As I had a ‘rest day’ in Matsumoto, I was in no hurry in the morning. The rain radar told me that the rain would disappear in the course of the morning. And indeed, when I stepped out of my conveniently cooled hotel, sun was shining which pushed humidity to some felt 110 %. I had a good idea in that moment. Why walking to the Matsumoto Castle when there was a taxi in front of the hotel? So I had an entertaining ride through the city with a communicative taxi driver. At least I would be bathed in my own sweat some time later and not immediately.
Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s premier historic castles. The building is also known as the “Crow Castle” due to its black exterior. The keep, which was completed in the late sixteenth century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is the oldest wooden castle of Japan and listed as a National Treasure of Japan.
Together with many other visitors, I queued to climb the steep wooden stairs. Many instructors surveilled this actions so that nobody did anything stupid. The preparations to defend the castle were very thought through, when looking at a wooden castle I wonder why nobody would set fire to it. Was this considered unsportsmanlike?
It is a well-preserved castle but in contrast to European medieval castles, rarely anybody seemed to live there, I seems it had more a purely defensive role. It was getting hot now and I walked back to the hotel through some back roads of central Matsumoto. At the wine festival I tried a Japanese Sauvignon Blanc and was a bit under-impressed.
In the hotel, I checked my options for the afternoon. It seemed that the weather would remain stable. There was a sculpture park called the Utsukushi-ga-hara Open-Air Museum on the top of a mountain that was 30 km away. Sounds interesting, let’s go!
When I was climbing up the mountains east to Matsumoto, I noticed two things:
This is not a surprise per se, as clouds tend to gather in mountains, especially at high altitude and carburettor-driven combustion engines lack oxygen in higher altitudes. It was remarkable that this started already at the bottom of the mountain. This points to a totally dirty air filter that really needs to be exchanged. However, from today on, I will go down to sea level and the remaining 650 km can be handled by the bike. Despite the low weight without all the luggage, I went very slow. Finally I reached the top of the mountain at a 1959 m altitude, the highest point of the whole trip. And there the clouds were pushed away partly like a curtain. What a view on the valley. The views are surely spectacular in good weather, but this was impressive. I parked my bike at the big museum entry/restaurant/souvenir shop complex, paid my ticket and walked for about one hour between 350 sculptures in a fantastic landscape. I let the pictures speak for themselves. Slowly, clods rolled in and the curtain was closing again. I bought a snack and started my descent. When I was standing at a junction reflecting if I should go the same way back or take another route, a Japanese biker in Jeans on a SR500 talked to me. He suggested going the same way back. One kilometre later, I knew already this was a bad decision. It started to pour down as I was at the backside of the mountain. Too late to put on the rain suit. Patience. I noticed that my back tyre slipped a lot and I went extremely careful. At the next junction (it was pouring down massively), the SR rider asked me if the XBR was losing petrol. The colourful puddle below my bike said yes. Aaargh. Bloody carb. It does not happen often, but it does.
After some long 15 km, the rain stopped and it got warm again. Yet I was totally soaked on the exterior, this would enrich the flavour of my hotel room again.
I noticed that there were vineyards right and left to the road. The funny detail was: it was cultivated in the Pergel technique like it is traditionally used in Southern Tyrol. I looked it up and actually this system is called Tanazukuri in Japan.
In the hotel, I made some plans for the following days – I will go to Tokyo tomorrow where I will stay two nights. Another night close to Mount Fuji and then I will approach Nagoya where I will drop off the XBR.
I had selected a Yakitori restaurant tonight, however it was closed. I needed to improvise. There were a number of interesting bars with Japanese bar food, but without a menu in picture or English, I would be a bit lost. Well, anything can be arranged. I found finally a bar with an interesting menu:
The mackerel was quite good, the skewers however….I needed something else. Next door was the wine festival were I purchased a Merlot and some Gyoza that were quite good.
Tomorrow I will leave rural Japan and enter the Moloch called Tokyo. As I said earlier, I’m not a big city guy, but leaving it out completely would be a pity.