Nihonmatsu-shi stretches in a long and narrow strip from the Abukuma mountains
in the east, to Mt. Adatara in the west. The eastern part is made up of a geologically
ancient granite stratum, forming gentle hills. The west is a rugged volcanic
area formed by more recent geological volcanic activity. The Abukuma River flows
through the centre. There are many mountains and hills, and there is an altitude
difference of up to 1,500m across the region. Geological upheaval and volcanic
activity have created a complex and richly varied natural environment. Dake Onsen
and many other hot spring resorts are found in the vicinity of Mt. Adatara, and
high-quality groundwater springs are abundant at the foot of the mountain.
Despite the cold of winter, the chain of peaks running north-south also provide
a barrier against the winter wind. Nihonmatsu therefore receives a relatively
small amount of snow. As it is inland, daily temperatures in early summer range
widely. It is also an area that experiences relatively frequent summer thunderstorms
compared to the rest of the Tohoku region.
The archaeological sites that still dot the region reveal that communities
already existed here about 4,500 years ago. From the fifth century onwards this
was part of the old Mutsu Province. Mt. Adatara is a peak well-known throughout
Japan. It is a perfectly conical active volcano and was worshipped from ancient
times as a holy mountain. Three poems written about Mt. Adatara were included
in the Manyoshu, an ancient collection of Japanese poetry; in their words the
enormous presence of the mountain can be clearly felt. Oshu Adachigahara, along
the Abukuma River, is dense with huge cedar trees, and was associated from ancient
times with the Kurozuka Demon Crone Legend.
During the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392), Ashikaga Takauji made clan member Hatakeyama
Takakuni the governor of Northern Honshu (Oshu Tandai) and sent him to Nihonmatsu.
Takakuni built Nihonmatsu Castle at Shirahatagamine as the family residence.
The Date clan of the neighbouring domain became increasingly powerful, and in
1586 Date Masamune destroyed Yoshitsuna, the 12th head of the Hatakeyama clan.
After that Nihonmatsu was ruled by the Date, Gamo and Kato families.
During the Edo period when the Tokugawa clan ruled Japan, Niwa Mitsushige moved
here from Shirakawa. In 1643, he became the first lord of Nihonmatsu, and his
domain was reckoned at 10,700 koku (a measure of rice production referring to
the amount of rice necessary to feed one person for one year) and he controlled
the central part of what is now Fukushima Prefecture. The Niwa family were master
castle builders, and after constructing Tanakura Castle and Shirakawa's
Komine Castle, they were given the task of making major repairs to Nihonmatsu
Castle and improving the castle town. At the time, this was a major undertaking
that required the best civil engineering technology available, and it naturally
led to a heightened interest in scholarship among the family retainers. A love
of learning swept the region, and local schools produced many scholars. The 6th
Lord, Takayasu followed the plan of Confucian scholar Iwaida Sakuhi. He had inscriptions
exhorting reformation of the domain system and enforcement of official discipline
carved into the natural stone outside the administrative centre of the domain.
Still known as the kaisekimei, this is now a national historic site. The values
of the Nihonmatsu Boys’ Brigade, who kept faith with the Northern Coalition
during the Boshin War and died honourably, and the Confucian principles that
can still be seen carved into the kaisekimei are alive and well today as spiritual
pillars of Nihonmatsu: loyalty, courage and integrity.
(Reference: History of Nihonmatsu)
Traditional Industries and Tourism
The traditional castle town industries-making sake, sweets,
Japanese furniture, swords and banko-yaki pottery-all flourished in the Nihonmatsu
region. Successful reclamation of new paddy fields enabled good quality rice
to be grown in the region. It was also an area famous for its water; the Well
of Sunshine (Hikage no Ido), one of Japan's three most famous wells, was
located here. These two factors contributed significantly to the brewing industry's
long and prosperous history in this area. Nihonmatsu, along with Aizu, has now
become one of the top brewing areas in Fukushima Prefecture. The birthplace of
Chieko, a character made famous in Kotaro Takamura's Chieko Sho, is associated
with another brewing family with a long history in this region.
The tradition of growing chrysanthemums, popular both with warrior and merchant
families, can be seen in what is now Japan's biggest chrysanthemum doll
show. The Nihonmatsu Chochin Matsuri (Lantern Festival) which began in 1660 is
one of Japan's three most prominent lantern festivals. Dake Onsen (hot
spring) is located in the remote heartland of the Nihonmatsu domain and boasts
a long history, having been discovered 1,300 years ago. It is still popular as
one of the Tohoku region's best hot spring areas. Adachigahara Furusato
Mura has been opened in the area where the Demon Crone Legend takes place.