Yamagata Prefecture is somewhere I only really passed though on my travels in Japan’s northern region last Summer so I was determined to go back at some point and actually see something more than the inside of train stations! That opportunity probably came earlier than I ever thought it would during a recent short break.
After a couple of days in Fukushima Prefecture I moved on further north to Yamagata. I tried to book a hotel there a few days before embarking on this trip but they were out of my price range so I decided to stay in Yonezawa which is about 30 minutes south of Yamagata city. The view from my room was lovely with great views of the river and a waterfall amidst mountains and a lot of greenery.
A free Japanese-style breakfast was included too.
Kaminoyama-Onsen Station lies between Yonezawa and Yamagata and that was my first port of call the following morning. I was not there to take an onsen (hot spring bath) though. 30 minutes on foot south of the station is Takamatsukannon; a buddhist temple with a rather bizarre ritual.
As ever with many of the places I go to, there wasn’t anyone to be seen anywhere. The sliding doors could thankfully be opened though and I later noticed there was a light switch too. Pictures of married couples don the walls of this temple but not all is at may seem!
Mukasari Ema (ムカサリ絵馬) is not exactly a common ritual but it is one that is done in certain parts of Yamagata and Aomori Prefectures. Shrines usually have wooden blocks known as ema for people to write their prayer requests on but this type of ema goes a step further!
When a young person dies without having got married, the family prays for their happiness and that they can get married in heaven. A professional is asked to draw a picture of the deceased on a wooden plaque alongside his fictional bride. However, it is taboo to put someone on it who is alive as it’s believed they will soon die if that happens.
It was only on the train en-route to this area that I knew a castle was there. I found it when looking at my maps app so thought I’d check it out before returning to the station. I never had any intention of going inside as I have more often than not been disappointed by the interior of Japanese castles.
One big bonus outside Kaminoyama Castle was a free foot spa which was most welcome as I had time to kill and was in need of some relief for my feet, particularly my left one which was in a bit of pain from an injury I picked up just a few days before this trip.
I saw this strange creature (below) outside someones house near the river that passes though the area between castle and station.
In Yamagata I had a very short time between trains to go to the ¥100 shop to get some rain clothes for later that night. I had about 18 minutes till my next train so thought I’d grab a quick bowl of gyudon (beef bowl) at Matsuya. Usually you get served your dish within a minute or two but typically this time there was no sign of my bowl for the first first half of that allotted time so I had to cancel the order and walk out empty handed…apart from the ¥400 or so I had basically spent on a glass of water!
Yamadera (literally mountain temple!) was my next port of call and the main thing I wanted to see in Yamagata. You can read about that trip here.
That was then followed by the J2 football match in the pouring rain at the ND Soft Stadium Yamagata between Montedio Yamagata and my Kashiwa Resyol boys.
After a long day and a late night I took things a bit easier the next morning and didn’t have a really early start. Thanks to stuffing a load of scrunched up newspaper in my shoes the night before they were dry but soon about to get wet again as it was raining albeit far lighter than the previous evening.
I thought I’d get the bus as it left at 10:10 am from very close to my hotel. I checked out and had just left the hotel when I realised I’d left my headphones on the bed. Right at that moment the bus came (four minutes ahead of schedule!) and I could have got it but I decided to retrieve my earphones. As it was, I was back at the bus stop by 10:09 and should’ve been able to get the bus if it was on time! Instead, I walked to the station (below) which I thankfully had enough time to do before my intended train.
I’ve noticed over the last few years that quite a few City Hall buildings have interesting designs and the one in Sagae is no different. What looks like a precariously-balanced building (below) is 15 minutes walk north of Sagae Station.
Along the way I passed this mysterious statue (below) which is covered with a green net. I wonder what it is!
There were a couple of outdoor foot spas round the corner from the station but this time I didn’t have any spare time to dip my feet in as it’s important to get your train in this part of Japan as they’re not so often.
Usually the signage in JR stations is white and green but this one was a cherry pink colour in the shape of the fruit as this area of Yamagata is Japan’s number one cherry producing region. Even one of the lines is called the Fruit Line though I’m not sure why!
After a change of train at Kita Yamagata I then continued the relatively short journey eastwards to Sendai for the finale of this short trip in the Tohoku region of Japan.
Click here to read ‘Japan’s Biggest Jizo Statue & Mummy Troubles!’