On 15th May I spent a night in Matsumoto. Matsumoto (松本), in Nagano Prefecture (長野県), is somewhere that I had heard lots about but never been to, so I was keen to check it out and see what kind of city it was.
Unfortunately it was grey and starting to rain when I arrived, but after checking in to my hotel I didn’t let the weather stop me having a look round the town. It was getting late though, and things were starting to close. I did a little loop of the downtown area, but it was very quiet. I guess I didn’t see Matsumoto at its best, but I still quite liked what I saw.
Nawate-dori (なわて通り), a street running along the north bank of the river, caught my eye due to this large frog statue at the end of the street.
The street is full of small shops selling knick-knacks, antiques, and food, but unfortunately most shops were closed or closing when I got there around 5pm.
So I wandered down the street frog-spotting instead of shopping…
The street’s mascot is a frog. The Japanese word for frog is ‘kaeru’ (かえる) and this sounds the same as the word for ‘return’, ‘kaeru’ (帰る / かえる). It is thought that frogs are good at returning things, such as money, so I guess the statues are there to bring the shops good luck! They certainly made me want to return to Matsumoto someday!
I started wandering back towards my hotel and decided to stop by the castle first to see it as the light was fading. On the way, I found this curious book shop designed to look like the castle:
Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete original castles in Japan. It’s known as ‘Crow Castle’ due to its dark colouring, and I must say it was rather impressive!
In the morning I went back to see inside the castle. It was a glorious day – really bright and sunny – and the castle was looking stunning.
The castle, with the main castle keep and smaller second donjon built from 1592 to 1614, is set in lovely grounds.
Inside, with shoes off (of course) it’s possible to walk all around the castle, which is beautifully preserved. The ceilings are low and the steps are steep, and it’s hard to imagine how samurai warriors or ladies in kimonos might have moved through the building.
The top (6th) floor offers views across Matsumoto and beyond…
Of course, no visit to a Japanese castle would be complete without some wannabe warriors…
I’ve read quite a few samurai novels since I came back to England after living in Japan, and it was interesting to be back in Japan and to visit one of the original castles. I kept trying to imagine how it would have been all those years ago in the 1600s, but it’s hard to picture Japan of the past even when you’re surrounded by history.
I only spent a few brief hours in Matsumoto really, and I’m sure it has much more to offer than I have seen. Hopefully I’ll get to go back someday!