Yamagata (山形) is the prefectural capital of Yamagata prefecture.
The Yamagata Shinkansen zips from Tokyo to Yamagata in 2:45 at a cost of ¥10,690, and continues onward to Shinjo. From Fukushima onward the Shinkansen travels on an ordinary track and thus at ordinary speeds.
JR Bus Tohoku runs an overnight bus service, the Sakuranbo, from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. The trip takes about 5 3/4 hours and costs ¥6,300.
Most of the town is centered around the JR station in the middle of town. Yamagata has a bus route, taxis, and bicycles for rent. Most of the most popular tourist destinations have bus routes that run to various areas around town.
- Yamako Bus, . For timetables, see the bus website. edit
- Zao-san / Okama Crater Lake aka Mt. Zao is a 1,841 m high volcano with a blue-green crater lake that is easily accessible by car or public transport. There are two options to reach the crater lake by public transport from Yamagata.
- Option 1: Take the bus to Zao Onsen village. The bus stop is located just outside Yamagata railway station, in front of the koban (police box) and it is marked with an English sign. The bus runs approximately once every hour and takes about 40 minutes to Zao Onsen village. The adult fare is 1,000 Yen one-way (October 2015). When you reach Zao Onsen village, a tourist information is located inside the bus terminal where they offer an English map of the village including the hiking paths to Okama Crater Lake, and a schedule for the return bus. The last bus runs at 7:40 pm. From the bus terminal, it is a 10 minutes walk to Zao Sanroku Ropeway. This ropeway goes up to Juhyo Kogen station, from where another ropeway departs for Jizo Sancho station. A return ticket for the entire trip to Jizo Sancho costs 2,600 Yen (adult fare, October 2015). Arriving at Jizo Sancho, there is a bell and a statue of Jizo-san just behind the station building. Facing the statue, turn right and follow the marked path. After a few steps you will reach a Y-section with a wooden path leading to the left, and a steep rocky path leading to the right. They both lead to the crater lake but offer different views (both beautiful); and they reunite after about 1 km. The wooden path to the left is easier to walk. From the junction where both paths meet again, there is only one path leading up to the rim of the crater. The entire walk up to the rim takes about 45-60 minutes from Jizo Sancho station and hiking boots are recommendable as the path becomes rocky near the crater. On top of the rim, there is a small shelter hut from where the path leads down towards the crater lake and continues around the crater to Katta hut; this takes another 20 minutes. At Katta hut, you will find a cafeteria, vending machines and restrooms. There is also a parking lot as this hut can be reached by car and bus. From the hut, it is another 5-10 minutes walk to the top of Mt. Katta with a small shrine. Return to Jizo Sancho and Sanroku Ropeway the same way; it is not possible to walk around the entire crater.
- Option 2: Take the bus directly to Katta hut. It runs from the same stop as the one bound for Zao Onsen village. From Katta hut, you can walk along the rim of the crater, up to the shelter hut and follow the path to Jizo Sancho. At the Y-section, both paths lead to the ropeway station but the left one includes a very steep and rocky descend at the end whereas the right one is easier to walk. The walk from Katta hut to Jizo Sancho takes about 1.5 hours and hiking boots are recommendable. Either way, you can reward yourself (or warm up) in one of the public hot springs in Zao Onsen village before you hop on the bus back to Yamagata.
- Zao Onsen Village. The village can be reached by bus which departs from outside Yamagata railway station, in front of the koban (police box). The stop is marked with an English sign. The bus runs approximately once every hour and takes about 40 minutes to Zao Onsen village. The adult fare is 1,000 Yen one-way (October 2015). When you reach Zao Onsen village, a tourist information is located inside the bus terminal where they offer an English map of the village. There are several public hot springs in the village. About halfway to Sanroku Ropeway (on the right side of the street coming from the bus terminal), is Shinzaemon, which offers an indoor pool, two outdoor pools and several wooden tubs, along with great atmosphere. The price is 700 Yen (October 2015), and a towel may be purchased for an additional 200 Yen.
- Yamadera. Yamadera is a mountain temple complex that is a 20 minute train ride northeast of Yamagata city. To walk to the top temple, a visitor must climb 1,015 steps. Yamadera was also visited by Matsuo Basho who is the most famous poet of the Edo period and was instrumental in helping to develop the haiku poetry style. One of his most famous haiku's about the cicada's cry was written after visiting Yamadera.
- Yamagata Castle Ruins and Kajo Park. The complex includes reconstructed ruins of the Yamagata castle. At the Ninomaru Higashi Otemon Gate Turret, visitors can enter inside and exhibits on the reconstruction process can be viewed.
- Kyodokan Museum is a museum that displays medical-related exhibits and formerly acted as a private hospital. The western style wooden building has a main section with a ring structure connected in the back and a Japanese style garden in the middle. The director of the hospital was Albrecht von Roretz. Admission is free.
- Yamagata Normal School is a beautiful western style wooden building which later became the New Department of Education of Yamagata University.
- Yamagata Museum of Art which includes works done by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Takahashi Yuichi, and Yosa Buson.
- Bunkyo-kan which is the former prefectural office building and old parliament building. The building was built in 1916 after a fire destroyed the original wooden building. The building's style is that of a western style.
- Mt. Chitose offers hiking with a temple at the base and is regarded as a spiritual place.
Hanagasa Matsuri is a festival held in August every year where groups of dancers perform in the street while holding Hanagasa which are special hats decorated with flowers on them.
Japan's Biggest Imoni Festival is a festival in which they make Yamagata's comfort food, Imoni. The event is held every year on the first Sunday of September.
From the JR station in the middle of town, there are free buses that will take you over to a decent amount of the local non-touristy shopping. JusCo has a bus that runs up until 4pm each day that visits the eastern Yamagata location. Central to the JR station, there is a wealth of local shops, department stores, book stores of all kinds. The main street that runs from the JR station has several side streets as well. Upon a recent visit, there were many shops that catered to all your basic needs, though very few were designed or meant exclusively as tourist destinations. There are very few chain stores in downtown Yamagata, though the skirts of town have a few chain stores like Joy (hardware), Super Denkodo (electronics), JusCo (giant supermarket), and a Toys R Us.
Yamagata has several dishes that are specific to the area.
"Imoni" is a simmered potato stew that includes beef. It is considered a comfort food for the people in Yamagata City and Prefecture. Since 1989, Yamagata City has hosted Japan's biggest Imoni Festival.
Hiyashi Ramen is a soy sauce based ramen that is served cold and can include ice cubes in the bowl and toppins such as cucumber, nori, onions, bean sprouts, bamboo, and roast beef.
Tama konnyaku (or Chikara Konnyaku) are skewered balls of konnyaku that have been simmered in a soy sauce and sugar mixture.
Igamochi is a sticky mochi ball with a yellow bean paste center which are from the Mt. Zao onsen area. They are usually served on bamboo leaves with three balls per leaf. They must be sold and eaten the same day as they harden within a day.
Cold Niku Soba is a buckwheat soup made from a rich chicken broth instead of the usual pork or beef. The soup is not served hot though not necessarily ice cold.
Various fruits. Yamagata prefecture is famous for growing a variety of fruits including Sakuranbo Cherries, La France Pears, strawberries, grapes, peaches, plums, and apples.
Noshi Ume or Thun Plum Jam Agar is a thin jelly snack sandwiched between two bamboo leaves and flavored with Japanese plums.
Juhyou Roman are wafer cookies with chocolate layers sandwiched in between.
Yamagata Prefecture is famous for Sake.
- Guesthouse Mintaro Hut, 5-13 Otemachi (a 10-15 min walk to the city center), . Small, family-run hostel, very clean and cozy. Self-catering kitchen where you can make your own breakfast from the foods available for free. The owner speaks English and can give you a lot of advice on the area. Free shuttle to and from Yamagata station is available upon request. Single room 3500 Yen, double 6000 Yen.. edit
- Jiyukukan Yamagata Takado (自遊空間 山形高堂店), Takado 2-3-11, ☎ +81 023-647-2255, . 24h. A standard net cafe. (38.23902",140.30641) edit
- Yamadera, the Mountain Temple visited by the famous poet Matsuo Basho, is nearby and the main tourist draw in these parts.
- The holy mountains of Dewa Sanzan are within striking distance of Yamagata and make for some beautiful hikes in the summer months.
- Mt Zao hot springs and ski resort, famous for the formation of Juhyo in January-February (ice and snow encrusted pine trees, sometimes called snow monsters due to their otherworldly shapes) is a 45 minute bus ride