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While mega-cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya showcase Japan’s incredible modernization, guests wanting to discover the country’s traditional samurai spirit should head to Yonezawa. Nestled in Yamagata Prefecture, in the north of Honshu Island, Yonezawa is an historic castle town that was the home of the powerful Uesugi clan in the Middle Ages. While the city has since grown to become a regional center of trade and commerce, Yonezawa retains much of its ancient charm. Guests can explore streets lined with ancient houses and samurai residences, visit saké breweries and discover traditional local crafts including textile weaving and wood carving. The ruins of Yonezawa Castle remain a focal point of the city and contain the Uesugi Shrine, which honors the influential warlords. And every May, this ancient era comes to life as thousands of people don samurai costumes and re-enact a famous battle!
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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.
Toko-no Sakagura Sake Museum
Guests seeking a true taste of Yonezawa's samurai culture should head to Toko-no Sakagura, the traditional saké brewery Japan that dates back to the shogun era. Originally founded in 1597, this ancient brewery has produced high quality rice wine using pure water from the surrounding mountains for more than 400 years. In fact, Toko-no Sakagura continued producing sake even during the prohibition periods of the Edo Period. Nowadays, the brewery's history is showcased by an excellent museum, which includes exhibits, displays and a large storehouse which is designed to reflect the ancient atmosphere of the original brewery.
Uesugi Museum & Miyasaka Museum
Guests can discover the rich history and culture of Yonezawa at two excellent local museums. Located next to Yonezawa Castle, the Uesugi Museum houses an array of historical artifacts relating to the Uesugi clan, which ruled the city in the Edo Period. Exhibits include exquisite painted folding screens and there is also an on-site theater. Miyasaka Museum is located on the opposite side of the river, within walking distance of Yonezawa Station. It features more than 700 historical exhibits and artifacts, including swords and other weaponry, costumes, armor, earthenware and stoneware. Both of these attractions provide visitors with a deep insight into the area's past, including the samurai era.
Mountains and onsens
The scenic mountains surrounding Yonezawa are home to a series of onsens, or Japanese natural hot spring resorts. Guests can unwind in natural outdoor pools of warm, turquoise water, whilst enjoying stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys at altitudes of more than 1,200 meters above sea-level. One of the most hot spring popular resorts is Ubaya, which is open from May to November, while the onsen areas of Onogawa, Shirabu, Namegawa and Shintakayu also provide excellent options. For those seeking a more fast-paced activity, the mountains around Yonezawa are home to several ski resorts.
Things to do in Yonezawa