Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Japan 2017 Day 15: Castle & Izakaya

The plan for this beautiful, sunny day in Matsuyama was to have breakfast at the hotel buffet & then walk a few blocks to the cable car to Matsuyama-Jo, the castle on the hill in the middle of town. The buffet at the hotel was so lovely I forgot to take photos (maybe tomorrow?). The sunny day out our window was deceptive, and we made a beeline back to our hotel room to get more sweaters the minute we walked out the door. Once fortified, we went to find what is considered to be the most beautiful castle in Japan.

Charlie went to visit the castle on our trip to Matsuyama four years and one reason I didn't go then was that we believed the only way to the castle was by ski lift. No way I'm doing that (no head for heights). As it turned out, there's a cable car tram (which he took with three 80-year-old ladies that trip, relatives of a friend of ours) so I was keen to visit this time around.

After paying admission for the tram & the castle, we boarded the tram & away we went.

There were sakura trees just coming into bloom below us- so pretty. There is, indeed, a chair lift to the top as well.

Not me, not now...

We were met by a lovely woman in Taisho-era kimono & hakama at the top.

From there, you walk up & up, to the beginning of the fortifications. The castle is built in layers, for defensive purposes, with lots of loop holes & stone drops in the buildings above to defend the castle. It made me think of Minas Tirith in "Return of the King".

There was a very nice lady docent who spoke English, who accompanied us up the hill & told us about the outer walls of the castle.

Charlie & Marian were ready to storm the castle, once we reached the main gates.

There were various buildings along the perimeter of this layer of the hill, as well as amazing views of Matsuyama.

Next we handed our tickets in & started the castle tour. You take your shoes off & put them in a key locker at the beginning. Then you make your way up a very narrow (2-way!) stairway.

Most of the upstairs room contained museum-style exhibits of artifacts from the families that had once lived there. The castle dates from the 1590's & was occupied right through the Meiji Restoration, in the 1850's. The castle was never captured, but the daimyo at the time of the restoration saw the virtue of surrendering, and was rewarded by losing only his name. He still maintained his social status, likely because he'd done such a good job administrating the town.

A suit of armor belonging to one of the rulers of the castle.
There were a couple levels farther up narrow stairways, & the views were stunning.

Then we had to come down the stairs...

On our way out of the castle we stopped for beverages & soft cream cones :) And a funny photo:

It reads " Welcome to Matsuyama Castle". It really is a stunningly beautiful place & well worth the visit. I also got a nice photo of Charlie & just-blossoming sakura.

After our castle-climbing morning we decided it was time for lunch. Last time in Matsuyama we had visited a "baikeen" restaurant (Japanese for "Viking", which means it's an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord) called "Charlie's Vegetable" & liked it very much, so we tracked it down & went there today for lunch.

It serves fresh, locally-grown food (about half vegetarian) & had an amazing variety of soups, salads, side dishes, make-your-own-sandwiches, & small jelly desserts. Once again I was so in the moment I forgot to take photos, but got some of the buffet on the way out.

We did a bit of omiyage shopping then (woo hoo!!). Ehime Prefecture, where Matsuyama is located,  is known for it's towels (there's even a towel museum) so we went back to a shop we visited last time to do some shopping. Then we went back to the hotel to rest.

On our first visit to Matsuyama we were introduced to a friend of Tomoko's (whom we visited in Kanazawa, earlier in this trip), Yuka, who had done a medical fellowship in Rochester more than 10 years ago (along with her husband). As it turns out, along with being a pediatric neurologist, Yuka is a knitter & hand spinner, as I am, & is part of the Ravelry online crafting community, so she & I have stayed in touch via Ravelry ever since then. When we began planning this Japan trip last fall, I asked Yuka if she wanted visitors again, & she said yes, hence this leg of the trip in Matsuyama.

We had visited an amazing Izakaya with Yuka four years ago, & so she made a reservation for us to go back this evening (once again: woo hoo!!!). She met us at our hotel at 6:30 pm & we walked a few blocks & were there. It was so fun to see her again!! We spent the walk catching up, & then showed her photos of Brendan (she couldn't believe he was in college :) & our Japanese granddaughters (she knew Momo when she lived in Rochester, but hadn't met her daughters).

An Izakaya is a restaurant that serves alcohol & either meals in courses, or you can choose lots of dishes of foods from a menu (kind of like ordering dim sum, Japanese style). This restaurant is the first kind, and Yuka had told the owner (called "Master") what our food preferences are, and we showed up to eat what he'd prepared for us.

We were seated at a table made of 2 slabs of granite, polished on top but rough & angular at the sides.  One of the things we'd really appreciated on our last visit was the beautiful plates, glasses, & serving dishes, all chosen by the Master. So the table was right in character. We were greeted with a pumpkin-based salad on beautiful plates, & the Master's wife took our drink orders. Charlie & I were keen to have Yuka recommend some sake for us, and she & Marian had beer. Soon we all said "kampai!"

Next up was a sashimi course. Gorgeously prepared & delicious.

Then we had salad, which was followed by ako, a local fish delicacy, & fugu, the legendary (notorious?) poisonous fish which must be prepared properly :)

The fugu made me think of chicken legs, as it was still on the bone. It was cooked until tender & we just pulled the fish off the spine with our chopsticks. It had no fishy flavor & was so lovely. The ako was also sweet & delicate.

The Master popped out of the kitchen to say hi, & brought a bottle of lovely sake for us, on the house! He said he'd give it to us if we'd eat all the fish & leave nothing on the bones :) Not hard to do when it was so luscious. So was the sake! Light & a bit fruity. Went down too easily?

Next up was a cooked oyster & soramame (large green beans roasted in the pod).

And then panko fried sardines, shrimp, & eggplant.

We kept thinking each course must be the last... but they kept coming. Next up, shabu-shabu with tofu & veggies, then thin slices of pork, that we cooked at the table in broth. My companions kindly cooked the tofu & veggies first, so I could have them without getting pork on them. (Meat & I don't agree.)

The final course was fried udon noodles, which we poured shabu-shabu broth over.

After thanking the Master & Yuka profusely, Yuka took a group shot outside the restaurant with Master.

And... we could walk! Even after so much food & sake! Amazing :)

 It was just a few blocks back to the hotel, & Yuka left for her train home. Tomorrow we will meet her for a day of adventure in Matsuyama. I realized this evening that I have just 5 more days in Japan. So I'm glad I still have so much fun to look forward to :)

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