Saturday, January 27, 2007

Road Trip: Matsumoto or Bust!

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Matsumoto Castle, also known as the Black Crow for its black walls and roofs spread out like wings, is one of the four castles Japan has listed as a National Treasure. Construction of the castle, as it appears today, began in the 1580's. The Donjon, or keep, is the second oldest survivng castle structure in Japan, built in 1593. The stones that form the foundation were taken from nearby mountains and carefully piled up by crossing their longer and shorter sides. No mortar was used between the stones. This process is know as Nozura-sumi.

In a weak attempt to break our winter weekend routine (which consists of sitting directly in front of a heater or under a kotatsu)the world famous Profesora of Abbey in Ena fame and I decided to take a roadtrip up to Matsumoto Castle in neighboring Nagano. Unlike a previously attempted roadtrip in which we never actually arrived at our agreed upon destination (thanks to some outdated Japanese road signage and a Jurassic Park-like road barrier) we found our way through the beautiful, increasingly cold and snowy mountain scenery along the Gifu-Nagano border, sharing an Ipod and singing along to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Yui, WuTangClan, Bump Of Chicken, and Shakira.

Home-made roadtrip-commemorative purikkura!

Nestled in the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, Matsumoto castle would have a stunning backdrop if not for all the cell phone towers, pachinko parlors and concrete that seem to have it under seige. Although it's flat-land position seems strategically weak, whatever the "black crow" castle lacks in defensive strength, it makes up for in aesthetics: unique black walls, gracefully upturned roof tips, and a classically curved, crimson bridge leading over a reflective moat. It's hard to believe that shortly after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the new Japanese government was so desperate for cash that it decided to demolish the castle to sell any timber or iron fittings they could salvage as scrap. Sadly, many other castles met this fate, being too high maintenance with no modern military value. Luckily, a local buisnessman named Ichikawa Ryozo rescued Matsumoto Castle, helping local citizens to purchased the castle in 1878.

Who is that hooded slurper? What excellent chopstick form!

After struggling to survive the climb up and the steep, irregularly spaced stairs in dangerously slippery, over-sized slippers, were rewarded with beautiful blue skies for a few post-soba slurpping pictures. Did I mention that there's an excellent soba shop convieniently located near the castle entrance? The kitsune soba is meccha umai (crazy good!), and the hot soba cha (tea) helped speed along the thawing process after nearly freezing in the frigid interior of the castle. You can read more about our little adventure at The World or Bust.

4 comments:

Abbey said...

Those photos look vaguely familiar...

I guess you beat me to posting about Matsumoto - a week later! Yeah, I'll get to it tomorrow.

Alyson said...

Matsumoto IS an awesome weekend adventure!

Also, just wanted to drop that, although I never made Japanese food in Japan, I sure do here! Last night's dinner? Kitsune soba. Can you feel the trans-Pacific bond?

Inge said...

I love that home-made purikurra! How exactly do you decorate the photo, by hand or with some flashy computer program? I'd like to try it out for myself :-).

Melissa said...

ALyson: I feel it girl. The deliciousness of soba transcends all cultural and spacial divides! (^-^)/

Inge!: Yay! I`m so glad someone out there can appreciate home-made puri- goodness. No flashy computer program necessary...Anything with a paintbrush will work! Im sure something like that came with your camera or computer, right? I look forward to seeing the fruits of your labor!