Japanese Mountain Town; Matsumoto City

It’s been a little over a week and we’ve already started to begin our sentences with “When we live in Japan…” The more I see of Japan the more I love it. Everything from the architecture to the lifestyle.

Every house is in the same style, but with its own uniquely defining features. Every little patch of land has its own sense of character. I have been picking out houses that I like as we pass by on the train, daydreaming about opening the sliding door of my own solar panel roofed house and kicking off my slippers to walk into my own vegetable garden surrounded by deciduous forest….

The day we got down from Fuji-San, we arrived at our hostel around 10AM and gave ourselves the rest of the day to recover and prepare for the next leg of our trip. Fujiyoshida is a really cute town and I wish we could have explored the greater Fuji area more, but we did not have the time.

From Fujiyoshida we headed to Matsumoto, where we stayed for a night before going camping in Kamikochi in the Chubu-Shinku National Park, where we would make our way into the Alps.

Matsumoto is a cute ( I hate using “cute” over and over again, but I really don’t know how else to put it) mountain city. It is full of the Edo period architecture surrounded by the Japanese Alps. Matsumoto is a tourist destination due to its prime location and Matsumoto Castle, the oldest original castle in Japan.

It was constructed in 1504  during a civil war period. The main structure in the central floor of the castle still has the original 36 pillars. Parts of the castle, including the two outer gates, have been rebuilt. The most recent was in 1990 the “black gate” was rebuilt.

Inside they had a display of different weapons and armor that the samurai soldiers wore into battle. Each floor had a description of how it was built and its function in case of an attack. The windows were generally two different sizes. Narrow rectangles for shooting arrows and smaller squares for mounting rifles. Before Europeans introduces guns to Japan in the mid 16th century, castles were only built with the rectangular windows for arrows, after the arrival of Europeans, Castles were modified to accommodate these new weapons. It was strange to see a samurai in full armor carrying a rifle.

We enjoyed the picturesque little streets of Matsumoto and dinner, where we tried our first Japanese craft beers and learned we were missing a craft beer festival in Kamikochi by a few weeks. It seems that Japanese brewers are closely following the American craft beer trend, I wouldn’t at all be surprised that if in a few years Japan has as many craft breweries as California and Vermont combined.

Preparing for Kamikochi:

Before heading to Kamikochi we stocked up on 3 days of groceries. Food in Kamikochi is extremely expensive, they only seem to have gourmet snacks and fancy mountain villa restaurants, so bring your own food. If you have a camp stove even better, but we didn’t, so for us it meant a lot of sandwiches and soyjoys. We tried to find sleeping bags as well. The one camp store we found in Matsumoto was way beyond our budget, only selling name brand gear, so we went with no sleeping bags or pads, just a two person tent and some groceries.

We’ve had trouble finding reasonably priced outdoor gear in Japan. Judging by our fellow park goers gear, it seemed the only things available in Japan were name brand top of the line products, which isn’t a bad thing, it just makes an expensive hobby in an expensive country even more so. (I am so thankful for Decathlon in Taiwan, and I am looking forward to hitting up the Gander Mountain back in the U.S) We are looking into finding some “recycle” stores for some second-hand supplies when we get to Osaka and Kyoto (any recommendations would be great).

To get to Kamikochi, we took a bus from the JR station in Matsumoto with one transfer in Shin-Shimashima, about a two-hour journey. The ticket was quite expensive, and not included in our JR train passes. We discovered later that there is a 3 day park pass available for 6,400 yen with unlimited transportation within the park. When I go back (which I definitely plan on doing in the somewhat near future) I think that it will definitely be worth the extra 800 to get the 3 day pass.

Overall Matsumoto is definitely worth a stopover on your way to the Alps, and is definitely a candidate for potential future residences in Japan.

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