Matsumoto and Tsumago

Yesterday I caught the train from Nagano to Matsumoto, where I stayed overnight, before heading to Tsumago today.

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Matsumoto was a lovely town, albeit chilly. I checked into my hotel, and then walked up to Matsumoto castle, which was a pleasant 2km stroll. The main street looked almost European in the way it was set out with its shopfronts and restaurants. But branching off from the main street were shopping areas that did look decidedly Asian, selling handicrafts and food.

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Matsumoto castle itself was surrounded by a moat, which I walked around after I had been inside. I climbed quite steep stairs – wooden and very slippery – up five stories inside the castle. It was in a very good state of repair and there were enough English signs to give me a reasonable idea of what went on. As I walked around the moat, I snapped pictures of the blossoming cherry trees that lined the way.

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Today I caught the train to Nakatsugawa, then the bus into Magome, then hiked the Nakasendo Trail to Tsumago, one of six Samurai postal towns along the walk. The hike was a scenic 7.7kms, and the first third was quite steep, made much more palatable with the company of a David and Sana from Perth, who walked it with me. And then it was pretty much downhill from around the 3km mark.

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And it is a gorgeous walk (although the OTG guide book needs to revisit its definition of slight elevation!) through tiny, traditional Japanese villages and damp smelling pine forests, over foaming streams and treacherous footbridges and past terraced farms, their fields newly furrowed for planting. And cherry blossom. Lots and lots of cherry blossom. And apple. And peach.

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Tonight I’m staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and my room, believe it or not, is equipped with air conditioning and a TV*, as well as tatami mats, low table and cushions and a futon stashed away in a cupboard, which I’ll have to make up myself. There is a communal toilet and bathroom, so it will be interesting to see how things go in the morning (no pun intended). Dinner is served promptly at 6pm, and I shall don a kimono (yukata?) for the occasion.

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Logistically, I thought that this might be the hardest part of my trip, but really, the hardest part was finding my ryokan (English signage would be handy please, people!). And there are only a few transport options out of Tsumago to Nagiso station tomorrow, so I’ll be taking an early bus out.

Then, it’s onto Kyoto!

* I couldn’t get an English speaking channel – not even the news! – so I fired up my tablet, connected my hard drive and made my way through three more episodes of Sons of Anarchy. I was struck by how surreal this experience was actually – the blending of a very modern high-tech world with the traditional, centuries old one.

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