Steep Steps to a National Treasure

Trip Start Jun 02, 2013
Trip End Jun 24, 2013

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Where I stayed
Hida Crown Plaza, Takayama

Flag of Japan  , Chubu,
Friday, June 7, 2013

      Dale was excited to start the day with a  visit the one of Japan's castles, as the history and construction of castles is a particular interest of his. Matsumoto castle is right in the center of the city of Matsumoto, which reminded me of some castles we visited in the British Isles, like Cardiff in Wales. During the Shogun period there were about 180 castles in Japan, controlled by powerful feudal lords. Many, many of them were demolished in the latter 1800's, when the Shogun was defeated and the Emperor, consolidating his power, saw these as symbols of the Shogun's power. (There's a lot of wood involved in the construction, so some also were lost to fire over the centuries.) This is one of the few original castles remaining, one of four designated as a National Treasure. It was built in the late 1500's. The inside wasn't as impressive as a lot of British castles, but the elegant beauty of the outside isn't what you expect from a castle.  This wasn't a living space, but a defensive tower, and the feudal lord lived in a mansion on the grounds.  It burned down in the 1700's but is outlined on the grounds. We ran into scattered groups of 6th graders who were on the grounds sketching and painting the castle. There was no teacher ins sight, but the primary school (1st to 6th grade) was only a few blocks away. A group of 4 and 5 year olds were also on a field trip on the grounds.
    You can climb to the top, but our tour guide mentioned that we would have to remove our shoes to make the climb, and that it was steep and slippery. Some of us were wondering why it would be slippery, since the steps are inside and would not be wet. But imagine climbing highly polished centuries old wood steps in your stocking feet and you'll get the picture. And besides trying to hold the rail tightly you are now carrying your shoes in a plastic bag provided.  Quite a challenge, and sometimes people were coming down the steep ladder-like steps while you were going up. One of the upper levels held a weapons museum, and since this castle was built as warfare transitioned to the use of gunpowder, there were all different types of old guns. Again, this is a situation where we would have spent a lot more time if we weren't with a tour group. Moving on, we made a short stop at the Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum (nothing to write home about) and then ate lunch at a Wasabi farm. I wasn't really looking forward to this, since I am not a fan of wasabi, but I didn't realize that they use different parts of the plant, and some aren't spicy at all.  It was a pretty tasty meal, and as always in Japan, beautifully presented. One of our tour friends, Gordon, decided to brave the wasabi beer, which was green looking but apparently didn't taste all that different from regular beer. When we wandered outside to tour the fields we tried a wasabi ice cream cone, and it was pretty good! The wasabi is grown in rows of sort of raised gravel beds, with water running in small channels of water running beside it. The water was drawn from a river next to the beds, and the plants are protected from the sun by sort of sunshades. Must be a labor intensive process!
   To reach our hotel in Takayama, we drove through the Japanese Alps, which gives you a good picture of why 2/3 of Japan is too mountainous to be inhabitable!
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Vita on

Amazing castle! Ask Dale about the interior beams; they have a "hammered" look to them from the reflected light.
Can you bring samples of the wasabi ice cream? Pleeeeease?!

Melissa N on

I never knew that about the wasabi either. I always assumed it was hot. Interesting little fact! :)

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