Get to know your Prefectures: Yamagata (Pt. 1 of 2 )
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Do you like nature hiking, paragliding, skiing, or trekking outdoors? Enjoy hot springs or visiting historic temples and shrines? What about imbibing locally brewed sake and wine or feasting on fresh nationally-acclaimed Ita soba (buckwheat noodles)? If you said yes to any of these, then Yamagata Prefecture might be your next best destination.
Located north of Tokyo in the westernmost part of the Tohoku region, Yamagata is Japan’s ninth largest prefecture, but with a population of only 1,152,000 people. Its capital, Yamagata City, blossomed during the Edo Period (1603-1867) much in part because of its “castle town” status and importance as a marine transportation spot.
Many other cities in Yamagata, too, are celebrated for their long history and cultural significance. Some immediate standout areas include Risshaku-ji Temple, Kaminoyama Castle, the Zao Mountain Range, Banda Asahi National Park, and Uesugi-Jinja Shrine – this majestic prefecture is filled with an amazing number of places to visit, fun things to do and beautiful sights to see. In fact, 17% of Yamagata is comprised of national parks!
Yamagata is also famous for its more than 100 hot springs. Likewise, Yamagata plays host to numerous events, such as Yamagata City's Hanagasa Festival (Flower-Adorned Hat festival), considered one of the four greatest Tohoku festivals, Tendo City's “Ningen Shogi” (human chess), and the Nihon-ichi no Imoni-kai Festival (Japan's No. 1 Taro and Beef Stew Party Festival).
The prefecture’s climate is characterized by long hot humid summers and long snowy winter. And although Yamagata’s spring and fall are short by comparison, Yamagata’s Kajo Castle Park boasts some of the country’s most breathtaking cherry blossoms. Speaking of cherries, Yamagata Prefecture is the largest producer of cherries (and pears) in Japan!
Yamagata Prefecture is perhaps best known for the following tourist attractions:
Yama-dera, about a 20-minute train ride northeast from Yamagata City, is a nationally designated “Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site” that has been carved into the mountainside.
The Dewa Sanzan, three holy mountains that make for a religious must-be-made pilgrimage for followers of the Shugendo branch of Shinto. World-famous Gojudo (five-story pagoda) is at the base of the lowest of the three mountains – Mount Haguro.
Zao Onsen located at Mount Zao, is an internationally renowned winter ski resort known for its “snow monsters” (frozen snow-covered trees) in the winter, and Okama Crater Lake a.k.a. the “Goshiki Numa” (Five-colour Marsh) whose colour changes depending on the weather.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss these tourist destinations in greater detail.
Access from Tokyo
The quickest most economical way to get to Yamagata Prefecture is by rail. It’s approximately two and a half hours to Yamagata Station from Tokyo via the JR Yamagata Shinkansen.
A one-hour flight from Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport is also available via JAL Airlines (30-minute taxi required into Yamagata City).
There’s also an overnight bus option from Tokyo Station that takes five and a half hours.
Access from Osaka
It’s a five-hour journey to Yamagata Station from Shin-Osaka (via Tokyo – JR Tokaido Shinkansen) via the JR Yamagata Shinkansen.
A one-hour twenty-minute flight from Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport is also available via JAL Airlines (30-minute taxi required into Yamagata City).
There’s also an overnight bus option from Osaka Station that takes eleven and a half hours.
For a detailed infographic, visit: http://www.convention.or.jp/english/access.html
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Former Deep Japan Writer