We got up when the alarm went off at 6:45, so finally a good night’s rest.  We’d had the good sense to finally close the thick drapes, so that the sun wouldn’t shine in first thing in the morning.  Between what we got on the train and in the hotel room, we were over 8 hours for the first time this trip.  Looking out the window, we were immediately happy we’d gone out of the way to come to Matsumoto. We could see snow on all the mountains to the west, and it was nice blue sky as well, with a rainbow for a short while as well. After getting cleaned up, there was a traditional Japanese breakfast downstairs, and we ran into Dewey and Clarita.  Justin had randomly read somewherethat the Matsumoto Castle would be opening at 8am (rather than the usual 8:30) because of Golden Week, so as soon as we finished breakfast we walked over to the castle.  It was a short walk, probably only 5-10 minutes (less if we would’ve taken the most direct route).  We walked in on the east side, and with the rising sun we had a great first shot of the castle.

There was a fairly long line to get in, and it wasn’t even 8am yet, but compared to Kamakura, there weren’t many people at all.  Dewey figured out that they were selling tickets at the nearby museum, and that if we got them there, we could skip the long line to get in, so he grabbed tickets whilst we waited in line.  Inside the grounds, the scenery was spectacular, not just the castle but also the grounds. The castle itself is regarded as one of the top 4 in Japan.  [We’re not sure how, or whom, decided this, but everything we saw had the top 4 in some sort of Mount Rushmore type ranking of Japan’s castles.]  Matsumoto is also the oldest of the castles in Japan.  There is a 6 story center area, with two 3 story dwellings on either side.  The entire area is surrounded by a large moat, which – today at least – was mostly green.  Apparently the resident koi haven’t done enough to clean the water.

We slowly walked counterclockwise around the grounds, from the east to the north to the west, where the castle itself was.  There were many azaleas blooming which gave a fair amount of color to the grounds.  Inside the castle, things got pretty crowded.  There were steep staircases going from floor to floor, and that probably slowed things down.  But for being “stuck” in line, there was a lot to look at, as there were glass enclosures showing knives, guns, trinkets, outfits, etc. from when the castle was active.  Particularly noteworthy were the “missiles” for launching at the enemies.  The tiny windows for firing either guns or arrows were also very interesting, as they were wider on the inside than the outside, such that the people on the inside had a better field of view whilst the people on the outside had only a small area to aim for.  One other noteworthy item was the bridge over the moat, which was purposely crooked; apparently this is so ghosts can’t follow soldiers, as ghosts supposedly can move in only straight lines.

For all the people inside, it was still fairly organized.  It wasn’t quite as organized as everything we saw in Tokyo and Kamakura, but people were still good about not moving out of line, creating multiple lines, cutting, or anything of the like.  So we methodically worked our way up the stairs, and eventually got to the 6th and top floor, which had phenomenal views to the west of the Japanese alps (btw, the winter Olympics were held in Nagano a few years back), and somewhat less phenomenal views in the other three directions, where the city of Matumoto has been built up around the castle.

We were up and down before 10am, and this was all we had scheduled for the day, so we decided what to do in the interim.  Dewey and Clarita needed to pack, so they went back to the hotel whilst the two of us went into the gift shop and then slowly walked around the outside of the castle, outside the moat.  By this time there was a long line inside the grounds to enter the castle, and hundreds outside the castle as well.  The castle struck us as similar to the Taj Mahal in terms of somewhere that it would be good to visit both in the morning and in the afternoon, as the lighting would create better shadows and colors different times of the day.  For example, the bridge over the moat is on the west side of the castle, so the afternoon would be the best time to shoot that area, particularly if there were any shadows to be had from the castle.  But we had just the morning, and we had great weather and blue skies, so there was nothing much to complain about, particularly since today was supposed to be the one day of the week with bad weather.

On our walk we saw two swans in the moat, which we really didn’t expect.  We also ran into some guy who had his camera aimed into a tree, and we realized he was taking pictures of a local owl; he handed us his card, and we weren’t sure if he was a tour guide or something similar.  When we had completed our 360 and were back at the east gate, we decided to head back to the hotel only for us to realize we didn’t know the name of the hotel.  We did our best to retrace our steps (we knew the general direction, and it wasn’t far), but we got a little lost nonetheless.  Fortunately we knew that our hotel had at least six floors, as our room was on the sixth floor.  By process of elimination we found our hotel in just a few minutes.

We grabbed our bags and checked out in time for the 11am deadline.  We met Dewey and Clarita, and decided to get an early lunch.  Crystal had found there was a local restaurant that had horsemeat sushi, Kura.  The taxi driver took us there, but it had a sign out front saying it was closed.  So we walked around central Matsumoto for a bit, looking for a restaurant to eat in.  Finally we noticed a building that we had seen earlier that looked interesting, but now we saw it had a dozen or so people waiting in line, making us think it was a restaurant.  We saw a sign reading “Sakura,” and Crystal looked it up on the web, seeing it was a ramen shop.  It opened at 11:30, and we were the last people in before they closed the door for people to wait until the first batch of customers finished.  Ordering was from a vending machine, which spit out a receipt we handed to a server.  We’re not sure exactly what we got, as the menu was just a picture, but everyone was very happy with what they ordered.  Dewey indicated that of all the ramen places he’d eaten in Japan, this place was second best.

After leaving, we walked back past Kura, and sure enough it was now open.  Not to miss the chance, we went in, for a second lunch.  Crystal ordered the horsemeat sashimi, Dewey ordered some sweetened bee larvae (who orders unsweetened, btw), and we ordered sashimi for the group.  Justin got a draft beer.  Crystal’s reaction to the horsemeat was “it tastes like meat” and her reaction to the bee larvae was “I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t be having it again.”

We caught a taxi to hotel, and then attempted to tell the driver to wait in the vehicle whilst we grabbed our bags so that we could go straight to the train station.  To keep him from leaving, Crystal and Clarita stayed in the car as “collateral.”  We got to the train station around 1:30, more than early enough for our 2:53 train.  It was still sunny and warm outside, very pleasant.  We saw the 1:53 train for Nagoya leave, and took mental notes on what we needed to do for the 2:53 train.  We walked around a bit, but there wasn’t much going on at this station, so we patiently (or somewhat impatiently) waited.  Whilst waiting, Dewey saw an email from Teru, indicating that the weather in Tokyo was terrible today.  Perhaps the rain Matsumoto had gotten overnight had moved east to Tokyo.  Whatever the case, we had lucked out. The train south was easy enough, and we mostly just slept and digested our multiple lunches. We changed trains in Nagoya, a town we'd never heard of that has millions of people.

We got to Kyoto in the early evening and got checked in at the Hotel Monterey, then headed out to dinner. We found a Gyoza place named Anzukko about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel. The walk down Sanjo Street from the hotel was very nice, with a lightly traveled street full of shops and restaurants and people walking around. About 3/4 of the way down the street, it became a covered mall that had all sorts of different items. At Anzukko there wasn't much of a wait, and we got a table for 4. We ordered a ton of different items, including their famous baked gyoza, some gyozas with carembert cheese, some gyoza with citrus rind, some chinese chive gyozas, some chicken skewers that were off the charts exquisite, and a handful of other items that we can't remember but were undoubtedly good as well. We also got a bottle of wine and toasted Ted Cruz being out of our lives. After dinner, Dewey and Clarita got a cab back, and we walked back the way we came. The weather was quite comfortable and the walk back was nice. It'd been a busy day and everything had gone about as well as we could have hoped.