Asama Spa in Matsumoto

Tonight, we are staying at a traditional Japanese Ryokan (Inn) with an Onsen (Hot Spa Pool). It is owned by the parents in law of one David’s Tokyo based friends. Our hpsts are lovely people and Mrs Takizawa (Mariko) kindly met us at the train and spent all afternoon showing us around the town.

We started out by going to one of the many nearby Wasabe farms for a lunch of Soba (Wheat) noodles and, of course, wasabe. Wasabe is that green coloured paste that you find in Japanese restaurants. It is normally so hot that a meer sniff is enough to send your head into orbit. The plant is grown in rocky beds in fresh clear running water and it is the root that is ground and used as the flavouring – a bit akin to horseradish. Some ancient water wheels in the nearby stream were once used to grind the wheat.

From there, we went into the centre of the town and visited the old castle. It has been renovated over the years, but the six story structure is one of the few original wooden castles still existing in Japan. It was originally built over 500 years ago. A series of steep staircases take you to the top floor which was used as a safe refuge on times of attack. This is very different to European castles where the keep in the centre of the castle was the safest place. However castles in both cultures were positioned inside a wall and several moats. In the nearby museum was a model of the original fortified town.

From there, we had a quick look at a very old historic school building and than onto our Ryokan for tonight’s stay.

Our room is the only one on the Ryokan that has a private bathroom – the others make use of the thermally heated spa. The floors in the room are made of Tatami (rice straw) mats and the consolation for Jill having a bad knee is that Mariko has made the bed a bit higher with a couple of extra Futons.

To complete this tradtional experience, we are watching the Sumo Wrestling on TV, however all the old wrestlers like Akebono that we knew from our previous trip here have long since retired.