Yan can travel, so can you – Let’s go, Yamagata! PART 1

4 Days of Fun, Exciting & Luxurious journey

旅をするならヤンと一緒に山形へ! とびきり楽しくて贅沢な4日間

Going back to Yamagata for the sixth time still does not bore me. But instead, I was able to find more new and fresh things I have not seen yet. If you think you have seen it all, you are not even close to the tip of the iceberg. This time around, I visited Yamagata during the late September which is roughly the end of the summer early autumn period. The weather in Yamagata itself is slowly lowering to a cool and breezy temperature which I’m totally for it. I spent 4 days exploring newly found places and going back to places that I have been before with the thought of finding new things. So, check out what I have in for you guys!

Day 1

Zao
蔵王

Zao, basically one of Yamagata’s must-see tourist spots. Known for its winter season, everyone comes for the ski season, enjoy tons of snow, relax in the onsen ryokan and enjoy the famous natural snow monster and night illumination. But how many have been to Zao out of that season? I went during late September this year. It was a switching period from the hot summer to the cool autumn. Although I was a little early for the autumn, the lush greenery and cool temperature made my trip all too enjoyable.

I went all the way to the top using the ropeway, gazing upon the huge landscape. It was a breathtaking moment as I see the moving clouds slip pass the mountain area. The ropeway starts from Zao Sanroku station and takes about 7 minutes to reach Juhyo Kogen Station. From there, just make one more transfer to Jizo Sancho Station and I will bring you up to the top within 10 minutes.

YMGT_PT14

Take your time to enjoy the mountain view from both afar and near. Walk along the wooden path to enjoy the greenery around you and breath in the fresh air from above.

Remember to visit Restaurant Sancho for lunch or a light break and appreciate the nature and the passing cable car.

For more information on price & access of Zao Ropeway, check out the link below:

http://zaoropeway.co.jp/en/guide.html

Tanno Konnyaku Konnyaku Bansho
丹野こんにゃく こんにゃく番所

Konnyaku (konjac) is one of the many dishes that represent Yamagata cuisine. This long-established restaurant, Konnyaku Bansho specialises and is a forerunner of konnyaku cuisine. It has mastered the art of using konnyaku into dishes by serving in a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. It is a new experience as I have never tried eating something of the same but cooked differently. The restaurant has made Knonyaku into a versatile base ingredient, present it in various forms such as sashimi, soba, croquette, and many more. 

They also have a shopping corner where you can purchase Konnyaku dangos and other related merchandise. Also, the friendly staff that was serving us our lunch shared with us that the boss believes that konnyaku has infinite possibilities and strives to share this creative way of eating to the world. As I ate my meal, I too came to believe that it might really have that possibility.


Takahashi Fruitland 高橋フルーツランド

While travelling around Yamagata, fruit picking is definitely a must-do.  And the best place to do it is at Takahashi Fruitland. Cherries from end May to early July, La France (pear) and grapes from late September to end October. I was in luck as I came at the right season for grapes picking! The fruit was ripped and was waiting for me to be eaten. You can see rows and rows of grapes hanging on the vines looking fresh and delicious. The entire area lingers a sweet strong fragrance produced by the grapes. I was overwhelmed and drunk by the aroma. I got to try three different types of grapes and all have unique characteristics.

My hand couldn’t stop grabbing the grapes and one after another, continuously putting it into my mouth. It cost 540yen for a 30mins all-you-can-eat grape session. Believe me, it’s worth it.

HATAKA STYLE Cafe (within Takahashi Fruitland)

Then we headed down to their cafe which is located next to the fruit store. We sat at the outdoor area surrounded by grapevines from the plantation outside, giving off natural and relaxing vibes. A very popular place where locals of all ages gather and spend some time enjoying the food.  This cafe uses fruits from the farms and makes them into delicious dessert and beverages. I tried their 100% fresh grape juice (400yen) and their seasonal fruit parfait(750yen). Yap, it was good, and I spent another 30 minutes enjoying the rest of my desserts.

Then we headed down to their cafe which is located next to the fruit store. We sat at the outdoor area surrounded by grapevines from the plantation outside, giving off natural and relaxing vibes. A very popular place where locals of all ages gather and spend some time enjoying the food.  This cafe uses fruits from the farms and makes them into delicious dessert and beverages. I tried their 100% fresh grape juice (400yen) and their seasonal fruit parfait(750yen). Yap, it was good, and I spent another 30 minutes enjoying the rest of my desserts.


Takinami Hotel 山形座 瀧波

Having to start the day with so much fun activities. We headed to our first accommodation of the day to settle down and take a short rest. Back to Takinami for the second time and still, this ryokan amazed me with their hospitality and a modern take on traditional atmosphere. We were welcomed by its Japanese traditional grand wooden gate that was built more than 350 years ago. The atmosphere was breathing history. The lobby itself plays with space and its profound Japanese architecture and Scandinavian furniture making it look spacious and expansive. While waiting for our rooms to get ready, we were pleasantly greeted with a welcome drink. You can either choose a sake or their refreshing edamame juice.

My room was amazing too. I had an exclusive view of a Japanese garden outside my room with a bathtub hollowed out using Zao stone filled with hot-spring water directly from the onsen source. The room was well furnished with masterpiece furniture and works born in Yamagata. Totally getting the taste of Yamagata.

The dinner and breakfast were also a “WOW” experience, the ingredients used are homegrown Yamagata produce.

From wild vegetables to seafood to wagyu beef to rice, their head chef wants his guests to experience the taste of the season and intoxicate them with the richness and fullness of the meal prepared by he and his team.

 

Although the food comes in bits of pieces before you knew it, the table was filled with many unique dishes that will make you full by the end of the meal.

Day 2


Uesugi-jinja Shrine + samurai experience
上杉神社とサムライ体験

The last time I visited Uesugi-jinja Shrine was during the winter season in February where the annual Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival上杉雪灯篭まつり. This time around, I got to see a greener and natural side of the shrine. The shrine itself is one of the most well-known sights in Yonezawa and many visits all year round. The trees surrounding the shrine is filled with energy and I just had to take some pictures. It is said that the shrine brings good luck, academic success and thriving business due to the spiritual energy of Kenshin Uesugi, one of the most powerful warriors of the civil wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, who was enshrined there.

After visiting the shrine, we were welcomed by three armoured warriors from the warring period of Japan. To my surprise, they were gonna do a short performance and invited passersby to join in. We then proceed to the open area within the Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum. There, we watched an exciting segment of their performance. I also got the opportunity to try to be a samurai. They gave me a katana prop that weighs about 1.8kg and taught me how to wield it. It was embarrassing to be doing it in front of so many people but was a lot of fun.


Toko Sake Factory Museum 酒造資料館 東光の酒蔵

Just in Yamagata, there are more than 50 unique sake breweries and it is widely known throughout Japan for producing good sake brands one after another. With excellent sake brands, one can definitely expect excellent sake breweries that make them. With homegrown rice, natural spring water from the surrounding mountains and good breweries, it is impossible for Yamagata to not make good sake. So for sake lovers, it is a good area to explore the history of sake brewing and local culture. 

 

One of the most popular breweries is the Toko Sake Brewery from Yonezawa City. If you followed my previous winter article, I have introduced this place. As the youngest of the 3 oldest breweries in Yamagata and the 13th oldest in Japan, this 422-year old sake brewery has the largest sake museum in the Tohoku region. So come visit them to learn about the history of sake making from hundreds of years ago and shop for good quality sake brands from the store inside. 

You can try both free and paid sake sampling in the store. Thinking of buying some back home to Singapore. I will highly recommend their Toko Junmaidaiginjo Yuki Megami (東光 純米大吟醸 雪女神) and their triple crown winner Toko Ginjo Plum Sake (東光 吟醸梅酒). You can try getting their array of sake brands like the seasonal sake or their extremely rare 30-year vintage Toko Heisei Gennen (東光 平成元年)limited to 200 bottles that were released earlier this year to celebrate the end of Heisei period and welcoming the Reiwa period.


Lunch at TOKIWABUNTEN NOBORU
米沢牛 登起波分店 登

After stocking up some sake, we headed for some Yonezawa wagyu sukiyaki at Tokiwa branch – Noboru restaurant for lunch. Opened for 125 years since its founding in 1894, this restaurant specialises in serving high graded Yonezawa Wagyu beef.  Their experienced fifth-generation owner directly bid for the best meat to qualify as the “Tokiwa brand” to let their patrons enjoy the finest Yonezawa beef to their fullest satisfaction. Noboru is a restaurant that provides a more affordable price so that one can enjoy good beef. If you are looking for a more expensive taste, why not try their main branch where they serve specially selected cuts of the famed wagyu beef. 
Yonezawa wagyu beef is one of the big four wagyu in Japan together with Matsusaka beef, Kobe beef and Omi beef. You can believe me that the texture of the meat is no joke! It was so smooth and tender that the meat just melts in your mouth and flows down the throat with ease. A must-eat item. Guys, please memo down.


MT.HAGURO 羽黒山

After a good meal, we headed to our next destination at Tsuruoka city, Mt.Haguro which holds three National Treasures of Japan. One of them lays deep within the grove of Japanese cedar trees, the Five-storied Pagoda (五重塔 gojūnotō) of Three Mountains of Dewa.

We were led by a Yamabushi guided (ascetic mountain priest), he gave us a history lesson on the mountain and spiritual world, what do the shrines represent, what does the stone stairs mean and many more. I would say, I have learnt a lot within two hours. Be sure to look out for the 1,000-year-old “old man” cedar tree that stands tall on the left side of the pagoda.

Later we headed up further to visit the remaining two National Treasures of Japan: the Dewa Sanzan Shrine and the big bell and its tower. It was a soul-cleansing trip down nature.


SHONAI HOTEL SUIDEN TERRASSE
ショウナイホテル スデンテラス

I would say that this hotel is the youngest hotel I have stayed out of the three accommodation I had and the most modernly unique one. Its concept is to have a hotel in the rice field so that guest from everywhere can experience the charm of the Shonai region of Yamagata. It seeks to promote a modest beauty surrounded by nature while one can enjoy an exquisite view of nature and its aesthetics beyond its glasses. This hotel is made up of two floors of wooden building split into 4 zones (3 hotel room area and one central building), not too high so that it allows the building to blend in well with the landscape of the rice terraces but also making sure that the architecture would be in harmony with the expressions of seasonal change within the rice terraces. The rooms are also simple and modern, a nice touch simplified design. It has facilities like spa and fitness corner, a restaurant, speciality Yamagata and Shonai shops, a library and a conference room within the amenity. I would say that I was too pampered to stay for a night in this new and affordable hotel.

Breakfast and morning view 朝食と朝の景色

Click here for Yamgata Part 2: Day 3 & 4

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