We left Tokyo this morning for the mountains. A six-hour bus journey to Matsumoto and the gateway to the Japanese Alps took us via the lower slopes of Mt Fuji and lunch in a traditional Japanese restaurant.
The beauty of Japan continued to unfold as we approached our destination with the early reds and yellows of autumn picked out against purple of the mountains in the clear afternoon air.
The light was at its dramatic best as we entered the precincts of the medieval Matsumoto Castle, one of the oldest and most imposing of its type in Japan. This many-tiered wooden fortress once guarded the plains of Matsumoto, which were the scene of some legendary battles in the period. Today, it a place of typical Japanese tranquility, a calmness born of neatness and minimalism, that nevertheless holds its own kind of tension. Each floor is like the gun deck of a square-rigged man of war, swept clear for action and silent in the approach of the enemy. Windows on all four sides were used to give commanders sight of the nearby battles and conferences would be held there on strategy.
In one of the lower rooms, however, the early evening sun caught the warm oranges and textured hues of the ancient wooden floors and window frames; outside, the Japanese maple blazed above the blue waters of the moat. An inspired Natalia said the place would make the perfect yoga studio… were she ever to be allowed, it would probably be one of the best classes in the world.
Another lengthy supper (Mr Kincaid must have a stomach like and iron bucket – where he leads, I cannot follow) and we went home to prepare for a very early start: the alps beckon.