Disaster Strikes Twice? A Visit to Matsumoto

Okay, so the first thing to report was that as I was up late working on the computer and stuff, I felt at 12:40 or so a fairly strong earthquake which hit northern Japan (in Iwate prefecture). It actually shook the building here in Tokyo pretty well, though it was quite a long way off. Turns out the epicenter was right under Hachinohe, which is where I actually boarded the Shinkansen yesterday! It was pretty scary—today all the Shinkansen to the north were stopped for inspections, so I would have been trapped up there if I didn’t leave when I did. Later in the news it looks like there were some injuries and quite a bit of damage—it was 6.8 in strength, after all.

But enough about that. I managed to get up fairly early and was excited to take one of my favorite trains (the E257 Azusa) to Matsumoto. The city hosts one of the remaining original castles in Japan, and it’s really quite beautiful. The day was pretty warm but still gorgeous (actually, it was noticeably cooler than Tokyo, though), and the train ride goes right through the “Japan Alps”. You’d swear that you were traveling through Switzerland if all the street signs weren’t in Kanji. That, and the bamboo growing in the forests alongside the pines.

The castle is stunning. It’s a short walk from the station in a lovely park right on an existing moat. you can see the photos in my gallery if you don’t believe me. It was one of the Takeda Clan’s castles which was extra interesting to me. Inside is an amazing collection of old Japanese firearms that were unfortunately difficult to photograph. It was also nice to be able to go through at my own pace instead of the break-neck one we had to follow at Himeji a couple weeks ago.

I strolled through the really lovely city center enjoying the cooler mountain air and thinking once again how much this place reminded me of Salt Lake City or maybe Denver. I guess it’s the mountains. I dropped into some random restaurant for what turned out to be an extra-delicious Tonkatsu lunch before heading back on yet another interesting train the Super Azusa. It’s the purple one in the photos and I’ve had a model of it for years and was glad I could finally ride it. The ride back was about 40 minutes shorter because it stops at fewer stations and it’s also a “tilt train”, allowing it to go much faster around curves on the mountain grades.

So I got home, had dinner at Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara (where I also did some last-minute shopping) and that was pretty much it. It was kind of nerve-wracking to go through the earthquake—one of the two things I didn’t want to experience here—but was otherwise a fun and interesting day.

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