One of the great things about visiting Matsumoto is that so much of it can be taken in on foot. Even the slightly farther points of interest are within easy reach by bicycle. Of course there is the Town Sneaker if you prefer to bus it around town, but I’d recommend walking or cycling.
Why? Because taking in the Matsumoto that exists in between points A and B can be as satisfying as your tour of the castle.
We took a look at some of the in-betweens in previous posts about the pure spring water bubbling up all over town …
…and the mom and pop shops that, in terms of character, no supermarket can compete with.
You’ll also find, aside from the grand traditions of Yohashira and Fukashi Shrines, innumerable half-hidden Shinto shrines that add an enchanting touch of antiquity to the modern city vibe. Most of them, however, sit in aloof mystery to the typical passersby.
Then there’s Tsukimi-Izumi Shrine.
It stands in the shadow of a stout, gnarled tree with a trunk that looks like something out of a Grimm Brothers tale – or, for those living in this century, a Harry Potter movie. From the street a modest vermillion-painted bridge leads over a small pond which, though it sits in cement, does have a koi in it.
A flagstone walkway leads to a cut-stone torii gate, young-looking and polished, much more Disney than gruesome fairy tale. A short set of stairs leads to a donation box and the latticed doors of a one-room god-apartment.
It is actually not known how far back into the annals of time Tsuki-Izumi Jinja goes. The earliest mention of it is in the “Sandai Jitsuroku” written in the 5th year of the Gangyo Era – which for us commonfolk is 881AD. In those days Tsukimi-Izumi was apparently a much larger and more elaborate affair, used for rituals and ceremonial purposes. For a (probably really long) time it stood surrounded by forest – and has been associated with a nearby spring that has flowed continuously up from its subterranean source for over a millennium.
We are further told by the sign out front that along through the centuries a ‘government road’ was built to pass by this shrine. With no more information than that, we can only wonder whether this was a byway of the fabled Zenkoji-Kaido route.
Whatever its one-time governmental status, this place has for eleven centuries been a place for the townspeople to pray, and to avail themselves of the pure, eternally-flowing groundwater. Perhaps predictably, the deity of the spring waters, Gyoi-no-kami (御井の神), is one of the gods enshrined here.
You can find sparkling clean spring water flowing up from underground all over downtown Matsumoto. The water here, though, might have been something special as it was this part of town that was named Shimizu (清水), meaning ‘pure water’.
That big gnarled tree, by the way, is a keyaki (欅), also known as a Zelkova. It measures 20 meters tall, is a Matsumoto City Special Natural Monument, and may very well be as old as the shrine it watches over. (Since the sign gives no indication we are left to wildly speculate.)
As a sort of consolation we are offered the following sentiment:
「まだ知らぬ人を恋うれば信濃なる清水の里に袖ぞぬれける」 which means, roughly, “If you fall in love with someone you have not yet met you’ll wet your sleeves (i.e. wipe your tears on your sleeves) in Shimizu.”
Find what consolation you may in that.
By now you may be saying to yourself “Okay, so where is this shrine?” The map below will help you find it.
The keenly perceptive will then quickly ask “So this ‘in-between place’ is in between downtown and…what?”
Well, out toward the mountains are a bunch of places of historical significance, not to mention the Yamabe Winery. But much closer in – just another minute or two by bicycle – is the resting place of Yasunaga, Mitsuyuki, and Mitsutsura Toda, three lords spanning three centuries of Matsumoto Castle history.
As integral to the story of Matsumoto as the Toda clan may be, their place in the city of today seems incongruously off the beaten path.
Which is exactly what the Matsumoto of in-between is all about.