This morning we packed overnight bags and left our main luggage in the hotel baggage area then made our way from Shinjuku to Tokyo station to get our first bullet train. The Shinkansen looks like something from the space age and is equipped for your every need inside- so cool!!!
Our journey was to Nagano within the Japanese Alps. With all the hills and mountains throughout Japan it seems that any small area of flat land has been developed into towns with the mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.
The main pull of Nagano is it’s temple, Zenkoji. The outside is very similar to the previous temples/ shrines we have been to, although it was considerably less crowded than Sensoji, with the gates and then market street leading up to the main temple. Inside the main temple you can pay a small fee to go into the inner sanctuary and worshipper’s hall. The main distinguishing feature of this temple is the passageway under the altar. It is supposed to be the most Holy part of the temple with the “key to the pure land” on the wall along the way. The passage is pitch black which is quite disorientating, I often found myself walking into the man in front, but also an incredible experience.
As we had arrived quite early we decided to add Matsumoto to our itinerary to see the famous castle (one of Japan’s 4 national treasures). On the way to the castle we walked along Nawate street which had some small shops in what were once Samurai houses. There seemed to be some symbolism or significance in frogs along the way.
The castle is impressive with a main tower and two smaller towers. The view from across the moat is especially beautiful. For an admission price you can go inside the castle so for the second time today we had to take off our shoes (the first time was in the temple) and went in. This is not a castle as you would expect in Britain, the decoration is sparse to the point of non-existant. This allowed the Samurai to run around easily to protect the castle from attack. The staircases between the floors were very steep, on one set the steps were 40cm in depth.
We then had to start the journey back to Nagano and then onto our destination for the night, Yudanaka. By the time we arrived at our Ryokan Onsen (traditional Japanese lodging with a hot spring) it was late. We had technically missed the last sitting for dinner but as the kitchen was still open they catered for us.
The room was a traditional room with just a table and chairs in when we arrived. We had to leave our shoes at the door and when we walked around the hotel we were provided with slippers.
Our dinner was a traditional Japanese feast served in our own private room which looked a bit like a very smart horses stable. The good was plentiful is not always to our tastes. I was able to eat a lot of it but couldn’t manage the mushrooms or the pickled brains, I really enjoyed the pork cooked in broth and sashimi though.
Arriving back in our room someone had been in and pushed the table out of the way and in its place were 2 futons fully made up and ready for us to collapse into for a very relaxed and undisturbed sleep.