YAMAGATA pt.1: Passionate & heart-warming locals that brighten the trip to the snowy white land!

Yamagata, one of the six prefectures , is located at the southern part of the Tohoku region, northeast of Japan. This prefecture which resembles the shape of a man’s face is most popular for its wintry and snowy landscape. Surely you have heard of Zao, famous for its ski, hot spring resort and snow monster. But is it more than just skiing? Interact with the cordial and warm locals and grab the chance to learn more about the local culture and customs. In winter, there is an abundance of  places, events and activities that everyone can explore. Take this opportunity to increase your itinerary spectrum and see what Yamagata can offer you during your next winter trip.

 


Join Various Yamagata-n Festivals!

One of Yamagata’s most notable ritual events – Kasedori Festival. This event takes place in front of Kaminoyama Castle where participants wear straw coats to represent a “bird“, a messenger from the spirit of God, and dances around the fire pit, crying out “Kaah, Kaah, Kaah”. They then parade down to the city where locals and travellers can enjoy splashing buckets of “good will” water to these emissaries of god. This ritual symbolises fire prevention, good harvest and prosperous business.

Known to be one of the biggest snow festivals in Japan, taking place in Yonezawa City of Yamagata. With around 1,300 snow lanterns lit up within the park and ruins of an old castle in the backdrop, the night becomes a charming and aesthetically beautiful place to enjoy the night scene. Attractive events and exhibitions are also held in the area. Remember to grab some delicious street food from the yatai (street stall,屋台) available in the middle of the area to enjoy the festival vibe.

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Kasedori Festival at Kaminoyama Castle

Event period: 11 Feb annually
Event venue: From Kaminoyama Castle to the streets of Kaminoyama City (the parade will mainly cover the central town area and traverse the onsen streets)
Access: A 12-min walk from Kaminoyama Onsen Station
(JR Yamagata Shinkansen)

Website: kaminoyama-spa.com/tourism/event/ (Japanese)

 


Immerse Yourself in a Plethora of Experiences!

From riding the snowmobile & snow banana rides to playing with snow and sliding down a huge snow slide in the open ground, this snow park is a place to fill up with some exciting yuletide-snow experiences. During summer, this place turns into Tohoku’s biggest lily flower park, becoming a blooming beauty along the lush greenery. The park is available all year round.

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Snow Park Donden

Operation period: mid-Jan to early Mar, Weekend and holiday only (*Weekdays are possible with reservation)
Hours: 10am – 4pm
Fee: ¥500 adult (Junior high school students and above) ¥300 child (3 years old to elementary school students); 2-hour pass: ¥2,000 adult, ¥1,500 child
Access: 40-min car ride from Yonezawa Station, 30-min car ride from Akayu Station
Website: yamagatakanko.com/spotdetail/?data_id=10522 (Japanese)

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Known as the Ise Shrine of Tohoku and a prefectural-designated important cultural asset with a history of 1,200 years, Kumano Taisha Shrine is known as the shrine that worships the god of matchmaking. If in luck, one can also observe a series of sacred dance called Daidaikagura (太々神楽) which is directly passed down from the Ise Grand Shine at the main shrine. These dances are one of the oldest and most sacred in Japan, and only Ise Grand Shrine and Kumano Taisha Shrine are allowed to perform.

Once known as Soma-ya, Somaro is recognized as an important cultural asset served as an entertainment hub during the Edo Period. This place is known for its dance performances by Sakata Maiko (trainee Geisha), stunning artwork by famed artist Takehisa Yumeji along with its beautiful architecture. Enjoy the local delicacies of Yamagata with a private performance by the maiko.  

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Kumano Taisha Shrine

 Access:  5min car ride from Akayu Station using JR Ou Main Line
Website: kumano-taisha.or.jp (Japanese)

Maiko Chaya Somaro / Yumeji Takehisa Museum

Hours: Daily 10am – 5pm L.O. 4.30pm (Closed on Wed, Obon & year end holidays)
Fee: Adult ¥1,000, University/Highschool/Middle school student ¥500, free entry for elementary school students and under (check website for extra fee for private Maiko performances and lunch)

Access: a 2hr train ride from Inaho Express train at Niigata Station
to Sakata Station and 6-min car ride from Sakata Station

Website: somaro.net/englishhome

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This more than 400-year-old Sake brewery has the biggest sake museum in Tohoku. It gives you a tour on how sake is being produced. Even the newly ascended Emperor Naruhito and the Empress have visited them. A sake retail shop is adjacent to the museum, so once finished touring, head down for some rare label sake tasting and shop for good sake as souvenirs.

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Brewing Museum Toko Brewery & Brewery Outlet

Hours: 9am – 4.30pm (Closed on 31 Dec and 1 Jan)
Fee: ¥310 Adult, ¥210 Junior high and high school students, ¥150 elementary school students
Access: 6 min drive from Yamagata Shinkasen Yonazawa Station
Website: sake-toko.co.jp/en/

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Welcoming its 30th anniversary next year together with the 2020 Olympics, they are one of the oldest wineries around Yamagata producing one of the finest Japanese wines with Delaware grapes that are grown locally. They also have a shopping corner where you can sample wine, buy their flagship series, other wines and plenty of snacks that pair well with wine.

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Takahata Winery & Winery Shop

Hours: Daily Apr to Nov 9am-5pm
Dec to Mar 10am – 4.30pm (Closed on every Wed from Jan to Mar and year end holidays 31 Dec to 2 Jan)
Fee: Free enterance
Access: 10-min walk from JR Ou Main Line or Yamagata Shinakansen Takatsuki Station. 15-min drive from Yonezawa Station and Akayu Station
Website: takahata-winery.jp (Japanese)

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This more than 400-year-old Sake brewery has the biggest sake museum in Tohoku. It gives you a tour on how sake is being produced. Even the newly ascended Emperor Naruhito and the Empress have visited them. A sake retail shop is adjacent to the museum, so once finished touring, head down for some rare label sake tasting and shop for good sake as souvenirs.

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Strawberry picking at Dream Noen Plantation

Operation period: Mar – May
Hours: every Sat & Sun 1.30pm – 2pm (30 mins)
*Phone reservation is necessary
Website: doriimu.jp/com.html (Japanese)

 


⚫︎Ways to Yamagata Prefecture⚫︎

Currently, there are no direct flights from Changi International Airport to Yamagata Airport. But you have transportation options

One can opt for a connecting flight or a short one hour direct domestic flight that flies daily from Haneda Airport to Yamagata Airport. *For a more cost effective and time saving flight, one can go for using Japan Airlines (JAL) as Yamagata Airport is managed by them, with easy domestic transfer at Haneda Airport.

The Yamagata Shinkansen connect Tokyo to Yamagata.
*You can try the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) Free Area flexible five-day pass for easy access.

Visit yamagatakanko.com to access more information and get details on each of Yamagata Prefecture’s events!

 


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