Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Temples and Castles and Post-towns

Spring is finally here, much to the dismay of many Japanese people who suffer from an aggravated type of hay fever (kafunsho), and who consider spring to be the most miserable season. I’m quite healthy and am enjoying the plum blossoms.

This weekend we took a trip out to Nagano to do some sightseeing. First stop was Zenko-ji, a rather hugeish temple right in the heart of Nagano city. This temple is not unlike most temples, except that it has a passageway leading underground where you must navigate your way through to the other end in complete darkness. You’re supposed to run your hands along the walls and try to find a protruding key that, once found, will unlock your path to enlightenment. As innocuous as it sounds, the total darkness thing may lead those with disturbed overactive minds to foresee unfriendly encounters with any number of things. Like a Rapeceratops. Or his more terrifying big brother, Rapeasaurus Rex.

Having emerged alive, our next stop was in Matsumoto to visit a national treasure. Matsumoto castle is nicknamed The Crow because of its black exterior and wing-shaped roof. Castles are much more accessible to tourists than temples are because you can poke around inside and check out the keep and storage areas.

Samurai armour rocked several different moustache types. Behold the upside-down Walrus Moustache:

Last stop was Kiso Valley, where we visited some post-towns. Here’s the abbreviated history behind this: The Tokugawa government imposed a kind of back-and-forth system whereby every year all the shogun would have to travel between Edo (Tokyo) and their domain. Along the main travel route to/from Edo, a series of little towns popped up to provide shogun and their samurai with rest and food. Two of these towns are preserved in Kiso Valley, and one is still inhabited. They are very much unchanged from how they looked when they were built (sans slightly unhinged honour-obsessed samurai stabbing each other in the goolies).

Note my new haircut, which is cheekily referred to as He-Man hair by my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.

On the second night of our trip we had unknowingly stumbled upon Japan’s stinky armpit, a town called Nakatsugawa. I won’t bore you with details, other than that everything we touched was sticky, but the clinching factor was that Adam and I both hated it and were unable to leave because our scheduled train kept on NOT COMING. It was like it was some voodoo ghost town that doesn’t exist except in your most vivid nightmares. We were lucky enough to catch a train out of there after waiting 3 hours, and we didn’t look back.


Overall, it was an intriguing couple of days. Interested parties can click here for more photo goodness.

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