Japan: Matsumoto

This is already turning into a trip of contrasts. Tokyo was all rush and all people, all the time. Mount Fuji (or at least Lake Kawaguchiko) was quiet, with very few people and little noise except the occasional clank from the bike chain. Matsumoto, a city near the Japanese Alps, strikes a balance somewhere between the two.

The main feature, right in the centre of the city, is Matsumoto Castle. It’s one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Japan.

It looks quite stunning with the sun setting. Because it’s mostly black it is also known as the “Crow Castle.” Contrary to a fact that I may have made up at the time, it was not built by crows.

It’s interesting to contrast a Japanese castle with one from Europe ((As will quickly become obvious, this is not something I know much about. But I feel qualified to discuss as — taking notes from Eddie Izzard — all Europeans live in castles.)). Matsumoto castle is made of wood and is not located on a hill, though there is the moat and some of the defences are similar, such as the arrow slits and apertures where unpleasant objects can easily be thrown down but not up. European castles have a mass, a presence but none of those that I’ve seen have the aesthetics and lines as this one.

Of course, no visit to a Japanese city would be complete without looking at some temples. I think this is the first time I saw statues like these with fetching little hats and bibs, though I would see many more the next week in Kyoto and Nara.

On the Saturday morning I went to a flea market. I always thought of Japan being gleaming and modern with people shunning old stuff, well, except for the really old stuff. But thrift clearly plays a part for many Japanese people.

There were huge crowds and kids running riot. Things for sale ranged from clothes to food to toys. This guy was clearly proud of motorised toys.

The following day I left Matsumoto city looking to get back to nature. That’s what tomorrow post will be about.