January 3, 2017

Before leaving for Japan, we purchased the JR Pass, otherwise known as the Japan Rail Pass, which allows you to take the shinkansen while in Japan and is only offered for foreigners. I purchased the seven-day pass for us and it really came in handy the last half of the trip, enabling us to visit some cities we hadn’t been to, and it even saved us some money on the subway in Tokyo since you can use it for all JR lines.

my coffee of the day for our shinkansen ride

The bullet train (or shinkansen) is actually one of the fastest trains in the world, with speeds up to 320 mph. Half the train seemed to be made up of cars with reserved seats and the other half had nonreserved seats, which definitely came in handy when we were running late a few times!

snack for the ride

So our first city to visit via shinkansen using our passes: Matsumoto! We love the castles in Japan, only seeing one castle on our last trip, so we planned on seeing more and that was our whole reason for visiting Matsumoto, for the gorgeous Matsumoto castle.

You actually can’t take the shinkansen directly to Matsumoto; it takes you to Nagano and from there you transfer onto a local train for Matsumoto. The journey via bullet train was so incredibly smooth and fast, and I couldn’t peal my eyes away from the view outside the window. We were even able to get a beautiful view of Fuji-san when leaving Tokyo, thanks to such clear weather again.

Closer to Matsumoto, we started going through the mountains and got wonderful views of snow from the train!! Unfortunately when we arrived in Matsumoto itself, there was hardly any snow to be found except some small patches here and there, and some left over on the rooftops.

Once getting off the train in Matsumoto, we were actually able to walk to the castle from the station. Matsumoto isn’t as big as Tokyo and the park with the castle wasn’t too far away, plus this allowed us to really explore this new city. It’s the second largest city in Nagano prefecture and surround by mountains on all sides.

We strolled down Nawate-dori, not too far from the castle, spotting more people visiting shrines and picking up some taiyaki to munch on while we journeyed closer to the castle grounds. We actually didn’t know we were on this famous street at the time, we just stumbled upon it; it’s a popular place and hard to miss, thanks to the large statue of a frog.

Finally at the Matsumoto grounds! The moment we spied the castle, we freaked out in excitement.

Matsumoto castle, nicknamed Crow Castle for it’s striking color. It’s Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of the few originals, something I value in extreme; it’s terribly sad to learn some structures around Japan are no longer original due to the war and other tragedies. Matsumoto castle is also one of the few castles built on plains rather than a hill or mountain.

our tickets to tour inside the castle

You have to take off your shoes to enter the castle, carrying them with you in a plastic bag which you return upon leaving the castle. My feet were only in thin stockings and they were like ice cubes by the end of the tour, it was so cold inside! The stairs leading up and down to connecting floors were almost considered ladders, they were so steep.

 After the tour, we went around to the other side of the grounds to see the gorgeous red bridge that connects to the castle. Unfortunately, you can’t walk on it, so we took lots of pictures of it instead!

We tried to visit a former samuari home, but it was closed for the New Year still. We stopped by this surprisingly empty shrine on our walk back towards the castle and station.

Another place that was closed, Delhi curry, so we entered another place right next door that was open, and we got curry!

And of course, we couldn’t resist stopping by a 7-Eleven on the way to the station, where I ended up FINALLY finding the Starbucks matcha latte that I love so much. Took me long enough; it was everywhere during the summer.

We also passed by the cutest little book store that I regret not going into.

Back in Tokyo, I suggested we get Ichiran ramen for dinner, a ramen restaurant recommended to me by one of my bosses, who went to Japan a month before my first visit to Japan. There was a bit of a wait, but it was totally worth it. They literally have one thing on the menu and that’s ramen; you can add what ever you like to it, which will obviously increase the price. I kept it simple though, just ordering the offered dish.

Highlight of the Day
  • first shinkansen ride
  • Matsumoto Castle

Favorite Food of the Day
  • Ichiran ramen

Favorite Snack of the Day
  • N/A

Favorite Drink of the Day
  • Starbucks Matcha Latte

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