Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weekend Trip to Matsumoto, Nagano

Every year, the third grade students at the junior high school I teach at go on a school trip to Nagano. Every year, they come back and write diaries in English about all the delicious food they ate, as well as the beautiful sights they saw.  Then, they end their diary entries with “Have you ever been to Nagano?  Please visit Nagano!”

Every year, I settled for just getting souvenirs from the teachers and students that went.  But not this year. This year, I can finally say that I have visited Nagano.

My brother and I decided to go to Nagano this past weekend! We spent the night in Tokyo on Friday, and left to catch the 8:30 a.m. bullet train from Shinjuku Station on Saturday. He had his JR Pass, which provides unlimited use of the JR trains across the country for foreigners visiting Japan.  However, I had to buy a ticket for the Shinkansen, or bullet train.  I got the unreserved ticket, which cost 6,380 yen one-way from Shinjuku to Matsumoto station.  We were worried that we wouldn’t get seats on the train, but we were very fortunate that the train started from Shinjuku, so we were able to find seats pretty easily.

After about 3 hours on the train, we finally arrived at Matsumoto Station!
Matsumoto Station
We decided to go to the hotel we reserved online after we arrived so that we wouldn’t have to carry our things with us around the city.  We stayed at Hotel Ote (ホテル大手), which was about a 5 minute walk away from Matsumoto Station.  The room itself was pretty small, but it was pretty cheap and the location was convenient.  It was right across the street from a 7-11, so it made getting breakfast each morning nice and easy hahaha.
View from the door
Twin beds

After dropping off our luggage we went off to find a place where we could eat lunch.  We decided on a Japanese soba restaurant called Soba Kurabu Sasaki (蕎麦倶楽部佐々木), which was a 15 minute walk from Matsumoto Station.  My brother got the Mori Soba, the restaurant’s recommendation.  I got the Kamotsuke Soba, cold soba served with a hot duck meat soup.  Our sobas were delicious, and the people who worked at the restaurant were extremely nice and helpful. For anyone who wants to try Matsumoto Soba, I strongly recommend this restaurant!  (English menu provided, staff also speaks very good English) (Mori Soba- 1,000 yen; Kamotsuke Soba- 1,500 yen)
Kamotsuke Soba from Soba Kurabu Sasaki
Now that we had eaten, we were ready to explore Matsumoto City!  The waitress at the soba restaurant gave us a map and directions to Matsumoto Castle, so we headed there first.  From the restaurant it was about a 10 minute walk (from the station it’s about 15).  The fee to get into the castle was 610 yen.  The views from the castle were spectacular, and I really enjoyed seeing the gun collection inside the castle.  There were 6 floors which tourists could go to, but the staircases in the castle got very crowded.  The staircase from the 5th to the 6th floor were not only crowded, but the steps were very high!  There was an old man who almost slipped going down the stairs just as I was about to go up. Luckily there was a rail so he managed to not fall down, but it was still pretty scary.  I was pretty worried about falling as well.
Matsumoto Castle

Part of the artillery collection inside Matsumoto Castle

View of the castle grounds from the Moon Viewing Room of Matsumoto Castle
Once we left the castle, we went to the museum that was right in front of Matsumoto Castle.  The 610 yen admission fee that we had paid for the castle also included admission to the museum.  The museum had a lot of interesting things showing the history of Matsumoto, as well as yearly events that occur.  I really liked the treasure ship with the seven dolls. 
Treasure Ship

It was still pretty early, so we decided to visit the Former Kaichi Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Japan.  I wasn’t expecting it to look so nice on the outside, but I was surprised to see that it looked a lot newer than the elementary schools that I teach at hahaha. 
Former Kaichi Primary School, the oldest elementary school in Japan
Afterwards, we made our way back to Nawate Street to look around and to buy a taiyaki!  One of my teachers recommended eating taiyaki from Furusato.  I got the anko (sweet bean paste) taiyaki which cost about 150 yen.  It was good, but really filling.
Anko (sweet bean paste) Taiyaki

For dinner, we decided to eat another one of Matsumoto’s famous dishes, sanzoku-yaki, or fried chicken.  We went to Hyakurotei (百老亭), which was about a 10 minute walk from Matsumoto Station.  We got the sanzoku-yaki and rice set, which was about 1,100 yen.  There was way too much food for me though, so I ended up giving half of my chicken to my brother.  The chicken was good, but the portion size was too much for me.  If you decide to go here, I would recommend that you get the rice set if you like to eat a lot of food.
We had both eaten a lot of food that day, so we decided to walk to the other side of the city that we hadn’t been to yet.  As I was walking through Matsumoto City, I felt that it was the perfect combination of both traditional and modern.  My brother and I had spent most of the day in the traditional part of the city, but the other half of the city had department stores and other big buildings.  Tourists can enjoy seeing temples and castles during the day, and end the day with a couple drinks at one of the many bars that are in Matsumoto.  However, instead of going to a bar, my brother and I decided to end our first day with a creampuff from Masamura.
Masamura, view from outside

Inside Masamura

Cream puff from Masamura
There were many kinds of creampuffs to choose from, but we decided to get a normal creampuff with whipped cream filling (216 yen).  My brother said that it was the best creampuff that he had ever had in his life.  I thought that it was pretty delicious too.  It was definitely the best way to end our first night in Nagano.


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