Part 2 – A castle, clocks, frogs and mountains

A Matsumoto frog – a symbol and mascot

Part 1 published January 8.

My travel trips would be shortchanged if I didn’t get out at dawn for early morning walks before breakfast. Above all else in a day, sunrise and the very early morning hours are my special time when I wander alone, exploring with my camera in hand. I love observing the world around me wake up to a new day. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a city, a small town or a wilderness area. It’s always rewarding and worth the effort.

Matsumoto, in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, is ideal for early walks and with only 48 hours in the city, squeezing in extra hours to explore was enough motive to get out of bed long before my travel companions.

In part 1 of this story, I told you about Matsumoto castle – reason alone to visit this old city. But there is so much more to this city than its famous ‘crow’ castle.

There are its famous frogs for a start! En route to the castle, you are likely to come across Nawate Street and the nearby Metoba River where you will see plenty of frogs. Not real ones, but frogs of every description and size. This street apparently has existed since the 1500’s, and today it is lined with shops and cafes. With the River close by, it apparently used to have lots of live frogs. But a typhoon in 1959 caused massive flooding in the area. The frogs left for higher ground, and apparently never returned. So artificial ones were introduced to bring back Nawate’s spirit.

Exploring Nawate Street before the shops open – note the frog on the left
More of Nawate Street on my walk – shot at 5.15 in the morning!
Nawate Street the night before my walk – much busier than in the early morning

There are some excellent casual eateries in Nawate Street, such as the chicken Yakitori (kebab) shop below. My companions and I ate there the previous night – ensuring we avoided gizzards, liver and heart! The breast meat, thigh and chicken wings were excellent. Some men at a neighbouring table were having an appetiser – miso spread on slices of carrot – and kindly offered us some. It’s not something I would have ordered – but it was a delicious combo and I now prepare it at home!

Another short walk from the castle and the train station is the old Edo Merchant area – Nakamachi-dori. It runs parallel across the river from Nawate Street, so it’s easy to find. It has an abundance of attractive historical merchant buildings, with white painted walls, now housing shops, restaurants and even ‘ryokan’ accommodation (Japanese style inns).

A typical Edo era Merchant’s building in Matsumoto

Closer to the railway station are more excellent restaurants and cafes. An abundance of food choices at a variety of prices. We ate at Toritetsu Matsumoto Eki-Mae, another really excellent Yakitori restaurant that does cater for English speakers. Its sign does take a little interpretation though! I’m presuming ‘completely through the fire for safe‘ means the chicken is well cooked! It’s only about 5 minutes walk from the Station. The prices were very reasonable. It’s also licensed.

The benefit of wandering around early in the morning is that you can have a good look at buildings and streets with very few people around, and spot places you might want to revisit when they open.

As my Matsumoto early walk progressed, workers began appearing – some walking, some cycling. Seems you can cycle on the footpaths there.

As I crossed back over the river, a man already at work removing windsocks in the shape of carp fish from the bridge. They had been there to mark Children’s Day – a National holiday held every May in japan to celebrate the health and happiness for children. Koinobori (carp) flags and kites are flown throughout the country as part of the celebration.

Just beyond the bridge, I spotted Matsomoto’s famous timepiece museum – with three floors filled with unique watches and clocks from around the world. On its outside wall is the largest pendulum clock in Japan!

By now – as you can see by the clock – it was almost 6.30 in the morning. So, of course, the Museum was not open. I resolved to return later in the morning before I departed Matsumoto. But it turned out to be its closed day. So the Matsumoto timepiece museum is a good reason for me to return to Matsumoto!

The shop below – established back in 1845 – was also closed on my early morning walk, but I resolved to also visit it when I return to Matsumoto. They don’t speak English, but they give it a go! What more can you ask!

My 48 hours in Matsumoto was much too short. I now know there’s so much more to explore and enjoy – and I will definitely return and spend more time there. I also hope to find out what this little guy below is all about. He’s definitely not a frog and looks a little like Disney’s Pluto dog. He did come in handy, providing me with a resting seat during my morning walk!

Mountains? As I mentioned in Part 1, Matsumoto is a great base to access some of the best mountains you’ll find in Japan for trekking, skiing and snowboarding. There’s also opportunities for canoeing nearby in some of the country’s most beautiful rivers.

I did a day trip from Matsumoto to Mount Norikuradake, using public transport (see my 18 September, 2021 blog ”Japanese Snow Walls) Delight”). Next time I have plans to do another day trip to walk in the Chubu-Sangaku National Park near the mountain town of Kamikochi – again using public transport from Matsumoto.

Japanese walkers heading to Kamikochi by public bus

While I was in Matsumoto I met an old Englishman holidaying by himself. I think he said he was in his 80’s. He was quite and unassuming, and seemed to be quite familiar with Japan. I last saw him walking off to explore – I hope I’m still doing the same in my 80’s.

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