Through the Mountains in the West

IMG_1899 IMG_1887 IMG_1884 IMG_1890 IMG_1898After such a sense of joy and amazement at seeing and exploring Himeji castle in the southern part of the main island of Japan, I wanted to go to another castle, this time Matsumoto castle located about 3 hours west of Tokyo by express train. Matsumoto is considered along with Himeji and Kumamoto castle on the southern island of Japan to be one of the great castles of Japan. While Himeji is known as the White Heron castle, Matsumoto is its foil as the Black Crow castle. It was a nice train ride as I left Tokyo and watched as the skyscrapers turned into forests and then into mountains. In Japan, the 2 most common choices people have when going on a vacation are either the Beach or the Mountains, so it was interesting to try the more relaxing option.

The mountains were truly beautiful that day as it was relatively cloudless and you could see for miles. I had gotten a window seat, so I got plenty of great photos of the countryside. After a relatively smooth 3 hours, we arrived at Matsumoto and I was so excited to go out and see the castle from the station. But, when I left the station I could not see it, I thought it would be like in Himeji, where the station is a straight line from the castle with no buildings obstructing the view. But, Matsumoto castle was a bit of walk from the station, still it was not even 12 yet, so I had plenty of time and I was used to walking to get to where I wanted. After about a 10 minute walk, I arrived at a famous local shrine to get another seal for my book, it is always awesome to have ones from exotic locations. Then after maybe a 3 minute walk, I finally got to the castle and quickly noticed it was a lot smaller than Himeji, they had taken the outer walls and fortifications out about a century ago, but the actual castle as well as its impressive moat, where still intact.

Still, it was an impressive castle without a doubt and certainly worth the trip as soon as I laid my eyes on it. Also, as soon as I could see it, a free English tour guide saw me and gave me an extensive tour of the castle and surrounding area. Free tour guides are not so much a rarity in Japan, but usually they are only at major historic sites. The outer gardens were quite lovely as we made our way to the castle entrance, where we were given a bag to put our shoes in to carry with us as they do not like people walking with their dirty shoes on the floor in the castle. Unlike Himeji, Matsumoto was filled with lots of artifacts like armor, weapons and paintings, so it was a nice walk as we progressive worked our way up the castle floors. As the castle was built for war against invaders, the steps get narrower and more steepĀ as you climb up, so it can be a bit difficult, still it makes getting to the top, more satisfying. The view from the top of the castle was pretty amazing as you can see the city as well as the mountains for several miles.

As we made our way down to the exit, I noticed an employee of the castle dressed in period clothing and wanted to take a picture with him. While almost any kind of traditional Japanese attire would be appropriate for the castle, this guy was dressed up as a samurai and I had to get a picture with him. The picture came out really good and I thanked the samurai. Though I have a deep love of Japanese culture beyond the basics like Anime and Ninjas, I always find Samurais to be so cool with their imposing armor and their strong resolve. We then toured the city museum located on the castle grounds and saw lots of cool artifacts from the long history of the area. After that, we went to this early modern school museum in the area, that was one of the first Western-styled schools built in Japan in 1871. The museum was also pretty cool as it really gave me a feeling of seeing the education system of a nation transitioning into a modern state.

After that, I explored the castle a bit more and then said goodbye to my guide as we separated. She was a nice lady and I was really happy with my tour. For another hour or so, I just wandered back to the station and grabbed some local specialties including apple flavored kit-kats, which were region exclusive and when you opened the bag, the apple smell was so fresh, that you would think it was a fresh cut apple itself. I got some other sweets, though I have no idea what they are, but they are tasty, so I can not complain. I was able to catch a special rapid express train called the Super Azusa on my way back, which is half an hour quicker than the normal one and is this really cool looking train with a sci-fi style to it and fluorescent purple stripes. It was an exhausting day, but man was it worth it to see another awesome castle!

As a whole, this month, I have been doing a lot of traveling, now that I have gotten used to things here. I do not have any midterms to bog me down, so trips have been my most common activity. Even better, on my way back from Matsumoto, we stopped at a city called Kofu, which happens to be the home of a famous daimyo, Japanese warlord, so I know where I am going this Saturday! I also am planning now, a day trip to the Northern part of the main island in the city of Sendai, to see the mausoleum of another famous daimyo as well as several of his clan artifacts including hopefully his famous armor with the huge headpiece. Of course, I also have to go the Shogun`s mausoleum, but it is a bit more difficult to reach still I know that I can do it! Lots of traveling to do and lots of souvenirs to get so my remaining time here will be busy!


Aaron is a History Major with the desire to see the world and learn as much as possible about it. He cannot wait to write about his adventures in Japan, making new friends, living in Tokyo and exploring both new & old Japan. This is Aaron's second Study Abroad program to Japan through SUNY New Paltz!

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