Matsumoto Castle

Today was promised to be the last "clear" day (the sky was sort of a non-descript grey all day) before several rainy ones so I finished practicing a little early this afternoon and walked about 20 minutes to Matsumoto Castle, one of the oldest and best preserved castles in Japan and considered a national treasure. (Incidentally the outermost moat for the castle still exists and Mr. Takahashi pointed it out when we drove to get soba noodles - it's located quite far from the castle itself) The grounds were of course beautiful. I was slightly heartened to realize that Japanese tourists tend to be just as clueless when they're in Japan as when they're in America ;)

Upon entering the castle we were handed plastic bags and asked to carry our shoes in them (word to the wise - if you plan on visiting, wear socks! I was glad I did) The first steeps up were extremely tall and I had trouble hoisting myself up them; little did I realize this was a sign of things to come. The floors were very wide-planked and rubbed smooth and yellow from the thousands of stockinged feet that tread upon them. It was quite obvious that this castle was built for defense almost exclusively, there were places to shoot guns or arrows from almost every floor (except the fourth floor which was shorter than the others and had no windows (it was a "secret floor") and no creature comforts, or rooms.

There were 6 floors in the main tower, and the staircases were not arranged in any Western fashion: they all had different steepnesses (50-61 degrees)and tread width and were generally not near one another. I would imagine that it would help slow invaders down, but it was tough to feel like you could ever get used to them - a lot were really tall, even for me, and narrow. If I weren't so worried about falling flat on my face myself I would have found the images of people ungracefully ascending and descending these stairs with shoes in tow rather comical. What did give me pause was to see the high number of elderly and young couples with babies in tow willing to climb up 72 feet of these stairs. (I also liked the sign that said "Caution, very steeply)

If you manage to not bust your junk going up and down the stairs, you are rewarded with spectacular views of Matsumoto city and the surrounding mountains as well as the charming "Moon-viewing tower" which was built during a time of peace and was pretty much all windows.

Admission to the castle also bought you admission to Matsumoto City Museum. I liked the way it showed appliances in common use "only several decades ago" and included a rice cooker that was very obviously designed in the 1970s. The upper floor of the Museum had a decidedly underwhelming exhibit of watercolors and at least once another museum patron caught me grimacing at a particularly bad one as I sped through.