On arriving at Nagano Station, I learnt that the day was scheduled for Gokaicho, a once-in-seven-years’ festival. There were several promotion posters said during the festival, the hidden “secret replica” of the Amitabha Golden Triad will be revealed for all to see. What a lucky coincidence, I thought to myself.
A Stroll in Zenkoji Temple Town
It was a clear day so we decided to take a walk to Zenkoji temple. The street leading to the historic site was lined with soba noodle stores, cafes, and souvenir and craft shops. Inside the sacred site, many devotees were lined up waiting for their turn to touch the sacred pillar for good luck. The temple grounds are extensive, a complex set of buildings with intricate wooden structures and Japanese gardens.
A Mid-Mountain Lunch
On the way to Matsumoto city, we made a brief stop at Obasute Station, one of Japan’s most scenic stations. It was where we would have our lunch. Our lunch was persimmon leaf sushi, a type of sushi commonly found in the prefecture. The persimmon leaves have antibacterial properties and they are salted to increase the effect before wrapping around the sushi rice and the cured fish.
Time wrap to Feudal Past
Then we headed to Matsumoto Castle, one of four castles designated as a National Treasure of Japan. It is unique for having both a secondary donjon and a turret adjoined to its main keep. The main building features steep wooden stairs, including openings to drop stones onto invaders, openings for archers, as well as an observation deck with nice views over the city and the Northern Alps from far away.
Then we continued the city tour, exploring Nawate Dori Street, rows of small shops stretching along the Metoba River. Guarding the entrance of the street was a huge stonecast samurai frog in full armour, which has been admired for rescuing this place from catastrophe in 1959. That’s why manmade frogs can be seen everywhere.
Slurp Soba Noodles
Soba noodles are a synonym for Nagano. Its highlands are perfect for growing buckwheat. We went to a restaurant near Nawate Dori and tried out Toji soba noodles. The noodles were cooked and left to cool completely before serving with hot broth in an iron pot. The guests were supposed to place the noodles in the bamboo basket and dunk into the iron pot for a couple of minutes to warm them up, and then eat them.
Bike and Boat through Breathtaking Countryside
Daio Wasabi Farm is the largest wasabi farm in Japan – and a popular sightseeing spot, located in rural Azumino city near Matsumoto. A visit to a wasabi farm wouldn’t be complete without enjoying a splendid view by bike and clear spring on a colourful rubber boat. Below the boat, tiny fish swam around swaying seaweed in the shallow steam. Near the pier was giant moss-covered water wheel which was constructed for the filming of Kurosawa Akira‘s “Dreams” in 1989 and have been left standing.
The farm has multiple large fields with a network of streams that delivers delicate beds of wasabi plants with water from the Northern Alps. Originally, wasabi was a wild vegetable which grew under shady trees, so the fields are protected from the sunlight by black tarp sheets. I have just learnt that wasabi can be used to create many interesting menus such as soft-serve ice cream, tempura, and soba noodles – or even add to drinks like beer, wine and juice.
Outside the farm, riding bicycle along the rice fields through the wasabi land with the Northern Alps in the distance was a pure pleasure. In this milder climate, the green rice fields were appeared gold against the mountain and town in the distance. When we arrive at the train station, we sat smiling, flicking through the photos had been taken along the ride and agreed that it was one of our best days in Japan.
Texts and Photos by Tataya Kudo
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