Wednesday June 9, 2010
MATSUMOTO CITY, Nagano Prefecture, Japan – “Here the compass doesn’t work, the magnets make it impossible to locate the bodies…”
We awoke early again today and after breakfast filed onto the bus. We left our hotel for Midori No Mura or the Green Village, a small mountainous resort owned by the Technos College.
Our journey brought us out of Tokyo and into Nagano Prefecture, the site of the 1998 Olympic games. One of the most famous sites in Nagano is Mt. Fuji, the tallest of the four mountains in Japan. We traveled up to the fifth stage of the mountain the furthest up you can drive. The fifth stage is also about halfway up the mountain. The second half of the mountain must be hiked. On the way up the mountain we learned of the different mountains in Japan and more specifically about Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is actually a volcano and since other mountains don’t surround Mt. Fuji it is visible from most of Japan.
Each stage of the mountain has significance. Our guide announces, “We have just entered the third stage, this is where people go to commit suicide. Here the compass doesn’t work, the magnets make it impossible to locate the bodies.”
Another half hour of traveling brought us to the fifth stage and we exited the bus taking in Mt. Fuji for the first time. A thick white fog covered the summit and cold wind blew across my face as a freezing rain fell.
The owner of the gift shop herded us inside so that we would purchase gifts from the various vendors inside. It was here that we were able to try many different kinds of Japanese candies. One particular candy that stuck out were chocolate rice patties, which had a similar texture and taste to chocolate truffles, but had the consistency of a dumpling covered in chocolate with a chocolate filling.
On the third floor of the shop was an observatory. It was here that you have the best opportunity to see a majestic view of Mt. Fuji. After about a half hour at the mountain we left. Sadly the fog never lifted and I never did see a full view of Mt. Fuji. However, having been that close to such a great natural monument was inspiring.
On our way down the mountain Mitsunari says:
“We have a song about Mt. Fuji. If we are quiet the tires on the way down will sing us the song.”
Halfway down the mountain silence drifted across the bus and melodic song was heard. It sounded as though a voice were singing to you, while it was a beautiful sound there was also an eerily haunting nature to the song.
As we traveled on we reached Matsumoto City and home of Matsumoto castle. Before we see the castle, we stopped for lunch at a traditional miso factory. This factory still makes miso the traditional way, allowing miso to age three years. The Miso most of Japan makes and the kind we are accustomed to is only aged for six months. While we toured the factory, we were also given the honor of being able to try some of the three-year-old miso, which is very rare. For lunch we were served miso soup, with three different bars of sushi, as well as fried rice and tofu. We had miso tea to drink and miso ice cream for desert. The miso soup that I usually have the states has a yellow color however this soup had a brown color with rich, bold flavors. The soup was filled with vegetables, tofu and pork.
After a delicious lunch we left for Matsumoto castle. Matsumoto castle is the oldest castle preserved with its original materials. It is about 400 years old. The surrounding complex of the castle dates back to Sengoku period. The then leader Ishikawa Norimasa built the castle around 1590. In 1952 the castle was declared a national treasure of Japan. It is a flat land castle and as such it was built up on a stone embankment about ten feet high and it is surrounded by a moat. The inside stairs were steep and tall with each floor serving a specific purpose. The fourth floor is where the leader would commit seppuku (hara-kiri) or ritualistic stomach cutting (suicide) and the fifth floor was for conferencing.
After an hour of walking around the castle and its grounds we left for Midori no Mura. Midori no Mura was located in the countryside and during our drive we passed rice paddies. When we arrived we moved into our rooms, which were covered with tatami mats and the furniture was low to the ground. It was then that I discovered we would be living the traditional Japanese lifestyle by sleeping on the ground.
After moving in we ate dinner in the dining hall with everyone. After dinner we learned about different aspects of Japanese culture and etiquette. It is here that we learned were how to use chopsticks correctly. We also learned about different Japanese holidays. The first year Technos students studying English presented this lesson to us.
The presentation ended and it was time to try out the baths. The baths were traditional Japanese onsen’s. We grabbed our robes and proceeded downstairs.
There is a ritual to the baths. The first step to the baths is to sit down and shower. After you are cleaned and all of the soap is gone you are ready to enter the hot bath or onsen. The onsen is most closely related to a hot tub. The most important rule to the baths is to not mix the shower water and the onsen water. After soaking as long as you want you rinse off in cold water. These baths leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed and also extremely clean. After the bath it was time for bed.