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Hashigo Yokocho food court : vegan options available

So you’ve come to Matsumoto and have been to eat at all the usual tourist spots, or you just want to get away from the crowds and try something a bit different, Hashigo Yokocho on Uramachi Street is the perfect place for you. Tucked away between all the bars, clubs and sunakku is the perfect little food court. The name Hashigo, meaning ladder, is also used in Japanese for hopping from one place to another, e.g bar hopping, and Yokocho are the little narrow alleys full of shops and cheap places to eat. The name suits the place perfectly as you can easily hop from one store to the next and there are plenty of choices for food available.

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Whether driving, cycling, walking or taking the bus you shouldn’t have any problem at all, there is free parking for both bikes and cars, it is only a 2 minute walk from the bus stop. However, even if you are walking from the station it is only about 15 minutes and from the castle, only 10. On a nice day I’m sure you will love the walk.

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Upon arriving, you first notice the beautiful traditional Japanese style entrance and just inside there is a small Torii (archway) and miniature shrine which really adds a nice touch. Inside is like stepping back in time to a more traditional Japan. I found myself instantly reminded of the movie spirited away with the amazing style of everything.

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Taking a walk around, you can check out all the cute little stores. Most only big enough for a handful of people. Every store has its own style, for starters, right by the entrance there is a store called “Shun” where you can try “Oden” a Japanese dish consisting of different vegetables, fish cakes and eggs all boiled together in a delicious broth.

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You can try Chinese food at “Lili’s Kitchen”, Teppanyaki (food cooked on the hotplate right in front of you) at “Teppanyaki Fumoto” or go to an izakaya (Japanese style bar) for a beer or sake.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you can go early to buy fresh locally grown vegetables from “Sasaki Seeds” and take home with you to cook later.

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All your tea needs can be met at “Chahua” selling a wide range of different Chinese and herbal teas and accessories such as cute little tea pots. Although the owner doesn’t speak much English, they are very friendly and helpful and will happily brew a tea for you in store.

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My personal favorites, however, are the 5 star Indian restaurant “Doon Shokudo Indoyama” and the cafe “Chokonto”

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Doon Shokudo Indoyama is run by a lovely couple who speak fluent English. You have your choice of three delicious curries including a vegan option if you are not much of a meat eater. All curries come with a popadom, chapati and great conversation. Also feel free to ask the owner for extra rice if you’re feeling hungry.

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Chokonto is by far one of the cutest cafes I have ever stepped inside, it has a real lovely style of all its own. It even has cute little handmade menus. Besides the nice variety of western style and Japanese style food and drinks, there are lots of really nice local made products that would make a great souvenir to take back home.

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As a bonus, if you happen to be in Matsumoto on the 7th of July, Hashigo Yokocho, will be hosting a small festival from 4m till 9pm where everyone will be wearing yukata (a light summer kimono) and there will special items for sale. And then everyone will head downtown afterwards.

 

So please come and join the fun. :)

Snow Walls on Mt. Norikuradake

Mt. Norikuradake with some remaining snow.

Mt. Norikuradake with some remaining snow.

I’ve been to Norikura a few times already, but last weekend was my first time at the top of Mt. Norikuradake, and WOW – it was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. In late spring and early summer, there’s still a lot of snow left around the summit of Norikura and a corridor is carved through the snow to open the road to the top. Alpico operates a bus (Haruyama Bus) from the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center to the top around the snow gorge and snow walls during this season. If you are a skier, you can also take your skis up with you and freely ski down the mountain! There isn’t a lift, though, so you have to trudge up the mountain on foot (apparently this takes 2 or 3 hours…).

Skiers on the mountain

Skiers on the mountain

Mt. Norikuradake is actually made up of 8 separate peaks grouped together, with the tallest being 3,026 meters. The Haruyama bus dropped us off at just under 2,700 meters and then we were free to frolic among the huge walls of snow and amazing mountainous scenery. The walls of snow gradually melt as summer approaches, but even in mid-June this they were still at least 10 meters high! And though it was quite a warm, sunny day down below in Matsumoto, it was quite cold at 2,700 meters (I’m glad I wore a sweater and brought my knit cap!). You can have an endless snowball fight and climb around on the snow to your heart’s content, assuming of course, that you are properly equipped with proper gear. If you want to take phenomenal photos of mountains and nature, this is your place.

Hotaka Mountain Range as seen from Norikura

Hotaka Mountain Range as seen from Norikura

Huge walls of snow (and an endless supply of snowball ammo)

Huge walls of snow (and an endless supply of snowball ammo)

One of the machines that carves through the snow.

One of the machines that carves through the snow.

The mountains beyond

The mountains beyond

Instead of waiting for next bus to come and take us back to the information center, we opted to walk back down the road to a mountain lodge called Kuraigahara Sanso, which is about a 5 kilometer/1-hour walk down hill that includes more walls of snow and great views. At the Kuraigahara Sanso, we took a break for lunch then waited for the bus to take us back down. There are a lot of people who take the bus from here, so the bus may be crowded, but if there are too many people to fit on one bus, luckily Alpico will bring another one – after all, it can be quite dangerous if anyone gets stuck on the cold mountain at night!

The snow gorge between peaks of Mt. Norikuradake, as seen after walking down a bit.

The snow gorge between peaks of Mt. Norikuradake, as seen after walking down a bit.

Kuraigahara Sanso Hut, which has a bus stop and you can also order food & drinks.

Kuraigahara Sanso Hut, which has a bus stop and you can also order food & drinks.

After hopping on the bus from Kuraigahara Sanso, you can head all the way back to the Norikura Kogen Tourist Information Center, but for us, we decided to get off at a stop called Kyukamura where you can do a mini hike (about 1 hour) to see Ushidome Pond and Zengoro Falls before reaching the information center. Ushidome Pond has a super nice view of Mt. Norikuradake which is reflected on its waters, not to mention a tree that has grown into a loop shape!! (see photo below). Zengoro Falls is definitely worth seeing too – it has a powerful presence and is located in a pretty little river gorge in the forest. I’ll write more about Norikura waterfalls in a later blog post :)

You can get some more info about Norikura on this page, including a multilingual leaflet about the area. To get to the Norikura Highlands area in general, you can take the Kamikochi Line Dentetsu Train from Matsumoto to Shin-Shimashima Station and then a bus from Shin-Shimashima to one of the stops in Norikura. If you have a car, that works too, and you can park at the information center and other places for free.

Ushidome Pond

Ushidome Pond

Loopy tree!!

Loopy tree!!

Zengoro Falls and its mist

Zengoro Falls and its mist

River running down from Zengoro Falls

River running down from Zengoro Falls

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Matsumoto Scale Museum on Nakamachi Street

The front of the Scale Musuem

The front of the Scale Musuem

If you’re walking up Nakamachi Street while you’re in Matsumoto, there’s a quirky little museum dedicated to all sorts of scales and weights that is fun to poke around in. The silkworm cocoon scales were especially interesting! The museum is made up of three separate buildings, but all together it’s quite small so you can check the whole place out in less than 30 minutes (plus it only costs 200 yen!). One of the nice things about the museum is that buildings consist of two beautiful, old kura-style warehouses and another equally beautiful wooden structured warehouse that was converted into a residence, so not only do you get to look at bunch of antique scales, but you can also admire the architecture of the museum itself.

The wooden warehouse-turned-residence. Amazing construction!

The wooden warehouse-turned-residence. Amazing construction!

A smaller building in the back area.

A smaller building in the back area that houses the silkworm scale display.

As you would expect, there’s a big collection of scales and weights inside from the Meiji Period to the Showa Period, including some you can actually play around with (fun for kids too) as well as many uncommon scales. Originally, the building was the Takeuchi Weights and Scales Shop that operated from the early 1900s to the mid 1980s. After closing, the building and things inside were taken over Matsumoto City and turned into a museum.

Area where you can play around with some of the weights and scales.

Area where you can play around with some of the weights and scales.

Nice collection of different weighing devices.

Nice collection of different weighing devices.

Wooden measuring cups

Wooden measuring cups

Moving up in technological advances - this is an automatic scale that also appears to show you the price per 100 grams.

Moving up in technological advances – this is an automatic scale that also appears to show you the price per 100 grams.

One of my favorites in the whole collection.

One of my favorites in the whole collection.

Old, standing health scales for weighing yourself.

Old, standing health scales for weighing yourself.

The silkworm scale display features scales that were used to measure the weights of silkworm cocoons in order to figure out which ones were male and which ones were female. The instruments can detect very slight difference in weight down to the milligram. In the past, Nagano was one of the production areas for silk in Japan. The cocoon scale, which was developed in the Taisho Period (1912-1926) was sold at the Takeuchi Shop and was a popular product around Japan for silk producers.

Cocoon scale developed by the Takeuchi shop

Cocoon scale developed by the Takeuchi shop

Some of the different silkworm cocoon scales.

Some of the different silkworm cocoon scales.

Bags of silkworm cocoons

Bags of silkworm cocoons

The museum is 15 minutes from Matsumoto Station and about 10 minutes from Matsumoto Castle, and is located right in the center of Nakamachi Street.

Open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Closed Mondays, unless its a national holiday.
Admission 200 yen for adults, free for junior high school students and under.

Matsumoto City Museum – A Good Dose of Castles, Samurais and Matsumoto Culture

Matsumoto celebrates its city anniversary on May 1st of every year by opening all the city museums to visitors free of cost – the perfect chance to go explore a few places in the city.  I chose to check out the Matsumoto City Museum, which is right next to Matsumoto Castle. Here you can get your fill of samurai equipment, ancient pottery, Matsumoto history through the years and Matsumoto local culture.

Matsumoto City Museum from the outside.

Matsumoto City Museum from the outside.

Samurai armor with a red face mask.

Samurai armor with a red face mask.

 

Following the suggested viewing route, I started off learning about Matsumoto in the ancient days long before the samurai with shattered-and -reconstructed pieces of Jomon pottery and primitive arrowheads and stone tools. And despite being what seemed like a collection of simple wooden logs, the Edo-era wooden plumbing  display was very interesting. Can you imagine that you can build an entire plumbing and water system using carved out wooden pipes and wooden joints?

Ancient pottery and tools from Matsumoto

Ancient pottery and tools from Matsumoto

Sections of wooden pipes used transport water.

Sections of wooden pipes used transport water.

 

The next section of the museum featured all kinds of information, displays and artifacts from Matsumoto Castle, the castle lords and the samurais including beautiful decorative tiles of the castle roof, samurai weapons and training equipment, items used by the castle lords and giant, old hand-drawn maps of the castle and surrounding town. There were also some more “everyday” artifacts used by commoners and merchants, as well as one of my favorites, the big wooden “water guns” used to put out fires.

Japanese bows and arrows

Japanese longbows and arrows

samurai armor

Intricately detailed, full suits of armor

Labeled as a "Japanese gargoyle", this is one of the elements from the castle's roof.

Labeled as a “Japanese gargoyle”, this is one of the elements from the castle’s roof.

Forms of entertainment used by samurai families

Forms of entertainment used by samurai families

Big wooden water guns for fire fighting

Big wooden water guns for fire fighting

 

The next area featured items from more recent times including wartime Japan and retroesque artifacts from the Showa period. After that you get to learn about some of the neat local festivals that started hundreds of years ago and still go on in Matsumoto.

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A retro toy tank from the Showa Period

first mayor of matsumoto

First mayor of Matsumoto and his personal belongings. Yes, that is a silk top hat.

Tanabata dolls from Matsumoto's unique Tanabata festival

Quirky Tanabata dolls from Matsumoto’s unique Tanabata festival

Straw horse for the Koto-youya event

Straw horse for the Koto-youya event

 

The Matsumoto City Museum also holds special exhibitions, and luckily for me, I came during the samurai sword exhibition featuring swords and blades made in the different sword-making regions of Japan. If you’re at all interested in samurai weapons, the exhibition lasts another month until June 4th. You’ll learn some interesting facts like part of the sword hilts are made out of shark skin and that swords had special rain covers to protect them from getting wet (which makes sense but I would have never thought of it!).

Sword exhibition flier

Flier for the sword exhibition

Blades of samurai swords

Blades of samurai swords

Swords in their hilts

Swords in their hilts

sword emblem

Emblem engraved into the base of a sword blade.

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Rain covers for the swords. Who knew?

Anyways, if you’re going to see Matsumoto Castle, the museum is a great complementary stop that’ll let you see amazing artifacts and learn more about the city.

Open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last entry at 4:30)

During Golden Week season (Apr. 29th – May 7th) this year: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (last entry at 5:30)

Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum – Handcrafted Artifacts from Everyday Life

I spent my Saturday morning exploring the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum, a little gem that lies just outside of the central Matsumoto. The museum has on display thousands of traditional hand crafted, everyday things ranging from pickling crocks, smoking pipes and old toys to kimono, trinket boxes, furniture and old store signs from years ago. Many of the items are from Japan, including Nagano, but there are also several artifacts from around the world, as well, such as Korea, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Africa. According to the staff, certain parts of the collection are changed up four times a year to offer exhibitions with different themes.

I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed because the information online about the museum lacked any particularly enticing photos or detailed descriptions. But upon arriving at the museum, I knew I was going to enjoy it. The folkcrafts are housed inside of one of Matsumoto’s characteristic Edo-period warehouses with “namako-style” black and white earthen walls adorned with geometric crisscross patterns. Before reaching the main building, you pass through a  small, forest-like Japanese garden.

The outer gates of the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum

The outer gates of the Matsumoto Folk Craft Museum

The main building of the museum with crisscross patterning.

The main building of the museum with crisscross patterning.

 

Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised that it felt more like a cozy Japanese grandma’s house filled with antiques than a museum. The museum is not large so if you simply walk through without taking time to examine all the artifacts, you can probably be done within 30 minutes.

A wooden daruma from Yamagata on a beautiful wooden chest.

A wooden daruma from Yamagata on a beautiful wooden chest.

A collection of furniture, crocks and other things.

A collection of furniture, crocks and other things.

Patterned vase

Patterned vase

 

However, I was instantly captivated by the simple beauty of the museum’s handicrafts and spent nearly two hours examining and photographing their intricacies. The designs, patterns and colors of the crafts are inspiring and some even breathtaking such as the kimono from the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido. I loved seeing the collection of wooden combs from around the world, the Edo-period shop signs and the colorful glazes of the pickling crocks. What’s great is that a lot of the things on display are right out in the open rather than behind glass walls so you can get extra close, looking in every nook and cranny of the piece.

Sign from a comb shop

Sign from a comb shop

Signs for a brush shop and money exchanger

Signs for a brush shop and money exchanger

Combs from around the world

Combs from around the world

Korean dolls

Korean dolls

Water pot from Turkey

Water pot from Turkey

Japanese crock

Japanese crock

Part of the museum features crafts made by the founder of the museum himself, the late Taro Maruyama. Maruyama owned a folkcraft shop in Matsumoto where he also made his own goods. I found his wooden crafts glazed or lacquered in red and patterned with eggshell (!) designs particularly striking. I can’t imagine how much patience it must have taken to produce these patterns with eggshells!

Wooden box patterned with eggshells

Wooden box patterned with eggshells

Another wooden box patterned with eggshells

Another wooden box patterned with eggshells

Hexagonal box with intricate eggshell pattern

Hexagonal box with intricate eggshell pattern

Tray with oak leaves made with eggshells

Tray with oak leaves made with eggshells

 

One interesting thing about the Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum is that almost none of the items have a written description apart from where it came from and what the item was. Maruyama’s philosophy was that it was enough for the crafts to simply be “beautiful” — rather than burden it with an explanation of when, where and how something was used. Indeed, I did find it refreshing to enjoy the handicrafts for what they were, without feeling obligated to read lengthy descriptions, imagining for myself who may have used them and what life must have been like back then.

Traditional horse riding equipment

Traditional horse riding equipment

Carrier for transporting loads on one's back

Carrier for transporting loads on one’s back

 

When you reach the last room, there is a tatami mat area set up like a room in a traditional Japanese house where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere of the building.

Tatami space complete with furniture and indoor fire pit.

Tatami space complete with furniture and indoor fire pit.

Though the Matsumoto Craft Museum is a little bit out of the way from other popular places, if you have the time, I highly recommend checking it out. There may not be any samurai or imperial artifacts, but this museum gives you a peek of the ordinary lives from the past and the amazing things traditional craftsmen can accomplish with just their hands.

Take the Utsukushigahara Onsen bus (#30) from Matsumoto Station bus terminal (there is also a bus stop by Matsumoto Castle) and get off at the “Matsumoto Mingei-kan (Matsumoto Folkcraft Museum)” stop. You can also walk there from the station in about 45 minutes or from the castle in about 30 minutes (or even better, rent a bicycle!). See Google Map.

Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (last admission at 4:30) and closed on Mondays.

To learn more about the history of the museum, check out this article here.

Kamikochi in Early Spring and the 49th Annual Kamikochi Opening Festival

While the emerald green mountains of Kamikochi are surely a beautiful sight to see in the summer, the snow-dusted peaks and crisp air of the early spring are also a wonderful experience. If you plan accordingly, you can catch Kamikochi’s Annual Opening Festival which is held every year in late April after Kamikochi opens in mid-April.

Azusa River

Azusa River

This year, in my first-ever trip to Kamikochi, I was lucky enough to attend the 49th Annual Opening Festival which featured a performance from Swiss Alpenhorn player, a traditional shishimai lion dance, a blessing from Shinto priests and special visitors from Matsumoto’s twin town, Grindelwald, Switzerland. After the ceremony, the ceremony officials broke open huge casks of local sake (rice wine) and doled it out to everyone attending.

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

A crowd gather on Kappabashi Bridge for the opening ceremony

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorn musicians

The Alpenhorns up close.

The Alpenhorns up close.

After enjoying my own cup of sake, I took walk around the park to take in the breath-taking scenery and learn about Kamikochi. One of the most famous spots in Kamikochi is Taisho Pond, which I was surprised to learn was only created 100 years ago when Mt. Yakedake erupted in 1915 and caused a section of the Azusa River to be blocked. This eruption occurred in the Taisho Period of Japan, hence the name “Taisho Pond.”

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

Special wooden sake cups for the ceremony.

The mountain-scape

The mountain-scape

The Azusa River is fed not only by the melting snow from the surrounding mountains, but also natural springs in Kamikochi that bubble up pure groundwater. The waters are so clear that you can practically see every pebble at the bottom of the river and streams and water at the source of the natural springs is pure enough to drink (just make sure you don’t drink water from the river or too far downstream).

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Crystal clear water from the natural spring

Just look at this water!

Just look at this water!

Another interesting fact I learned about Kamikochi is that it is constantly in change. The creation of Taisho Pond is one obvious example, but every day, little by little, the water streaming down from mountains gradually carves out ridges in the steeps slopes, and as the sediment runs down into the Azusa River valley below, it gradually causes the valley to rise up. So even though Kamikochi is a nature “preserve,” the nature will never be preserved like a snapshot in time – it is always dynamically changing itself!

If you’re even thinking about coming to Matsumoto, then Kamikochi is a spot you do not want to miss! If you have the chance, I actually recommended visiting the park at least one time in each of the different seasons (except for winter because the park is closed), as every season will have new scenery, new colors, and new wildlife to enjoy. (Thanks to some lucky circumstances, I got to see a rare horizontal rainbow over the Azusa River. You never know what’s waiting for you in Kamikochi!)

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

A rare horizontal rainbow over the river!

Find more information about how to get to Kamikochi in our article here, in the English language Kamikochi Guide (pdf), or learn more on the Japan Alps Kamikochi Website.

Tea Ceremony at Matsumoto Castle and Tea Room in Hyakuchikutei

image1In the Matsumoto Castle garden, a tea ceremony is held several times a year.

This summer, it’ll be held on August 6th and 7th, at the beginning of the free admission period for visitors wearing kimono, and also the extension period of entrance hours (8:00 till door closes at 17:30 , normally 8:30-16:30) (until August 16).

Members of the youth group of the Urasenke school of tea ceremony school wearing yukata (a kind of kimono) will serve you cold green powdered tea with Japanese cake for 500 yen. The leader of the group speaks English.

ikegamiHyakuchikuChashitsuAlso, there is a full-scale tea-ceremony room (tyashitsu) with a tea garden in Ikegami Hyakuchikutei, just a few minutes walk northward from the castle.

You can look inside the tea room and garden freely (9:00-17:00 except Monday) without charge when it is not used.

13083097_1706562706266342_5794503086238738997_nHow about wearing kimono at newly opened Kimono & Ninja Costume Wearing & Rental Shop ‘Hanakomichi’, go to the castle, take your photo with an armored man of ‘omotenashi-tai’, enter the castle free of charge, taste cold tea at the castle garden (if you visit Aug 6 or 7), then visit the tea room in Hyakuchikutei?
This is a perfect plan to experience traditional castle culture!

Good news: ATM for foreign C/Cards and Bus to Utsukushigahara

I heard two good news for foreign travelers to Matsumoto.

ATMPhotoOne is a new ATM machine has been installed in the tourist information center at one block south of Matsumoto Castle. You can withdraw Japanese yen by your international cash or credit card as well as ATMs in Seven-Eleven convenience stores and post offices.
See this PDF leaflet for the details.

Another is new bus service to Utsukushigahara Heights. Until last year, a bus to the Utsukushigahara Heights Art Museum operated only early August to mid-August. This year, another direct bus to Utsukushigahara Heights operates weekend of June 18 to Sep 19 and everyday of July 25 to August 31. It departs from the Alps (west) Exit of the station at 8:00 and 13:30 (twice per day).

Cherries and Sumo Wrestlers Coming Back Early April

Last year's cherries with the Castle (April 9th)

Last year’s cherries with the Castle (April 9th)

According to the ‘Cherry Blooming Forecast’, cherries at the Castle and downtown Matsumoto might begin blooming April 3rd. The event ‘Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing’ will be held from three days after cherries begin blooming and continue 8 days (so possibly around April 6th till 13th)
The special illumination for the cherries will start from the same day and will continue two days longer (10 days).

00006078On April 7th, ‘Sumo road-show in Matsumoto’ will be held again. The last year’s road-show was heated because of a new hero ‘Mitake-umi’ from Kiso in Nagano Prefecture. You might see some sumo wrestlers viewing cherries somewhere after the show if you are very lucky.


Cherries in Full Bloom and New Ninja Waiting You in the Castle


Cherry blossoms are now blooming in Matsumoto. Cherries in the Matsumoto Castle are in full bloom and “Nighttime Cherry Blossom Viewing” event is held every night until 14th.

A new sticker of “cherry and castle” has also just started to be sold in the souvenir shop in the Castle garden.
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When you enter the castle garden, you see samurai wearing armor. It is service by omotenashi group and you can take a photo with him freely.

Last year, a cool ninja and cute princess joined. They sometimes appear, so if you are lucky you can meet them.





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