Temples and shrines can be found everywhere in Japan. Among a large number of religious attractions in the country, a couple of them offer a more unique experience in each city. For Matsumoto, we reckon the below five temples and shrines below are worth your attention and time!
- Yohashira Shrine (四柱神社)
- Kōchō-ji Temple (弘長寺)
- Hōsen-ji Temple (法船寺)
- Gofuku-ji Temple (牛伏寺)
- Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine (大宮熱田神社)
Yohashira Shrine (四柱神社)
Yohashira Shrine is one of the prominent shrines in Matsumoto City. Conveniently located within a 10-minute walk from JR Matsumoto Station and Matsumoto Castle, pay it a visit if you have relationship-related wishes!
The shrine is undoubtedly a nice little place for fall color hunting. And if you feel like some snacks, head to one of the cafes or street food vendors on Nawate Street, which is just a one-minute walk away.
One thing that we want to call out is the number of pigeons in the precinct. Because birds are the animal that brings good luck to people, the shrine sells bird feed for the pilgrims to feed them.
So if you aren’t comfortable being surrounded by a flock of pigeons, this is probably the place you want to stay away from. But do check out the torii gate for the bird spikes attached to it (´▽｀*).
For more information, please refer to our article on Yohashira Shrine and Nawate Street!
Kōchō-ji Temple (弘長寺)
Kōchō-ji temple is known as the Hydrangea Temple of Shinano Province (信濃あじさい寺). From the supporters’ donations, the hydrangea garden’s construction started in 1980 and was completed in 1985.
Currently, the Shingon Sect Zhishan School (真言宗智山派) temple has around 1,000 hydrangeas of 90 different species. From mid-June to late July, it is the destination where many photographers gather.
Kōchō-ji was erected in 1263 to pray for Hōjō Tokiyori’s sixth son (北条時頼). After the temple’s establishment, the temple was destroyed twice by two fire hazards. In 1626, it was relocated to where it is now.
How to Get to Kōchō-ji
From JR Hiro-Oka Station (広丘駅) or JR Murai Station (村井駅), it is around a 35 to 40-minute walk.
Hōsen-ji Temple (法船寺)
Hōsen-ji Temple, founded in 1561, was a branch temple of Gofuku-ji (refer to below). It is another temple where you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery of hydrangea in early summer.
The temple that was nicknamed ‘Hydrangea Temple’ has around 1,500 hydrangea plants of 80 different species. If you have a car, how about visiting both Kōchō-ji and Hōsen-ji in one go?
In addition to hydrangea, there is also a 3-meter tall weeping cherry and a 4.3-meter tall ginkgo.
The main image of Hōsen-ji is the Healing Buddha. At the sides of the Buddha, the Four Heavenly Kings (四天王) and the Twelve Divine Generals are also enshrined (although the color of the statues has faded).
Close to the ceiling, the wooden carvings illustrate a few episodes in the sutra. On the wall, paintings of mandalas and various monks are also worth checking out.
Moreover, you will get a panoramic view of the surrounding township from the temple’s bell tower.
How to Get to Hōsen-ji
- From Kōchō-ji, it is around a 40-minute walk.
- To Gofuku-ji, it is around a 45-minute walk.
- From JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅), it is around a 20-minute drive.
Gofuku-ji Temple (牛伏寺)
Gofuku-ji was originally named Fugen-in (普賢院). Just like its name and that cow in the photo, the reason for the name change has something to do with cows.
In 756, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (唐玄宗) of China ordered a full set of Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (大般若経) to be sent to Zenkō-ji Temple (善光寺). That is 600 volumes of thick, heavy books we are talking about here.
The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra was loaded onto two cows, one red and one black. As you can imagine, splitting 600 books between two cows is still really heavy for a cow to carry. So, eventually, they both collapsed at the same time. The location where they fell to the ground was where Gofuku-ji is located.
As it could hardly be believed that two cows would collapse at the same time, the emissaries of the emperor thought that cows’ spirits must have been brought to the Buddha’s world by the power of the Eleven-faced Kannon (十一面観音) of Fugen-in. They then buried the cows at the foot of the mountain and returned to China.
The temple was thus renamed Gofuku-ji. On the way to the shrine, a small worship hall called Ushidō (牛堂) enshrined Amida Buddha and the two cows.
The Origin of Gofuku-ji/Fugen-in
The main image, the Eleven-faced Kannon, was carved by Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子) in 616 to pray for the country’s prosperity and in the hope of keeping disasters away. The life-size statue is a hidden image only shown to the public once every 33 years. Although pilgrims are unable to see the Kannon Bodhisattva, nowadays, they come to Gofuku-ji to pray to ward off bad luck and for their personal success.
Including the main image, there are eight Buddha and deity statues in Gofuku-ji made between the 11th to 13th centuries that were designated as Japan’s Important Cultural Properties.
Tip: Remember to check out the vivid dragon drawing on Gofuku-ji’s bell tower ceiling! It was painted by Akabane Seppō (赤羽雪邦), who was from Matsumoto.
Ushibuse River French Style Staircases (牛伏川フランス式階段工)
From Ushidō, the road splits into two. To get to the temple, follow the road to the left. If you still have time, trek through the other road to get to Ushibuse River French Style Staircases on your way back.
The 141-meter-long staircase, completed in 1918, is an important facility for riverbank stabilization. With the surrounding nature, the beautiful scenery is another reason tourists visit this part of Mt. Hachibuse (鉢伏山).
How to Get to Gofuku-ji’s
- From JR Murai Station (村井駅), it is a 20-minute drive.
- From JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅), it is a 25-minute drive.
- From the car park to the temple, it is around a 5-minute walk.
Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine (大宮熱田神社)
Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine was erected to enshrine the guardian deity of the Azusa River (梓川). Initially, the shrine was located at the top of Mt. Honkami (本神山) and was relocated later on to where it is now.
In addition to the Azusasui Ōkami (梓水大神), Azuta Ōkami (熱田大神), Amaterasu Ōmikami (天照大神), and Hachiman Ōkami (八幡大神) were later enshrined here as well, and thus the shrine’s name.
What we love about this shrine is how the buildings on the precinct blend in so well with the cedar and bamboo forest.
The magnificent Haiden Hall (拝殿) at the end of the approach is another highlight of the shrine. The thick twisted Shimenawa rope (注連縄) hanging at the entrance of the worship hall is just impressive to see. The ridge decoration is something rather unique as well.
Other Unique Spots at Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine
The first large hall you will encounter after passing the torii gate is the Jinrakuden (神楽殿), where lion dance is offered to the god as a part of the rituals in Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine. When there are no events, you might want to check out the four elegant lanterns hung at the four corners of the hall.
Another notable spot in Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine is the Emaden Hall (絵馬殿). Unlike the ema plaques you normally see in Japanese shrines with pilgrims’ wishes written on the back, the old ema at Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine are displayed in a hall.
That is right. In the past, ema was much bigger and painted with different images. So each one of the ema was unique.
If you have seen the anime Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (鬼滅の刃), check out the tree named ‘Nezuko’ (づこの木) and a small shrine called ‘Kamado’ (竈神社). Obviously, the shrine and the tree didn’t get their names from the anime. After all, their history is hundreds of times longer than the famous anime.
According to the priest, the bark of the tree Nezuko was used to make wooden clogs (下駄). After the bark is cut off, it turns into a grey mouse color. This is why it was named Nezuko, as a mouse in Japanese is pronounced as Nezumi.
The tree was determined to be more than 1,000 years old. Because of how long it has lived, the Japanese reckon there must be some special power or spirit residing in the tree. Thus, a Shimenawa rope was tied around it.
How to Get to Ōmiya Atsuta Shrine
- From JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅), it is a 25-minute drive.
- From Matsumoto Dentetsu’s Shimojima Station (下島駅), it is around an 8-minute drive.
Explore Other Fascinating Attractions in Matsumoto City
Wonder what else in Matsumoto is worth your time? Check out our list of selected attractions in Matsumoto that you won’t want to miss out on.
There are a couple of places where you can source delicious natural water from in the city center, an art museum filled with Kusama Yayoi’s eye-opening contemporary artworks, places perfect for cherry blossom and fall foliage hunting, and a lot more!
For more information, please refer to our article on Matsumoto!