After Tokyo I found myself in a new part of Japan: Matsumoto. It is famous for being a basecamp for those interested in venturing into the Japanese Alps, as well as for its well preserved castle.
It was a short walk from the station to Matsumoto Backpackers. I was immediately impressed by the friendly atmosphere of the place. New guests were greeted with the formal “Irasshaimase” (welcome). After checkin, we could then exchange the Japanese “welcome back!” and “come again soon!” Having lived alone for three years in Tokushima, it felt especially homey to have people care about my comings and goings.
I spent two weeks there. It included some daytrips and exploration of the area, but my favorite part was simply being in Japan again. Some of the street fashion had changed (gauchos are really in now), but the people seemed the same and all of the features of the town were too. The official town notices included cute characters explaining what to do or not to do. The boxy cars drove by on the lefthand side of the road. People waited patiently to cross intersections even when no cars were coming. My favorite store, The Daiso 100yen Shop, had the same array of cute and useful things at just 108yen each (sales tax had gone up).
After being on the move, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to unpack my clothes a little bit and take each day with leisure. In the mornings, long white sheets would be put out on the balcony to dry in the sun. When you stepped out the door, you would hear the gurgling of the stream passing by. The stream provided a perfect point for orienting oneself in the city. All you had to do was follow it to find your way home.
One thing I found surprising was how many people I met while there. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, as I’ve passed through many a hostel on my way exploring other places. But what was odd was how regular it became to meet new people, have a good talk about our respective cultures and interests in Japan, then never see them again after saying goodnight. With every new person you could reinvent your story. What brought you here? What was your status in life? Everyone had at least two things in common: an interest in travel, and in seeing what Matsumoto and Japan have to offer. The travelers I met came from all over. Japan, Argentina, Finland, Luxembourg, Germany, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Australia, France, and even from good ole USA.