Our third day starts by visiting Kano Aquarium by the sea bay of Tsuruoka city. Before entering the aquarium, just a few minutes’ walk away from it has Arasaki lighthouse, visit it to get a great view of the sea, mountain and local atmosphere. This aquarium is famous for its huge collection of different jellyfish species and was referred to as “The Dream House of Jellies”. It also has a spot that is Instagram worth shot as the backdrop is a huge tank filled with jellyfish. The aquarium also has an area that showcases other sea creatures, sea lion shows and explanatory classes about jellyfish.
It was my first time watching a live performance by Sakata Maiko (trainee Geisha) at Somaro after a good and delicious Unagi-juu. The performance was done with a group of three; one shamisen player that sings the tune and two maikos that will do the performance the tune. I was fortunate to be able to see this dance as one can see how much time and training the maiko have to do in order to perfect their performance. Once known as Soma-ya is recognized as an important cultural asset served as an entertainment hub during the Edo Period. Now, known as Somaro, it not only is a restaurant with maiko performance, but also a training ground for maikos to perfect their acts. At the back of the building, you can even tour around to admire stunning paintings and artwork by famed artist Takehisa Yumeji.
Tamatsudera Falls+ Mitaka-jinja Shrine
We then travel into the forest and make a short walk towards Tamatsudera Falls. Within the tranquillity of the forest, you will have to pay a visit to Mitaka-jinja Shrine which has 5 deities enshrined to it before heading to the waterfall. The shrine is surrounded by tall Japanese cypress trees that are said to be around 800 years old. Definitely a gorgeous sight to withness. As you get closer to the waterfall, the clashing sound of downpour water get louder yet at the same time satisfying, making you wanna stay still and listen to it. Small facts: This 63- meter high and 5-meter wide waterfall was discovered and named by master Kukai 1,200 years ago.
Iaido experience at Iai Shrine
If you are visiting Murayama city and itch for a samurai experience, why now go for an Iaido(居合道) experience. I do not have any prior experience with Iaido, but I really had a good workout and fun time learning it. This form of training help one reaches balance in body and spirit. You will also have a sensei attached to you, coaching you how to handle a katana (Japanese sword) and learning different movement. I was lucky enough to be able to try out the Tameshi Giri which means the art of cutting or test cut. It was heart fluttering but exciting at the same time when slicing through the straw target with a “real” katana. The adrenaline rush was there.
TAKINOYU Japan Onsen Ryokan
Serving with a smile is the theme for this Japanese onsen ryokan. Its main lobby, at first sight, was grand with a nostalgic look. As we were guided to the second building where our rooms lay for the day, we walked past a large beautiful garden with sitting space available to appreciate the beauty of nature.
It was the room that shocked me the most in a good way. As I entered the room, I was welcomed by the mixed style of traditional Japanese interior with a flair of modern western influence. It was huge and has a private onsen bathtub to enjoy. The room was on the top floor and the view of the outside landscape was just breathtaking.
To end the day, we had our dinner at one of the four in-house dining room, KOMOREBI. There is a salad bar that serves Yamagata speciality “Imoni” and salad at the centre of the eating area. There are two highlights I need to mention, first was the food comparison of Yamagata wagyu and Yonezawa wagyu beef.
Both were equally delicious and satisfying but if I were to choose, I am going for Yonezawa beef. And the best combination to go with these gorgeous beefs is their newly harvest rice from its Yamagata rice brand, Tsuyahime. As usual, the rice just glows in front of me, brimming with goodness. And another partner in crime is sake. You can choose up to three sake to taste and compare while enjoying your fabulous flab of high-quality wagyu beef. That satisfies my food crave for the day and headed back to my room to enjoy a private and relaxing dip in the onsen bathtub.
The ryokan also comes with a morning buffet from traditional Japanese cuisine to local Yamagata dishes and western-style breakfast. A good way to start the day for the upcoming travel that awaits me.
Yamadera is another must-go destination. its official name is Hoju-san Risshaku-ji Temple but is widely known as the mountain temple, Yamadera. It is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site. Walk up the 1,000 steps leading through a mystical cedar forest that leads you up to the mountaintop. Make your way to the observation deck of Godaido hall at the top to get the best panorama view of the surrounding landscape. For the priceless view that I got to witness, it was all worth the climb. After absorbing the good scenery, you can go to the temple at the back and get some mamori (protection amulet) for souvenirs.
Next, we headed towards Ginzan onsen, yet another place you can not miss if you are going to Yamagata. Take a stroll along the Ginzan river both sides lined up with traditional Japanese inns that were built since the Taisho Period (1912-26). I was able to unwind, relax and step back in time. This nostalgic atmosphere is one of the many factors why it is so popular among locals and foreigners. If you walk your way to the back, try grabbing the famous curry bun that always gets sold out immediately and stroll further down to cool yourself by the waterfall at Shirogane Park. If you are feeling hungry, why not drop by Soba restaurant Takimikan for a bowl of hot soba noodles and enjoy the waterfall view from its window. Definitely a good way to enjoy your food.
Rokkasen Sake Brewery
Nearing its 50th years anniversary, this sake brewery started in 1972 and is located close to the centre of Yamagata. It using home grow rice and spring water from Mt.Kurobushiyama that is in the background of the factory. I was lucky enough to have a guided tour, bringing me around to see how the sake factory looks like from within. From how the rice is being polished to where the sakes are being stored. Rokkasen can be said as one of the forefront sake breweries that has included machinery and new technology to help to carry on the business
Bunshiro fu store
As we had finished our brewery tour-a-round early, we had some extra time before our scheduled flight. So we got our driver who is a local to introduce us to any place that would be interesting to foreign travellers like me. And he recommended “Bunshiro-fu”. It is an old establishment that has started since the Edo period which is about 400 years ago. Fu(麸), which means light wheat-gluten bread is what this store is famous for. This place is interesting as it is split into 3 parts: (1) Store on the front (2) factory and workshop in the middle (3) Fu only cuisine restaurant at the back.
When I entered the store, there was a wooden table on the side that has a few astonishing dishes. Later then realised that it was a food sampling corner where the owner of the shop uses the fu to make some homemade local cuisines. I was amazed by the spread of good food and even more surprised by the flexibility of fu that can mix well with so many dishes. I was able to taste some delicious fu-karaage, fu-croquette, fu-nikujaga, fu-dessert and many more. It was a pleasant last stop of food we have and I was so welcomed by the heartwarming owners, I just had to buy some back for souvenirs.