Yamagata Travel Guide
While it may be located off main tourist routes, Yamagata offers much to visitors.
From a castle that remains largely intact from its Edo Period origins to a dramatically beautiful Buddhist temple on a mountainside, you’ll end up staying here longer than originally planned.
Come check out our Yamagata travel guide as we cover the best things to do in Yamagata, Japan.
Start your visit to the Yamagata area by taking a day trip out to Yamadera Temple. Located northeast of the city up the side of a mountain, this special place was founded over 1,100 years ago by the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism.
While the inner sanctum and the most important buildings that compose this temple are situated at the top of a steep trail, start your time here by exploring Konponchudo Hall, one of a collection of buildings at the base of the mountain.
Here, a flame that is reputed to have been kept burning since the founding of this auspicious place and numerous statues representing the Buddha can be found. After this, grab water and some snacks from shops clustered at the trailhead and head up towards the main buildings.
Pay a small fee for entry, then begin a climb that will take you up more than 1,000 steps. After reaching the top, a hall containing a large Amida Buddha statue is by far the greatest highlight, but the view that is possible over the valley below will also please those who love amazing vistas.
Fans of the visual arts will want to make sure they include the Yamagata Museum of Art in their travel plans while visiting this city in Northeastern Japan. While the focus here is mostly on the work produced by local artists, you’ll also find some gems produced by major names like Monet, Cezanne, and Renoir.
However, its collection of traditional Japanese artworks made by the likes of Yosa Buson are by far the standout works in the magnificent collection this museum holds.
Next, head to the centre of Yamagata City, where you’ll find the preserved remains of Yamagata Castle. Built during the Edo Period to shore up the defences of this humble city. It has largely remained as it was since the time of its construction, as it was taken peacefully during the rise of the Meiji government, which converted into a barracks for its newly formed army.
Recognized as a National Historic Site by the federal government, there are a number of aspects that make this attraction worth a visit. This includes its outer walls and the cherry blossom trees which can be found inside and outside the main part of the castle, making this place a choice spot to be during the spring months.
If you can time your trip to Yamagata so you’ll arrive in early August, do so, as it is at this time when the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival goes off. Over three amazing days, you’ll be treated to this region’s traditional dances and songs, much of which is displayed during the nightly parades.
From men and women dancing in traditional costumes to the addictive beat of Taiko drums, it will be a time that will count among the highlights of your trip to Japan.
If you love culture and have extra time to devote to these sights, take a stroll over to Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum. Located steps from Yamagata castle, this institution contains artifacts and displays relating to the life of Mogami Yoshiaki, a feudal lord who played a pivotal role in establishing the city of Yamagata.
Exhibits show off ancient weapons and armour used by him and his soldiers, as well as a screen print commemorating the Battle of Hasedo and an old-school map of the fledgling town of Yamagata.
If you still aren’t satiated after seeing that collection, proceed next to the Yamadera Basho Memorial Museum. Located across the river from the Yamadera Temple base complex, this museum commemorates the life of Matsuo Basho, father of the haiku, a popular form of a poem which uses syllables in a 5-7-5 formation per line.
Situated in the region where he penned one of his most poignant works, this institution contains some of his most praised works, as well as those from his students and colleagues. After, head to the on-site tea house to contemplate the poems you read, continuing to the garden outside as you wrap your head around the messages he conveyed in such a constraining format.
Yamagata was not left behind by the Western building boom that swept Japan in the Meiji Period, as you see when you get a chance to view the Bunshokan. Formerly a prefecture assembly hall, its English Renaissance styling will wow those who are into architecture.
Visiting during winter? Get some turns in at Zao Onsen Ski Resort. During this season, heavy snowfall combines with frosty temperature to transform this mountain’s trees into ‘snow ghosts’. Visitors in summer won’t get to see this unique sight, but the ropeway remains open so they can enjoy amazing views over the landscape below.