When Mount Fuji finally graced us with her (or should it be his?) presence, we were up, dressed, toothbrushed and out of the hostel door within five minutes. Knowing the clouds would return imminently, we motored across Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge making it to the viewing point just in time to admire the reflection of Fuji-san’s revered symmetrical cone in Lake Kawaguchi. Barely ten minutes later, swirling clouds had moved in and smothered the summit.
Back at the hostel, we packed everything up and made our way to the station, where we caught the 09:51 train to Matsumoto, featuring three changes and a ride on the super-deluxe Fujikyū line. Whilst the journey was undoubtedly a little on the long side, I thoroughly enjoyed our little trip on the Fujikyū line. I’m by no means an avid trainspotter, but this journey is the pinnacle of my rail-riding experience to date. The Japanese have nailed rail transit, so this is a polite message to Britain to up its game – I, for one, would love to ride on a train like this through the Yorkshire Dales. Before you take me for a total anorak, here’s the visual evidence of this smashing locomotive.
With sofa seats and window-facing spaces, tables galore and even an on-board library, this was a level of deluxe that just doesn’t exist in the UK (except on private tourist lines like the Welsh Highland Railway, for example). The conductor chatted away to us and even took a picture of us with the train when it stopped for a short while at an intermediary station.
Train ramblings over, three changes later (one of which almost resulted in a missed train, though fortunately Laurence realised in time and we sprinted across to the right platform) we arrived in Matsumoto, a town in the heart of the Japan Alps. After some confusion regarding the directions to the hostel (entirely my fault), we finally arrived at Matsumoto Backpackers. This homely hostel is everything a hostel should be and more – its common room was laden with guides, maps and useful information, the futons were super-comfy and there was a genuine backpacker vibe which we hadn’t really experienced in our other hostels.
Our late arrival somewhat limited our options, but after depositing our stuff in the cosy dorm we set off for Matsumoto Castle. It was closed when we arrived, so we spent our time wandering through the grounds admiring Japan’s oldest fortress. It’s one of Japan’s National Treasures and its striking jet black and white exterior makes it a commanding sight.
Whilst there, we ended up having a chat to the park manager who asked us all about our trip to Japan and thought that Laurence was Japanese! After a comprehensive wander round the grounds and the now-deserted town centre, we sought out Takuma, a katsu place recommended by the hostel owner. This two-storey tavern is traditionally decorated, has attentive staff and an extensive menu (with English translations) at budget-friendly prices. I chose the pork and vegetable stir fry whilst Laurence had the chicken katsu – the dishes were also served with salad, fruit, rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles, so the price/quantity ratio easily made it the best value meal of the trip!
After our delicious and very filling meal, we went back to Matsumoto Castle to see it lit up. The floodlights made this already-magnificent fortress a sight to behold, and we naturally ended up taking rather a lot of photos between us. Back at the hostel we chatted to the other backpackers, finally decided upon a place to visit for the following day (which consequently involved a trip to 7-Eleven for supplies), and then hit the sack.
- Matsumoto Backpackers is conveniently located (five minutes’ walk to the station, fifteen to the castle) and budget-friendly; we paid ¥6300 (£49.50) each for two nights in a four-bed dorm. Their staff are super knowledgeable about the local area and full of suggestions for how to get the most out of your stay.
- If you plan to visit Matsumoto Castle, reliable sources told us its best to visit as soon as the castle opens for the day – too late in the day and it’s simply too crowded to see anything.
- The food at Takuma (たくま) was absolutely delicious, so head there if you fancy an authentic meal which won’t break the bank (1-4-3 Chuo, Matsumoto, 390-0811).