First stop after leaving the Greater Tokyo Region on 28th December: Matsumoto, primarily to see one of Japan’s three famous castles, Matsumoto Castle.
It’s about a 20-minute walk from the station to Matsumoto Castle, and though the backpacks were weighing heavily on our backs, we went ahead anyway.
The impression I got on my short stopover in Matsumoto is that of a neat, clean and prosperous small city surrounded by mountains.
The city is dotted with small gardens and parks, and there’s a remarkably spacious and wide feeling that had been absent for so long in Tokyo.
There’s even a picturesque stream running through downtown, lined with grassy banks on either side. Nothing compared to the impressive Kamo-gawa river in Kyoto, but at that point I felt this really lent a touch of nature to the city and added much lushness and greenery to it.
The street approaching the castle is lined with large Japanese flags, which led me to immediately think about the horrors Japan committed during World War II. Somehow, probably because of National Education in Singapore, whenever I see a Japanese flag, I’m reminded of the atrocities during the war, never mind that my parents weren’t even born then…
As you can see from the picture, Matsumoto is a very clean, quiet and lovely city.
The castle area is picturesque and clean, and is surrounded by a city park. The castle is separated from the park by the castle moat.
The park surrounds the castle and has a nice walking path that allows you to admire it from many different angles.
Matsumoto Castle has been designated a national treasure of Japan.
Having seen quite a few castles during my trip to Japan, I can honestly say that Matsumoto-jo is the smallest of them all. But despite its small size, it is one excellent gem of a castle, because of its unique dark architectural features, and its magnificent setting, surrounded by a beautiful moat and the mountains of the Japan Alps in the distance.
This is a castle that doesn’t have very steep fortified stone walls – notice how shallow the moat appears to be, without much of a wall on both banks to keep out invaders, unlike Osaka or Kumamoto Castle.
We didn’t go into Matsumoto Castle, because the best way to admire it is from the outside (well, actually the real reason is because of budget constraints). It costs Y600 (S$9.50) to enter the castle.
It was a pretty day and it was pleasant to just walk about in the park and admire the castle and its reflection on the moat. This is not just a place for tourists; I saw many locals strolling about, walking their dogs and doing simple exercises.
On the way back to the station, we passed by some interesting black-and-white Japanese shops:
A small portion of this small stream is actually lined with traditional Japanese shophouses, and as expected, they have now been turned into omiyage stores and street stalls selling overpriced senbei and soft-serves. But its still rather picturesque though.