So instead we went to nearby Matsumoto and hopped a rickety little local train that took us, being Zach, Sanami and Myself, deep into the wilds of Nagano prefecture. Our eventual destination was the town of Hotaka, known for the purity of its spring water. They say that pure water is the first step to growing that most wonderful of plants, the Wasabi plant. I have been known to say that I don't eat sushi for the raw fish. I eat sushi for the subtle flavor of wasabi. Well that and the glory that is pickled sushi ginger. Especially now that I have been deprived of spicy food, I find solace in the white heat of lots of wasabi.
Arriving at Hotaka we rented some mountain bikes and set off, dodging cars and the occasional wedding. Yup, Zach got a vision of his future, maybe. There was a full shinto wedding party at a local shrine, and the groom was a rather nervous looking white guy.
It really was a great day to be out, warm enough that it actually felt like spring. Unlike Kanazawa, home of the Worst Weather in the World (TM) (except for Antarctica, they have worse weather).
So after dodging a few tour busses we made it to the edge of town and the wasabi farm. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was very pleased with what we found. The rows upon rows of cultivated irrigated wasabi were very pleasing to the eye, and the piped in classical music added a bit of a festive air to the whole thing.
While the day was nice, one look at the trees was enough to know that winter is not very long gone. Luckily, we had plenty to keep us warm. Almost anything you could think to add wasabi to was on offer. Wasabi katsu don, wasabi crackers, wasabi beer (didn't try!) wasabi juice, wasabi ice cream (did try!) and more. Actually everything I tried tasted wonderful, and no the ice cream wasn't spicy. The fresh ground wasabi that went with lunch was though!
As we rode back we caught a glimpse of a field that had a metric ton of medium sized hawks soaring and swooping around it. I had never seen so many birds of prey in the same place at the same time. I desperately wished I had brought my Nikon with me, and my 300 mm lens. Alas I didn't so the photographic record will remain incomplete.
Back in Matsumoto we hit up MOS Burger for lunch. In a fit of wasbi frenzy I ordered the Avacado Wasabi Burger, a special offering that is hard to find. It was delicious, and a perfectly spicy cap to a spicy day. But unknown to us, our day was not yet over...
We decided to check out Matsumoto Castle, one of the few remaining original feudal castles in Japan. After getting lost, we found our way to the fortification and discovered that they had a special event that night. While we watched the sun go down we were treated to live music and the gradual lighting of the structure, and adjacent sakura.
It was beautiful to watch, but without a tripod it was very, very difficult to photograph. Out of the few dozen pictures I took, these are some of the few that don't look like a blurry mess. Well live and learn. Always carry a tripod!