Sunday, 10 May 2009

Matsumoto Castle

The two and a half hour train ride on the Super Azusa express from Shinjuku Station to Matsumoto Station in Nagano Prefecture was a particularly scenic ride as we were fortunate enough to see a snow capped Fuji-san devoid of any cloud cover. The Northern Alps were visible before reaching our destination. Impressive indeed. Most of the countryside is agricultural with rice being the mainstay crop and vegetables a close second. Japanese rice is a short-grain variety called japonica. The Japanese government enforces quotas and high tariffs on foreign rice. As a result, virtually all the rice consumed in Japan is domestically produced. I am told rice is relatively expensive in Japan, and is another way the Tokyo Grain Exchange compensates farmers for their efforts. At the Earth Day Fair in Harajuku in mid April, where this guy was giving out free hugs, a simple banner said it all, "Rice is Life". As you leave the station, you come across the statue of a monk, deemed to have been the first to climb the Northern Alps in his quest for enlightenment. The fox is the protector of rice fields to ensure an abundant harvest every year and this Shinto shrine with two foxes enables prayers to be offered. Matsumoto exudes a peaceful warmth, proud of its heritage and history.
Even the pigeons are chilling... The town's mascot is the frog and these samurai frogs are battling it out on Nawate shopping street.If this reminds you of a European mansion, you are half right. It is an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) clinic! Not much information about the building is given by the doctors except that it was built in 1914 in Japano-European style.And finally the prize of our sojourn, Matsumoto Castle. Also known as the Black or Crow Castle as the black walls and roofs look like spreading wings.This 16th century castle is a National Treasure complete with original wooden interiors, walls and moat. The architectural layout of the castle complex has been carefully delineated showing the extent of the grounds.
Enjoy these images taken on a gorgeous day.

Once inside, you appreciate the vantage point of this castle. And if you close your eyes, you may see a samurai moving deftly along these wooden corridors... or behind bamboo screens. We leave the castle in search of yet another gem in this historical town.

The former Kaichi Primary School, built in 1876, represents an important milestone in the education system of Japan. Before this school was opened, only the children of samurai where given the opportunity of higher education. Kaichi means "opening people's intelligence." In 1872 the national education system was reformed with the intention of creating community education modeled after western education systems.
One could imagine this being the headmasters house just around the corner from the school.A fish-eye view of some happy students sitting at their wooden desks and chairs. Intricate facade of the main entrance.
With barely half an hour before our departure time, a couple of satisfied tourists jumped into a taxi for a quick dash to the station. The taxi driver was very disappointed that we would not be "staying at least for one more day at one of the 3000 hotels in Matsumoto". Now was he exaggerating, surely it should be more like 300? He proudly pointed out the IRS building, a former department store that had closed down, the hospital where he recieved treatment as a senior citizen and the fire station. He did the Japan Tourist Board proud.

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