After the frenetic pace of all-night Tokyo it was nice to get off the train in the peaceful highland city of Matsumoto. There were still plenty of bright lights and a couple of 24 hour shops but these seemed to be confined to the area near the station, and many of the bars and restaurants seemed so quiet (even for a Tuesday night) that I wondered how they survived. The Rough Guide provided a recommendation for an excellent tempura dinner washed down with sake at a small and friendly restaurant called Kura—one of the aforementioned places so quiet that we would never have ventured in without the book’s guidance.

Our main reason for visiting Matsumoto was to enjoy the mountain scenery in the Japan Alps and we duly had a very enjoyable day’s tramping at Kamikōchi. Some of the trees were beginning to turn from green to the bright fiery autumn red which really added to the beauty of the setting, although this area is so popular that the lower trails were quite crowded with groups of camera-toting pensioners.

A crowd would also be a feature of our visit to Matsumoto’s impressive 16th century donjon (castle). This time the group was a large number of very excitable and boisterous school children but our friendly volunteer tour guide took it all in his stride and insisted on taking photos of us together in each photogenic spot—is there anywhere else in the world where you find people willing to give excellent hour-long private tours in a foreign language for no recompense?! (Japan has no culture of tipping so it was completely free.) Next to the castle, and included in the admission price, is the small and a-little-bit quirky Matsumoto City Museum (also staffed by very friendly people) but sadly we had to catch a train so could not explore beyond a quick walk around the ground floor.

Matsumoto had been such a pleasant and friendly place that I was a tiny bit sad when we boarded the train to the renowned Kyoto for the next part of our adventure-holiday.