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Yamagata

Over 100 hot springs - Mystique mountains
Yamagata prefecture, which is situated on the west-most part of Tohoku region, has, since long ago, been an important marine transportation spot with developed Japan Sea routes. It has many cities with long history like Yamagata, Shinjo, Tsuruoka and Yonezawa, so naturally there are many historical temples and shrines including Risshaku-ji Temple and Kaminoyama Castle, in addition to quite a number of traditional arts and crafts represented by lacquer ware and die cast.

It is blessed with natural scenic points: Mogami-gawa River, which forms the vast Shonai Plain at its lower part and then flows into the Japan Sea; Zao Mountan Range, which was an object of mountain beliefs/worship; and mountains like Dewa Sanzan Mountains and Mt. Chokai. The total area of natural parks including Bandai Asahi National Park and Zao, Choukai and Kurigoma Quasi-National Parks reach 17% of all Yamagata land area.

Yamagata has more than 100 hot springs. It also hosts many events such as Yamagata City's Hanagasa-matsuri Festival and Tendo City's human shogi, or chess. Yamagata is attractive also because of its tasty specialties: rice farmed on Shonai Plain, locally brewed sake and wine nurtured by clear air and water, soba, fruits like cherries, grapes, and Shonai persimmons, and fresh seafood such as cods and oysters. In Yamagata, you can also enjoy sports like paragliding and skiing, and outdoor recreations such as trekking.

Getting there
About 55 minutes from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport. About 1 hour 20 minutes from Kansai International Airport to Yamagata Airport. About 40 minutes from Yamagata Airport to Yamagata Station by bus. About 2 hours 30 minutes from Tokyo Station to Yamagata Station by JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line.
 

  • Dewa Sanzan
    Great and hallowed land for mountaineering asceticism - Solemn atmosphere with forbidden disclosure and photography
    Mt. Gassan, Mt. Haguro-san and Mt. Yudono-san are collectively called the Dewa San-zan, or Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa, and are located within the Bandai-Asahi National Park in central Yamagata. The Dewa San-zan boasts the oldest history of mountain worship in Japan, and ascetic devotees called Yamabushi pay reverence wearing the traditional white robe and diadem even today. Only Mt. Haguro-san is accessible throughout the year, while Mt. Gassan is closed from early autumn to early summer and Mt. Yudono-san is closed from autumn to spring.

    Mt. Haguro-san is 414 meters high and surrounded with a dense forest of cedars that starts from the Zuishin-mon Gateway. Beyond the stone stairway approach that is dark even during the daytime, you can see a shingle-roofed, plain wooden five-story pagoda, a national treasure. The Sanjingo-saiden Shrine that enshrines the three mountains together near the top of Mt. Haguro-san has a 28-meter thick thatched roof, and the interior is completely covered with Japan lacquer, a sight that is well worth seeing.

    At the top of Mt. Gassan at an altitude of 1,984 meters, there is the Gassan-jinja Shrine with its excellent view as well as the famous Mida-ga-hara Marsh where you can enjoy nikko-kisuge (yellow alpine lilies), black lilies, mizubasho (Japanese skunk cabbages) and other marsh vegetation. Mt. Yudono-san at an altitude of 1,504 meters is deemed the ultimate ascetic disciplinary practice ground. The Yudono-san-jinja Shrine is revered as hallowed land with forbidden disclosure. It is a highly mysterious shrine and photography is forbidden even today.

    Getting there
    Take the JR Joetsu Shinkansen Line for 2 hours from Tokyo Station to Niigata Station. Transfer to a Limited Express Train of the JR Haetsu Honsen Line for 1 hour 50 minutes from Niigata Station to Tsuruoka Station. Take a bus for 55 minutes from Tsuruoka Station to the top of Mt. Haguro-san, or for 1 hour 17 minutes to the 8th station of Mt. Gassan.

     

  • Ginzan-onsen Hot Spring
    Famous hot spring that healed the fatigue of silver miners - Beautiful dark blue porcelain made from clay rocks of the Ginzan, the silver mountain
    Ginzan-onsen Hot Spring is located along the Ginzan-gawa River in Obana-zawa in Yamagata Prefecture bordering Miyagi Prefecture. Graceful three- to four-story wooden inns stand in a row on both sides of the limpid stream of the Ginzan-gawa River that gives off steam from the hot spring. It has the air of a hermitage village. The name Ginzan means "sliver mountain," because a silver mine was discovered there around 500 years ago. This hot spring town makes you feel like you have strayed off into a movie scene in a Japanese period adventure film.

    The Shirogane-koen Park with a promenade at the end of the street lined with inns is the best course for a relaxed walk after you have enjoyed the hot spring. You will enjoy the sights of 22-meter high Shirogane-no-taki Falls at the entrance, Raion-no-taki Falls upstream, Choja-keikoku Valley with its monolithic riverbed, and Nobezawa-Ginkodo silver mine cave where you can take a 30-minute adventure tour through illuminated mine tunnels.

    In 1980, production of the evanescent porcelain Kaminohata-yaki pottery was resumed. Legend has it that this pottery was produced only for 10 years from 1831. It is made from the clay rocks unique to Ginzan-onsen Hot Spring. You can see this beautiful dark blue porcelain here.

    Getting there
    Take the JR Tohoku and Yamagata Shinkansen Line for 3 hours and 2 minutes from Tokyo Station to Oishida Station. Then take a bus for 40 minutes from Oishida Station to Ginzan-onsen.

     

  • Shirabu and Tengen-dai
    Plateau hot spring at an altitude of 850 meters - Sports fields that you can enjoy at all seasons
    Shirabu-onsen Hot Spring is located along the gorges of Omasu-gawa River at the southern end of Yamagata on a 850-meter-high plateau. It is located in the mountains of the Azuma Mountain Range that separates Yamagata and Fukushima Prefectures. It is one of the Oshu San-taka-yu, or best three plateau hot springs in the Oshu (Tohoku, the northeastern) region, along with Zao-onsen and Takayu-onsen Hot Springs.

    Fresh greenery in spring and coloring leaves in autumn are magnificent, and trees covered with frozen fog, in particular, attract many skiers in winter. You can enjoy fishing for sweetfish, chars and mountain trout in the streams. At the 50-meter-high Shirabu-otaki Falls, the water falls over the rocks in two levels. They look like drapes of sheer white cloth, hence the name Shirabu, meaning "white cloth."

    The Tengen-dai Ropeway starts from the Shirabu Yumoto Station at the end of the Shirabu-onsen Hot Spring Resort area. You can enjoy an aerial walk for 4 minutes looking down on a sea of foliage on the way to the Tengen-dai Plateau which has an altitude of 1,350 meters. The plateau is a treasure-house of alpine plants and a place where you can enjoy high altitude marsh trekking through the alpine meadows, mountain bike cycling, grass skiing in summer and winter sports on powder snow in winter to your heart's content.

    Getting there
    Fifty-five minutes from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport. An hour 15 minutes from Osaka Itami Airport. Take the JR Tohoku or Yamagata Shinkansen Line for 2 hours and 15 minutes from Tokyo Station to Yonezawa Station. Take a bus for 45 minutes from Yonezawa Station to Shirabu-onsen Hot Spring.

     

  • Yamagata City and its surroundings
    Ka-jo Castle Park, noted for cherry blossoms - Mountain temple Risshaku-ji, boasting a long history of 1100 years
    Yamagata City, located in the center of Yamagata Prefecture, is a castle town that has developed since the middle of the 15th century. In Ka-jo Castle Park, noted for its cherry blossoms, are moats and stonewalls recalling scenes of those days when the castle was being built. In the city there are also the Bunsho-kan Hall in the British Renaissance style and various Western-style brick buildings, including theYamagata Kyoiku-shiryokan (Yamagata Educational Museum), designated as an important cultural property.

    Not a few seasonal events are also held, such as the Hanagasa-matsuri Festival (Flower-adorned hat Festival) in summer, considered to be one of the four greatest festivals in the Tohoku region (the northeastern region), the Benibana-matsuri Festival (Safflower Festival), and the Aki-no-Imoni-kai Festival (Potato Boiling Party Festival) in autumn. Small, traditional-style paper umbrellas make a wonderful souvenir.

    Risshaku-ji Temple in the northeastern part of Yamagata City is one of the prominent temples in the Tohoku region, and was reportedly founded in 860. The whole of Mt. Hoju-san is the precinct of the temple, where ancient trees grow luxuriantly. Everywhere in the vast temple area, you can find rock caves and queerly shaped rocks, eroded by wind and water, as well as many other temple buildings, including the Konpon-chudo.

    Tendo City, adjacent to Yamagata City to the north, is noted for producing shogi pieces (or traditional Japanese chessmen), which account for 95 percent of the total production in Japan. Ningen Shogi held during the Cherry Blossom-matsuri Festival is a shogi chess match in which the pieces are people dressed in traditional warrior garb. This adds poetic charm to the season of spring. You can watch the demonstration of shogi piece making, and can also try your hand at making an original shogi piece yourself (advance booking is necessary) to bring back as a souvenir.

    Getting there
    Two hours 48 minutes to Yamagata Station from Tokyo Station by the JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line, and 5 hours 13 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station, with a change at Tokyo Station, by the JR Tokaido and Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

     

  • Yonezawa
    Cloth weaving and sake brewing techniques carried on to the present - Enjoy highest-quality Yonezawa beef
    Yonezawa, in the south of Yamagata Prefecture, is a central city in the Yonezawa Basin, and the capital of the distinguished Uesugi family's fief since the 17th century. In the city you can find Uesugi-Jinja Shrine in the ruins of Yonezawa Castle, Uesugi-ke Byosho (Uesugi Family Shrine), and other historic sites related to the Uesugi family. There is also a row of old houses and Buke-yashiki (samurai residences) along the street. The techniques of Yonezawa textile weaving and sake (rice wine) brewing have been carried on to the present-day.

    In the Yonezawa Historical Textile Museum which exhibits fine-quality pongee Yonezawa textile, you can learn the historical context in which the textile industry encouraged young men and women of good families to participate, as one of the policies to promote production, and it was developed as a domestic industry to elevate the region to the status of one of the greatest textile weaving centers in Japan. In Sasano-Mingei-Kan (Folkcraft Museum), you can watch traditional Sasano bamboo carving with a unique knife. You can also enjoy painting hawk carvings called Otaka (Hawk) Poppo (Advance booking is necessary).

    In the Uesugi-matsuri Festival held in early summer, a mock battle at Kawanaka-jima is held with a dozen or so mounted warriors and hundreds of armor-clad warriors participating in accordance with the traditional rituals of the Warring State Period of the 16th century. The festival is crowded with many spectators.

    Famous Yonezawa beef is considered to be among the highest-quality Japanese beef. You can taste it in the form of sukiyaki, steak or shabu-shabu (a hot-pot dish). Commemorative souvenirs are readily available from safflower-based lipsticks or soap to Yonezawa textile kimono to small items.

    Getting there
    Two hours 15 minutes to Yonezawa Station from Tokyo Station by the JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line, and 5 hours from Shin-Osaka Station, with a change at Tokyo Station, by the JR Tokaido and Yamagata Shinkansen Line.

     

  • Zao
    Winter sports paradise where you can enjoy the spectacular sight of ice-covered trees
    Zao, on the Yamagata-Miyagi prefectural border, is a mountain park centered in the Zao Mountain Range. Here you can enjoy the beauty of nature when you visit the mysterious Okama crater lake which is also called Goshiki-numa (five-color marsh) since its water color changes several times in a day, and Zao Shizen-shokubutsu-en (botanical garden), a treasure house of alpine plants. Aboard the ropeway car, you can get a bird's eye view of the whole of the Yamagata Basin. You can also enjoy a night view and the starry sky from a lodge or inn.

    If you prefer outdoor sports, you can enjoy camping and trekking either in the verdant greens of spring or the scarlet-tinged leaves of autumn, have a horse-riding lesson at the International Horse Riding Club at the foot of the mountain, or go paragliding at Bo-daira. In winter, Zao turns into a Mecca for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. Skiing while admiring a cluster of ice-covered trees or coniferous trees on which water drops and snow have frozen, is particularly exhilarating.

    If you prefer staying indoors, Zao-onsen Hot Spring at the mouth of Zao National Park is recommended. It has been long been known as one of the best hot springs where you can enjoy an open-air bath and sample the public hot baths, such as the large open-air bath that can accommodate 200 people at a time. As for eating, you can taste Mongolian barbecue, a pheasant meat Shinzan-nabe dish, a char dish, and boiled potatoes. If you are interested in Japanese handicrafts, you had better visit Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi-Kan where you can try your hand at painting a traditional Kokeshi doll, a simple wooden doll.

    Getting there
    Two hours 48 minutes to Yamagata Station from Tokyo Station by the JR Yamagata Shinkansen Line, and 5 hours 13 minutes from Shin-Osaka Station, with a change at Tokyo Station, by the JR Tokaido and Yamagata Shinkansen Line. Fifty-five minutes to Zao-onsen Hot Spring from Yamagata Station by bus.

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  Information provided by Japan National Tourist Organization.

 

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