Day 6 – Machida to Osaka, the long way around

Considering how much travelling we’ve been doing on trains, I’m finding it increasingly frustrating just how hard it is to take photos from the train. There’s so many things to consider. Reflections of the camera itself, the fingers holding the camera, anything nearby, even the opposite windows of the train. Greasy marks on the inside of the windows, from where people have leant their heads while sleeping. Dirt on the outside of the windows. And even then you have to pre-empt the photo – if you try to take a photo of something when you see it, it’s already too late, even if you already have it out and ready. After a while on the trains today trying to take awesome photos, I eventually just gave up and decided to just enjoy the view without the viewfinder.

Anyway, as previously mentioned, today we headed to our next stop in Osaka via Matsumoto, on my suggestion. I’m really glad we went to Matsumoto – there were so many rivers, canals, lovely houses, pretty streets, shrines, and all sorts of things to take photos of. Not to mention Matsumoto Castle. My legs were better today – though still twinging at me, they weren’t immobilisingly painful. We checked out of our hotel in Machida and headed off on one of Japan’s many named trains – the Super Azusa express. This took about two hours to get there, winding through (often literally so) beautiful forested mountains and rice-growing valleys, with rivers and canyon-spanning highways and roads. Some houses were literally right between the train lines and a forest – I wonder just what it’s like to live there.

We arrived there right as planned, but then had to spend time looking for free lockers for our luggage.  As James said, he managed to squish his luggage into one of the smallest-size lockers, and then we found one outside for me. Unfortunately, the lockers (like the washing machines in the hotel) only take hundred-yen coins, and I was fresh out (having spent it on an apple jelly drink – it’s apple drink! with jelly! – at Hachioji Station). I headed over to McDonald’s across the road with a five-hundred yen coin to make some change. Like the way Maccas in Australia now have a section of the menu for things that cost $3.95, Maccas in Japan have a section that costs 100 yen. I bought me a Shaka-Shaka Chicken, because it was one of the few things on the list you don’t get in Australia, and it looked tasty. It’s basically a battered chicken fillet, sort of like popcorn chicken from KFC, but fillet-shaped. And -sized. Turns out you get this little sachet of flavour with it (I got cheezu flavour) pour it in, and shake it all about (shaka-shaka!). It was quite tasty, though the flavouring was pretty strong. It amused me to discover one of those designs that point the way to major cities set into the ground on the way to the Maccas, only with one particular well-known city listed as “Sydoney”. Other than “Soul” it was the only city not spelt right, boo.

In any case, this left me with four one-hundred-yen coins, just enough for the locker. I shoved my suitcase and laptop in, and we headed off for Matsumoto Castle. At least, we tried to. I’d memorised a route from Google Maps, and James grabbed a map at the station, but I was having so much fun taking photos of things to be paying attention to where we were going, and James had his map up-side down, so we wound up over-shooting the turnoff to the castle by quite a bit. No matter. I was seriously loving photographing everything.  I’d see a little mini-canal, then James spotted a cat sleeping in a basket outside a shop, then I’d pass a traditional Japanese house, then turn around to see a little Inari shrine between two houses. The city is surrounded by mountains – they’re in the background everywhere you turn. Between the station and the castle there’s a river, which has sluice gates coming into it all over the place. At one point we found an interesting-looking feature in a water flow-way that was otherwise unremarkable, until I noticed that water was going out on both sides, never in. Water apparently springs up everywhere in Japan – it’s one reason they have so many onsen, or hot-spring baths – but I didn’t expect to see it on a street in Matsumoto.

We eventually found our way onto a street that’d take us to the castle. We stopped on the way for James to get lunch – I got an ice cream too, making sure to ask for my change in hundred-yen coins (“hyaku-en kosen, onegai-shimasu”). Speaking of ice cream, considering 37°C is human body temperature, why does it feel so hot? In any case, we reached the castle, and I was seriously impressed, even just from seeing the outer moat. Matsumoto Castle is also called Karasu-jo (“Crow Castle”) because the outer walls are black, and it’s seriously an impressive-looking building. The main donjon is seven storeys tall (though only six on the outside) and you can climb through every floor. They ask you to take your shoes off, though, and I can safely say that this is the first time I’ve ever walked through a monument in just socks, never mind a five-hundred-year-old castle. Considering this is Japan, I’m not overly surprised, but it’s still something that’s not been asked before.

Even better, they let you take photos all through the castle. The view out the windows from the top floor was quite spectacular – I’ll attempt to get photos uploaded soonish, but the backlog is kinda building up. One thing I particularly found interesting was the way the weird grooves I noticed in the lawn at ground level suddenly resolved themselves into the shape of a long-demolished building from the top floor. It was so much fun clambering up and down, and the photos just don’t really do it justice.

And get this – Himeji Castle, which we’ll be visiting in a few days, is supposed to be even better.

Once we’d photographed the castle both inside and out (managing to stay inside just long enough to avoid the brief rain-shower we’d seen coming for a while) we headed back to the station to catch the Shinano express to Nagoya (Sydney’s sister city!), where we’d change to the shinkansen for Osaka. We wound up spending more time in Matsumoto than I’d expected, and the Shinano we wanted to catch was full, so we wound up catching our second set of trains in the dark, which is a shame because we can’t see the view. We got more bento boxes for dinner and ate them on the train. I bought what I initially took to be tamago-yaki (a sort of omelette-and-rice dish) but turned out to be something like a giant salmon sashimi on rice, which might possibly have been meant as a side dish to a meal rather than a bento box. It came in this seriously impressive bamboo box and wrapped in leaves, and our efforts to unwrap the leaves and leave the thing right-side-up somewhat amused the Japanese couple in the seat across the aisle from us. I guess the picture of the fish on the cardboard wrapper should have given it away, but I didn’t notice that when I bought it. James got one with a picture of cows on it, so you can probably guess what was inside.

We arrived in Shin-Osaka station at 9:30pm, and headed to our hotel, five minutes’ walk away. The room is kinda funny – it’s like two completely separate single-bed rooms, joined only by a common bathroom. each half of the room has exactly the same things – air conditioner, phone, TV, kettle, hair dryer, fridge, window, et cetera. Of course, my window appears to look out onto a brick wall – I guess I’ll get a better look in the morning. Also, it’s shown on all the maps we’ve seen that the hotel backs onto the main JR Tokaido Line, and somehow it didn’t occur to us what that meant until now: you can hear the trains pass from the room. Quite audibly, actually. I guess we’ll see how that turns out.

Interesting statistic: as of today, we would have spent thirty thousand, four hundred and seventy yen on train tickets, if we didn’t have our JR passes, or slightly over two-thirds of what we paid for it. Not bad for only six days in out of sixteen.

Today’s photo count: three hundred and eighty nine. That’s what happens when they let you take photos inside as well as out. =)

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