Located towards the southern end of the Tohoku Region, along the Sea of Japan coast sits Yamagata Prefecture, a popular laid back getaway location that features some of the best skiing and onsen experiences in all of Japan. In a previous life the area also gained a reputation for being an important marine transportation spot thanks to its rather developed routes on the Sea of Japan. These days however it’s the area’s food and natural beauty that draws visitors all year round. Home to incredible ski slopes and great food, including agricultural produce like cherries and rice, a visit to Yamagata Prefecture is unforgettable.
Thanks to its location along a rather vast mountain range the area is home to a collection of over 100 hot springs which vary in terms of acidity and water mineral levels, meaning that no matter your skin type there’s something for everyone. Zao Onsen village is one such spot where you can really immerse yourself in the hot springs on offer here in the prefecture. This small locally popular but internationally well-kept secret was actually built around the natural hot springs of the area. Situated in the northeastern region of Tohoku, its quickly gaining a reputation for being one of Japan’s best-hidden gems, so you’d better act quick to truly appreciate its untouched magic before word spreads too far.
The area hosts a number of different festivals and events, like the Yamagata City's Hanagasa-matsuri Festival (Flower-Adorned Hat festival) and the famously quirky Tendo City's Ningen Shogi, also known as human chess. Throughout the seasons the prefecture is also home to many outdoor recreations such as paragliding, skiing and trekking so it’s the perfect escape for the adventure loving type. Well off the typical tourist route, with 17% of the total land area designated as National Parks, the prefecture is often described as 'hidden' Japan, so you can be sure that there’s plenty of untouched beauty to become acquainted with.
If you want to eat, eat, eat then look no further than Yamagata. The rice that’s sourced from the area has been farmed on the Shonai Plain, a pocket of Japan that offers the ideal climate for producing perfect rice. As the rice is great, of course you can expect that the area’s sake to be great too. Beyond rice products, Yamagata is also famous for soba noodles, cherries, grapes, and Shonai persimmons as well as fresh seafood like cod and oysters.
The best way to get to Yamagata Prefecture is by heading straight to Yamagata City, the capital city of the area. To get to Yamagata from Tokyo catch the JR Tohoku Shinkansen heading to Morioka, from there get off at Sendai station and make the switch to the JR Senzan Line. The trip will take around three hours and cost 12,060 yen each way. There are also a number of overnight buses like the Yuhi Liner which connects Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Omiya with Tsuruoka, Amarume and Sakata. The trip via the bus will cost 6,890 yen each way.
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR