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Former Kaichi School: Go Back to School a Century and Half in the Past

View of the Former Kaichi School from outside

View of the Former Kaichi School from outside

The Former Kaichi School was built back in the late 1800s—almost 150 years ago. When I first visited the Former Kaichi School back in the summer, I was struck by its peculiar architecture. At first glance it looked like a beautiful European building, but as I walked closer and started looking at the details, I found hints of Japanese-ness that had snuck into the design: Carved dragons along with the flying cherubs above the entrance, chandeliers hanging over bamboo flooring, and other such opposing style quirks.

Who know that cherubs and dragons got along so well?

Who know that cherubs and dragons got along so well?

Going inside was almost like going back to school a century and a half in the past. One of the classrooms was preserved as it was when the school was still in commission, complete with tiny wooden desks, black board, and teacher’s podium. The best part was that you could actually sit in the desks (if your legs fits…) and play around with everything in the room! Getting to walk through the same halls and climb the same wooden stairs as the little students did in the past also adds to the atmosphere.

Kaichi School

Former Kaichi School

Most the other rooms in the school were filled with displays of old building plans, learning materials like text books, and other school-related artifacts like writing tools and even dumbbells used for fitness. Also, the former principal’s office and a special room for the Meiji emperor were open for viewing, too.

Wooden dumbbells! I wonder how heavy they are. Notice the diagrams of exercises in the book to the left.

Wooden dumbbells! I wonder how heavy they are. Notice the diagrams of exercises in the book to the left.

Book for kids to learn katakana characters

Book for kids to learn katakana characters

Textbook with flags of the world.

Textbook with flags of the world.

My favorite artifacts were the picture textbooks for primary school kids, old toys and, check these out, old baseball cards!

Old baseball cards ! Check out the interesting shape.

Old baseball cards ! Check out the interesting shape.

Perhaps a book for learning how to count? I remember using something like this in my primary school (minus the silk worms and bamboo shoots...)

Perhaps a book for learning how to count? I remember using something like this in my primary school (minus the silk worms and bamboo shoots…)

It was also nice to see some of the cool dragon carvings and other pieces from the building design, like the “East, West, North, South” direction markers for the tower’s compass piece.

Carving with a dragon and  a wave.

Carving with a dragon and a wave.

"East, west, north, south" markers in Japanese for the school's tower.

“East, west, north, south” markers in Japanese for the school’s tower.

Overall, the Former Kaichi School was a short, but worthwhile stop. The school is beautiful and a lot of the artifacts are fun to see. Plus, it’s only a few minutes from Matsumoto Castle. My only complaint was that there aren’t enough English explanations for the interesting things on display!

For more info, check out the main page on the Former Kaichi School here.

Okinado: Old-fashioned “Western Food” from the Heyday of the Showa Period

There are tons of the so-called “western-style,” or yoshoku, (洋食) restaurants in Japan. I always find this name a little troublesome because while yes, they certainly don’t serve your typical Japanese food, I think a more appropriate description would be something along the lines of “Japanese-style western fusion.” In fact, some dishes are actually Japanese inventions inspired by the west.

Typical dishes you might find at yoshoku restaurants are curry and rice (was curry even Western to begin with??), hayashi rice (tender chunks of beef in a thick, demi-glace-ish sauce over rice), omurice (tomato-y fried rice wrapped up in a super thin egg shell), and hambaagu (basically a delicious, Japanese version of Salisbury steak).

That being said, even though yoshoku technically translates to “western food,” it still offers you an authentic Japanese experience—one that dates back to the Meiji Restoration (late 1800s).

In Matsumoto, one of the best places to get your fix of yoshoku is a restaurant called Okinado. While not quite as old as the Meiji Restoration, Okinado has been around for a long time: it opened its doors in 1933 at the beginning of the Showa Period, first as a coffee house and then later adding a full menu of “western-style” food in 1957 that included curry rice, hayashi rice, sauteed pork, and other items. It is family owned and is now with its third generation owner.

Entrance to Okinado, complete with plastic food display

Entrance to Okinado, complete with plastic food display

Today, Okinado still serves many of their original dishes and compared to some other yoshoku restaurants, I’d say their menu items tend to be more “fancy,” if you will. For example, they boast fresh, locally sourced ingredients and their hayashi rice sauce is apparently cooked down for an entire week!

A few days ago, I went with a couple of friends so we got to share and try a few of Okinado’s most popular dishes: the napolitan pasta (a spaghetti-esque dish with a ketchup-y/tomato-y sauce and stir-fried vegetables), omurice, and hayashi rice.

Out of the three dishes, the omurice was my favorite. The thin egg shell was perfectly wrapped around the nicely flavored rice, plus it had a portion of their special hayashi sauce on top along with another kind of white sauce. The hayashi rice was pretty good too, though the sauce had quite a strong flavor that reminded me of coffee (they may actually use coffee when cooking it). You could tell the sauce had been cooked for hours and the beef was super tender.

The napolitan pasta, on the other hand, was a little disappointing, as it seemed like the spaghetti noodles were just mixed with stir-fried vegetables, pork, and a bit of tomato-ish sauce (nothing like spaghetti sauce though). Not that it didn’t taste good, but I was looking for something a little more unique.

Omurice

Omurice

Pouring the chunky hayashi sauce over hot rice

Pouring the chunky hayashi sauce over hot rice

Napolitan pasta packed with veggies

Napolitan pasta packed with veggies

Other dishes that looked good (on other people’s tables) were the hambaagu/hamburger steak and fried pork dishes (katsu), though they are more on the expensive side. There are also combo plates that let you try two or three different dishes on one plate. I didn’t get to to try any this time, but the desserts looked very enticing too, especially the custard pudding!

More than the food, I loved Okinado’s atmosphere—still housed in its original building, it looks as if it were stuck back in time in the heyday of the Showa Period. Old-fashioned decor, manager in suit vest and bow-tie, vintage diner seats, heavy ceramic lights above the tables…it really gives you a good sense of what Japan might have been like when it was in love with all-things-western. Plus there is a great view of Nawate Street and Yohashira Shrine from the big windows!

Inside the restaurant on the first floor

Inside the restaurant on the first floor

Spiffy ceramic lights hanging about the tables

Spiffy ceramic lights hanging about the tables

Okinado is located in Nakamachi, which is a 10-minute walk from either Matsumoto Castle or Matsumoto Station. It’s on the corner across the bridge from Yohashira Shrine. Budget-wise, it will cost you 1,000–1,500 yen for most meals, though the meat-heavy dishes are closer to 2,000 yen. You can go for both lunch or dinner.

Hours:
Weekdays & Saturdays: 9 am—3 pm, 5:30 pm—8:30 pm (L.O. 8 pm)
Sundays & Holidays: 9 am—6:30 pm (L.O. 6 pm)
(Google Map)

By the way, you can check out more photos on Okinado’s website. It’s in Japanese, but the photos explain themselves :)

Outdoor menu with 3 recommended items for the day: Volga Rice (omurice topped with fried chicken and hayashi sauce), Omurice (rice-stuffed omelette), and Napolitan pasta

Outdoor menu with 3 recommended items for the day: Volga Rice (omurice topped with fried chicken and hayashi sauce), Omurice (rice-stuffed omelette), and Napolitan pasta

A Day of Samurai, Kendo, Taiko, and More at the Matsumoto Castle Festival

Every November on Culture Day, Matsumoto City puts on a huge city-wide festival that features all kinds of Japanese cultural goodies ranging from taiko drum performances to martial arts competitions, to the main event: the samurai parade around downtown!

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

Crowd and samurai parade participants gathered at Matsumoto Castle for the official festival kick-off ceremony

The samurai parade starts off in Matsumoto Castle’s inner garden, where over one hundred people a dressed in the traditional wear of samurai, soldiers, court officials, and there’s even a princess. A taiko drum performance (video below!) and a speech by Matsumoto’s mayor officially kicks off the festivities before the parade procession marches out into the streets.

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

The samurai procession gathering at Matsumoto Castle before heading out

Taiko performance in the castle garden

Taiko performance in the castle garden

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession ;)

One of the most popular members of the samurai procession 😉

Besides the samurai parade and taiko, there were numerous other street performances that included not only traditional culture but also contemporary culture like street dancing and magic shows. I was lucky to run into this dance group in the photo below who performed a traditional women’s dance in beautiful blue kimono:

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

Traditional dance with autumn leaves

One of my personal favorites out of the festival events was the Kendo and Naginata Competition. It took place right in the castle garden, so you could get up close and watch the dueling, hakama-clad contestants show off their swordsmanship and naginata (aka polearm) skills.

Dueling kendo contestants

Dueling kendo contestants

En Garde!

En Garde!

There are so many events going on during this festival that it was hard to see them all (there’s also a big tea ceremony, Japanese archery competition, etc.), but if you missed something this year, you’ll always have another chance next year on November 3rd! It’s also a great time to plan a trip to Matsumoto because the autumn leaves are out in full color as well 😉

For more event info, see the event page or follow us on Facebook (we also have a Facebook event listing).

Catching the End of Fall in Norikura Highlands

After almost every October weekend was thwarted by typhoons and rainy weather during what is supposed to be the best season to see the fall colors in Norikura, I finally made it on the last week of the month! Though the leaves up in the highlands are pretty much brown by now, I can at least share the photos :)

Wonderful view of Norikura from one of the ponds in the Ichinose area

Wonderful view of Norikura from one of the ponds in the Ichinose area

The weather still turned out to be cloudy and drizzly, but the mountains of Norikura did not fail to impress. I decided to go to the Ichinose area since it’s one of the most famous spots to see the fall leaves. There are several laid-back walking trails where not only did I get to see amazing colors, but I also found several natural ponds and marshes, saw the beautifully white-patterned bark of the birch trees, and got a panoramic view of a now-snowy Mt. Norikuradake. If I had made it to Ichinose about one week earlier, I could’ve seen the famous fire-red maple tree as well, but the typhoon winds had swept most of its leaves off (though admittedly they were still pretty on the ground).

One of the pretty ponds in the Ichinose area

One of the pretty ponds in the Ichinose area

The famous fire-red leaves of Ichinose's giant maple tree making a brilliant carpet on the ground.

The famous fire-red leaves of Ichinose’s giant maple tree making a brilliant carpet on the ground.

White-barked birches

White-barked birches

Colorful fall leaves with the snowy peaks of Mt. Norikuradake in the background

Colorful fall leaves with the snowy peaks of Mt. Norikuradake in the background

Next stop was the short trail that goes between Sengenbuchi Falls and Bandokoro Waterfall. This trail is a wooded path through the forest along a rocky stream, so instead of seeing broad views of the colorful trees across the mountainsides, here I got to see autumn from the within the canopy: pretty fallen leaves crunching under my boots with the brilliant colors of fall directly above. The fun parts about this trail are the suspended bridges that cross over the stream and the roaring waterfalls you encounter along the way. Just one little tip: be careful walking on the bridges because they get slippery when wet (I almost wiped out crossing the bridge in the photo below, but caught myself on the ropes!).

Bridge along the forest trail near Sengenbuchi Falls

Bridge along the forest trail near Sengenbuchi Falls

Brilliantly colored leaves from underneath the trees

Brilliantly colored leaves from underneath the trees

Sengenbuchi Falls <3

Sengenbuchi Falls

Again, for this year, the leaves are pretty brown or gone by now in Norikura, but just in case, here is the access info in case you’re looking at this at a later time.

Access Info:

To get to the Ichinose area, take the Norikura Highlands bus to the Norikura Visitors Center (map) and walk from there, or if you have a car, there are also several places to park within the Ichinose area itself (for example here).

For the Sengenbuchi Falls trail, take the Norikura Highlands bus to the Path to Otaki (Falls) bus stop, or if you have a car, you can park at the Otaki Falls parking lot (map) or at the JA building (map) further up the road (which is nearer to Sengenbuchi Falls).

P.S. For more info on the waterfalls of Norikura including a map of locations, check out this blog article.

Mini Quartet Concert at the Kurassic-kan on Nov. 11

As the 4th event in the Kurassic-kan’s “Kura no Yube” series, a few members of the Shinshu University Orchestra will be putting on a mini quartet concert! One week before, the orchestra will be playing a big concert at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, so this mini performance allows those in Matsumoto to get a little taste of the live music too 😉

If you’re a classical music fan, the cost is only 500 yen, so don’t miss out!

Event Details

Place: Kurassic-kan on Nakamachi Street (map)
Date: Nov. 11, 2017
Time: 5:30 p.m.–6:45 p.m.
Admission: 500 yen

(P.S. you can also bookmark the event on our Facebook page)

Japanese event poster for the Kura-no-Yube mini concert

Japanese event poster for the Kura-no-Yube mini concert

Autumn Leaves around Matsumoto City

Last time I wrote about the fall leaves at Matsumoto Castle, but there are plenty of other places you can enjoy autumn around the city right now! Some of the best spots to go are shrines and temples, where you’re almost guaranteed to find trees that turn brilliant colors in the fall, not to mention the beauty of the autumn leaves in combination with traditional Japanese architecture. Two recommended spots are Yohashira Shrine (map) on the way to the castle/along Nawate street and Fukashi Shrine (map) near the Matsumoto Museum of Art.

The torii gate of Fukashi Shrine

The torii gate of Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine

Fukashi Shrine

Walking into Yohashira Shrine

Walking into Yohashira Shrine

Trees at Yohashira Shrine

Trees at Yohashira Shrine

The main building of Yohashira Shrine behind the trees

The main building of Yohashira Shrine behind the trees

Another great spot is Agatanomori Park, where you can take a long stroll around the park grounds and sit and relax in the gazebo at the pond while enjoying the fall trees. You can even spot some cute turtles warming themselves in the pond’s rocks and catch a glimpse of the mountains of Utsukushigahara rising in the background. The park is just a 10 minute walk from the art museum. (see Google map)

Turtles and pretty trees :)

Turtles and pretty trees :)

A brilliant yellow tree by the old school

A brilliant yellow tree by the old school

Gazebo at Agatanomori Park

Gazebo at Agatanomori Park

Enjoy the fall colors while they last—soon the scenery might just be covered in snow 😉

First Snow on the Japan Alps!

The Japan Alps glowing in the early morning sun

The Japan Alps glowing in the early morning sun

With all the rain and chilly temperatures earlier this week, the tallest mountains of the Japan Alps got their first blanket of snow! Although the Alps are best for climbing in the summer, I have to say that they are best for viewing when the peaks have a nice cap of snow on top.

The lower mountains up front are still snow free

The lower mountains up front are still snow free

The two photos are from the Satoyamabe area on the east side of Matsumoto, but you can also get a decent view of the mountains right from Matsumoto Castle, or there’s a nice panoramic rooftop viewing point at the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (map – just take the elevator near the main entrance to the top floor. It’s free to go in).

The Japan Alps from the castle (most of the snow melted in the sun though...)

The Japan Alps from the castle (most of the snow melted in the sun though…)

The view from the theater's rooftop

The view from the theater’s rooftop

And a bonus photo below from the Japanese version of the Matsumoto tourism website blog :)

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Fall Colors Starting to Show Up at Matsumoto Castle

One of the prettiest times of the year at Matsumoto Castle is finally here: at the end of October the trees start to paint the castle garden in the colors of autumn! So if you’re eager for some perfect photos at the castle, now is a great time.

Colorful trees as seen from inside the castle tower

Colorful trees as seen from inside the castle tower

As of yesterday (Oct. 24), some of the trees were already red and yellow, but many of them are still just showing the first hints of color, so I’m betting the castle park is going to grow more and more beautiful over the next several days.

Fall colors peaking over the castle walls

Fall colors peaking over the castle walls

Still quite green near the castle itself, but hopefully that will change in the next few days!

Still quite green near the castle itself, but hopefully that will change in the next few days!

As a little bonus, there is also a special Japanese doll display in the castle garden until November 5th. Every year, the large display depicts a historical/cultural scene from Matsumoto Castle’s past.

Special doll display in the castle garden. Looks like they are pounding some mochi!

Special doll display in the castle garden. Looks like they are pounding some mochi!

Matsumoto Castle Festival Guide and Other Notable November Events (2017)

The biggest event in November is the Matsumoto Castle/ Citizen’s Festival on the third that features all kinds of cultural treats! Check out individual events below. You can also bookmark your favorites on our Facebook events page.

Castle Festival and Citizen’s Festival:

Boys and Girls Kendo and Naginata Competition

Students of kendo and naginata (a type of Japanese polearm/bladed spear) show off their martial skills in the castle garden. Part of the Matsumoto Castle Festival.

A kendo match in progress!

A kendo match in progress!

Date: November 3
Time: 9:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Free admission into the garden

Castle Autumn Tea Ceremony

Enjoy traditional matcha green tea among the fall colors right in the castle garden. Part of the Castle Festival.

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Relax with matcha and special Japanese sweets

Date: November 3
Time: 10:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden
Cost: 500 yen per seat (includes matcha and a Japanese sweet). Free admission into the garden.

Samurai Procession

A parade of samurai, ninja, and Japanese princesses and lords in downtown Matsumoto. Part of the Matsumoto Citizen’s Festival and the Castle Festival.

Samurai parading through the streets

Samurai parading through the streets

Date: November 3
Time: 12:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Location: Castle and Downtown

Taiko Performance at Castle

Powerful taiko drum show at the castle, performed as the Samurai Procession departs toward downtown Matsumoto.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Date: November 3
Time: Two performances, one at 12:00 p.m. and another at 3:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden

Japanese Archery (Kyudo) Competition

Catch a glimpse of Japan’s longbow archery tradition. Part of the Castle Festival.

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Photo credit: Matsumoto Castle homepage

Time: 8:50 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Location: Kyudo Dojo (map)
Cost: Free

More Events in November

“Twin Illumination: Secrets of the Seven Jewels” Light Display

Elaborate displays of lights set up in the Alps Azumino National Government Park. See a video from the park’s Facebook page here.

Twin Illuminations poster

Twin Illuminations poster


Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino's tourism website

Illumination from a previous year (from Azumino’s tourism website)

Date: November 11, 2017 (Sat) through January 8, 2018 (Mon)
Location: Alps Azumino National Government Park (15 min by taxi from JR Toyoshina Station)
Cost: Adults – 410 yen, JHS and younger – 80 yen, Seniors: 210 yen

Kamikochi Closing Ceremony

A ceremony that marks the last day of Kamikochi’s open season. Dress warm if you plan to go! (Also listed on the Kamikochi website here with a photo)

Date: November 15
Time: St at 11:30 am
Location: Kamikochi, Kappa Bridge

Falconry Performance at Castle

Falconry has been a samurai tradition since the Edo Period (1603-1868). See it action at this live stage performance in the castle garden. Check out a photo on the bottom of the Autumn Events page on the Castle website.

Date: November 19
Time: 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Honmaru Garden (Free admission into the garden)
*There will also be a free lecture (in Japanese) about falconry from 1:30–3:30 p.m. in the Ote Community near the castle.

Traditional Japanese Shamisen Music, Dances, and Songs and Culture Festival

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

Japanese Title (Matsumoto Arts and Culture Festival)

See performances by students of traditional Japanese including traditional songs sang along to shamisen music and dances performed in kimono. Songs are of two types: hauta (唄, short songs that are a part of geisha culture) and nagauta (長唄, long songs). There will be several different songs and two different traditional dances. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see the classical culture of Japan!

Date: November 19
Time: St at 1:00 p.m.
Location: Matsumoto Performing Arts Center, Small Performance Hall (map)
Cost: Free!

Old-fashioned Guns Impress at Matsumoto Castle

This past weekend, the 29th Old-fashioned Gun Firing Exhibition was held at Matsumoto Castle! I didn’t get to see the show in person, but thanks to one of the bloggers (Nishimori) from the Japanese web page (see article here), we have a couple of nice photos to share from the event!

Twice a year, Matsumoto Castle hold a special gun show where you can see (and hear!) old-fashioned matchlock guns and muskets fired on the castle grounds. The shows are performed by different old-fashioned gun clubs from Matsumoto and other parts of Japan. It’s not only impressive to observe the guns themselves, but the gun club members dress in traditional samurai armor so you can really imagine what it might have been like to be a soldier at that time.

In formation and... bang!

In formation and… bang! (Photo credit: Nishimori)

The old-fashioned gun clubs posing in front of the castle.

The old-fashioned gun clubs posing in front of the castle. (Photo credit: Nishimori)

Matchlock guns like the ones fired at the exhibition were supposedly used at Matsumoto Castle, which has specially constructed windows that allowed the soldiers to shoot from inside the keep.

Also, if you love to learn about old-style guns like these, then you won’t want to miss the superb matchlock gun museum inside of Matsumoto Castle! Here, there are over 140 matchlocks and other armaments on display (Learn more about the gun exhibit on the Matsumoto Castle website).

If you missed the actual shooting demonstration, you can see it twice a year in the spring (April or May) and in October. (Event info here)

Matchlock guns, some with beautiful designs, in Matsumoto Castle

Matchlock guns, some with beautiful designs, in Matsumoto Castle


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