If you’re coming from Europe you kind of expect every big city to offer something. So, during my visit to Yamagata, the biggest city in the Yamagata prefecture, I was looking for that “thing”.
Honestelly, the city dissapointed me a bit, as there is not much to see and do, or nothing so special to really worth in the time. However, I tried to check the best places to stop by and give you my opinion on this.
That beeing said, Yamagata city may not impress much or not at all. On the other side, it’s still the best starting point for many day trips across the region. Also, if you’re trying to keep your costs down, it offers a good balance between the quality and the price.
I spent the night in a hotel close to the city center and I had the chance to have a room with a view. As it was winter and kind of cloudy, the overall landscape if quite grey. Honestelly, I don’t know how much would it change during a summer day, as for me the town looked as lacking some vivid colours around.
The main touristic attraction of the city (at least during the winter) is the Bunshokan. This is the former prefectural office of the city of Yamagata, converted today to a free museum. From the outside you can admire its beautiful Meiji Era design, and from the inside, you can see several official rooms and some traditional objects. You’ll need about one hour to see the entire place.
Mizuno Machiya Nanokamachi Gotenzeki
This place is one of the 5 major weirs that helped Yamagata city flourish over 400 years . Today, it hosts several cafes, restaurants and shops in its traditional buildings.
Kajo Park & Castle
This place it’s known for its cherry bloosom trees and the beautiful views during spring. However, during the winter there is not much to see and enjoy around. You can just walk around the castle ruins and if you’re interested in museums, you can stop by the Yamagata Cultural Museum and the Yamagata Prefectural Museum.
Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beninokura
This place is the former residence of a wealthy merchant. Today, it’s a cultural and a sightseeing spot in the city. It is located very close to the Nanokamachi Gotenseki.
Honestelly, I would never recommend to somebody to visit Yamagata city, as there is almost nothing to see in it. However, I would recommend the city as a base for the day trips around the region, because there are many!
My first suggestion, and especially during the winter, is to visit Ginzan onsen. This place is absolutely gorgeous and I wrote a full article about it – check all the details here.
My second suggestion is to visit Yamadera temple, the temple of 1000 stairs. You can visit it anytime, but as I did it during winter I need to say it looked as a fairytale. I also wrote a full article about this here.
Apart from the places that I have seen, there are even more beautiful attractions around. For example, one of main reasons many people visit Yamadera region is for the famous Zao Onsen Ski Resort. But, apart from the ski and onsen experiences, you can see the unique phenomen of the frozen trees. They are better known as the snow monsters and the best months to be seen are during January and February – and are on my list too! During the summer there is the Okama Crate Lake to be seen, located close to Zao onsen. Its emerald green colour attracts many visitors.
Food & Drinks
There may not be many interesting things to do around the town, but you can use the time to discover local products. For drinks, try the local wine, as Yamagata is the 3rd grape producers of Japan and also the local sake, as the region is also one of the major rice producers in the country. In terms of food, try the Yonezawa beef, soba noodles, imoni stew, tsuyahima and the fresh fruits available all year long. For sweets, try the chueido (fuki-mame) and satoya (tamayura)!
Well, that’s it from my side. As I mentioned before, I wouldn’t recommend Yamagata city to somebody for a visit itself. But, I would definatelly recommend it as a base for the day trips around and for the cheaper accommodation comparing to Ginzan Onsen or Zao Onsen.
If you’re looking for more travel inspirations around Japan and not only, check more articles here.