Posted by: Laura | November 30, 2008

Castles, Hydro-electricity, Snow, and… Sarubobo?

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Finally!  I’m posting again!  Here’s some of last weekend… I’m trying to play catch-up.  I’ll try to be better this week and slowly catch you guys up!

So, after a good night’s sleep with very full tummys (from our yakiniku I posted about last time in case you’ve forgotten), we headed out to see the biggest attraction in Matsumoto – the Matsumoto Castle – before heading off to our final destination of Takayama.  The Matsumoto Castle (originally known as Fukashi Castle) is one of about 4 remaining original castles left in Japan (most others are reproductions).  It is an amazing sight, with alot of history obviously.  I won’t try to explain everything here since I still have an entire weekend (and now the week too) to catch you up on, but just know everything in it had a specific purpose – again with the attention to details thing here in Japan… they think of everything!  I will say that the main reason that it is still standing, though, is because it was never actually attacked.


I think these might be the city rules... They are fun to try to interpret. Some of my guesses are: (Left side of the sign) You CAN annoy the trees with paper, take pictures with flash, protest, or be a mime if you choose. (Right side) You CANNOT take your anger out on the park benches, have random camp fires, play golf in the streets, or be a biker dude... just my guesses 🙂

Koun Temari - meaning "Lucky Temari"

Koun Temari - meaning Lucky Temari

After the castle, we went back through the streets to get a few souvenirs before hitting the road again.  One of the things that Matsumoto is known for are their Temari balls – decorations that are a ball covered with patterns made in string.  It is a lucky ornament which brings happiness, and also a traditional folk art which brides take to their new house for a happy life (you’ll see this happiness/happy life thing tends to be a trend with traditional souvenirs).

Leaves in the park

Leaves in the park

Then we found a garden/temple area with some pretty fall leaves so we stopped to take pictures.  Paul and Mandy are obsessed with taking pictures of fall leaves, probably since they haven’t really seen fall in like 3 years with they’re living in always sunny Monterey, California and all – they suffer so.


Taiyaki with chocolate filling

Next we grabbed some taiyaki from a stand near the temple.  Taiyaki is a Japanese fish-shaped cake most often filled with red bean paste, but they also commonly are made with custard, chocolate, or cheese.  Mandy and I tried something similar to this that was filled with red bean paste called ningyoyaki when we were in Asakusa.  Red bean paste may not sound all that appetizing, but for those of you who know about my sweet tooth, trust me, it’s good 🙂  The taiyaki we got today were custard, chocolate, and cheese, and I have to admit I did like those better… although I wouldn’t pass up the red bean paste flavored ones 🙂  I think my favorite of the taiyaki may have been the custard one.  Moving on, once we felt like we were stocked full of goodies for the trip, we went back to the car, and hit the road.

The Reservoir with some snow and fall leaves

The Reservoir with some snow and fall leaves

After making a quick turn (on a slightly snowy/icy road) to stop and take a few pictures and a reservoir of sorts, Paul realized that the building across the street from us was a hydro-electric museum.  Since this year his main objective in Japan is to travel and learn as much about the country as possible (and get paid to do so… but I’m not jealous, really…) he decided that he should go in and see what it was about.  I went in with him while Mandy waited in the car for what we thought would only be a few minutes – that turned into I think 45min to an hour… sorry Mandy :-/.

Hydro-electricity museum

Hydro-electricity museum

It was very much designed to get kids involved in learning about it… so it was perfect for me and Paul! haha.  We played a video game that seemed to somehow move the water from one reservoir to the other to create energy… but I was really just guessing since I couldn’t read the questions OR the answers, but it was still fun.  Then on to something else neither of us understood very well, and then on to the stationary bikes where we raced to produce energy (I think… again, I didn’t really understand much).  Then onto some cool machines – it’s hard to explain what they were, but they were cool and fun with sound waves and such.  And then, the virtual reality machines.  Next we ran into a rather unhappy Mandy who had come inside to find us since again, we had thought it would only take a few minutes, and we had in fact been in there quite longer, and we went back to the car and hit the road.  Sorry (again) Mandy!

Me at Chuba Sangaku National Park

Me in the snow at Chuba Sangaku National Park

Next stop, somewhere in a National Park to take some pictures.  The snow was amazing!  Paul and Mandy haven’t seen snow in quite some time either, so it was exciting for them too.  There was probably at least a foot of snow in the area, if not more, which you can imagine made for some fun driving for Paul with it being his first time driving in Japan and all.  But, after a couple more hours on the road, we finally made it to… Takayama!

Takayama is a very traditional little city.  It’s known as one of the best examples of Old Japan, probably because it was snowed in and basically shut down for months at a time in the winters, so it probably was a bit hard for outsiders to reach it to modernize it.  But now, it is a quant little town, which does thrive on tourism since people want to see this example of Old Japan, but that doesn’t seem to have harmed its character.  They’re known for their craftsmanship so there are many examples of fine carvings and wood work everywhere – Dad, you would be in heaven here!

Sarubobo Statue

Sarubobo Statue

We wandered the city for a bit.  The first stop was a temple where we had our first (of what would be many) encounters with what is known as Sarubobo.  Sarubobo, as we came to discover later, means “Happy Monkey Baby”.  Grandmothers and mothers used to make a Sarubobo doll for their granddaughters/daughters hoping for happiness and good health for them.  Throughout the years it seems to  have gathered more and more “good luck” type meanings, and basically if you have this doll, you should have a long, happy life, meet the perfect guy, have many children, etc. etc… But, at any rate, we wandered around some more to see the shops that were there, and then headed back to the minshuku – family run guest house.  It’s like the traditional Japanese Ryokan, but you do a few things more yourself like put out your own bedding and whatnot.

Paul, Mandy and I at dinner at our minshuku

Paul, Mandy and I at dinner at our Minshuku

We had reserved ourselves seating at the 9 course dinner that they were serving there that night.  That was a great way to try a good variety of different types of Japanese food.

My room at the Minshuku - about 8x8 ft.  Japan is not built for tall people...

My room at the Minshuku - about 8x8 ft. Japan is not built for tall people...

Then off to bed to rest for a full day of fun in Takayama!


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