Kanazawa to Matsumoto
A few days earlier we’d driven from Nagoya, near the south coast of Japan, to Kanazawa on the north coast, passing by the edge of the Japanese Alps. We would now start our journey southwards again, winding around the mountains and zigzagging a bit until we reached Nagoya again in just under a week’s time. Our destination for this leg of the journey is Matsumoto, famed for its castle. But rather than drive directly there we would take a scenic detour to see something on the way. I’d decided this would be Kurobe Dam. It’s almost 200m high and is the tallest dam in Japan. Plus there’s a huge reservoir behind it and there looked to be lots of walks in the area.
It took 3 hours to drive to into the mountains and up to the dam. When we reached it we found out why it was so popular. It was one of the end points of the Alpine Route, a famous hike and journey across a few peaks and through some incredible scenery. Annemarie had looked this up a few weeks ago and dismissed it for a number of reasons, it involves a few cable cars (which I hate), it’s rainy season so walking isn’t fun and finally, the 20m deep snow tunnel (the road is cut out of the snow which is up to 20m deep, melts in June). I hadn’t bothered to look any of that up and just decided based on a few photos that we should go there. Oops! Anyway, we were in the car park now so we could probably wander around near the dam. Every piece of land which doesn’t contain man-made stuff is forested, so even a short walk around here would be nice. We spent a while looking at the tickets and options and debating if we should go further up or not. There is a ropeway, which pulls a train, then a cable-car to a resort at the top, followed by a bus around the top area to another resort, then a cable car and bus down to the other side. In the end we decided to just get the bus as far as the dam because it was quite late and it looked a bit chilly up there (we were wearing shorts and t-shirt). The bus was due 10 minutes after we bought the tickets, so we sat around waiting. By the time we were sat on the bus it was drizzling with rain. Damnit, we had left both umbrellas in the car because the sun had been shining when we walked across the car park less than 20 minutes ago! The bus entered a tunnel and it took 15 minutes of driving uphill through the tunnel to reach the dam. When we exited the tunnel it was throwing it down. We quickly walked outside to try and take a quick photo but the rain got heavier.
So we went inside and bought an umbrella, then went back out to get a better photo.
As we walked down from the upper viewing platform to the dam itself the rain got heavier. And heavier. And then even heavier. It was raining so hard the air was almost filled with water! Huddled under this umbrella we were still getting quite wet and the force of the rain was hard enough that it was bouncing on the ground and splashing us. We took a few photos on the way down but huddled under the umbrella and trying to keep the camera dry and trying to take a good photo was proving to be very tricky.
We finally reached a gift shop at the dam level and bought another umbrella, bringing our total to four umbrellas (lesson learnt: never, ever, ever, go anywhere in Japan without an umbrella during rainy season). We walked out onto the dam to try and stand over the middle and capture the force of the water as it roared out and into the small river below the dam. As we reached the centre of the dam the wind, which was blowing down the valley and obviously picked up speed on the reservoir, was incredibly strong and the rain was almost vertical. We were getting soaked. The temperature had also dropped dramatically and we were feeling cold.
So we headed back indoors to get a coffee to warm up with as we waited for the next bus to get us out of here.
As we sat and warmed up with our coffee the rain pretty much stopped. This is just typical! The bus down was due in about 10 minutes and it was a 5 minute walk to the bus stop at the top of the tunnel, but we decided to quickly walk out onto the dam, get the photos we wanted then get to the bus.
After the photos we had to run for the bus (literally) and got there just in time.
Back at the bottom it was raining pretty heavily so we drove straight to Matsumoto. The drive was boring because the speed limits are so slow and amazingly everyone sticks close to the speed limit. But, at least it gave us time to enjoy the scenery, which is truly beautiful. It’s a combination of Switzerland and New Zealand. Everything is so green and forested.
In Matsumoto we easily found the hotel (sat nav in the car which navigates using the phone number is great). Although parking was a little more difficult. The hotel only had a row of 6 parking berths, but they are on a machine which moves cars around, storing them on the next level up or a level below. Getting into the parking bay was tricky, it was only an inch or so wider than the car!
After the fun of parking we walked into town. Our hotel was behind the train station (looking over the station from the 11th floor) and on the other side was the centre of town. By the time we’d walked to the train station, which takes about 2 minutes it had already started raining. It seems we hadn’t learnt the lesson of earlier because yet again we hadn’t brought an umbrella. Luckily, it was not to heavy and we found a CoCo Curry restaurant which serves nice food at a reasonable price. We ate our usual meal there and then went for a wander around town.
Earlier that day I had been reading about the top things to do and experience in Japan and a game called Pachinko. It’s basically a mix between pinball and a slot machine. Almost no skill is required, it’s mostly luck. It is huge in Japan! I had just finished describing this to Annemarie when we saw a huge sign lit up, it was for Pachinko. The coincidence was too great, we had to go and take a look. Inside was deafening. I’m not sure what with but it was mind numbingly loud! Rows upon rows of brightly coloured and lit up machines and a few guys sat in front of them, in silence, staring at the machines. We got someone to show us how to play and off we were. The game is pretty simple, a ball bearing is fired from the side and there’s a fall dial which controls thee power that the ball is fired at. If the ball falls in roughly the right place it will bounce around a lot and maybe, just maybe, take a route through the machine to fall down the hole which wins you more balls. Balls are then converted for prizes. Prizes are usually then converted elsewhere for cash (gambling for cash is illegal in Japan). It’s almost all luck and I seemed to have none. The reason for the loudness was the machines, they flash a lot of bright lights and play a video in the middle. The video is of a teen pop band of all girls, screeching away but wearing very bright and very small clothes. I’m not sure if it’s there to distract users or entertain them. For me the noise was so ear piercingly loud and high pitched it just made my brain freeze. We weren’t very impressed, but judging by the amount of ball bearings the other guys had (a stack of boxes of the balls) they clearly spent a lot of time on these places and enjoyed them. We quickly left.
Further down the road I found a barbers shop which offers hair cuts for ¥1,500 (£8.70). This is half the price of everywhere else we’d asked in and the closest to a price I was willing to pay. It was only a minute or so walk from the train station and about 4 minutes from the hotel, I’d definately visit the next morning. Then it was back to hotel to plan the itinerary for the next day.
Posted from Nakaniikawa District, Toyama Prefecture, Japan.