The ryokan we stayed in offered a very authentic, traditionally Japanese experience, helped by the tatami floor and the futon beds. We began our journey through Japan here, in Matsumoto. How can one sleep on the floor, with no bed or mattress?
These are the kinds of thoughts that “tortured” us before going to bed. Thankfully they remained rather ineffectual – we slept so well in Matsumoto that we never really noticed when the morning came and woke us up long before the alarm.
After an improvised little breakfast of Japanese sweets and warm soup in a cup unlike any we’d ever had before, we set off in search of Matsumoto’s highlight, namely the Matsumoto castle.
We had no map, but some conveniently and generously placed signs in English helped us make our way to the goal rather easy.
Entering the castle’s gardens is a unique experience itself. The place is wrapped in the scent of blooming cherry trees that shower everything with their blossoms; even the large fish that live in the canal encircling the castle eat them! The six-story castle itself proudly towers above the gardens, admiring its own beauty in the mirror of the canal.
Tourists scurried around the place like ants. Most of them were actually Japanese, there were only a few foreigners here and there. The waiting time at the entrance wasn’t as long as we expected. It took us no more than two minutes to buy a ticket and enter. Before entering we wanted to take a picture of two elderly women in kimonos, because we thought they’d be a rare sight in public. In this we erred as well – there were plenty of women walking around in kimonos. Presumably they had come for the Sunday tea ceremony. They were definitely a curious sight, and we could admire (admittedly with a pang of jealousy) their beauty and graceful demeanor and the contentment and calm, with which they awaited their turn in the tea ceremony. We decided to see the castle from the inside and then maybe take part in the alluring, and new to us, ceremony. Like everywhere else in Japan, we had to take our shoes off before we could walk on the old wooden floors.
Everything about the castle seemed to have been conceived and built in the spirit of the warrior. There were slits built into the wall for archery or shooting. All of them also had mobile shutters for protection. The stairs were very steep, the steps grew ever taller – the tallest reached about 40 cm – and the ceiling came ever lower, making both the ascent and descent an adventure on its own. The stories were filled with exhibits of weapons, clothing and all kinds of equipment. There was even a whole story dedicated to the study and practice of martial arts that had no windows whatsoever, which made the castle look as if it had only five stories in total from the outside. It was very entertaining indeed to adopt the role of a warrior for a bit and shoot through the slits on the upper stories. We are civilized, peaceful people though, so we shot only with our cameras! Here are our “victims”.
We did have to carefully consider whether we were properly dressed and whether it was appropriate at all, but eventually we mustered up the courage to try the tea ceremony. It was not difficult or painful at all! We even befriended a few elderly women in the queue, who tried diligently to have a conversation with us in Japanese and a bit of English. It was good to hear for once that, although they had never been in Bulgaria, it was to them the country of yoghurt, as opposed to the country of Stoichkov and Berbatov. One woman even came to explain to us in English that we should not be shy or nervous at all and just observe what the others are doing.
|Our tickets for the tea ceremony|
One woman and one man were chosen from among the guests to sit in front of everyone and drink from the tea the master had specially brewed. They spoke meanwhile too, but we couldn’t understand any of it – it must have been a prayer or some old wisdom. The tea was strange but definitely tasty and literally green. We also received a special Japanese cake beforehand, for which people had brought napkins in their kimonos. We were unfortunately not so prepared.
Towards the end everyone gathered around the small brewery and watched with great interest. We didn’t really understand what was so intensely interesting about it. It seemed, though, that everything mattered – how each object was put where and when and why. It was pure perfectionism.
We bowed a few times, said goodbye to our friends the elderly ladies and slowly left the beautiful complex to see what else in Matsumoto might strike our fancy.
There wasn’t much, to be honest. We did visit the Kaichi School Museum in passing, the building of one of the first schools in Japan. Then we headed to the two parks that are situated next to each other at the edge of the city. On the way there we grabbed some food for a small picnic.
Unfortunately, fate had other plans for us. The lack of a map, signs in a language we could read and orientation skills on our part took its toll. We walked for about an hour through steep, narrow streets until we reached the outskirts of the city but we didn’t find a park. Thankfully, being lost always means finding things you wouldn’t have otherwise. We passed through a modern neighbourhood filled with quaint houses, some of which had large, beautiful gardens of vines and vegetables. In the end we had our picnic in an empty playground we had found earlier before we headed back downtown in a pleasant mood.
We had a real break by enjoying a latte and some tea in a small cafe and then hitting the shops. Once we had reserved a ticket for the train on the next day, we spiced up our last evening there with Japanese burgers and a traditional bath, which we could thankfully enjoy alone. We wished Matsumoto a good night and retired to conserve our strength for our tour of Japan.
Bunnies wrapped in origami packaging – a goodbye gift from our innkeepers. 🐰 🐰 🐰 🏯 🏯 🏯
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