Nagano

On Friday of my trip, I woke up as early as usual and headed straight to the train station.  I was planning on going to Nagano to cross another prefecture off my list.  Nagano was only about an hour away, but to get to any real tourist attractions in the prefecture by train, I had to head to Matsumoto which is much further north.  I was committed to this plan…until I saw how much the ticket would actually cost me.

I actually stopped in the middle of buying the ticket, stepped off to the side so other people could use the machine, and spent some time researching other options that might be cheaper.  I could probably get to Shizuoka Prefecture for cheaper, but was it worth it?  I had done all the research for Matsumoto, not for Shizuoka.

In the end, I bit the bullet and bought the tickets to Matsumoto.  After all, I wanted to see the Japanese Alps and that was my plan for the day.  I might be much more flexible than I was when I first arrived in Japan, but sometimes my rigidity is an asset.  I was trying to make excuses and I knew I would regret not going if I changed my mind (or, worse yet, visited Universal Studios Japan, again, like I briefly considered doing).  The train ride was long, but with my rule in mind about spending an equal amount of time in the destination as the time I spent getting there, I set off to explore.

I saw this cool thing along the way.  Matsumoto is apparently famous for a traditional Japanese art of wrapping balls in cool patterns using strings.

I eventually made my way to Matsumoto-jo, or Matsumoto Castle.  Matsumoto-jo is famous for its black walls.  I really wanted to go inside to get a better view of the mountains.  I bought my ticket to go inside, but once inside, I found out there was a 2 hour wait to even get inside the castle.  That did not count the time I would be spending trudging in a line of people up to the top.  Nor did it count the time I would spend battling people at the top, trying to get to a window or open space so I could take pictures.

In the end, I decided I did not have the patience for it.  I took a bunch of pictures of the outside, got some tea, and headed on.

The next point of interest was an old school to the north of the castle.  The school was one of the first in Japan to mix Japanese and Western architecture.  I like architecture and history so I thought, sure, why not.  (Besides, it had a bunch of Pokestops inside.)

The museum ended up being as weird of a blend of Japanese and English as the architecture was.  Information was translated into English seemingly at random.  One room might not have a single English explanation while another might have more English than Japanese.  I will say, though, that when there was English available, it was flawless.

The school was an interesting history lesson, but it was time to move on.  My next stop was an art museum, because why not.  I normally don’t like art museums.  I like art, but I am never sure how long I am supposed to stand in front of a painting or sculpture.  Is a second enough?  Do I have to stand there for several minutes?  What am I supposed to be thinking beyond, “That is nice art.  I like this art?”  But I made myself walk around the whole museum.  I was surprised that I actually recognized some of the artists like Kandinsky (which I only recognized because my mom likes him).

The focal point of the museum was the work of Yayoi Kusama who has recently become much more popular.  She’s known for her use of polka dots and for living in a psychiatric hospital most of the time.  Matsumoto is her hometown so there are huge sculptures of her’s outside.  Even the vending machines are covered in her signature polka dots with limited edition polka dot cans of Coke inside.

Inside the museum’s gift shop, I was amused to find a bunch of finger puppets I recognized.

I don’t know where it started, but I had several finger puppets from this company and had only just recently added them to the prize basket at work.

After I had my fill of the museum, I went in search of lunch.  The Hawaiian burger restaurant someone had recommended to me ended up having a huge line to get inside.  Instead, I ended up at a pub.  The food was simple, inexpensive, and good.

I had seen all I could in Matsumoto, met my rule about how long I had to stay, and gotten my customary phone charm.  It was time to go back to Nagoya.

I bid goodbye to the Japanese Alps and hopped on the train.

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