Yamagata Travelogue Part 2

Your 5D4N in Central Yamagata

Day 3 Course

①Dondendaira Snow Park どんでん平スノーパーク

The third day of the trip required the most physical activity and strength. Our first stop was Dondendaira Snow Park. During spring or summer, the park is filled with flowers and beautiful greenery. But as it transitions into winter with its large amount of snow, the place becomes a popular location for snow activities. I got to try first-hand the snow banana, snow bike and even went on a huge slide formed entirely by snow. I was breathless after an hour of non-stop activities!! This is definitely a must-go spot with friends or family and is suitable for kids too!

②Michi no Eki Mezami no Sato道の駅 いいで めざみの里観光物産館
To give our tired and hungry bodies a short break, we had lunch at Michi no Eki Iide mezami no Sato. I had a yummy Yamagata beef hotpot and it was just perfect for the cold weather. After satisfying my tummy, I started exploring the area, checking out the souvenir store, local produce store and before long, we were sent off by this cool kunoichi (くノ一, female ninja) to our next destination!

③Kawanishi Komatsu Ski川西町営小松スキー場

Round 2 of snow sports took place at Kawanishi Komatsu Ski Area. We were warmly welcomed by members of the staff. This time round, with instructors to help us, we tried surfing on the snow surface. As a first-timer, it was really difficult to balance and pull off a good ski slide. It was amazingly fun and challenging, and I will definitely want to do it again and again!! In that short hour, I could feel myself working up a sweat and thinking that I had probably lost more than 1kg from the workout in the cold!

④Onogawa Onsen Town小野川温泉町
After the tiring outdoor activities, we headed to our accommodation in Onogawa Onsen Town. Exploring the town on foot, I felt like I had travelled back to the olden days of Japan because of the old-fashioned setting. I personally adore these old, retro architecture and buildings, for I feel that they bring people back to the past.
The town even built some Kamakura (かまくら, huts made of snow), and people can order food from nearby eateries and get to enjoy it within the Kamakura. The best combination is to have a hot bowl of ramen while huddled under the shelter of a Kamakura in the cold.

⑥Onogawa Onsen Azumasou小野川温泉 名湯の宿 吾妻荘

I headed back to Azumasou; for me, onsen ryokan are my absolute favourite type of accommodation. Not only can you enjoy the beautiful aesthetics of the traditional structure and layout of the ryokan with a picture-perfect Japanese garden, the Japanese tatami room are also to die for with its large window looking out to the mountains. The room also has a private onsen to enjoy all by yourself. You can also visit the public bath area and enjoy a bigger tub with a magnificent snow view.

Dining in the ryokan was one of my favourite experiences during this trip. The dining room was grand and the food was simply spectacular. I even got the chance to eat Yamagata wagyu, the Yonezawa Wagyu that is also one of the top three wagyu in Japan. This rare opportunity does not come often, and we were fed so well that the 1 kg I lost from the outdoor activities earlier come bouncing right back. After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we were presented a small tray of onsen soft boiled eggs as a gift by the Okami-san. We also got to eat the exact same eggs with my favourite Yamagata-produced rice, or Tsuyahime brand rice. When you get it fresh out of the rice cooker, the shiny surface looks almost like it’s glittering. What’s best is that even if it is left out and turns cold, it is still delicious and tasty. My best combination, steamy hot Tsuyahime rice with the onsen soft-boiled eggs, add a sprinkle of soy sauce, and voila! – You get a perfect bowl of eggy rice that can be eaten as it is or enjoyed with the many dishes that comes with it. Bravo!

Breakfast

⑤Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival上杉雪灯篭まつり

After our early dinner that night, we headed to Uesugi Snow Lantern festival. The festival takes place annually on the second weekend of February and in 2019 it fell on the 9 and 10 Feb. It was my first time attending a lantern snow festival and I was really excited to take lots of photos.

This festival took place at Uesugi-jinja Shrine and Matsugasaki Park where one can find the ruins of an old castle in the backdrop. It is 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, the night became a charming and aesthetically beautiful place to enjoy the night scene. I also learnt from a local that this snow lantern festival has three main factors. First was the lighting of candles and praying for peace while remembering their ancestors who developed the cohesiveness of the area. Second, anyone can participate in this festival by making snow lanterns together with your friends or family or just enjoying the illuminations. Last but not least, the concept of omotenashi that welcomes everyone one no matter where you come from. I truly had a wonderful time appreciating the event with its beautiful light-ups built by everyone.

I also managed to grab some delicious street food from the food stalls available in the middle of the area. The atmosphere was so heartwarming although it was cold. The night was mesmerizing with the covered snow around the shrine, making for a very meaningful and mystical night!!! A great way to end the day!

Day 4 & Day 5 Course

①Kasedori Matsuri 上山城+カセ鳥

Beginning the last, full day of my trip in Yamagata, we headed off to Kamiyama Castle for the annual Kasedori festival (かせ鳥).  The whole idea was for participants to wear straw coats and transform into a “bird”, crying out “Kaah, Kaah, Kaah” while dancing around the fire pit. And what’s more, while dancing, the participants are often showered with water. The ritual was conceived to pray for business prosperity and prevent fire outbreaks.

This year was the warmest and had the clearest sky of all time according to the city mayor, although it is best for the Kasedori festival to take place when it is raining in severely cold weather. This was my second time attending the festival and my first as an audience; I participated in the event last year and it was an unforgettable experience that I highly recommend everyone to try at least once in your lifetime. The festival continues throughout the whole day as the ‘birds’ will head down to the town and perform the dance in front of stores to bring prosperity to them.

②Kumano Taisha Shrine 熊野大社
http://kumano-taisha.or.jp/index.html

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

After the crowded festival, we went on to Kumano Taisha Shrine of Yamagata at Nanyo City for a more spiritual tour. 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. To visit the main shrine, one has to follow the stone steps up. We were invited to observe a series of sacred dance called Daidaikagura (太々神楽) which is directly passed down from Ise Grand Shine. These dances are one of the oldest and most sacred in Japan, and only Ise Grand Shrine and Kumano Taisha Shrine can perform these sets of sacred dance moves. I was enchanted by the elegance, and slow yet powerful moves performed together with a set of traditional instruments. This rare sight does not come easily and should not to be missed.

③Yoneori Tourism Center Lunch and Beni Bana Some米織センター
Next, we visited Yoneori Tourism Center for lunch. Although the name has the words ‘tourism’ & ’center’, it is more like a place where locals gather. There are restaurants and a shopping area that sells local produce, souvenirs and clothing. After lunch, we tried our hand at creating a dyed cloth using Benihana (紅花, Japanese Saffflower). The Benihana serve as Yamagata’s symbol and is also a very important part of the prefecture’s culture. We were able to create beautiful dye with various patterns using clips and chopsticks. I had so much fun arranging the clips in weird directions and anticipating the final outcome.
We were also greeted with the town mascot, Takakki (round red demon) and Hatakki (oval blue demon). Their names are derived from the town name, Takahata.

④Hana Zen Japanese Restaurant花善

We ended our last day of travel with a meal in an Izakaya (居酒屋, Japanese-style tavern), a place where large groups gather to enjoy each other company and have some small plates with drinks. The food were amazing, especially the grilled yonezawa beef sushi. Besides the sushi, we had some pear and cherry sake locally produced in Yamagata, crispy karaage (fried chicken), Gyoza, Tamagoyaki (fried eggs), Grilled Hokke fish and lots more. We ended our dinner with a fabulous group photo!

⑤Hotel Folkloro Takahata Yamagataホテルフォルクローロ高畠
Our last and final hotel was a business hotel that was literally right next to Takahata Station. It also has a lovely mountain backdrop that one can enjoy. The cosy room is perfect for couples. For breakfast, we were served a Japanese-style buffet with a homely atmosphere.

After our meal, we set off for a short exchange with the locals and headed back to our own respective countries.

I believe that Singaporeans can never ever get bored of Japan, and for those of you who have travelled to popular places such as Kyoto and Osaka, why not make Yamagata your next destination to explore? Having our fair share of city life, visiting the up and coming Yamagata gives you the chance to be closer to nature. I strongly think that the assets of Yamagata are its gorgeous mountain ranges and its landscape, which is beautiful no matter the season. I hope you like what I have written, and that it will help you understand a little more about Yamagata and what it has to offer! So, what is your Yamagata? It’s time you found out for yourself.

So wait no more, be sure to plan your next trip to Yamagata soon!

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