When we arrived at the Kasumigajo Castle Park (Nihonmatsu Castle) I immediately felt drawn in by the sweet smell of the blooming sakura trees. The whole park is full of sakura trees, making this a great place for cherry blossom viewing (Hanami, in Japanese)!
Before you walk in through the front entrance you will notice some bronze statues that depict the samurai warriors who once defended the castle. If you look closely you will notice that these warriors seem to be a bit young. These statues honor the Nihonmatsu Youth Corps, also known as the Shonentai, who were boys between the ages of 13 to 17 who lost their lives during the Boshin War in order to protect their hometown. The youngest Shonentai warrior may have been 12 years old, although he sustained injuries, it is thought that he survived the war. Typically such young boys would not fight in wars, however, as the war waged on and troops were diminished, many young boys and elderly men volunteered themselves to join the fight.
The tragedy of the loss of such young lives is honored by these statues. Behind them the statue of a woman mourns the boys as a representation of the boys' mothers and families who were left behind.
With this history in mind, I walked toward the entrance and passed under the castle gate, intrigued to see what kind of a place these soldiers were defending.
Inside the walls there is a large clearing where cherry blossoms spread out. Around the trees hang paper lanterns that illuminate the cherry blossoms at the night. There is a small waterfall in the corner of the main square and a pond, adding to the atmosphere with the sound of flowing water and the chirping of little frogs. In the spring time there are some food vendors set up so you can enjoy something to eat under the cherry blossoms. There are lots of benches and picnic tables so this is a great place to come and relax and have something to eat outside. I didn't have time to eat anything this time, but the mochi (sweet rice cakes) drew my attention, so I will have to go back and try it next time I visit.
After exploring this area and photographing the cherry blossoms, when I realized I hadn't even been up to where the castle was! The park grounds are dotted with with castle ruins, some dating back to the 1500s! Unfortunately much of the castle was burned down at the end of the Boshin War, officially, the castle fell on July 29, 1868.
The castle ruins at the top of the hill are worth checking out and offer a great view of the area. The climb is a bit of a work out, so I kept thinking about how great the defense was as it would be quite the challenge for invaders to climb up the hill in their heavy samurai armor!
It would have been nice to visit here before the war, during a time of peace to see how beautiful this castle parks and the surrounding town must have been! If you are interested in Japanese history, and especially Samurai history, I definitely recommend visiting. Even if you aren't a history buff, this is a great place to visit and enjoy some nature in Japan.
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