Resuming the Journey...

Well I had every intention of blogging regularly throughout our vacation. But it was vacation, so what happens to good intentions, like eating healthy food and not giving into impulse buying? Yeah, exactly.

But back to Japan!

I know in my last post, I left with a tantalizing mention of snowboarding on Christmas - and snowboard we did. The snow came down, the air was cold, and Andrew thoroughly enjoyed himself. However, I am still a very amateur snowboarder, and I didn't get into the swing of things until the last two days. However, "no pain, no gain", and with all the pain I experienced falling and crashing with my feet strapped to a plastic board on slick snow, I'm glad to report there was gained experience.

But we'll get back to snowboarding in the next post. After a few days of boarding, we took a day trip to a nearby town called Mastumoto. It was an hour and a half train ride south of Hakuba, going right through a valley with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

Mountains near Nagano, Hakuba, Matsumoto Japan
Mountains near Nagano, Hakuba, Matsumoto Japan

They don't call the Hakuba region "The Japanese Alps" for nothing

Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Matsumoto Castle, Japan

The main attraction in Matsumoto is a samurai castle built in the 1600's. It's surrounded by a wide moat, gardens, and views of the snowy peaks to the north. We were fortunate to have a (relatively) warm, sunny day to explore the castle grounds. Matsumoto is a large town of over 200,000 people, yet remains an easily walkable, attractive city. The castle is set in the middle of town, and we walked there from the train station.

Matsumoto Samurai Castle, Japan
Matsumoto Samurai Castle, Japan

Inside the castle, visitors followed a set route through the levels of the castle. The woodwork is original, and the inside was austere - certainly more than the European castle setting that most of us picture with the word 'castle'.

Samurai armor, inside Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Samurai armor, inside Matsumoto Castle, Japan

The castle also had displays of samurai artifacts throughout the centuries, including knives, guns, money, drawings, and of course, samurai armor.

Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Matsumoto Castle, Japan

While in Matsumoto, we enjoyed a regional specialty -

soba

, or buckwheat noodles. We were quite hungry by the time we arrived in town, and while walking the streets, Andrew noticed a sign in Japanese advertising a lunch special for 880 yen - about 11 dollars, which is quite a bargain in pricey Japan. Andrew could read just enough of the characters to tell it was for different soba dishes. We went inside, where fortunately they had English menus. After ordering, I noticed the sound of slurping throughout the restaurant, from the suited businessmen to the elderly couple sitting next to us. Everyone was slurping their noodles! When our food arrived, I suggested to Andrew we do the same, so we slurped away. I could hardly keep from giggling at doing something that is so culturally

wrong

 in America, yet so right here. Another special treat was the grilled eel that came with the meal. I had the raw version in sushi, and I was happy to try the grilled version, with a crispy succulent skin on the outside and tender meat inside.

Eating udon noodles in Matsumoto, Japan
Eating udon noodles in Matsumoto, Japan
Matsumoto Japan
Matsumoto Japan

A mix of the old & new

After a long day of walking, we headed back to the train station and rode our way to Hakuba. Andrew took the opportunity to catch up on some Kindle reading (our indispensable travel companion) while we watched the sun set behind the mountains, the train slowly weaving its way back to our warm bed among the snowy trees.