Donjon

The ryokan rooms are, I guess, more traditionally Japanese than anything else we’ve done yet. While the toilet in the room is a robot, complete with variable level heated seats and auto flush, the rest of the room features horizontally sliding doors and tatami mats stretched out over the floor. Interestingly enough, tatami mats are used as a measure of square footage in many apartment complexes in Japan, so I’ve been told.

“This unit is 30 tatami mats” you might say. I would then respond by saying: “No really?”

Our ryokan is Seifu-so in Matsumoto it is run by an incredibly nice family who speak good English and have a grand child, maybe 8 years old, who runs around with a no-shit-real katana sword that unsheathed and everything.

There is a single table in our room, measuring no more than 15″ off the mats, and it has two surprisingly sturdy chairs around it. Picture a chair with no legs, that’s about right. There was a mini fridge in the corner and small flat screen tv which we never used. There was also a DIY green tea set on the table that always had fresh hot water.

In the evening, the owners would come by and lay out our beds directly on the mats so that it felt like we were camping every night. Whether it was because we were simply exhausted, or it was actually that comfortable, it was never a problem sleeping on the futon…which is the name for them, I’m pretty sure. And here I thought futon just meant ‘couch for college kids.’

There was no shower in the room. Instead you could use a traditional Japanese common bath, with a hot spring water bath, or private shower rooms. Unfortunately I did not get to try out the common bath, but we are staying at a few more of these places so maybe then.

Breakfast was served at 730 and included fresh ground coffee which may have spoiled me forever on pre-ground beans. We gobbled it up and got ready for the day. The place had free bikes we could borrow to peddle into town since the location of the place (really it’s only downside) was a few miles outside of the city center. After a quick refill of some tires, we peddled through the quiet backstreets of Matsumoto toward Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s national treasures.

1- Matsumoto station
2- Seifu-so
3- Oniyan
4- Matsumoto Castle
5- Head of Nakamachi-dōri and Nawate-dōri
6- Okanomiya Shrine
7- Dolce for pizza you guys

Previously unbeknownst to us, there was a festival in town celebrating soba style noodles…score. The grounds of the park were saturated in booths featuring noodle makers from all over Japan, and patrons lined up for 45-60 minutes to sample bowls of the buckwheat noodle, prepared by masters, served cold in a soy based sauce. We actually got to witness a few of the guys making the noodles…pretty cool.

Yeah so it was basically a fair, like the Winter Park art festival or something, except that the art was edible. Also scattered throughout the park grounds were birro stands and other “fair-fare” (we culturally guessed). A beer was had, and we got this pork & sautéed leek (?) stuffed dough ball and munched on that as we circled around the castle’s inner most moat (including a re-directed river it has 5). We also ordered ice cream without being able to understand what a single thing on the menu was, or communicate with anyone serving; we ended up with a chocolate/coffee flavor… we and did not complain.

Right. Matsumoto castle was built in the 1600s during an unstable time in Japan. The times of Shoguns and Samurai and all that. It remains despite the propensity of other castles like it to be burned down when sacked, or sadly, be leveled in WW2.

The castle was an extremely impressive sight, one of those instantly etched into memory sights, perched upon a stone edifice, with 5 swooping tiled roofs, and many fish-shaped gables. The structure is adorned in symbology identified with water in an effort to ward off the threat of fire. In this case at least, it appears to have worked.

We toured the grounds a little while longer and then sat down to split a bowl of soba noodles, which were okay. The entry fee to the castle itself was only 600¥ and free English tour guides were available so we decided to go in for a closer look. We actually ended up with a private tour, but it wasn’t as great an experience since the place was packed with festival and holiday weekend visitors. Even so, and despite the tour revolving around the usage of firearms, I learned a lot about the construction of these things; how the stone walls were erected, that the sides of the building are actually curved inward, that engineers designed for earthquake tolerance in the 1600s, really cool stuff…I thought anyway.

We left the castle grounds and wandered over to a few side streets that date back to the castle times, but have been renovated and updated since. There is a thing about frogs in this town so both Nawate-dōri and Nakamachi-dōri feature statues of them. The structures alongside the streets have been rebuilt/restored to serve as shops and cafés but you can get a sense of what it would feel like if the warriors and officials still live there. We bought a few things, completed a top secret mission, and then headed back toward the ryokan, stopping along the way at Okanomiya Shrine, of which not a lot of great information exists.

That evening we walked a few blocks north of our place to a pizza joint called Dolce that the ryokan owner’s daughter recommended and nom nom’d a veggie pizza for dinner…don’t judge. We had a long day and are leaving tomorrow for Kanazawa…and there is a typhoon coming.

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room with beds made up
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soba noodle guy is a character of course
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waiting in line for cold noodles
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In front of Matsumoto Castle

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