Gokuri juice and sacred mountains – Matsumoto – Japan 2006

I am very depressed right now.

This is the last night that we will be looking over Shinjuku’s insane canyons of flashing neon. Tomorrow evening we return to Australia.

I would be quite happy just to keep working from this cramped hotel room with the wonderful view, to go out shopping until late in the department stores and eating cheap noodles for dinner. Or to escape to an exquisite garden and drink tea, even if I don’t really enjoy the flavour. There’s nowhere like this in Australia.

Our holiday may be almost over, but thanks to a bottle of Gokuri, a snowbound volcano and and a castle surrounded by cherry blossoms I feel that it is almost complete.

The choice for today was a train ride to Matsumoto or up to Sendai. Matsumoto won partly because the train departed from Shinjuku so no cross Tokyo subway or Yamanote ride was needed.

It was raining on the way up, obscuring much of the view. However, as we neared Matsumoto the skies cleared enough to appreciate a fantastic view of the snow-topped Japanese Alps and Lake Showa and became free of cloud.

The fresh, clean air was a welcome change from Tokyo’s impenetrable grey.

Matsumoto was a delightful city. We followed the directions of the tourist information office to the castle, recognised as one of Japan’s top 3. The sight of the black and white tower above its moat and surrounded by cherry blossoms and with snowcapped mountains in the background was simple beautiful. We could not stop photographing it from all angles.

The self-guided tour of the interior was interesting and well signed. Very steep stairs made the path difficult at times, but the views from above were great.

We stopped for udon at one of the small restaurants and souvenir shops that line Kaoru (Frog) street, next to the river. There B talked Cantonese to a couple from Hong Kong.

We realised that we did not have the time to go onwards to Nagano, so we set off back towards the station. On the way we popped into a little dolls shop. While the old owners spoke no English, their kind american trained daughter did and we enjoyed a chat with her.

The kindness of the Japanese towards us has been astonishing. I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to reciprocate.

In the end I could not regret returning directly to Shinjuku. After boarding the train and in the five minutes before departure I popped back out on to the platform to buy a drink from a vending machine. There it was. Gokuri – the grapefruit drink hat had sustained me during our first trip to Japan and was unseen since.

The other pleasant surprise on the way back was the sudden appearance of Mount Fuji. Only once had I caught a glimpse of the sacred mountain and that was out the window of a plane while sitting in the middle seats. I can now understand the Japanese reverence towards Fuji-yama.

Upon our return to Shinjuku we shopped in various department stores until they all closed. In the shopping mall beneath our hotel I made our final major discovery – apple chips, just as good as the ones we ate in Sydney at a Japanese festival. I will be in to buy more tomorrow.

Now it’s goodnight to the lights of Shinjuku.

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