A quiet city in the prefecture of Fukushima, Nihonmatsu often flies under the radar of people looking to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations of Japan. This city can be a surprising visit with its nature, history, unique experiences, and genuine local atmosphere. Here are a couple of interesting attractions that Nihonmatsu has to offer.
Constructed in the middle of the 17th century, Nihonmatsu Castle used to be an important strategic point for the Tokugawa Shogunate military forces. During the mid-19 century Japanese civil war, the castle fell under the dominion of the opposing forces and was, unfortunately, partly destroyed. Today, the only remaining parts of the old structure are the still imposing stone walls located at the entrance, where you will also find well-sculpted statues depicting the notorious battle that took place and marked the end of the castle’s military function.
The ruins, along with the rest of the castle grounds, have been turned into a natural public park that makes for enjoyable walks all year round. Particularly spectacular is springtime, when hundreds of cherry trees located around the park are in full bloom, giving it an incredible atmosphere that always attracts many visitors.
The highest point of the park also offers grand views of the surrounding mountains of Nihonmatsu, an awe-inspiring sight that will transport you back in time and makes it seem like the old days aren’t quite over yet.
About a 5-minute walk from the west side of the castle grounds is a hilly area that also gives the impression of an unchanging Japan. At the top of the hill sits the renowned Ryusenji Temple, a spiritual place where you can rejuvenate body and mind, and a precious component of Fukushima Prefecture.
Due to the wear and tear caused by the weather and the eventful years in the city, the temple has been renovated and rebuilt since its original construction in the 14th century. One of its most impressive features is the main indoor hall, a beautifully decorated room where the local monks gather for their daily prayers.
Monks are not the only ones who can access the main hall; in fact, the temple offers Zazen meditation experiences that can be attended by anyone interested. The sessions involve sitting still and cross-legged (as best as you can) for about 20 minutes, the goal being to empty your mind of all thoughts, be in the moment, and only pay attention to what goes on around you. The only things you will notice and feel in this very quiet room, besides the pleasant smell of incense, are the calming sound of the wind and the occasional sliding of doors being opened and closed by the temple’s occupants.
This Zazen experience is well worth the experience and low cost. This kind of meditation should be incorporated into daily life, considering its simplicity and fantastic results.
For an additional small fee, the temple also provides the opportunity to experience shojin ryori, a type of vegetable-based Buddhist cuisine prepared using fresh local produce and, in this case, having a very elegant presentation.
If you are planning to visit a destination that will show you an authentic facet of Japan, Nihonmatsu might be just what you are looking for.