My next stop after Kyoto was Matsumoto, a small city in the “Japan Alps.” The name says it all – a mountain range in central Japan that some people liken to the Alps in Europe. I didn’t go to Matsumoto to visit the city itself, but for Mt Tateyama, one of Japan’s holiest mountains and the site of a mountain dam. I’d actually been there before back in my university days when I went with my brother on a short tour through Japan and it was so beautiful that I knew I had to go back.
I’d arrived in Matsumoto by train from Kyoto, but not before the journey was doubled by the train being stuck for almost two hours in a station because of a truck accident on a bridge, which I found out about after emailing the Japanese office in Taiwan ( they contacted the train company) later on. The train ride to Matsumoto passed through lush rice fields, attractive rural villages and alongside a river in a valley.
Matsumoto has got something famous too – one of Japan’s most impressive old castles, Matsumoto Castle, also known as the Crow Castle. The nickname name is derived from its all-black walls which give it an imposing, menacing appearance. The castle, which was built in end of the 16th century, sits on a stone base surrounded by a moat. I went to see the castle at night and then the following day.
When I went to view it at night, there was a youth taiko drumming concert going on inside the grounds and afterwards, a light projection show (Digital-Kakejiku Art Project) that illuminated the entire castle in funky colors. The next day I went back and into the actual castle. The inside is mostly hollow with wooden floors and stairs, and a small museum with samurai armor and weaponry on display. The top floor provides a nice lookout over the entire city, which is more like a rural town, and the surrounding hills.