A cold morning, and getting colder, with a chill wind blowing. The michi no eki ‘Alps Azumino Horiganenosato’ is busy with elderly people from small trucks delivering vegetables. Customers, buying large amounts, crowd the shop. There are signs requesting that people don’t buy too much of any one item, only 3 bunches of spinach, for example.
We set off for Matsumoto castle and park in the city parking. Then go to the bank, which somehow gives us a discount on the parking.
The castle is interesting as castles go. It is at least original, not a concrete replica so, you can see how it was constructed. It is also the oldest castle remaining in Japan. The enormous beams holding the place together are a wonder in themselves and the staircases from one floor to the next are very steep indeed. As a fortification though, it has none of the awesome heights of Oka castle remains in Taketa, Oita prefecture.
The castle houses a collection of early firearms, the introduction of which predate its construction in 1582. The whole mystique surrounding swords in Japan does not really correspond to the reality of Japanese warfare. Perhaps in the way the OK Corral does not correspond to the American Civil War.
＊Matsumoto castle ; 610 yen /adult
Way to Takayama
After the castle, we find a supermarket and stock up on supplies. We are heading out into the mountains towards Hirayu and Kamikouchi. The rooftop car park of the Aeon supermarket, which provides a good view of the surrounding mountains, is our unlikely place to have lunch. We are not alone in this choice. Occasionally, the clouds lift a little and we can glimpse the peaks for the first time.
We leave Matsumoto and its traffic and head for Takayama. This drive involves a lot of tunnels and, at one point, we take a stretch of highway to bypass Takayama. As we take the slip road to join the highway, a car is stopped and the young woman driving is looking very perplexed. Clearly she doesn’t want to get on the highway but, in her position, has no choice. We navigate passed her and, suddenly, our navi instructs us to U- turn. Perhaps the girl was using Yahoo navi too which, is sometimes best ignored. Taking a walk around Hirayu trying to connect the geography of memory with reality, is, we find, not easy.
Michi no eki Sakura no Sato Shokawa
Sakura no Sato Shokawa, a michi no eki with an onsen is our destination for the night. We spot the usual michi no eki sign 1 km. ahead but when we get to the place the entrance is not clear and we go into the highway entrance by mistake but as we approach the toll gate there is a break in the carriageway separation cones so, we can slip through to gain the exit.
Back at the michi no eki, the onsen is very good. It has an interesting design, good water and a spacious, outside bath. They also provide towels, which is good for us as drying wet towels is becoming a problem as the weather gets colder. On that note, the forecast is C-6 degrees here tonight. I can feel the post onsen heat fading and a chill creeping in as I write.
＊Ouka no yu onsen ; 700 yen/adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.