Friday, February 18, 2011

Nagano's Matsumoto Castle & Snow Monkey Park

Kayla, Kristin, Tatum and I in front of the moat at Matsumoto Castle

The insanely steep stairs inside the castle.
I can't believe the samurais had to run up and
down these in armour without falling!

There is more to Nagano, Japan, than just skiing.  Nagano is also known for Matsumoto Castle, a 500 year old five-story castle.  This castle is very unique in its architecture.  It's one of the only castles in Japan with the main color being black while most of the castles are white.  The black color gave the castle its nickname "Karasujo" (Crow Castle) and the brooding color was designed to sow fear in the hearts of any approaching attackers.  Matsumoto Castle is built on flat ground and has a large moat as a means of defense.  The castle was not designed for permanent residency, purely for military purposes.  The insides of the castle were very different from what I was expecting, with vast, open wooden rooms.  The samurai mostly lived on the bottom floor where all their food and supplies were kept.  Visitors to the castle must take off their shoes as they climb up the steep wooden stairs.  I could not believe how steep these stairs were; I'm surprised I didn't slip and fall!

Nagano is also known for their apple orchards.  We stopped at this lunch place with traditional Japanese food along with fresh squeezed apple juice and homemade ice cream.  Needless to say, I enjoyed lunch a little too much!

Many of the rest stops and restaurants in Japan have these vending machine looking things where you order your food.  Once you punch in what you want, you bring the tickets up to the counter where you get your food.  It takes out all the interaction between waiters and diners!  Oh well, guess there wouldn't be too much interaction anyways with the language barrier!

Next stop was the Snow Monkey Park.  We hiked about 1.5-2 miles up a trail to an onsen area in the mountains.  This onsen is taken over by about sixty or so wild monkeys minding their own business.  It's one of the only places where you can get up close and personal with wild monkeys.  I mean, at one point, I had a monkey run right over my foot!  This trip made me want my childhood dream of having a pet monkey, to come true even more.  There was even a part at the bottom of the park that you could get in an onsen with the snow monkeys.  I wasn't all about that since it was outside and it was one of the naked onsens.  It was open for all the people to see too!  There were a few Japanese guys in it when we were walking by.  Crazy!  The walk up there was beautiful with snow falling all around us!  It felt like I was in a snow globe.
Snow Monkey Park, Nagano, Japan
Beautiful walk on a snow covered trail!
Onsen at the bottom of the park.  Notice the Japanese on
the left and the snow monkeys on the right. 

How cool would it be to just chill in a hot spring all day!

The girls at the snow monkey park
I love this picture!  Check out the koi fish in the moat
surrounding the castle.
The inside of the castle... very bare and open..
Pringles, yes!  Maybe not the same flavors I'm used to though.
Japan loves their Kit-Kats!  Each region/prefecture has
their own flavor unique to that area.
Most of the flavors are limited editions and are somewhat hard to find.
They're mostly always available at rest stops.  I'm definitely
excited to try the apple and blueberry cheesecake!  I think
I'll pass on the chili power for now.

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