The weekend before Christmas 2020, Dan and I took a mini-break for the weekend to Matsumoto city in Nagano (the Japanese Alps). The city is surrounded by visible and towering mountains, which you can catch views of all over the city. While the weekend started in a less than desirable way – think cockroaches in the restaurant and a window view from our hotel room of air conditioners – it quickly took a beautiful turn when we discovered the Matsumoto Castle.
Firstly, to explain why we chose a weekend break to Matsumoto the weekend before Christmas. The plan was formed a mere month before after a sneaky pint on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, we did book a trip under the influence of alcohol, no we do not regret it (despite the cockroaches). The reason we booked the trip was because of the delicious aforementioned pint, which we discovered was brewed at the lesser-known Matsumoto Brewery. It was a long way to travel for a tasty beer, but gosh was it worth it! So fresh, you could almost taste the mountains.
Beer aside, the highlight of the trip was Matsumoto Castle. Japan is well known for its castles, and many are dramatic and rather beautiful to look at. However, having lived here for a few years, you soon realise that while many castles look good, they are not original, often having been re-built several times due to the originals being destroyed by fire or earthquakes. However, Matsumoto Castle is one of the few mostly original castles in Japan. And that is some achievement, as the main and original section was built between 1592 and 1614.
We immensely enjoyed the castle tour. It was -2 degrees outside but nevertheless, we dutifully took off our shoes to enter the (largely open) castle space. We have never been inside one of the Japanese castles before, as many of the interiors are not open to the public, and so we’re surprised to discover some immensely steep staircase, window slits for firing arrows still intact, and the original goddess representation still situated in the roof to offer prayers and ask for protection from. While the castle was stunning inside, its real beauty, like much in Japan (I’m thinking of you Mount Fuji), is enjoyed from a distance. We visited the castle grounds several times, even taking a stroll at night when the castle is simply lit up and waiting to be admired.
We enjoyed a short but sweet trip to Matsumoto and would highly recommend the area for experiencing another side of Japan.