We arrived in Matsumoto on Friday afternoon, and our meeting with Amanda’s contact in Japan to figure out what our plans were going to be for field work wasn’t until Monday, leaving us with an entire weekend to explore.
Saturday was spent roaming around downtown Matsumoto, first visiting the number-one tourist destination in the city—the Matsumoto Castle. Surrounded by a moat and gardens, the 400-year-old “Crow Castle” (as it is nicknamed because of its black walls) is a beautiful sight.
Most of its history remains a confusing jumble of events and people, as told to us by our English-speaking-but-barely-understandable tour guide. “Middle name John” (as Amanda and I call him, because that was the only part of his name we actually could read) overzealously told us all about the castle, various people in history that kept coming up over the course of the tour but seemed to have no real significance, and something to do with baseball, because of course, as Americans, we must play baseball.
But, as overwhelming and exhausting as it may have been to try to pay attention to the continuous talking and understand the confusing stories, I have to give him some credit for trying so hard.
Finally escaping to find food, we walked down the pedestrian-only Nawate-dori (dori=street), another somewhat-touristy area of town lined with small shops selling crafts and an odd assortment of edible goodies. With a choice between two different restaurants where we could get a decent lunch for fairly cheap, we decided to go the adventurous route and go into the one that didn’t have a menu with pictures outside. It only had a small sign with what looked like two different specials written on it—but of course we had no idea what it said. So we ducked inside, and Amanda attempted to order us lunch. Not knowing what to order, she simply said something along the lines of, “We would like to eat.” At first, the man running the place looked confused, for some reason thinking we were asking for soba, the local buckwheat noodle specialty (and what many tourists eat while they are here, which is why he probably assumed that’s what we wanted). But he finally came to the understanding that all we wanted was a meal, any meal, and he invited us to sit down at the 6-stool bar while he proceeded to make an entire meal from scratch.
Before our food was done, the man brought us a strange drink that tasted like a bizarre cross between coffee and iced tea. The first sip wasn’t bad, but the more you drank, the less appetizing it became. But it was a much-welcomed cold drink on a hot day, and the rest of the meal made up for the less-than-delectable beverage.
A variety of small dishes, all in elegantly-painted bowls, was placed in front of us, and I stared, wide-eyed, at the beautiful buffet that lay in front of me. The food tasted as good as it looked, and I ate it all, even after I noticed that one of the salads I was eating included little tiny fish with eyes that stared at me as I lifted them to my mouth with my chopsticks. I was relatively unfazed, as I know things like this are just going to be a part of life for the next couple of months.
Bellies full and hearts content, we paid for our meal and stepped back into the hot sun to wander the city a little more before heading back to our rooms to pass out way too early, succumbing to jet-lag once again.