A place known for its agricultural products, hot springs, rural flair, and natural beauty is Yamagata (山形). It is a large prefecture along the coast of the Sea of Japan in the Tohoku (東北) region. Historically speaking, the aboriginal Ezo (蝦夷) people are greatly rooted in this place. There are also several major attractions that you can find here such as the Three Mountains of Dewa (出羽三山) and Mt. Zao (蔵王山). Apart from these, however, there are other things that you can discover and do in the area. Let’s take a closer look at these activities below.
There is never a lack of new things to discover in Yamagata. The place is immersed in beautiful sceneries such as of the mountains and agricultural fields, and never-ending colors of gold, blue, and green.
To get the best of the prefecture’s culture, it is recommended to head directly to one of the oldest sake breweries, Toko-no-Sakagura Sake Brewery Hall (東光の酒蔵), which has been around since 1597. It was actually one of the few sake breweries that were allowed to continue operations under the Edo prohibition laws. The old brewery was only restored in 1984 and has since provided various exhibits and videos allowing people to see what the old sake brewery was like. Various sake brewing tools can also be found in a 140-square meter storehouse which possesses an ancient atmosphere of the olden days.
One inviting feature of this place is its tasting corner where visitors can also purchase their favorite sake. Sake here is said to be very addictive with its simple and clean flavor as well as crisp sweetness.
You can get to this sake brewery by taking the train to JR Yonezawa Station (米沢) or taking the Yonezawa Shimin loop bus going right for 9 minutes and getting off at Omachi Ichome (大町一丁目). After which, you’ll be able to reach the place after a 2-minute walk. The place can be visited all year round, thus you can make plans of traveling to the place at any time. General admission fee is 310 yen for adults, 210 yen for junior and high school students, and 150 yen for elementary students.
Your trip will never be complete if you don’t have a taste of Yonezawa’s juicy beef. It is one of the 3 major Japanese beef brands in the country as it has one of the best marbled texture of beef with balanced meaty and fatty sections. The area which is situated in the southern part of Yamagata holds a large variety of restaurants featuring beef dishes which you can try.
One recommended dish to try is the steak-don at Abcys, a restaurant is located in the middle of town. Their beef dish is exclusively made from Japanese ingredients and focus on innovation and balance of taste. A pretty-in-pink seared steak is beautifully placed on top of Yamagata rice which makes the meal even more appealing.
Another menu to try is the menchi-katsu which is a breaded and deep-fried ground meat cutlet or fried meat cake. This is often served in inexpensive bento or teishoku (meal set). In Yamagata, you’ll be able to find menchi-katsu in which dishes are fried to perfection while being stuffed with potatoes and beef.
Hojusan Risshakuji (宝珠山立石寺) is a popular mountain temple in Yamagata and it is popularly known as Yama-dera(山寺). It was founded in 860 and is related to a famous story surrounding a Japanese haiku poet of the 17th century. It was said that the poet visited the temple in the past to make a poem on the temple’s tranquil beauty in the woods. It belongs to the Tendai sect and serves as a pilgrimage point for some monks in order to attain nirvana or the ultimate state of enlightenment.
If you’re planning to go on a great travel exercise, then this is the best option for you. You can climb 1,050 footsteps from the foot to the peak of the temple. Small lanterns and stone statues can be seen along the way which can make the climb an atmospheric hike. The view from the top is definitely breathtaking as a panoramic view of the town greets you before your eyes.
You may also consider the climb as a spiritual pilgrimage which is best for enlightenment. Many temple buildings can also be seen at various points along the mountainside. To have the best view of the valleys below, head to the observation deck at the Godaido Hall (五大堂).
After doing such tiring activities, it is best to rest your tired feet and bodies at Koyo Inn which is only a short distance from Yamagata City. It is one of the best ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the country due to its attention to details making dining, bathing, and lodging very special. Foods are utterly gorgeous and outrageously delicious making the whole experience exquisite and impeccable.
Koyo’s onsen is comfortable which could be enjoyed either in private or public spaces. You could relax yourself in standard hot baths as well as a cold one. There’s also a hot sauna that you can try out. Outside, you can enjoy the contrast of the cool breeze on your skin while soaking in the hot bath and listening to the calm trickle of water. Now that’s what you call relaxing!
Yamagata is a 3-hour trip from Tokyo and is one of the best places to enjoy panoramic lush green landscapes, onsen, delicious local cuisines, and friendly smiles.
Additionally, if you’re an avid fan of pears, then summer is the best season to drop by. Many of the Western pears in the country are grown in the place. You will feel extremely satisfied and may even gain a few kilograms within a few days with all the fruits, but you can always opt to climb Yama-dera or skip around Zao’s Okama crater (蔵王 お釜) lake to burn off some calories.
With all these, Yamagata is definitely a beautiful place to visit in any season with its golden fields and gorgeous landscapes!