Winter is coming.
Discover snow monsters and a hidden mountain temple.
Situated in the southwest area of the already remote Tohoku region, Yamagata is bordered by the sea of Japan to one side and mountains on the other.
While the prefecture is most popular as a winter destination, Yamagata offers an abundance of hot springs, mountaintop temples, natural parks and a giant game of human chess vying for tourists’ attention during the rest of the year.
A trip to Yamagata will allow anyone to truly immerse themselves in the beauty of the Japanese countryside, indulge in the freshly picked cherries and soak in some of the best outdoor hot springs in the country.
Yamagata City is the prefectural capital and makes a nice home base for exploring the prefecture. It’s big on festivals, both typical and novelty, including the summer Hanagasa matsuri or ‘flower-hat festival’ where groups of dancers perform in flower-adorned straw hats, and the Taro and Beef Stew Party festival held in fall.
Discover the mummies of Yamagata
If you’re still up for a little exploring, right next door is Tendo city, famous for producing 95% of the country’s chess pieces. The Ningen Shogi, a giant human chess tournament, is really fun to see if you’re around in spring.
End your trip with a nightcap at one of the many izakayas that are a mere ten minutes walk from Yamagata Station.
One of the most striking destinations in the prefecture is Yamadera Temple. Officially known as Risshaku-ji, this landmark is a spectacular mountaintop temple complex where Basho famously composed one of his most popular haiku. The temple area is vast, covering the whole of Mount Hoju, making for some serious poetic inspiration as you trek around.
The climb to the top takes less than half an hour depending on the pacing and is lined with stone lanterns and a handful of shrines.
A popular tourist spot that can be enjoyed throughout the seasons, Mt. Zao is home to an onsen town and a national park. During the warmer months, make your way through the hiking trails to catch a panoramic view of Okama Crater from afar.
Come winter, Ski through rows upon rows of snow-covered trees known as ‘juhyo’ or ice monsters. Reward yourself with a dip in one of the many outdoor hot springs that populate Zao Onsen for a reasonable price.
Explore this remote, but travel-worthy prefecture through the locations below!