Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Matsumoto

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After a rainy night in Matsumoto, we woke up to clearing skies, that eventually revealed the snow-capped mountains around us.  We headed north of downtown to Matsumoto Castle, which we were interested in, as it is one of the oldest remaining fortresses in Japan.  Matsumoto was another area where we were lucky enough to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom.  It smelled wonderful!

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We ventured inside, where we had to remove our shoes and put them in a plastic bag and carry them with us through the tour. The inside was all beautiful dark wood, rough-hewn beams. The view from the sixth story was beautiful, with the Japanese alps peeking out in the background.

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Outside on the castle grounds a samurai and a ninja wandered around striking poses for photos with tourists.  They did not expect any tips--just part of the experience.

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The stairs between levels were nearly as steep as a ladder.  This is in part to make defense easier, but we wondered if it was also an economy of space.

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The headroom on most of the stairs was roughly 4 feet above the step directly below it.  Tall tourists provided amusement to the rest as they contorted their way down (up was relatively easy), encumbered by their shoes in a bag.  It wasn't a simple task for short tourists, either.

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The ventilation windows, and some arrow slits provided interesting views of architecture details in addition to the city around the castle.

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The samurai was really into his job.  When he'd pose with anyone, he would flourish his folding fan, and snap it open with an incredibly loud pop.

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Before leaving Matsumoto, we made a final stop at a grocery for lunch fixings.  If you've followed any of out travels, you know how much we love to wander around a local grocery anywhere away from home.  It's an interesting view into local life that you don't easily see otherwise.

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The red meat in a typical Japanese supermarket looks quite different from the lean, red slabs in a typical American grocery.  It’s marbled heavily with fat; this example is fairly coarse compared to some of the fine, lacy webbing of fat we saw in other stores.  We never bought any in the grocery, but we did eat it at restaurants a number of times, and it was delicious.  The fine veins of fat rendered out very quickly, even when cooked rare, leaving a very tender cut with no fatty taste and a crispy exterior.

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Another interesting difference we noticed in all of the supermarkets we visited, as well as in some of the larger convenience stores, was the customer bagging area.  This was one of the better organized examples; when you entered the store, you could pick up a blue basket, and fill it with items.  At check out, the clerk would scan your items, and place them in a yellow basket.  Once you paid, you would take the yellow basket to an empty spot at the row of tables past checkout, where you’d bag your own groceries without being in the way of the next customer at checkout.  This simple design strikes us as eminently Japanese.  Well conceived and implemented, it allows you to carefully pack your groceries with the care that they clearly deserve without inconveniencing the person behind you in line.  Boy did this appeal to David.

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The cash registers were also different.  It may not be obvious in the zoomed image above, but each register has a wide tray for you to place your money in, rather than handing it directly to the cashier. (this is fairly common in Japan). The cashier would then pick your money up and feed it into a scanning slot. The register automatically counted and stored the bills before dispensing change back to the cashier. The money would then be placed back in the try, along with the receipt for you to pick up.  There was always a receipt, for even the tiniest purchase.  We paid for our rental car and some of our rooms with a credit card, but all of our other purchases, including some of our accommodations, were paid in cash.  For a very technologically oriented society, cash is still the main method of payment there.

The Crow Castle at Matsumoto was an interesting aspect of Japanese history, but we were just as fascinated with the inner workings of the local supermarket as we were at the intricate tiles on the roof of the castle. An argument can be made for a direct line between the care and consideration taken in the construction of that incredible building and the care that goes into packing a bag of groceries or the consideration given to the system of the supermarket, which makes an effort not to inconvenience anyone.
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