A few weeks ago Jen, Calley, and I took off for a long weekend in Matsumoto and the surrounding mountains. (Actually, first, we saw a sumo tournament, and we took off from there.) We started with the castle of course — it’s one of the best in Japan — and then had lunch in a fabulous little noodle shop. We spent the afternoon wandering through the historic part of town, and then were picked up to head up into the mountains. We heard about this place through Sumi, whose uncle takes photos for them sometimes, and so she helped us get a good reservation — we can’t thank her enough, we’d never have known about it without her.
The van that picked us up stopped to put chains on, and then we began an epic trip up the mountain. The road was steep and a series of endless switchbacks until we got up to the ridge, where the hoarfrost began. While there was no accumulation in the valley, up on the mountain there were several feet, with more slowly drifting down as evening settled in. Aside from being slightly fearful for our lives (despite assurances from the driver — which Jen translated — that the van was supposed to be skidding and sliding like that) and carsick, it was a pretty amazing accent. We stopped part way up to take some pictures, and then continued on to the hotel.
The hotel is situated on the top of a mountain with very few other mountains immediately around it, but a ring of white-topped peaks at a distance 360 degrees around. We suspect that it’s possible through a partnership with the radio tower maintainers, as there are a garden of towers up there as well which require electricity and clear roads for maintenance. Otherwise maintaining a hotel at the top of a remote mountain like that would be prohibitively expensive. Most of the rooms in the hotel, including ours, having amazing views — we could see fuji from ours — and the onsens are walled entirely in glass so you can relax in the hot water while appreciating the mountains peaking up beyond the cloud-cover in the valley below.
Not wanting to waste any daylight, we quickly headed back out into the frigid wind and snow to take a walk around the top of the mountain. The view is just incredible, and the harsh climate makes for really beautiful landscapes. We promptly all got hoarfrost in our hair, on our hats, and in our eyelashes. I took a metric ton of photographs, while Calley romped happily in the snow and Jen did her best not to turn into a popsicle. We came back to the hotel and gratefully sank into the onsen to thaw, then headed to dinner.
Dinner turned out to be an adventure that almost needs its own post… one course after another, all kinds of Japanese treats, and more food than we could possibly eat. They ended up delivering dessert to our room later while we were playing board games under the heated table. We did, however, discover the hard way that trying to communicate total vegetarianism requires not only telling them you don’t eat fish or meat, but you have to specify shellfish as well. They kept bringing poor Calley all kinds of delicacies like scallops and stuffed lobster and so forth. We tried to be surreptitious because they got quite worried if we didn’t eat something, but we did eventually get caught passing things across the table. We tried to assure the waitress that it was simply so delicious we had to share, but I’m not sure she believed us. At any rate, despite the shellfish misunderstanding, we all still got a ton of really amazing food.
The next day continued in much the same vein with exploring, photographing, gallivanting, eating, snowshoeing, soaking, sitting in a massage chair looking out at the snow, and just generally having an amazing time. The air the second day was clearer, so we got an even better view of the surrounding mountains, and got to try out the various onsen pools they have with views in different directions. We were very sad to leave so soon that afternoon, but due to our schedules it had to be a quick trip. The staff (who had been very concerned about having foreigner guests — I think mostly Japanese people stay there — and were very attentive, trying to make sure we understood) waved us off, and we headed back down the mountain and caught our train home!
(I apologize that these are all out of order — the new gallery editor is a little frustrating.)