We awoke to a beautiful spring morning in Matsumoto on Day Three. The weather was a balmy 16 degrees celsius, complete with the bluest sky that we had seen in the last 6 days. It was the perfect day to pay Matsumoto Castle and the Nawate Frog Street a visit, before heading back to the Nakasendo Trail in the afternoon.
Matsumoto Castle is one of the four castles designated as national treasures in Japan. Known also as the “Crow Castle” because of its black exterior, this was certainly a beautiful cherry blossom spot when we visited. It is highly recommended to join a tour provided by docent guides at the entrance, who will give very enlightening insights into the history and culture of the place. What’s more, it is FREE (nothing calls to us aunties, more than FREE stuff) so if you have an hour or so to spare, do sign up for this.
After wandering the grounds of the castle, it was off to Nawate-dori (縄手通り) “Frog” Street just round the corner. So the history behind this quaint frog-themed street by the Metoba River is that long ago, frogs used to inhabit the area. The Japanese word for frog is Kaeru which also means to “return home”. As a symbol for a safe return home and the frogs that used to reside here, a statue of a frog was placed at the entrance of the street.
Besides all manner of frog-ware, there were also cafes and handicrafts to check out. My main aim, however, was to find the famous Taiyaki Furusato shop and it was hard to miss with the aroma of freshly baked taiyaki calling out to me not far from the start of the street. A special Sakura flavoured red bean was the limited edition flavour for the spring season so of course, we had to ingest it. Nothing beats the lovely crunch of the first few bites followed by the piping hot filling within the fish-shaped confectionery.
As if I could not be happier, I chanced upon another taiyaki seller further down the street. While not as famous as Taiyaki Furusato, this one sold taiyaki ice which was a fish-shaped crispy wafer with vanilla ice cream and red bean sandwiched in between. If you ask me, this was almost as good as the steaming hot one. Best to try both so that you savour the hot and the cold 🙂
We left the street laden with ceramic plates, a nabe pot, numerous frog ornaments and full bellies as we did not stop at just taiyaki. There was also a lip-smacking yakitori and takoyaki stand which we could not ignore.
To get back onto the Nakasendo Trail, we took a 60 minue train ride from Matsumoto to Nagiso where we had booked a unique ryokan stay by a waterfall. Takimi no Ie (滝見の家) or Takimi House, turned out to be the best stay we experienced on this trip and one of the best accommodation experiences I have had in Japan. Owned and managed by Koike-San and his wife, the family home has been welcoming guests for 30 years since his return from Tokyo as a chef. Nestled amongst cedars with views of the waterfall from the onsen (yes, you have your own onsen both indoors and outdoors) and the main dining area, the whole house is your own to lounge about in as Koike-San only takes in one party at a time, up to a maximum of 8 pax.
Being aunties hoping to pick up some cooking secrets from a master chef, we offered to help out in the dinner preparation in the kitchen. After some persuasion, Koike-San allowed us in and was kind enough to give us a demo and even we even got some hands-on experience (vegetable chopping was all we were allowed though), much to the amusement of his assistant who was also his classmate from way back!
Dinner was a lavish, multi-course affair with super generous portions of meat and vegetables for the nabe (hotpot) and barbeque over the traditional irori, which is a sunken hearth of charcoal. Owing to dietary restrictions of one of us aunties, Koike-San thoughtfully provided duck but reserved slivers of wild boar to be cooked in the nabe after we were done with the duck. The soup stock at the end was brimming with such rich umami goodness that we were totally stuffed even before embarking on the grilled wagyu.
Did I mention the awesome onsen? We immersed sore muscles into the hot steaming indoor bath before proceeding to the rotenburo which had a view of the cascading waterfall just next to the house. On a clear night, you could onsen forever, although you would probably be as shrivalled as a prune, so best to exercise some restraint there.
Next morning, refreshed from a restful sleep in thick futons and a further onsen session, we were greeted with a wholesome Japanese breakfast to start the day. It was with much regret when we finally had to pile our backpacks into Koike-San’s MPV and part ways with him at Nagiso Station. If you do happen to be along the Nakasendo Trail, do check out this amazing place.
About the Nakasendo Trail:- https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6078.html
Takimi House:- http://www.takiminoie.com/takimi-house
About Matsumoto:- https://visitmatsumoto.com/en/