Located in the Tohuku region of northern Japan, Yamagata is a beautiful prefecture surrounded by wonderful mountains and is known for cherries, pears, and cold ramen. Being the capital of Yamagata Prefecture, there is no shortage of fun activities, nightlife, hot springs, and ski fields in Yamagata City. Recently, we visited the city for a week, and though we spent most of our time walking the neighborhood, we also did a lot of really fun activities.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Yamagata City!
Cherry Picking: Yamagata Cherry Land
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Cherry picking, or Sakuranbo, is one of my favorite activities in Japan, where we could do tabehoudai, i.e., eat as much as you can for 40 minutes by paying around 1500-2000 yen.
We visited Yamagata Cherry Land, which was just a 30-minute car ride away from the Yamagata station. The journey was beautiful, and the destination was incredible. We visited the cherry farm in the second week of June, which is actually one of the best cherry-picking times, but it’s possible to go through July too. You can go there without a reservation between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. unless you are in a large group of more than 15 people. They have different courses for more premium cherries too, which are plumper, sweeter, and larger and cost almost double the regular price.
You can take pictures and make videos with your friends enjoying cherries on the farm and record this amazing experience to capture it forever. There is a shop on the farm, too, that sells the best hand-picked cherries that you can bring back as souvenirs for your family and friends. I remember seeing pictures of respected former prime minister Shinzo Abe and many other distinguished personalities enjoying cherries on that farm, which shows how beloved and popular the place is in Japan.
Interestingly, Yamagata, being the fruit prefecture, offers many more all-you-can-eat fruit-picking activities depending on the season. For example, August for Japanese plums and peaches, September to October for grapes and pears, and October to November for apples. Yamagata is the best prefecture if you love fruits and nature, as the agriculture and income of the prefecture are primarily based on sericulture, rice production, and fruit orchards.
Junsai Picking: Junsai Marsh
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Junsai picking was surely the highlight of my Yamagata trip. Honestly, before my friend told me about Junsai, I had no idea what that meant or what it tasted like. After visiting the Junsai Marsh, I can say that it was something I saw for the first time. Junsai, or water shield, is a traditional slippery gelatinous vegetable grown in clean, shallow freshwater ponds.
It contains a lot of fiber and is considered very good for health and beauty. We booked our slot beforehand in Junsai Marsh, as it is almost fully booked because of the popularity of the activity in the area. Before actually stepping into the boat to do what we came here for, we first visited the cafe situated inside to have lunch and to know what the Junsai actually tastes like. We ordered Soba noodles, which were very delicious, along with a Junsai plate. Junsai bowl surely had less quantity than I expected, but they really tasted incredible with ponshu, the sour soy sauce.
Junsai is used in several recipes, and however weird it may sound, it is used as an ice cream topping. After having an amazing lunch, we were all set for our unique vegetable-hunting experience. Our guide first explained to us how to find the perfect Junsai by putting your hand deep into the water, cutting it, and collecting it in the basket provided. This traditional vegetable is also known as emerald of water and has many anti-bacterial properties. Picking Junsai in a boat in freshwater is a wonderful experience everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.
Outside Onsen: A Luxurious Experience
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Yamagata is a Prefecture famous extensively in Japan for its hot springs and ski resorts, and a trip to Yamagata is incomplete without visiting one. Though our first choice was Zao Onsen, we couldn’t go as it was fully booked, but we were lucky to find a different onsen called Oohira, which was incredibly beautiful and surprisingly cheap. It happened to be in the middle of forests surrounded by beautiful mountains. We went around 7 p.m., and the fresh breeze of the evening made it even more luxurious while we were sitting neck-deep in the onsen full of hot water.
We can breathe clean air and enjoy what nature has to offer as there is an onsen located outside. We took several pictures nearby, as the resort had many Instagrammable spots which made our experience even better. The mountainous road that leads to the onsen is also an experience on its own, and you will get the feeling that you have entered the onsen village as it is separated by a huge tori gate. We also took our moment to stop in one of the 7/11s, buy some snacks, and stargaze as the clear sky and beautiful night made us feel nothing but grateful for everything we experienced that time.
When Are You Visiting Yamagata?
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Yamagata has a lot to offer, and I highly recommend you go there at least once to appreciate its food, people, and nature. It became a famous tourist destination during the winter because of super popular places like Zao Ski Resort and Ginzan Onsen. Please share this article with your friend with whom you want to go to this wonderful city as your next travel destination. Also, do take a look at our recommended articles because I fear that you might find exactly what you have been looking for for so long.
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