Plan for the day
We would drive westward toward Matsumoto, our first destination was Koboyama of Matsumoto. Our second destination would be Takato Castle of Ina. From Tokyo to Matsumoto was a 228 km – 3 hours drive. From Koboyama to Takato castle would be a 58km – 1 hr drive. For the night we would stay in Ina town.
By the end of the day
Komoyama (Mt Komoyama) was a forest of cherry blossom trees at its best! It was so beautiful!! The weather turned bad so we had to cancel our visit to Takato Castle.
Picking up the car in the morning
Yat Thong and I woke up early and walked to Nissan Car Rental outlet about 1.5 kilometer directly west of our rental apartment to pick up our car. We had rented a station wagon and the insurance coverage had a deductible of ¥50,000. The car picking went smoothly. We inspected our car carefully for scratches and insisted that the staff documented them on the inspection sheet. We just wanted to ensure that when we returned the car we would not be made to pay for damages due to scratches and dents that existed before we took over the car.
Picking up our rental Station Wagon at Nissan Rental outlet (Akihabara Ekimae)
Our car came with an ETC card that allowed us to drive through toll booth without having to stop to pay cash. Generally from our experience, toll charges paid using ETC card had some discount compared to those that paid by cash. Unfortunately Nissan Rental outlet did not offer JEP (Japan Express Pass) that would provide more saving as it capped the toll charges to ¥20000 for a 7 days pass and ¥35000 for a 14 days pass with unlimited travelling.
As usual we were not in a hurry to drive off with the car, we got the staff to demonstrate on the usage of the car gps etc etc before leaving. The rental charges for 13 days came up to ¥113400. This rental amount plus petrol, expressway tolls and parking might add up to be more than four 14-days Japan rail passes ( ¥4,6390 per person), would still be a better option. The convenience of having our own car, travelling at will and not having to lug our bags in an out of trains etc etc were a great advantage.
I activated the GPS and put in the mapcode of our rental apartment and in less than 10 minutes we were back at our apartment to pickup mum, Lin Ying and the luggage.
Breakfast along the highway
I liked travelling on Japan expressway despite the high toll charges as it cut down the travelling time by as much as half. Toll charges was an expenditure that should not be saved. Imagined visiting twice the number of places in the same duration when using expressway as compared to travelling on non tolled, this would cut down the total number of days for the trip to half that would be needed leading to great saving on food and accommodation.
Along the expressway there were also many PA(Parking Area) and SA (Service Area) where drivers and passengers could stop to eat at relatively inexpensive restaurants, use the clean toilets or pump petrol.
One and a half hour into our drive we did exactly that and stopped at Ishikawa PA for breakfast cum lunch and bought some deli to snack in the car later.
Our first rest stop was at Ishikawa PA
Koboyama (Mt Kobo)
There were several famous cherry blossom sites in Matsumoto and we picked Koboyama. By the time we reached Koboyama it was already about 2.30 pm and the sky was downcast and soon a slight drizzle started. Koboyama cherry blossom trees were in full bloom. It was lovely. The low hill was not green but light pink in color. It was a forested hill of cherry blossom trees!
We drove up a road that went up the hill and managed to park at the side of the road as near to the walking trial into the “cherry blossom trees forest”. The beginning of the trail had some steep steps but it was only for a short stretch. After that the trail was just a gentle slope going up hill. The scene of cherry blossom was awesomely beautiful!
We were very lucky as the drizzle faded off. It was so wonderful to walk under a canopy of cherry blossom. We were at Koboyama at the beginning stage of its “best viewing period” which was when 80% of the flowers were open. Absolutely gorgeous, an unforgettable sight.
Most of the trees on Koboyama belonged to the species that bore pale pink flowers. These flowers were so pale that they looked almost white. We explored further and found several trees that bore the darker pink ones too.
It was closed to 4 pm when we left Koboyama. We would have stay longer if we did not have to move on to Takato Castle which was about an hour drive away. We planned to be at Takato Castle around 5 pm and stay on till the night. Takato castle offered both day time and night time viewing of cherry blossom. Unfortunately as we got nearer to our destination, a drizzle started again and got heavier by the minute. In the end we decided to postpone our visit to Takato castle to the next day and detoured to our hotel in Ina town which was about 11 km from Takato ruin.
We left our hotel at 6.30 pm and proceeded to a nearby train station in search of a place for dinner. Before reaching the station we were already passing some restaurants. So we stopped to see what they had to offer. One particular restaurant caught our attention.
Looking at the menu placed at the front door of the restaurant the prices of the dishes looked very reasonable. So we pushed the front door and went in.
Immediately behind the door was a wall of shoe cabinets. We had to leave our shoes in the cabinets, took out the “wooden keys” before following the staff into the inner area of the restaurant.
The inner area was divided into rooms with “floor” cushions and low tables. We were shown into a room and as we sat down on the cushions we found that instead of sitting crossed legged or in a kneel position we could stretch down our legs into the cavity below in the floor under the low table. Cool!
The waitress could not understand English and we could not speak Japanese so she signed to us that when we were ready to order we could call for the staff by pressing a button on a small gadget placed at the side of the table.
The pricing on the menu looked so inexpensive that we went about ordering our favourite food without worrying about the cost. We ordered gyoza, cheece omurice, chicken katsu and noodle and had a great time eating them.
It was fun sitting in the cubicle room. It was dry (raining outside), cosy and comfortable. Finally it was time to leave and we went out to make our payment. The total amount came up to ¥4406 which did not seem too unreasonable at first thought. It was only when we were going out of the main door that it struck me that based on the menu price all our items should added up to be around ¥3000 so where did the extra came from? I went back to check with the cashier and was told through google translate that there was a ¥500 charge per seat in addition to the food charges.
Wow! 45 percent of the bill went to just sitting in the restaurant! It probably also covered a “free” small bowl of appetizer given to each of us. Yat Thong and I had visited restaurants with room seats in various parts of Japan and we did not remember paying additional charges for the seats. Maybe the seat charges then was very minimal and did not stand up in our bill.
Our Accommodation Hotel for the Night
I booked a family room at Hotel Ina on booking.com just the day before, when we re-planned our travelling route. Some of the reasons I picked Hotel Ina were that the room had an ensuite bathroom, its price was not as expensive as the other hotels in Ina city and that it had free parking. Our plan was to visit Takato Castle till late in the evening as such staying overnight in Ina city would be very convenience after the night cherry blossom viewing.
Our room was a traditional tatami room for four persons and it costed ¥15800 for one night (no breakfast). The room was smaller than our expectation. Once all the four floor futon mattresses were laid out there was hardly any space left. Luckily there was an enclose small balcony near the window which gave us some additional space.
The ensuite bath room came with a shower and a small bathtub. It was clean and had all the necessary shower cream, shampoo, combs, tooth bushes, towels etc sufficient for four. The room had a TV, mini fridge, water kettle and wifi too.
The room size would be more comfortable for two persons. But since we would be leaving early the next morning this room with an ensuite bathroom for four persons was bearable.