Yamagata: Travel guide 山形県

Discover the prefecture's must-sees

Yamagata Prefecture is located in Tohoku, on the northwest coast of Honshu. Largely rural and agricultural, it is a verdant prefecture with numerous national parks and fruit farms. Renowned for its snowy winters, ski resorts and "snow monsters" (snow covered trees), it's also a must-see destination for its spa villages and outdoor onsen.

Rooted in tradition, the Yamagata region abounds in unique cultural activities to discover! Close-up of Yamagata prefecture.



When should you visit Yamagata Prefecture?

Winter, the key season

Yamagata Prefecture is renowned for its winter season, thanks in particular to its renowned ski resorts on Mount Zao and its mysterious Snow Monster, as well as its many hot springs with thermal properties, making it an ideal destination for winter fun. Yamagata is also the only prefecture in Japan where onsens can be found in every town.

With heavy snowfall in winter, Yamagata is one of the snowiest regions in the world! So it's best to visit in February rather than January.

Charming during every part of the year

Yamagata Prefecture is also very pleasant during the other seasons too. Visitors can admire the many cherry blossoms that bloom in spring and the maple leaves that adorn the region in red during the momiji season. A wide range of cultural, sporting and leisure activities are available throughout the prefecture. All year round, its national parks are also the perfect destination for nature hikes.


Ginzan onsen by night


Find out more about // Ginzan Onsen

If you'd like to enjoy the prefecture's rural setting a little more, a detour to Dewa Sanzan National Park is in order, offering hikes through breathtaking scenery. At the heart of the park are the 3 Dewa mountains , considered sacred , and the famous 5-story pagoda of the Dewa Sanzan sanctuary .

Representing birth, death and rebirth respectively, this is one of Japan's oldest mountain shrines. Mount Haguro is the most popular with visitors because it's the easiest to climb. It is also the preferred destination for pilgrims on their way to the large Shinto shrine with its impressive gate. To reach the pagoda, pilgrims must follow a long stone staircase of 2,466 steps!

Please note: from summer 2023, the pagoda will be under renovation for 2 years.

Still on the path of spirituality, the Kaikoji temple is a place out of the ordinary in Japan. It's famous for its 2 Sokushinbutsu, or mummified monks. The story behind these well-preserved icons offers an unexpected glimpse into Japanese culture. To achieve enlightenment in Buddhism, monks engaged in preparations to become mummies while they were still alive! A fascinating story to discover in the town of Sakata.

Yamagata forest

©Noah Negishi, unsplash

Haguro pagoda, sacred mountain of Shugendo in Yamagata prefecture


Le sanctuaire Sanji gôsaiden sur le mont Haguro, Yamagata

The roof of the Sanji gôsaiden shrine on Mount Haguro, Yamagata

Brent Miller

Moines momifiés du temple Kaikoji

Rare photograph of mummified monks at Kaikoji temple

Matsuo Basho Yamagata

Statue of the poet Basho in Yamagata, one of the stops on his journey north.

Junya Ogura

The Maiko Tea House Somaro is one of the few places outside Kyoto where you can see maiko - apprentice geisha - perform in public. Merchants and businessmen of the time often went there to meet the Maiko.

The establishment - a traditional restaurant - is over 200 years old and even today, the maiko continue to perform there, even allowing their audiences to take photos of them. You can enjoy their performances here, or take tea or a meal of Sakata specialties that will give you a glimpse, for a moment, into the art of apprentice geisha.

Still in the town of Sakata, you'll discover the Sanno Club and take part in a kasafuku workshop . Dating back to 1895, and once an upscale restaurant, it is now an establishment that showcases the history of Sakata and where you can see an entire floor decorated with kasafuku, ornaments literally meaning "happy umbrella". These are, in fact, small traditional cloth dolls that often take the form of hanging umbrellas. An original souvenir to bring back from Japan, which has been part of traditional Japanese culture since the Edo era!

Kasafuku exhibition at Sakata's Sanno-Club

The maiko apprentices under the guidance of their teacher on the right

Maiko from Somaro dancing to the rhythm of traditional music

The maiko are geisha apprentices

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