Matsumoto is surrounded by mountains. Hiking and climbing locations in the mountains can be reached by local bus transportation. Matsumoto has several historic features, but it is most known for the Matsumoto Castle (松本城, Matsumoto-jo). Apart from the castle, Matsumoto is known for its soba. Like many cities in Japan, the center of Matsumoto has a very modern look with McDonalds, and other big companies all around the station area. Buried in these modernisms there are many small temples and local restaurants and hotels.
We arrived in Matsumoto by bus, after traveling from Takayama, and through the Japanese Alps. From the Matsumoto station we took a small stroll to the city center. Following the leads given by our Lonely Planet, we tried to find a specific soba restaurant that supposedly was one of the best in Matsomoto. We searched for about half an hour, before we found it by extrapolating the house-numbers from nearby houses.
It took so us such a long time because in Japan restaurants look closed from the outside (see picture). It took us several more days to figure out that the banners over the doors were indicating that the restaurant is open. After trying to translate the menu, we just took the second most expensive (which generally turned out to be a good choice). Indeed the soba was very nice, and very subtle of taste.
Next, we headed for the Matsumoto castle. On the way we stopped at the Four Pillar Shrine.
A short walk led us to the Matsumoto castle. On a big rather open space just outside of the center of Matsumoto is located this historic castle, one of the few that are not reconstructed. Also, one of the four castles in Japan listed as national treasures. Surrounded by several moats that helped defending the castle, the dark castle is quite astonishing against the light skies.
One of these donjons was open on three sides, and particularly vulnerable to attacks; it was used for moon viewing. It was built in an era that the great battles were over. The main donjon has seven floors, the ceilings are low, and the stairs are at times very steep. The castle has a nice exhibition of armor and weapons (swords and guns, that were used at the time to defend the castle). On the highest floors, one has a nice view over the city. When exiting the castle we crossed the moat over the red bridge, which contrasts nicely with the dark castle. We entered a cherry garden and saw that here most trees carried fresh, still-closed cherry blossoms. We slowly got addicted to finding nice shots of cherry blossom, just as the Japanese are so excited about these spring gifts.