Take a trip from Tokyo to Yamagata prefecture for a unique cultural escape.
Situated in the southwestern corner of the Tohoku region, Yamagata is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Though easily accessible from Tokyo by air or aboard the Yamagata Shinkansen— which whisks passengers there in under three hours—it remains little-known to most overseas visitors. Those who come are rewarded with a cultural and spiritual journey into a mountainous heartland dotted with hot springs and historic towns, where the Japanese tradition of living with nature comes to the fore. Starting from Tokyo’s bustling street markets, the route to Yamagata is a pilgrimage that stirs the soul, allowing for unforgettable encounters with ancient faiths, Shonai traditional culture, and rustic cuisine. An hour- long flight from Haneda to Shonai Airport, the northern gateway to Yamagata, allows for a bird’s- eye view over the rice fields of the Shonai Plain and the neighboring Sea of Japan. Touching down, travelers are now within easy reach of several major sights. Mountains have long been revered in Japanese culture as dwelling places of the gods. Designated a Japanese heritage site in April 2016, the Dewa Sanzan are three sacred peaks revered by followers of the Shugendo branch of Shintoism. Mount Haguro is the only one accessible throughout the year, thanks to a path of 2,466 stone steps leading to the summit, where the Sanjin- Gosai- den temple venerates the mountain spirits. Nearby, a sublime monument stands among the Japanese cedar ( sugi) trees on Mount Haguro’s slopes. Said to be the oldest pagoda in the Tohoku region, the Five- storied Pagoda is a designated national treasure that has withstood six centuries of wind, rain, and heavy snow. The first pagoda on the site was built much earlier, by the samurai Taira-noMasakado in the 10th century. You can also soak up sweeping ocean views at Yunohama
onsen, a traditional hot- spring village that has existed for the past 1,000 years. From the open- air baths, visitors can take in a glorious sunset over the Sea of Japan, ranked as one of the top 100 in the country. The selection of hotels and ryokan here allow for ample time to engage in water sports and other activities, leaving you with a deeper appreciation of this little- known region. A selection of 360- degree virtual reality videos can be found at tohokuandtokyo.org/virtualtour/ For more information, visit tohokuandtokyo.org