AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Matsumoto Castle & Utsukushigahara

Matsumoto Castle & Utsukushigahara


Posted on Jul 17, 2014

This was our fourth day in the Japanese Alps. Yesterday, we had driven from Kanazawa to Kurobe Dam and then to Matsumoto. Today, the plan was to visit Matsumoto castle and then to go to the Utsukushigahara highlands for a walk, or if it rained (as it often does) then we would drive on the mountain passes. First, Andrew had his hair cut. He nearly got a number 1 all over as the clipper blades here are in milometres and not as we are used to, grades of clippers. When the hairdresser started shaving with a 3 blade, Andrew quickly discovered it meant 3mm and not a number 3 blade like we had at home. Luckily the hairdresser has only done the front side of his hair and managed to rectify it. Matsumoto Castle was only a kilometre from our hotel. We walked there after the haircutting incident. The castle is sat on a flat area of land partly surrounded by a moat, filled with water. Originally there were three moats, one that surrounded the city, another moat around the whole of the castle and one around the keep. The water was handy to try and prevent attackers but also to help put out a fire. All Japanese castles are made of wood and many have been burnt down. Even the castles that exist today generally have a history that involves a fire (and burning down) at some point. Matsumoto castle is different to other castles we have visited. Instead of the bright white outer shell of many Japanese castles, this one is black and as a result gained the nickname ‘the crow’s castle’. It is 6 stories high but from the outside appears to be only five, there is a secret floor. Another difference is the fact it is built on the flat rather than on a hill. The castle is Japan’s oldest, with construction starting in 1593 and completed in 1614. In 1635, in a time of peace, a turret was added to the original structure. This turret was built for moon viewing and has a vermilion veranda to help accomplish this. Inside the castle you can see the huge beams required to construct a castle of this size. As you wander around, small holes appear in the wall. Like British castles these were for shooting arrows at the enemies. Next to them are larger holes for shooting muskets. The castle also houses a gun collection with guns from the late 1500s. We also found the secret floor, which had no windows and was used to house weapons and gunpowder. We wandered through the castle taking the...

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Kanazawa to Matsumoto

Kanazawa to Matsumoto


Posted on Jul 16, 2014

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...

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