Sunday. It's a beautiful day, though a little on the warm side. I hit up the supermarket dumpster before heading out of town and score enough ham for pound-thick sandwhiches for two days. A brief climb, then through a mother of a tunnel and it's nearly 30 km downhill. When it comes to cycling, my favorite part about the uphill is the inevitable proceeding descent. In the Japanese Alps however, much of the hard stuff is eliminated with tunnels. Where there would be a killer pass, instead the Japanese have blasted a hole clean through the mountain. But, I'm not complaining, my legs are still sore as hell from Mt. Fuji and it's nice to have a break from any serious climbing. Traveling along on route 20, north to Matsumoto, the road follows a large river valley. There is a bike trail between river and road. On the road side, rows of golden wheat fields (buckwheat perhaps, Nagano prefecture is Soba Country after all) are decorated with scarecrows like manga dolls and black plastic bags fixed to poles flutter in the wind like animated birds. On the riverside, the foliage has been left to grow wild and creeping vines with broad leaves threaten to swallow the trail. In the modern age, highways have replaced rivers as lifelines connecting civilization. In this surreal example, even farms seem to gain subsidence from the road.
When I arrive in Matosumoto it is early afternoon. I leisurely bike around the historic center when before I know it I've joined an anti-nuclear protest. Men woman and children of all ages carry signs and banners, bang on drums, play flutes and other musical instruments, and march in defiance to Japan's reliance on nuclear power. A beautiful woman of middle-age in a witches cap, hobbles with cast and cane; she is holding a megaphone to her lips chanting something in Japanese, of which the crowd responds in unison. The procession ends at Matsumoto Castle, a solemn looking building of black and white, which has earned it the moniker, "Crow's Castle". The music continues for only a short while before disbanding. People stand around socializing and I take the oportunity to make the acquaintance of some of the protesters. Pretty soon however, everyone goes there separate ways and I'm left alone to explore the city by myself. Matsumoto is a major metropolis, but the historic center is walkable and quite charming with its old buildings interspersed among skyscrapers. Behind the ultramodern City Museum (which has a great permanent exhibit of Yayoi Kusama, who's dot motif is right up my alley) reminded me of the Japanese version of a creole cottage. The mud stucco had fallen off in one section exposing a lat system of sticks and twine.