Sunday, October 16, 2011

Free Parking Near Matsumoto Station

Just north of Matsumoto station, on the east side (the street just south of Super Hotel Matsumoto Ekimae) is free parking.

Quick Update (June 2012), I visited Matsumoto again:
Turns out this area is not free parking.  The sing over the no 'no! parking' sign explains that this is parking for bikes but does not explain what that car is doing back there.


Matsumoto is about 2 hours north of Nagoya by JR train.  I was lucky to visit Matsumoto during a large city wide festival, although I had to leave for Nagoya before the closing ceremony.
My goal was to see the Matsumoto castle, but as I was walking there from the station I came upon an old school 'car' show.  There was 17 of these Japanese style festival cars along the street leading up to the castle.
From my experience in Nagoya, these cars roll around making music and noise.  Below are two of the drums used to make the music, but no one was playing today.
 Everything is very detailed, you can see the carving on the end of the handle.
Group of old men looking over each display.
From the main road, you enter the park and castle area from behind the castle.  It's a really nice park made even better with nice weather.
There were 100's of kids and parents enjoying the park and drawing the castle from different locations in the park.
 View of the back of the castle from across the moat.
 Here is a view of the castle from inside the castle grounds.  There is some renovation going on, you can see it on the lower right, that white plastic.
 This is from inside the castle looking out over the castle grounds.
 I'm not sure how useful a moat is when you build a bridge over it.
 Another view looking over the castle ground from the 6th floor, top level.
Matsumoto has the most aggressive staircase that I have found so far, it is the most difficult to walk up.  Parts of the stairs have people traveling in both directions, making for some confusion.  And you have to walk in your socks, carrying your shoes in a plastic bag.
You can see the steps below, kind of hard core.
 Me infront of the castle.
 Yep, if I was going to invade the castle, I would start by crossing the bridge over the moat.
Here are some examples of drawings made of the castle.
Below is another drawing.  Matsumoto, Kumamoto and Himeji are considered, by Wikipedia, the three premier castle in Japan, now I have been to all three!!!
If you visit Matsumoto, I would recommend this tayaki place.  Taiyaki is Japanese fish-shapped cake, typically with red bean inside (just shape like fish, not made with fish).  Taiyaki link here.


The second 'long distance' trip I took this summer was to Yudnaka and Matsumoto.  To get here I took the train JR Chuo line from Nagoya to Nagano, transfering to a non-JR rail to get to Yudanaka and back to Nagano before traveling to Matsumoto and back to Nagoya using JR.  You can also get to Nagano using the bullet train from Tokyo.
The Nagano Electric Railway is under Nagano station (JR is above  ground), the train on the left travels to Yudanaka, which is famous for Japanese snow monkeys hanging out in the mountain's and taking baths.
Once you get off the train in Yudanaka, this is the arch way that greats you to Yudanaka Onsen, but don't worry if you can't read it.  The volunteers from the English conversation class of Yamanouchi Town has made information flyers for reference on how to get to everything.  I got the impression that one of the volunteers was actually the mayor of Yamanouchi.
In addition to the English material you can get at the station, there is also signs through out Yudanaka that help you get around.
 This is the lantern over the river near Shibu Onsen.
This area of Japan is full of natural hot springs, you can see steam and hot water naturally rising to the surface all over Shibu Onsen.
A friend biked up from Utsunomiya, about a 7 hour trip.
The monkey park is just outside of town, you can walk or take a taxi there from Yudanaka station.  Walking takes about 1.5 hours, but it's a nice mountain trail.  
When you see photos of the monkey park, you get the impression that it is really large.  But in fact, it's really small, I was expecting a long hike to go from the ticket booth to the monkey hot spring area.  But it was only about 10 minutes.
 The groups of Japanese monkeys have a boss and each monkey respects each other and the boss.
Sometimes the monkeys are bad, they do things like not sharing food.  When this happens, the monkey has to go be away from the group and as a result becomes sad.
Don't mess with the monkeys.
 The bath is more full in the winter, it's still a little warm outside. The water is just over 100F.
Mostly, the monkeys just seem to eat and check each other for bugs and stuff in the fur.  At night, the monkeys return to the forest to sleep.
Bottom line, sign inside the Shimaya Hotel (you can ask the Yudanaka station hotel information desk to book a room for you):

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Utsunomiya, a city north of Tokyo is famous for Gyoza and just southwest of the main exit of the station (near bus stop 6) is my favorite gyoza shop.  I'm reluctant to say it's the best because I have only been to a few of the 100's of shops in Utsunomiya. 
If you happen to be in Japan and near Tokyo or Ueno station with a JR rail pass, it's really easy to hop on a bullet train and within 45 minutes be standing at the door of this shop.  The menu is below, like most shops, it's simple with about 4 or 5 items.  It's not really important to be able to read this too, because the people around you have all ready ordered everything on the menu and they can help you.
Below is the yaki-gyoza and beer.  What you can't see in the photo, this shop is special for serving mayonnaise with gyoza.  The other kind they serve is boiled gyoza.
Once you are here, it's really easy to travel on to Nikko.  The JR Nikko line starts at Utsunomiya station, it's 40 minutes to Nikko (famous for the three monkey carving for see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil).
He is preparing the stove for the next set of gyoza.  I'm not sure what the name of this shop is.

(Update: June 2012)
Another gyoza recommendation is a small shop called Masashi, about a 15 minute walk from Utsunomiya station.
It open at noon, so if you so up at 11:30 you have to wait for a while.
By 12:10pm the first round of people are all ready seated and a line is outside waiting to get in.
They only serve two things, fired gyoza and soup gyoza... no beer!  Above is two orders of fried gyoza, cost is 440yen.  It can be hard to fine, here is a link to google map.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Just east of Nagasaki is the city of Kumamoto, the capital city of Kyushu.  The main attraction in Kumamoto is the castle.
I arrived at the castle when it would normally be closing, but this was a summer time Friday and the castle had special evening hours, assuming I could find the correct entrance (2 of 3 were closed with no helpful English to let you know one was open)
Below is a view from the base of one of the turrets from the first locked gate that I walked up too.
 Once of found the open gate, this was the view of the same turret seen from inside... Yes, I breached fortified castle by passing 500 yen coin to the ticket person.
 This is the side of the main building, seen from the walking path from the ticket booth to the entrance.
 Below is a view from the front, there is another smaller castle building to my left.
The castle complex has been under renovation from 1998 through 2008, I was lucky to visit without renovation equipment everywhere.  Below is the results of the renovation, beautiful tatami rooms that you can't go into.
 Japanese art everywhere, photos are okay as long as you don't use a flash.
One part of the renovated are was for live performances, I was really lucky that I showed up on a day and time when there was a live performance.
No cover and these two put on a really good show.  The koto player (wooden Japanese instrument) has a website, maybe she tours. She has a myspace page too, I did not think she was on myspace as I watched the show.
You can see all the people watching, I think I was the only foreign person there.  If you go to a show like this, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE!  The old guy in the blue shirt, his phone went off during the show, the ring was louder than the music being played.  Everyone in the room turned around, gave him the evil eye, the music inadvertently stopped.  Under the pressure, he could not turn it off, as you can see, his wife is no longer sitting next to him.
 Above, everyone has their shoes in plastic bags.  Below is a model of the castle's internal structure.  This was used during a reconstruction in the 1960's.
 This is the view from inside the castle top floor.  It's difficult to look outside at night because of large lights pointed back at the castle.
 I noticed this sign as I exit the castle, the Kumamoto Marathon, February 19th....
 Below is inside an old dojo, built in the 1950's.
 This is the main shrine in Kumamoto city, it's quiet today, but on New Years day everyone comes here.
I'm not sure what is going on, but I guess it's best not to mess around in Japan, especially at the intersection of  Sakae St. and Ginza in Kumamoto.  You can't see through the wall of police, but they are confronting one person.  That's 8 or 10 police addressing one issue, must be difficult to talk your way out of this.
Below is Yama-chan's restaurant. This one must be lost, this is a Nagoya special.