Japan Part 5 - Matsumoto and the Famous Snow Monkeys!!
Keep scrolling for the monkeys!!
We moved through the small towns of Tsumago and Obuse on our way from Kyoto to Takayama and Takayama to Matsumoto.
Tsumago was a post/stage town on the Nakasendo Way, the 310 mile route between Kyoto and Tokyo, established around the 8th century. Tsumago one of the post towns to offer shelter and services to "travellers" - usually government officials, samurai, the highest level officials stayed in the "honjin" in each town and we were able to visit the honjin, the Okuya, in Tsumago which is now a museum. The town has been restored and is well preserved, all the electricity wires that you see in most Japanese towns carefully hidden. We even managed to take a hike to the nearby bamboo forest.....
It was the only place we saw rain all holidays!
Obuse is a small town famous for chestnuts and being home to the Hokusai Museum. Hokusai was one of Japan's most famous artists, for amongst other things, his series called 36 Views of Mount Fuji and The Great Wave. We had a quick visit to the museum and time for a chestnut ice cream. We also visited a sake brewery (always with a cedar ball hanging outside) where we had some sake tasting.....which can be drunk hot or cold.....
Matsumoto Castle - a perfect reason to visit the city of Matsumoto, the Black Crow Castle...built in 1593 it is the oldest five-story tenshu (tower castle) in Japan. It was fun to wander barefoot through the various levels of castle, seeing the moon viewing platform, the steep wooden stairs to each floor, the defensive features such as the ishiotoshi (stone drop) and the sama (opening for archers) and the moat with its vermillion bridge.
Another highlight of the trip followed the next day when we went to the Jigokudani (Hell's Valley) Monkey Park (click the link to see some amazing photos in New Scientist magazine) to see the wild snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) with its hot spring for the exclusive use of the 200 monkeys in the troop. It was amazing to be so close to the monkeys and even more amazing that they weren't in the least interested in the human presence, just in each other! We spent over 2.5 hours there just watching their behaviour and listening to their chatter, totally entranced. I must admit this visit was one of the key reasons for choosing the trip I did and I wasn't disappointed. I think I took almost 200 photos (deleted approximately half) and I am really pleased with some of the results!