Nakasendo Trail day Two (sort of): a cold, a castle, and four moons

Cherry blossom in the morning Sun.
Cherry blossom in the morning Sun.

Facing 18km of walking today we opted for an early start. After a breakfast that matched last night’s dinner as an extraordinary meal we were on the road by 7:30. It was cool and fresh, perfect walking weather, and there were some lovely views of blossoms in the morning light. But it quickly became apparent that Declan just wasn’t up to walking the best part of 20km with a bad head cold. So after 5km we aborted and headed for the nearest train station.

So instead of a walk in the hills, we visited Masumoto Castle. We had, in any case, been a bit sad that we were going to be so close to one of the top three castles in Japan and miss it – so this wasn’t such a bad thing, especially as our rail passes made getting there easy and free.

Masumoto Castle is in the Classic Japanese style of wedding-cake like layers of white walls and gently curving roofs. It is the only one that has been preserved in its original state – others had a bad habit of burning down or getting bombed. We spent a lot of time comparing it to European castles and trying to understand how it worked defensively when the design is so radically different. One obvious conclusion was that the incredibly steep and narrow internal stairs were perfect for repelling over-sized German tourists and a hazard for anyone in fluffy walking socks carrying their walking boots in a bag. Somehow we felt neither result was part if the original design intent.

Matsumoto Castle.
Matsumoto Castle.

We had a picnic lunch under the cherry blossoms beside the Castle moat and then caught a series of trains to Kisofukushima. ┬áThere we were met and driven to our hotel. The place we stayed was a traditional Ryokan – basically an inn when the previous night had been a bed and breakfast. The Ryokan had traditional communal hot baths where we got the chance to put the research we’d done on how to use them to the test. You go in and wash yourself thoroughly outside the bath using a shower and a small basin while sitting on a stool. Only once you are completely clean do you enter the hot baths. In this case the baths were outside amongst rocks – sitting relaxing in the outdoors was blissful. After the baths we dressed again in Yakutas.

Dinner was absolutely amazing. Course after course was delivered to our table. The food was fabulous, and less confronting than the previous night’s, but there must have been at least ten courses. By the end we could hardly move.

After dinner we wrapped up warmly, as the temperature had dropped like a stone when the Sun went down, and drove up the mountain behind the ryokan to look at the stars. Sadly a full moon washed out the best of the views but we did see four moons of Jupiter which was exciting.

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