On our 6th day in Japan, we woke early at Tokyo Disneyland, bought some rice balls and hot tea (which you can buy in plastic bottles) from a convenience store and boarded a train for Matsumoto. When we arrived, we stuffed all our luggage and backpacks into two lockers at the Matsumoto train station and headed out to explore the town and its famous castle before our 3:15 shuttle to a Ryokan. To the delight of the kids, there was a lot of snow on the ground. It appeared they’d received a a foot of snow the previous day (while we were getting soaked at Tokyo DisneySea).
The kids were excited when we saw a restaurant which served Hawaiian food so we stopped there for yummy Loco Moco – a hamburger patty over rice, covered in gravy and topped with a fried egg. The kids love ordering that in Hawaii.
Matsumoto Castle: After lunch we walked to Matsumoto-jo (castle), the oldest existing Samurai castle in Japan, built around 1600 and designated as a “National Treasure.” Outside the a castle, a Japanese woman dressed in a kimono and wooden sandals was walking around to greet people. She must have been freezing! She seemed to be enamored with our kids, who were playing around in the snow like they’d never seen it before.
The black and white castle is impressive! — 6 stories high and surrounded by a moat. We were a little surprised we were asked to take our shoes off to tour the castle. It was cold! — no heat, no glass in the openings. We saw that one of the lower floors included a wide hallway which ran around the internal perimeter of the castle – wide enough for samurai in full armor to run around and protect the castle from any angle. We learned that the small square holes in the external walls of the castle were designed for guns and rifles and the taller, rectangular holes were for shooting bow and arrows. On higher levels there were other holes through which rocks could be dropped to deter people from trying to climb the outer walls. The staircases on the inside were fairly steep.
We were very cold, our toes were numbing up so we didn’t spend much time in any of the rooms. We were all fairly anxious to exit the castle and check out the heated gift shop. The twins, however, stayed outside the gift shop to play in the snow.
One Night in a Ryokan. Our shuttle ride to Tobira Onsen Myojinkan took over 45 minutes as we drove slowly through the snow up a windy road. But the drive was worth it. The ryokan was beautiful!
It was very fun to introduce the kids to the Japanese baths. Thankfully, between a previous experience with my friend who lives in Japan along with a quick read in advance, I knew the process so we didn’t make fools of ourselves. Our ryokan had several public, gender-separate, hot springs baths. Sydney’s favorite part was the showering you do in advance. It’s done sitting on low stools. Sydney loved filling up her wooden bucket with hot water and dumping it over her head. The girls and I all put our washcloths on our head and enjoyed the baths. My favorite was the outdoor bath where we could watch the snow fall through the up-lit trees.
Afterwards, we had a classic ryokan, multicourse dinner. We were a little disappointed it wasn’t served in our room, but we had an awesome private dining room with big windows so we could watch the snow continuing to fall outside. The meal was fantastic! Joe and I both thought the food they served us more tame than I expected – i.e. we recognized everything. We both loved the food. The girls on the other hand had more difficult time. We required the kids to try a bite of everything. Alexander gagged on fancy mushroom. Piper gagged on some fish — I honestly thought she was going to throw up but thankfully she held it down. Sydney had tears in her eyes after she pulled the rare steak sushi out of her mouth which she was unable to chew.
When we returned to our room, the futons were all laid out on the floor with big, thick comforters. We all slept well that night!