THIS THING ON? Whoops, got a little too close to the mic, heh. Been a little while since I've been on the stage here. Please forgive me. Apparently a little place known as "Florida" has been getting all the gigs lately, while my washed-up and amateur routine has been temporarily shelved. But through a fortunate break in the action (begging and pleading), I've gotten a chance to resume the photobarfs from my epic 2 weeks in Japan back in November.
Last time, my brother and I had just finished our last night in the Tokyo area. The next morning we got up at 5am, had some emotional good-byes with Masa and Asuka. Well, as emotional as 4 people working on 4 hours of sleep can be first thing in the morning, at least, which was more like some half-dazed hugs with squinted eyes and difficulty finding the floor with each step.
We headed to the station and began our trek northwest towards a city called Matsumoto, where one of the 3 most well-known Japanese castles has been preserved. One of the other 3 is covered in scaffolding until 2014-ish, and the third is way past the furthest west that we went in the whole trip, so Matsumoto made the most sense since it was "on the way" west. Due to the layout of the shinkansen, it is actually faster to get there by overshooting Matsumoto northward to Nagano, the former site of the Winter Olympics, then taking an "express" train back down for the last 40 minutes or so.
After some generally overcast days sprinkled with some fairly good weather in Tokyo, we were looking forward to Matsumoto, which is officially one of the sunniest cities in Japan - perfect backdrop for a big hulking black castle.
And of course, the only reason any nerdy American goes to visit a Japanese castle. Samurai. The ultimate killing machines.
On the ride over, we had our first chance to see the true Japanese countryside whiz by, after spending the first several days almost exclusively in the Tokyo metro area.
Once you hit Matsumoto, at first glance it appears to be like any other metropolitan area of Japan. Say, are those umbrellas in the sunniest city in Japan?
Since Micky D's is supposedly way better in Japan, we decided to cross that threshold for the first time in Matsumoto. The restaurants are very clean, the food portion sizes are smaller yet more "gourmet" (my chicken carbonara sandwich had a fried egg, a cream sauce, bacon, and mozzarella), and service is top-notch, also evidenced by the fact that the smiling faces from the employees of that particular McDonald's are staring up at you from your tray.
An old castle canal most of the way from the station to the castle. Say, those look like raindrops in the water in the canal of the sunniest city of Japan.
Same canal, showing what appears to be some kind of ninja rabbit or something. Usagi Yojimbo, is that you?!
Oh, false alarm. Just an orgy of ninja frogs.
Colorful koi and fall leaves in the "moat" around the castle grounds (almost there!). And some strange circular patterns in the water. Must be due to the high amount of sun exposure in Matsumoto...
Dun-dun-duuuunnnn! The castle! Every bit as impressive as you'd expect, and then some. As always, pictures just can't do justice for the actual effect of massive and impressive things looming over you.
Between Matsumoto being known as the "Crow Castle" (due to being almost entirely black) and these swans paddling around in the moat, you've covered two of the meanest and biggest bullies in the bird family in this one picture.
Oh, I freaking give up. Who am I kidding? It rained the entire day in the sunniest city of Japan, ok?!
At least the rain made for some pretty settings like this by knocking off the leaves that were still barely hanging on for dear life.
One of many flights of stairs that eventually led to the top. The average Japanese samurai was 5'3". I'm 5'7". These steps felt like they'd be steep for someone 6'5". Those samurai must have had some serious quad muscles.
Part of a typical floor, with supports out the wazoo due to having to bear the weight of several more floors higher up.
Bullets. Whatever. We have those back home. Where are the samurai?! Those bushido warriors?! Those badass soldiers who deflected bullets with their swords like Luke Skywalker deflected laser beams?! Those warriors who make Chuck Norris take one look at them and run away screaming?!
A sketch of an old gun-wielding samurai?? I can't take the torture anymore!
YES!!!!! My life is complete.
View of the entry bridge and part of the sunni... rainiest city in Japan.
Other side of the castle, towards the courtyard.
What would any Japan post be without a sampling of amusing signs?
I probably took pictures of the castle from 20 different angles, but here's another one from the courtyard.
Unique building on the way back to the station that was completely smothered with vines in full koyo mode.
From there we immediately hopped onto another train towards Kiso Valley, which was probably my favorite experience of the entire trip. Be on the lookout for a multi-post smorgasbord of pictures from that incredible and ancient region of Japan!