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Yamagata Bucket List: 15 Best Things to Do in Yamagata Prefecture - Japan's Land of Snow Monsters

Yamagata Bucket List: 15 Best Things to Do in Yamagata Prefecture - Japan's Land of Snow Monsters

Date published: 19 March 2020
Last updated: 18 February 2021

Yamagata Prefecture is a nature-rich area located in northern Japan on the Japan Sea side of the Tohoku Region. It is a region known for its greatly differing summer and winter temperatures. The winter landscape is especially popular with tourists from overseas.

With plenty of sightseeing spots to experience, such as the beautiful nature and boat rides, a trip here is sure to be one full of unforgettable memories. Here are some of the best things to do in Yamagata!

Table of Contents
  1. What Kind of Place is Yamagata Prefecture?
  2. What are the best places to visit and enjoy in Yamagata Prefecture?
  3. 1. Enjoy the spectacular view at Yamadera Temple (Hojusan Risshakuji)
  4. 2. Walk the mysterious approach to Mount Haguro
  5. 3. Experience a tranquil boat ride on the Mogami River
  6. 4. Taste Yamagata's specialty, Ita-soba
  7. 5. Savor the local specialty, Yonezawa Beef
  8. 6. Buy Oranda Senbei rice crackers as souvenirs of Sakata
  9. 7. Try Some of the Local Wine at Tendo Winery
  10. 8. Snack on the local favorite sweet, Fuki-mame
  11. 9. Shop at S-PAL Yamagata, a shopping mall directly connected to JR Yamagata Station
  12. 10. Take a break at the scenic canal district of Nanukamachi Gotenzeki
  13. 11. Stop by the famous shopping spot, Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beni-no-kura
  14. 12. Enjoy skiing and seeing the "snow monsters" at Zao Onsen Ski Resort
  15. 13. Soak in the hot waters of Zao Onsen
  16. Recommended Ryokan in Zao Onsen
  17. 14. Check out the Yamagata Prefectural Folk Museum Bunshokan
  18. 15. Enjoy the dreamy scenery and hot springs in the retro hot-spring town of Ginzan Onsen

What Kind of Place is Yamagata Prefecture?

What Kind of Place is Yamagata Prefecture?

Yamagata Prefecture is located about 300 km north of Tokyo, and boasts a population of about 1.1 million. It is easily accessible from Tohoku gate and Sendai, and takes about 90 minutes by bus or train.

Yamagata is divided into four areas, each with its own attractions: Shonai, Mogami, Murayama, and Okitama. Over 70% of the prefecture is made up of forest land, which is also home to famous mountains such as Mt. Zao, Mt. Chokai, and Mt. Dewasanzan.

Thanks to the nature of the land, agriculture also flourishes here, including delicious fruits and rice. There are also plenty of hot springs all throughout the towns, many of which are great to visit during day trips. You can freely stop by during your travels.

What are the best places to visit and enjoy in Yamagata Prefecture?

What are the best places to visit and enjoy in Yamagata Prefecture?

Compared to Tokyo, Yamagata has fewer public transit options available, so you may find it more convenient to travel by car if planning to visit multiple areas. If you prefer to stay inland, the places you want to visit are Yamagata City and Yonezawa City.

If you want to explore the coastal Sea of Japan area, you will want to start with Tsuruoka City or Sakata City. There are two airports, one in Yamagata and one in Sakata. When you arrive at your destination city, you can take a taxi or rent a car to your points of interest.

1. Enjoy the spectacular view at Yamadera Temple (Hojusan Risshakuji)

1. Enjoy the spectacular view at Yamadera Temple (Hojusan Risshakuji)

The temple was erected by Jikaku Daishi in 860. This is a historical spot with many attractions, with shrines and stone monuments scattered along the approach to the summit. The stairs leading up are composed of 1015 steps, so we recommend wearing comfortable shoes.

The temple closes in winter, from December to March, but you can still climb there. If you do, you will need non-slip boots or crampons, since the snow and ice will make things a little harder.

Godaido, built by Annen, a disciple of Jikaku Daishi, is a spectacular spot from where you can overlook the town of Yamadera from the cliff of the temple. Looking down at the beautiful scenery full of nature, you will feel the tiredness of the climb fade away.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / admission restrictions / reservation system / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

2. Walk the mysterious approach to Mount Haguro

2. Walk the mysterious approach to Mount Haguro

Mount Haguro, in Tsuruoka City, is a peak of 414 meters. It is said to be a place of sacred mountains consisting of Mount Haguro, Mount Gassan, Mount Yudono, and at the top, Mount Dewa. The Hagurosan Sanjingosaiden enshrines the three gods of Dewasanzan (Dewa Mountain). The approach, awarded three stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japan, is a 2446 stone stair-path surrounded by cedar trees over 350 years old. The atmosphere is quiet and mysterious.

On the way to the summit, you can visit the national treasure Haguroyama Five-story Pagoda, the oldest tower in Tohoku, and the Ninosaka Chaya, a resting area with a great view where you can enjoy hand-made rice cakes and other snacks.
The stone steps are engraved with patterns outlining lotus flowers and sake bottles. Legend says that if you find 33 of these engravings, your wish will come true.

The hike to the top will take about one hour, and it will take 40 minutes to one hour to walk back down. Those you may not be comfortable with the hike can opt to ride the bus that runs to the summit.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / Admission restrictions / reservation system / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

3. Experience a tranquil boat ride on the Mogami River

3. Experience a tranquil boat ride on the Mogami River

The Mogami River is also known as the “Mother River,” as it is one of the area's most dominant waterways and water sources. The Mogami Gorge in the middle reaches of the canyon is a popular boating spot.

The Mogami River Basho Line is a course that slowly goes down the river, over 12 km in about one hour. The beauty of it is that you can see waterfalls of various sizes from the boat, and listen to the humorous explanations and songs of the guide, nicknamed “the captain.” You can also ask for guidance in English, Korean, and French.

During the winter, from December to March, heated Japanese tables called kotatsu are loaded onto the boats, providing a unique experience where you can enjoy the snowy winter views while also keeping warm.

After you leave the boat, stop at the “water convenience store,” where you will find local dishes you can take out, like grilled sweetfish with salt. At the final stop, Kawanoeki Mogamikyo Kusanagi, there's a cafeteria where you can enjoy some of the local foods and pick up a memento from the souvenir shop.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in at the same time / limited admission / reservation system / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Mogami River Basyo Line Descent
    最上峡芭蕉ライン観光
    • Address 86-1 Furukuchi, Mogami-gun, Tozawa-mura, Yamagata-ken
    • Phone Number 0233-72-2001
    • Business Hours: Departure times vary by season (inquire for more info)
      Admission: Boat: 2,500 yen; Elementary children 1,250 yen; toddlers & under, free
      Regular Holidays: None (may close in inclement weather)

4. Taste Yamagata's specialty, Ita-soba

4. Taste Yamagata's specialty, Ita-soba

Yamagata has prepared buckwheat noodles for a long time. Ita-soba, mainly used in the inland areas like Mogami and Murayama, is characterized by its strong texture and rich aroma. The servings are displayed in a large wooden box.

In Oishida City, Obanazawa city, and Murayama City, in the Murayama region, there are districts called Soba Kaido, where famous soba shops gather, and soba lovers visit from all over the country. Take a stroll around and compare the different noodles.

5. Savor the local specialty, Yonezawa Beef

5. Savor the local specialty, Yonezawa Beef

Yonezawa Beef is a special brand of beef that flourished mostly in the Okishima District, the southeastern part of Yamagata Prefecture.

Yonezawa Beef comes from a black-haired cattle of Japanese cattle that are raised and fattened in Okishima. Only those cattle that meet the very strict requirements are certified, such as never having given birth to offspring, and being at least 32 months old.

It will be easy to know where you can safely enjoy high-quality Yonezawa beef, as the Yonezawa Beef Brand Promotion Council issues certificates and decorative pieces to selected stores.

In addition to sukiyaki and steak specialty stores, there are many other kinds of restaurants (hamburgers, skewers, croquettes) in Yonezawa where you can enjoy Yonezawa beef at a reasonable price.

6. Buy Oranda Senbei rice crackers as souvenirs of Sakata

6. Buy Oranda Senbei rice crackers as souvenirs of Sakata
Sakata Senbei Image

If you want to know more about "Dutch-style" Oranda Senbei rice crackers, stop by the Oranda Senbei Factory in Sakata City. On the first floor, there is a corner where you can learn about the making of rice crackers in the Shonai region, as well as the history of Oranda Senbei rice crackers. On the second floor, there is a café where you can enjoy rice-flour pancakes, as well as a souvenir-store corner.

For souvenirs, we recommend the Minna no Oranda Waiwai Pack, 51 packs of two different kinds of Oranda Senbei rice crackers.

The facility also holds a senbei-making experience, where you can bake the senbei dough yourself and season it to your liking.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / spaced seating / limited admission and implementation or reservation system / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Oranda Senbei Factory
    オランダせんべいFACTORY
    • Address 2-24, Ryoucho, Sakata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 998-0832, Japan
    • Phone Number 0234-25-0017
    • Open: 9am-6pm; factory tour until 3:40pm; café until 5:30pm
      Closed: Café and shop open daily; factory tour unavailable on Tuesday

7. Try Some of the Local Wine at Tendo Winery

7. Try Some of the Local Wine at Tendo Winery
Image courtesy of Tendo Wine Co., Ltd.

Tendo City is suitable for grape cultivation thanks to its long daylight hours and low rainfall. "Niagara" from Tendo Winery is a white wine fermented at low temperatures using Niagara grapes produced in Yamagata Prefecture. It has a sweet taste and the light, mellow aroma of grapes. The red wine, Yamagata Merlot, uses Merlot grapes grown in Yamagata Prefecture. It has a mellow fruit taste and a moderate astringency, and it’s perfect to enjoy during meals. There is also a line of wines made from Yamagata's specialty pear, La France.

In addition to selling wines, Tendo Winery also offers tours by appointment where you can experience the manufacturing process, plus sample products.

  • Tendo Winery
    天童ワイン
    • Address 99, Takadama, Tendo Shi, Yamagata Ken, 994-0068, Japan
    • Phone Number 023-655-5151
    • Open: 9am-5pm
      Closed: irregular holidays

8. Snack on the local favorite sweet, Fuki-mame

8. Snack on the local favorite sweet, Fuki-mame

Founded in 1886, the confectionery shop Shinise CHÓEIDO is mostly known for its specialty: Fuki-mame.

Fuki-mame is a famous Yamagata confection made from green peas. Carefully-selected peas are peeled, then simmered so they don’t crumble. You can buy Fuki-mame uncooked, or cooked (in a vacuum pack that will preserve their freshness and flavor for a long time and is perfect for a souvenir).

Other popular products are the elegantly sweet Fukito Manju, made from Fuki-mame, and the lightly salted Butter Dorayaki, a combination of Fuki-mame and butter.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and limited number of people allowed in the store / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Shinise CHÓEIDO
    老舗 長榮堂
    • Address 1-2-32, Inyakumachi, Yamagata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 990-0066, Japan
    • Phone Number 023-622-5556
    • Open: 8:30am-6pm
      Closed: open daily

9. Shop at S-PAL Yamagata, a shopping mall directly connected to JR Yamagata Station

9. Shop at S-PAL Yamagata, a shopping mall directly connected to JR Yamagata Station

S-PAL Yamagata, a shopping center directly connected to JR Yamagata Station, is a five-story complex with fashion stores, restaurants, cosmetics, and drug stores. They have everything you need, from souvenirs, to travel essentials.

The second floor is lined up with famous confectioneries, pickles, soba noodles, local craft, and more, from all over Yamagata. If you forget to buy your souvenirs while visiting your favorite tourist spots, you can rest assured you’ll find what you want here. On the same floor, there is a café where you can enjoy sweets made with Yamagata fruits, for a perfect break.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • S-PAL Yamagata
    S-PAL山形
    • Address 1-1-1, Kasumicho, Yamagata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 990-0039
    • Phone Number 023-628-1106
    • Open: 10am-8pm (check the official website for details)
      Closed: open daily

10. Take a break at the scenic canal district of Nanukamachi Gotenzeki

10. Take a break at the scenic canal district of Nanukamachi Gotenzeki

Nanukamachi Gotenzeki is located in Nanukamachi, a scenic shopping area in Yamagata City where unique cafes and shops line the roads. In the center of the town lie an impressive warehouse and buildings that were built in the Edo period and that resemble a Machiya, an old merchant quarter.

The waterway that runs along the building is a restored canal from 400 years ago that was used for domestic agriculture. Here you will find tea shops, soba shops, general stores, and cafes. This area is perfect for lunch. You can also enjoy it simply by walking among the Japanese-style buildings.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Nanukamachi Gotenzeki
    水の町屋 七日町御殿堰
    • Address 2-7-6, Nanukamachi, Yamagata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 990-0042, Japan
    • Phone Number 023-623-0466
    • Business hours: varies depending on store
      Closed: varies depending on store

11. Stop by the famous shopping spot, Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beni-no-kura

11. Stop by the famous shopping spot, Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beni-no-kura

About 7 minutes by taxi from Yamagata Station, Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beni-no-kura is a warehouse owned by the Marutani Hasegawa family, merchants of one of Yamagata's specialties, safflower.

Consisting of a pure white plaster main building and five warehouses, here you will find the shop Agarashai, which sells Japanese sake and traditional crafts made with rice from Yamagata Prefecture. There is also Café & Dining 990, a restaurant sporting a fusion between Yamagata's traditional dishes and western-style cuisine, and a tourism information center.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Yamagata Marugoto-kan Beni-no-kura
    山形まるごと館 紅の蔵
    • Address 2-1-8, Tokamachi, Yamagata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 990-0031, Japan
    • Phone Number 023-679-5101
    • Open: varies depending on the store
      Closed: varies depending on the store

12. Enjoy skiing and seeing the "snow monsters" at Zao Onsen Ski Resort

12. Enjoy skiing and seeing the "snow monsters" at Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Zao Onsen Ski Resort boasts incredible snowfall and high-quality powder snow, and it's one of Japan's leading ski resorts. Every year, many people go there to enjoy winter activities. With 14 slopes, 12 courses, and a maximum gliding distance of about 10km, it's a large resort ideal for beginners and experts alike.

The most fascinating thing for skiers is to enjoy their descent while admiring the beautiful shapes created by the rime on trees. These natural sculptures are also known as "snow monsters" and when the larger ones can reach up to 10 meters in height. You can admire these shapes also from the Zao Ropeway. If you want to fully enjoy the skiing area, we recommend staying overnight. There are many accommodations within walking distance from the slopes.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

13. Soak in the hot waters of Zao Onsen

13. Soak in the hot waters of Zao Onsen

Zao Onsen is a hot-spring resort that boasts one of the best histories and scales in Tohoku. The hot spring has a long history dating back some 1900 years, and it's comprised of 47 hot spring facilities, so you will have ample choice of facilities when you feel like enjoying the natural hot waters.

At Zao Onsen Dairoten Bath, you can enjoy Zao's hot springs and nature at the same time. There is a bath of natural stones along a mountain stream surrounded by greenery, and you can take a bath while serenaded by the chirping birds and the murmuring of the river.

During the snowy winter holidays, head to an inn or a public bath in the hot-spring town. You will also find three footbaths if you're in the mood for a more targeted soak.

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

  • Zao Onsen Tourist Association
    蔵王温泉観光協会
    • Address 708-1, Zao Onsen, Yamagata Shi, Yamagata Ken, 990-2301, Japan
    • Phone Number 023-694-9328

Recommended Ryokan in Zao Onsen

14. Check out the Yamagata Prefectural Folk Museum Bunshokan

14. Check out the Yamagata Prefectural Folk Museum Bunshokan

The central area of Yamagata City is dotted with buildings erected in the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926). One of them is the Yamagata Prefectural folk Museum Bunshokan, the former prefectural office and the former prefectural assembly building, built in 1916.

This is a three-story building in the early modern period reconstruction style, and it's been designated as a national important cultural property, as. A representation of Western-style architecture in the early Taisho Era.

The clock tower in the center of the building is the second oldest clock tower currently in operation in Japan. The weight that moves the pendulum is still manually wound and adjusted by watchmakers once every five days.

One of the highlights of the building is the delicate craftsmanship, like the wooden railings of the decorated stairs, the stained glass with a. laurel wreath, and the plastered flower decorations on the ceiling, which are scattered throughout the building. The decorations with motifs of safflower and cherries, which are specialty products of Yamagata Prefecture are sometimes hidden. Look for them!

Measures against Covid-19
Indoor disinfection measures taken / Sanitizer installed / Disinfected after each guest leaves / Ventilation measures in place / Coin trays used / Plastic partitions installed / Staff wear masks, gargle, wash hands regularly, and monitor body temperature / spaced seating and reduced number of people allowed in the store at the same time / reservation system and limited admission / Entry declined to anyone who is feeling unwell / Masks required / temperature check enforced

15. Enjoy the dreamy scenery and hot springs in the retro hot-spring town of Ginzan Onsen

15. Enjoy the dreamy scenery and hot springs in the retro hot-spring town of Ginzan Onsen

Ginzan Onsen, a hot-spring town that spreads out in a small valley in Obanazawa. Western-style wooden multi-story inns built between the Taisho and Showa eras are lined up along the banks of the Ginzan river. Japanese and international tourists visit every year to enjoy the traditional look of the city. As you walk down the street, you will see plastered reliefs on signboards and walls, and colorful tiles embedded in the cobblestone.

The scenery and the cityscape change depending on the season ant the time of the day. When the sun sets, the gas lamps on the streets light up creating a fantastic atmosphere. In winter, the entire area is covered in snow creating an almost magical land.

The springs are mainly sodium chloride / sulfate hot springs (hypotonic neutral high hot spring), effective in relieving cuts, burns and fatigue. In the hot-spring town there are foot baths that can be used free of charge and a public bath with a modern design, designed by the world-famous architect Kengo Kuma, where you can enjoy hot springs even if you are not planning to stay in any inn.

Measures against Covid-19
Measures vary depending on the facility

  • Ginzan Onsen
    • Address Yamagata Prefecture Obanazawa City Yamagata Large Ginzan Shinhata, 999-4333
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Oishida Station (Ou Line / Yamagata Shinkansen)
    • Phone Number 0237-28-3933

What do you think? Check out these spots, try the great food, and enjoy the great experiences Yamagata has to offer!

Text by: Shoepress

*The information in this article is as of January 2021. Please check the official website for the latest information.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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