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Yamagata – The Natural and Cultural Heart of Honshu
To truly appreciate the natural and cultural charms of Japan, visitors should head up-country to Yamagata Prefecture, which is famous for its dramatic hills, organic cuisine and samurai spirit. Nestled in the Tohoku Region of northern Honshu, bordered by the Sea of Japan to the west, this breath-taking region enjoys hot, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Guests can visit the historical castle town of Yonezawa and stroll along streets lined with ancient houses, restaurants and sake breweries, or take a trip to Yamagata City, the regional capital nestled in the foothills of Mount Zao. Then, head out into the hills to explore the area’s national parks, hot springs, scenic temples, sacred shrines, fruit orchards, vineyards and much more. And in the winter, the famous Zao Onsen Ski Resort allows thrill-seekers to ski down the slopes of a volcano.
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Nestled in the volcanic hills of Yamagata Prefecture, Ginzan Onsen is an exceptional hot spring resort town where visitors can soothe their bodies and savor the spectacular mountain scenery. Literally meaning “silver mine hot spring,” due to its historic precious metal industry, Ginzan Onsen dates from the 15th Century and is famed for its quaint streets, which line the Ginzan River. Guests can experience the town’s exquisite architecture, authentic restaurants and, of course, traditional onsens, including public outdoor foot baths that can be used for free. Alternatively, the surrounding hills are perfect for hiking, with forests, caves, waterfalls and more.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort
Rising 1,841 meters, Mount Zao is a major volcanic mountain in Yamagata Prefecture and has become one of the region’s most popular year-round attractions. Located just a short drive from Yamagata City, this dramatic destination attracts many city dwellers to its steaming hot springs, including Zao Onsen, which is famed for its highly acidic healing waters. In the winter, this area transforms into one of Japan’s most famous ski resorts with 14 different slopes and 12 courses, the longest of which provides 10km of downhill skiing. Then in the summer months, hikers can trek to the beautiful Okama Crater at the summit, which also features a shrine and a visitor center.
Hidden within Yamagata’s cedar forests, Mount Haguro is a sacred temple surrounded by towering trees. This impressive five-tiered structure is an important site for the followers of Shinto and Shugendo, the ancient Japanese tradition of mountain worship. Inscribed on the official list of Japanese National Treasures, this shrine is accessed by climbing 2,446 stone steps that run through the forest – a truly enchanting experience. Mount Haguro is one of the “Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa,” along with Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono. Guests who want to learn more about the local area can head to the Ideha Cultural Museum, which is located at the foot of Mount Haguro in Toge Village.
Yonezawa Castle/Uesugi Shrine
Originally dating back to the 13th Century, Yonezawa Castle remains at the heart of the city and is a symbol of Yonezawa's rich history. While the castle has been largely destroyed, the site is still the home to the shrine of the Uesugi samurai clan, which ruled Yonezawa in the shogun era. The castle area, including its moats and gardens, was transformed into a public park in 1874 and the Uesugi Shrine was transferred to its present location two years later. Nowadays, the shrine is a popular place for local Yonezawa citizens to come and receive blessings, especially on life’s important occasions.
Yonezawa is located in a beautiful natural setting, partially within the boundaries of Bandai-Asahi National Park. This allows the area to produce some exquisite local produce, including fruit, fish and most notably, beef. The beautifully marbled wagyu beef produced in Yonezawa dates back to the Edo Period and is now considered one the country's three top brands, along with Kobe beef and Matsusaka beef. There are many quality restaurants in Yonezawa, including “shabu-shabu” or “sukiyaki” outlets, which showcase the traditional styles of cooking sliced beef in a hotpot. The city’s oldest beef restaurant, Tokiwa, is still considered one of the best.
Things to do in Yamagata
Top Things to Do In Yamagata
- Yamadera Temple
- Climb Yamadera
- The Omoshiroyama-Yamadera Trail
- Hiking at Zao
- Try Yonezawa beef
- Visit Ginzan Onsen – a traditional hot spring town
Neighborhoods to Explore
- Yamagata City (capital)
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