I got a good shot of him flying away when he decided he had had enough of us.


And on the roof were two enormous eagles. Just huge. They had striped wings with orange, black and brown and if anyone can tell what kind of bird-of-prey they are, I would greatly appreciate it.


As we were driving away we got a view of Mount Fuji, which was exciting. That may not seem like a big deal, but as our guide Kimi-San said, “She is a moody mountain.” There’s often fog and clouds around Mt. Fuji, so seeing all of it was very gratifying. It’s astonishing how much taller Mt. Fuji is compared to the surrounding mountains. We stopped at the closest truck stop so we could get shots of it.


That evening we slept in a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn. I learned an important life lesson there, which is that I do not like sleeping on the floor. The second night I seriously considered spending the night curled up on the coffee table.


This was another Japanese OCD thing. You come into the room and take off your shoes, putting on the ryokan-provided slippers. A good rule to remember is if you see tatami mats, your shoes are comin’ off. So you’re mincing around the room in your slippers (they never fit quite right, so mincing with your toes balled up is the only way you can walk, you look like you’re carrying an orange in between your thighs) and when you go to the toilet, you have to switch to special toilet slippers just for the three-foot-square-space of the tiny toilet room. Don’t tell anyone – I walked around in my socks. I’m not changing shoes every damn minute. I barely remember to brush my hair once a day, I’m gonna deal with musical footwear? No.

The reason we were staying at this particular ryokan is because they had a onsen. An onsen is a hot spring pool and because Japan is volcanic there are many hot spring facilities, both freshwater and saltwater. This one was freshwater and this was the sign in the elevator.


Because no photography was allowed, I couldn’t document what the experience was like, but it was pretty great. You put on the hotel-provided cotton kimono and grab your big towel and a small towel from your room. There were men’s baths and women’s baths and every night they closed for about a hour while they switched so both sexes could enjoy the views (there were outdoor pools as well). Once inside, you put your big towel and robe into a basket and using the small towel in front of you for modesty (if you wished), you head naked into the main onsen room. I found a picture online that someone took of the basic layout.


The onsen are not like a bath for cleaning yourself. You’re supposed to sit in it already clean. So you hunker down on one of those stools and scrub yourself with the shampoo, conditioner and body wash sitting there. Only after you are sparkling and shiny do you lower yourself in the warm bubbly onsen water. It was fantastic. My legs muscles were all tight from going up and down those stairs in Matsumoto Castle, and the second I got in the onsen all the ouchies went away. Then, if you wanted to, you could go outside and sit in the outdoor onsen and watch your breath and listen to the wind. It was great way to end the day. The only problem is this:

Many onsen ban bathers with tattoos, which in Japan, as in the West prior to the radical changes that have taken place in society, are perceived as a badge of criminality — Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia) traditionally have elaborate tattoos. Despite this outdated reason, the rule is often enforced strictly against all, including foreigners, women, and even when tattoos are small and “peaceful”.

After the relaxing dip in the onsen, The Moomins and I went to have dinner. Okay, brace yourself: on our table, in addition to all the various nibbles that we had become accustomed to during this journey (and not so accustomed, I do not wish to eat a raw shrimp again if I can avoid it), was our own personal tree stump with mushrooms growing on it. We were supposed to pick our mushrooms off and place them on the wee grill next to the stump and grill our own private mushrooms. How freakin’ awesome is that?

ryokan1 ryokan2

And after the meal we enjoyed little candies that had been folded into origami cranes. Japan is consistently adorable.


Additional photos: a killer suit of samurai armor. He’s like the Japanese Loki from Avengers.


A box of cookies (I’m guessing here, it could be a box of squid parts, you never know) adorned with a kitty samurai.


An adorable bunny tableau I saw in a doorway.


The local Subway sandwich shop catering to Japanese tastes.


As well as the local Starbucks.


A shrine with a kitty statue and what appears to be metal whiskers on the side guard house.


And a pinch more Engrish for you to enjoy.

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3 Responses to “Japan 2014, Part 9.”

  1. Gemma says:

    I would guess that those are Japanese Golden Eagles on top of the roof.

  2. Rothbeastie says:

    Nope, not eagles. I found out. I believe they’re called Japanese Kites. They have really pretty underwings.

  3. snorth says:

    MIRACLE BATTLE CARDDASS!!! I’ll be laughing for days!!!

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