Matsumoto – spots and pottery

Some cities are easier than others and first impressions are helped enormously when the sun is shining, parking is easy and you get a good cup of coffee before sightseeing starts in earnest. Matsumoto ticked all three boxes. It is the birthplace of Yayoi Kusama, an artist famous for her spot and mirror creations. Outside the Matsumoto City Museum of Art is her installation – Visionary Flowers and in the bright sunlight, it looked great.

Yayoi Kusama is acknowledged as one of Japan’s greatest living artists. Read the entry about her on Wikipedia, she has had a very interesting and challenging life and explored many different art concepts, but dots are one of her favourites.

“A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement … Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

—Yayoi Kusuma, in Manhattan Suicide Addict . She will be pleased with the cast iron manhole covers in Matsumoto – big dots!

We couldn’t resist seeing another Japanese castle and Matsumoto is another National Treasure. It is the oldest five storied castle in Japan. Twenty three generations of six families have lived there. Clan symbols can be seen on all the castles in Japan. The moat surrounding it looks great when viewed from the top and the cherry blossoms and mountains set it off well.

A quick look at the museum, including its charcoal powered fire engine and then a wander back through the Nawate-dori lanes by the river for lunch. Some cosmopolitan eateries on offer – German kuchen and French patisseries. We stopped to smile at the entertainment on offer at a children’s party that was drawing quite a crowd.

We stayed that night a Karuizawa – the guide books billed it as a glitzy resort, best known for where Emperor Akihito met Michiko Shonda on a tennis court in August 1957, the woman who would become his wife. It is also where in the 1970s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent several summers with there son Sean. Many Germans visit it because of walking trails near the volcano Mount Asama. What we saw of it didn’t appeal as it is heavily built up and very spread out.

We were then heading to visit a Japanese lady who lived in England some forty years ago, but that meant first another day of travel via the ceramic centre of Ibariki. The ceramics are amazing, especially when the broken chards show the pattern all the way through them and the videos display the fantastic transformations of the glazes after they have been fired in the kiln.

Ishioka Route Inn was a modern hotel and the town was very unappealing, but it was an hour’s drive the next day for our visit to our Japanese friend so we made the best of it. That meant a walk to some strange 1920 style houses and dinner in a disappointing chain restaurant. But we still had fun exploring, discovering the town has a festival too, finding new cast iron manhole covers and the locals stopped to chat to us as there were few people walking and certainly no other tourists.

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