Get to know your Prefectures: Yamagata, Japan (Pt. 2 of 2 )

A Few of Yamagata Prefecture’s most noted tourist attractions

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Continued from Part 1: http://www.deepjapan.org/a/4294

In this article, we’ll take a look a few of Yamagata Prefecture’s most noted tourist attractions:

Yama-dera is a nationally designated “Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site” located about a 20-minute train ride northeast from Yamagata City. This “Mountain Temple” has been carved into the steep mountainside of Mount Hoshu, and is home to Risshaku-ji – reportedly built in the year 806. The temples that cling to the hillsides are strangely attractive and eerie, because of the abundance of ancient trees and uniquely shaped rocks, eroded by hundreds of years of wind and water. Of particular note is the thousand step climb through dense cedar trees to the temples at the top. Several cultural assets exist here.

The Dewa Sanzan are Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan and Mount Yudono, three sacred mountains clustered together in central Yamagata. These three holy mountains boast the oldest history of mountain worship in Japan, and are especially important for followers of the Shugendo branch of Shinto, who make religious pilgrimages to the area.

Mt. Haguro, the lowest of the three, stands 414 meters high and is surrounded by a thick cedar fores. There are 2,446 stone steps that lead to the mountain top and “Gojudo” - a striking five-story pagoda rising up towards the sky, regarded as one of Japan's National Treasures.

Mt. Gassan, the tallest Sanzan, sits at an altitude of 1,984 meters. It is here you can find Gassan-jinja Shrine, with its magnificent views.
Just a little bit below, at an altitude of 1,504 meters, lies Mt. Yudono, considered the ultimate ascetic disciplinary practice ground. Yudono-san-jinja Shrine is revered as hallowed land which must be protected and shrouded in secrecy. A highly mysterious shrine, photography and video recording are still prohibited today.

*note: Mt. Haguro is the only mountain of the three that is accessible all year. Mt. Gassan is closed from early autumn to early summer, while Mt. Yudono is closed from autumn to spring.

Zao Onsen in Yamagata Japan

Zao Onsen, located on the Yamagata-Miyagi prefectural border in the Zao Mountain Range, is an internationally renowned winter ski, snowboarding, and sports resort. With 15 different slopes and 12 courses to choose from, both beginners and experts will enjoy the variety. You can ski on a 10km downhill course at altitudes of 800m; servicing these slopes and courses are four gondolas and 35 lifts.

During winter at the peak of the mountain, one can meet their famous “snow monsters” (frozen snow-covered trees), or why not visit the mysterious Okama Crater Lake a.k.a. the “Goshiki Numa” (Five-colour Marsh) whose water colour changes several times a day depending on the weather! The mountain is also home to the Zao Shizen-shokubutsu-en (botanical garden), a treasure trove of alpine plants.

Outdoor sports enthusiasts can enjoy camping and trekking, or take horse-riding lessons at the International Horse Riding Club at the foot of the mountain. Paragliding is also an option!

Perhaps best of all is Zao Onsen's pride and joy namesake, one of the most famous sulfur hot springs in Japan. It’s steaming hot natural volcanic waters will relax and refresh your body and mind. Zao Onsen has three public bathhouses and three open-air hot spring facilities. There’s also a “Dai Rotenburo" (an open-air bath) built into a beautiful mountain ravine (the Dai Rotenburo is only open from Spring-Fall due to snow).

ACCESS to Yamagata

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.

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