April 30th, 2009

drinking bird

deeper into Japan

We left Tokyo Sunday morning by shinkansen to Nagano. I love those high speed trains (the shinkansen varies from 200mph to 350mph), also the TGV in France. They are comfortable, fairly quiet, and of course, fast!

We went on to Matsumoto, where we stayed at a charming ryokan. The purpose was to visit the castle, one of the few remaining castles of old Japan. It is not as big and imposing as Himeji, but still very interesting. There is quite a nice garden around it, where some sakuras and quinces were blooming.

Matsumoto castle

stone lantern and weeping cherry

The only problem was that it was Sunday, and rather crowded. A lot of families were there, and climbing the steep narrow stairs in the crowd was at times a bit difficult. Nevertheless, it was attractive and interesting. We were recompensed for our efforts by the usual sumptuous dinner at the ryokan after a restoring bath in their onsen pool.

We only stayed there overnight, and went on to Takayama, an old town in the mountains, left untouched by the war, and with many old houses still standing. It is in part because of its relatively isolated location in the mountains. There are many interesting shops, and they make a particularly attractive lacquer. I could not resist buying some pieces, with the problem of placing them in my suitcase left to deal with later!

Takayama, the river

The next day was supposed to be their big matsuri day, which is one of the more famous in Japan. Unfortunately, we woke up to steady rain, and they had to cancel the parades, the famous floats remained in their garages, you could just go take a peek at them. Some of the streets have covered sidewalks, so I did some more shopping and then walked back to the hotel, getting wetter and wetter in spite of my umbrella. I gave up walking in the afternoon and crossed the street to the town hall, which offers free computer use, and surfed the net to my heart's content.

We went on to Kanazawa, a very nice city on the west coast. For those who have seen the NHK taiga drama Toshiie to Matsu, this is where the Maedas ruled. The castle unfortunately burned down (except for some outer buildings) in the 19th cent. But the gorgeous park remained. It is Kenrokuen, one of the 3 most beautiful gardens in Japan. It was very overcast, but still really quite splendid.

Kenrokuen pond

I will spare you more cherry tree pictures! The next day we went to visit the so-called ninja-temple. It actually has nothing to do with ninjas, but is called that because it is full of trapdoors, secret passages and stairways. It has various escape routes and a secret safe chamber for the Maeda lord. It was built by Toshiie and Matsu's younger son, the 3rd lord Maeda in the 17th century. The rest of the city is very attractive to walk around in, with many "samurai houses" still standing.

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