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    Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

    The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

    Yamagata

    Hanagasa Festival
    The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is nearly synonymous with Yamagataitself and attracts nearly 10,00 spectators each year

    Yassho makkasho!” cry out the kimono-clad Hanagasa dancers as they parade their way through the streets of Yamagata City! As the colorful dancers sing and shout songs passed down from generations past, they brandish their round straw hats strewn with Yamagata Benibana Safflowers known as Hanagasa through the air to the pounding rhythm of Taiko drum.

    History of the Hanagasa Festival

    Hanagasa Festival
    There are over 2,000 dancers in the Yamagata Hanagasa, each with their own style and dress

    The orgin of the festival reaches back to 1963 when the Hanagasa was integrated into the Zaō Summer Festival in an effort to make up for the lack of tourism that the Zao area misses out on in the summer. Being famous for its hot springs, snow monsters, and ski resorts, the summer can be economically a pinch for many businesses that rely on seasonal tourism, and so having a large summer festival helped bring in much-needed customers during the slow season.

    As the years rolled by, the event grew and grew to the extent that it could no longer be held in Zao Hotspring Town, and now it takes place each year in Yamagata City over a three-day period between August 5th and 7th. The festival is now considered one of the four major festivals of Tohoku, standing alongside Aomori’s Nebuta Festival, Akita’s Kanto Festival, and Sendai’s Tanabata Festival.

    Most recently, the festival has been known to draw a massive 1 million visitors annually and sees people visit not only from the entirety of Japan but from all over the world. Over 10,000 dancers from all over Yamagata are featured in the festival, and everyone who participates is all proud to celebrate the unique folk culture of Yamagata that binds us all together as a community.

    The Hanagasa Dance

    Hanagasa Festival
    Participating in the Hanagasa is no easy job, most dancers will practice for up to two months before the festival

    For many, the biggest draw of the Hanagasa festival is indeed the 10,000 dancers all brandishing their crimson benibana hats in perfect unity to the ton ton ton of the Taiko. The name of the dance traditionally performed by the Hanagasa dancers translates to the “Fragrant Breeze of the Mogami” in English, or in Japanese, it is officially known “Kunpu Mogamigawa” dance.

    In Yamagata, it is said that the Mogami River is the “Mother of Yamagata” as historically, culturally, and even economically, the Mogami has been a source of life and prosperity for the people that call this region home. Therefore, the movements of this dance are meant to mimic the sway of a cool breeze on the Mogami during a hot summer day. The moves of the graceful dancers are said to have a refreshing, relaxing effect as well, lulling you into the tranquility that is the dog days of summer.

    Traditionally, the most common dance associated with the Hanagasa is called the Onna Odori, the “Women’s Dance,” and while very graceful and femine in nature, can be performed by anyone today.

    There is also the Otoko Odori or “Men’s dance” from Zao (also called the Zao Gyoko) which features many powerful and dynamic dance moves that feel very masculine in nature.

    Another common dance that you can see at the festival is the Kasa Mawashi (hat spinning dance) from Obanazawa. This take on the Hanagasa dance has dancers constantly spinning their safflower hats at rapid speeds as they dance while making swooshing movements.

    Each region of Yamagata has their own take on the dance but many other local groups and teams have incorporated their own modern twist. Local dance studios that specialize in styles such as ballet, hip-hop, jazz, and even hula are always in attendance with a refreshing take on something that has been beloved by Yamagatans for decades.

    The Hanagasa Ondo Song

    Hanagasa Festival
    Many schools, companies, and local groups will send a team to participate in the Hanagasa

    The name of the song sung at the Hanagasa Festical is the Hanagasa Ondo. There are multiple speculations as to where the true origin of the Hanagasa song comes from. However, the generally most widely accepted version is that it was an old folk song sung by construction workers in Murayama.

    Supposedly, the year 1910 was a particularly rainy year for Murayama and as the workers diligently pounded away at the earth to construct a flood embankment they would sing to keep the rhythm and boost morale. One half of the workers would rhythmically shout out “Yassho!” to which the second half would return the call with “Makkasho!”

    The song eventually was met with additional lyrics and accompaniment and was given the name Dontsuki Uta or “Earth Pounding Song.”

    The accompanying lyrics added to the iconic chant were polled from the general public, and among the fifteen verses, two are from historical narratives, while the remaining thirteen verses of lyrics were selected to represent the rich, diverse tapestry that is Yamagata Prefecture.

    Hanagasa Ondo Lyrics
    English Translation and Meaning

    Hanagasa Festival
    The floats featuring taiko drummers are an essential part of the Hanagasa as they keep the beat

     

    There are many versions of the song and quite a number of verses that differ and change depending on where (and who) is playing the song. This is one of the more common versions of the song and often the order of the verses can change as well. After each verse, the chorus “ha yassho makasho shanshanshan” is sung and the audience typically joins in.

    目出度目出度の

    若松様よ

    枝も (チョイチョイ)

    栄えて葉も茂る

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Medeta medeta no

    wakamatsu sama yo

    eda mo (choichoi) kaete

    ha mo shigeru

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

    The very auspicious

    young pine trees,

    their branches too (choi choi),

    their leaves prosper as they grow

    わしがお国で

    自慢なものは

    茄子と (チョイチョイ)

    胡瓜と笠踊り

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Washi ga o kuni de

    jiman’na mono wa

    nasu to (choichoi)

    kyuuri to kasaodori

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

    Oh great country of mine,

    Our things to boast are,

    eggplants (choi choi)

    cucumbers and the Kasaodori Festival

    花の山形

    紅葉の天童

    雪を(チョイチョイ)

    眺むる尾花沢

     

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Hana no Yamagata

    kōyō no Tendō

    yuki o (choichoi)

    nagamuru Obanazawa

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

     

    The flowers of Yamagata

    The maple leaves of Tendo

    As for snow, (choi choi)

    it’s best viewed from Obanazawa

    裏の石橋坂

    ならよかろう

    とんと (チョイチョイ)

    踏んだら悟るよに

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Ura no Ishibashizaka

    nara yokarou

    tonto (choichoi)

    fundara satoru yo ni

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

    Hidden Ishibashizaka,

    in that case that’s right!

    Completely (choi choi)

    Once you set foot there you’ll understand

    米のなる木で

    作りし草鞋

    踏めば (チョイチョイ)

    小判の跡がつく

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Komenonaruki de

    tsukurishi waraji

    fumeba (choichoi)

    koban no ato ga tsuku

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

    The stalk of a rice plant,

    made into straw sandals

    Once you take a step, (choi choi)

    you’ll leave the print of a golden coin

     

    俺が在所に来て

    見やしゃんせ

    米の (チョイチョイ)

    なる木が

    お辞儀する

     

    (ハ ヤッショ マカショ シャンシャンシャン)

    Ore ga zaisho ni kite

    mi ya sha n se

    Kome no (choichoi)

    naru ki ga

    ojigisuru

    (ha yassho makasho shanshanshan)

    To my dear home village,

    please come and see

    rice (choi choi)

    stalks that 

    bow humbly

     

    Enjoying the Parade

    Dondon Yaki
    Dondonyaki is a favorite snack during the festival and is an unique Yamagata soul food

    Every year the Yamagata Hanagasa Festival is held from August 5th-7th and typically takes place in the evening from around 18:00 until 21:45. In the surrounding areas around the parade, streets are filled with street vendors selling delicious festival food and hosting carnival games where you can try your skill and luck in getting a prize!

    The parade takes place right on Nanukamachi, the main street of Yamagata City, and spans all the way to the Bunshokan. You can get easy access by walking 5 minutes right from JR Yamagata Station.

  • Yamagata Safflower

    Yamagata Safflower

    Yamagata Safflower

    Yamagata

    Yamagata Safflower
    For the month of July, “Benibana” Safflowers are in full bloom here in Yamagata

    In the still hours of the morning, the sun peaks over the mountain ridge, and the light of day pours across a sea of golden flowers. As the morning mists swirl and rise into obscurity, the local farmers quietly shuffle into the flower fields to harvest the fine wispy petals while they are still damp with due. Since ancient times, Yamagata’s “benibana” safflower has been considered precious. As even in the modern day, the benibana safflower is worth more than its weight in gold.

    What is Yamagata Safflower?

    Yamagata Safflower
    The Mogami Safflower that is prominent in Yamagata has thorny leaves and long petals

    Safflower is the official flower of Yamagata Prefecture and is often referred to by its Japanese name, “benibana” (紅花). Along with the thistle, sunflower, and the dandelion, the safflower is a member of the Asteraceae family and is also known goes by the scientific name Carthamus tinctorius.

    Worldwide, there are over  25 distinct species of safflower plants that vary significantly in character and appearance. Even within the East Asian variants alone, some plants are known to have as many as 100 flowers simultaneously bloom, while others will only have a single flower. Other safflower plants will have prickly thorns on the leaf, meanwhile, others will feature smooth, rounded fronds.

    While safflowers can be found throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia, and even Africa, the variant cultivated in Yamagata today is proudly called the “Mogami Safflower” after the Mogami River that was vital in the trade and spread of Yamagata safflower culture.

    Yamagata’s Mogami Safflowers are a brilliant golden color, with the flower’s core being a deep crimson red. The leaves are of the thorny variant, and while it may look like the flower is a single head with thousands of little petals jutting out, each of these thin wispy strands is actually its own flower (at least as far as biology is concerned) with its own seed and cellular structure

    The Mogami Safflower variant was officially declared its own separate variant of safflower in 1968 at the Yamagata Prefectural Agricultural Experiment Station after centuries of selective cultivation. In 1982, Mogami Safflower was designated as the official flower of Yamagata Prefecture, and the safflower is almost synonymous with Yamagata today.

    History of Yamagata Safflower

    Yamagata Safflower
    Every year, safflower towns such as Takase gather for annual safflower festivals

    The earliest traces of safflower seem to have originated in what is now modern-day Isreal, and there is archeological evidence of ancient Mesopotamians cultivating it some 4600 years ago. From there, the safflower is said to have spread in China and Central Asia along the Silkk Road, eventually making its way down the Korean Peninsula and finally into Japan.

    Although it is estimated that safflower first reached Japan during the Muromachi Period (1336-1568), it wasn’t until the Edo Period (1600-1868) that safflower culture in Japan really took off.

    During the Edo Period, the Kitmaebune trade route was a sea route that ran from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) through the Seto Inland Sea, up the Kanmon Straights, and up the Sea of Japan all the Hokkaido.

    Cities such as Sakata became incredibly wealthy through this trade network as agricultural goods such as rice would be sent down the Mogami River from inland Yamagata, collected at the port in the Sankyo Soko Warehouses to be stored, and then shipped out to Edo via ship.

    Yamagata Safflower petals
    The best time to gather safflower petals is in the morning when the flowers are wet with dew

    Safflower was another valuable commodity transported using this method during the Edo Period. While safflower had been cultivated sporadically across the country since its arrival, the Mogami Basin soon became recognized for the high wields and unrivaled quality of the flowers. So by the time the trade route was established, Yamagata Safflowers were already in high demand.

    Safflowers grown in inland areas of Yamagata, such as Shirataka and Takase, became an essential part of the Kitamaebune trade network and were transported in mass down the Mogami River, where they would be sold and sent to Edo by trade ship.

    They reached such a value during the height of the trade that it was said that safflower was worth more than one hundred times its weight in rice and ten times its weight in gold!

    But what made Safflower such a valuable commodity, and why was it so sought after? Let’s look at some of the many uses of safflower and what makes it still one of Yamagata’s most valuable resources.

    How is Yamagata Safflower Used?

    safflower dyed cloth
    From the collected flowers, a number of shades and hues can be mixed and made

    Even before safflowers made their debut in the Land of the Rising Sun, their seeds and extracted oils have been used throughout China, the Middle East, and Central Asia for its medicinal purposes.

    In Japan, however, the primary usage of the benibana dye is as a bright red dye that has held a deep cultural significance in Japan since long ago.

    Due to the high price associated with Yamagata Safflower, only the most important shrine garments in Japan, such as those worn at Ise Grand Shrine, are dyed with Yamagata Safflower today. Some ceremonial garments that feature this vibrant crimson color, such as the kimono on display at the Bunshokan, are priced at well above 30,000 dollars (USD) due to the high concentration of Yamagata Safflower used.

    However, very few garments short of the select few are made using a 100% safflower dye. In fact, most things dyed using Yamagata Safflower are dyed using only a compound containing only 10-20% safflower dye.

    Safflower Rice
    Safflower rice is a popular seasonal dish, most often served in higher-end restaurants in Yamagata

    While augmented pigment activators can help achieve the deep red color artificially, a range of pinks, yellows, and oranges can also be produced naturally with lighter concentrations of Yamagata Safflower at a fraction of the cost.

    Another usage of Yamagata Safflowers is in the making of the red makeup and lip tint used by geishas and maiko, such as the Maiko of Sakata City. Like garments dyed using Yamagata Safflower, makeup produced this way is also very expensive, so it is used sparingly.

    One other alternative usage of Yamagata Safflower is in cooking, as it can be enjoyed as a topping, tempura, or even on rice! While the taste isn’t very strong, it offers a sweet, smokey floral flavor palette that adds culinary depth to the dish.

    Yamagata Safflower Today

    Only Yesterday
    “Only Yesterday”, Studio Ghibli (1991) takes place in Yamagata Prefecture

    Today, over 50% of all safflower produced in Japan still comes from Japan, and Yamagata Safflower culture is still wildly celebrated with festivals such as the Takase Benibana Festival.

    Benibana also has a special place in contemporary Japanese pop culture as the 1991 Studio Ghibli Film, Only Yesterday, takes place in Yamagata and features a young woman who ventures out of Tokyo to help with the local safflower harvest. While not Studio Ghibli’s most popular film, it is a nostalgic portal of rural Japanese life in the early 90s and a beautiful ode to the beauty of Yamagata.

    Yamagata Safflower Experience

    Yamagata Safflower Experience
    Participants can come and try their hand at Yamagata Safflower harvesting for themselves

    Come and experience Yamagata Safflower Culture for yourself! For the duration of July, through our Yamagata Safflower Experience, you can come to Shirataka and Learn about Yamagata Safflower Culture in person!

    The experience starts with a trip out to the flower fields, where you will pick the safflower petals that will be used as a dye. Wearing gloves to protect your hands from the thorns, you will pluck just the head of the flower and place the petals into a basket on your hip.

    Safflower Safflower Experience
    After you dye your Yamagata Safflower handkerchief, you can take it home as a souvenir!

    Next, you will return to the farmhouse, where you will prepare the cultivated petals by first washing them, kneading them, and then rolling them into “benimochi” pigment chips that will then dry and become the base for the dye.

    Finally, participants will use real Yamagata Safflower dye to dye their own handkerchiefs that they can take home as a souvenir of your time here in Yamagata.

    For more information about our Yamagata Safflower Experience, please check our Experience Page

  • Jingisukan

    Jingisukan

    Jingisukan

    Yamagata

    Jingisukan or “Ghengis Khan” is a Japanese grilled lamb dish that takes its name from the 13th-century ruler Genghis Khan who founded the Mongol Empire.

    Jingisukan
    Jingisukan has a very storng earthy taste and the meat is very tender

    Up until the late 19th century, mutton and lamb were not part of the Japanese diet and could rarely be found in Japan. The large majority of protein in the Japanese diet was from chicken, pork, beef, or seafood which is still very much the case so today.

     

    At the turn of the century, however, the government began pushing the wool industry in Japan, bringing in sheep in large numbers and encouraging the consumption of mutton. Slogans floated around urging Japanese people to eat mutton, claiming that it would make them big and strong, just like the Mongolian leader Ghengis Khan.

     

    Somewhere along the way, the name got attached to a certain dish, and in the 1930s, “Jingisukan” was born.

    Jingisukan
    The white block in the center is the mutton fat whis is melted and helps prevent the meat from sticking to the pan

    Jingisukan is grilled on a specific cast iron pan that looks a bit like a traditional Mongolian war helmet with a raised center and a brim around the outside. These pans were originally produced in Do-machi, Yamagata, and can now be found all over Japan.

     

    After firing up the grill, mutton fat is melted all over the pan so that the ingredients don’t stick, and then the remaining fat is placed on the center point of the pan so that it continues to melt down.

     

    Vegetables are arranged on the outside of the skillet so that when you put the meat on the center of the pan, the meat juices will dribble down, adding rich flavor to the vegetables. Usually, cabbage, onion, pumpkin, mushrooms, carrots, and eggplant are popular. However, each restaurant uses its own assortment of vegetables, depending on the region and season.

     

    After the meat and veggies are grilled to perfection, it is dipped in a special jingisukan sauce and eaten over white rice.

    Jingisukan
    Jingisukan is served all over Japan and is a favorite food if skiers or those in cold climates

    Despite many people believing that jingisukan is originally from Hokkaido, where it is also famed, the original jingisukan is actually from Yamagata, hailing from the Zao region. 

     

    Today, you can still visit the original and very first jingisukan shop in Kaminoyama, a quaint little restaurant named “Jinguisukan Shiro.” It is very popular among locals, so you might need to make a reservation over the phone.

     

    You can also enjoy Jingisukan around Yamagata City near Yamagata Station at Hitsujien and at Yamagata’s premier street food district, Hotonaru Yokocho.

  • Bunshokan

    Bunshokan

    Bunshokan

    Yamagata City, Yamagata

    Bunshokan
    The Bunshokan stands proudly as a landmark of Yamagata City

    The Bunshokan is the old prefectural capital of Yamagata Prefecture and was built in 1877 in accordance with the transition of Dewa Province to Yamagata Prefecture in 1869.  Today it serves as a history museum as well as an iconic sightseeing spot in Yamagata City and is a beloved landmark of the people. 

    History of the Bunshokan

    Bunshokan
    The Assembly hall attatched to the Bunshokan is still used today

    The Meiji Restoration (1868-1889) perched Japan on a new epoch of economic, political, and cultural modernization that changed the fundamental core identity of Japan. Prefaced by an isolation period of 265 years known as Sakoku (1603-1868), the reopening of Japan led to the mass importation of goods, knowledge, and ideas that urged Japan to make significant changes to Japanese society itself in order to avoid getting left behind by the Western world. 

     

    One of these major changes was doing away with remnants of the feudal Edo system of government that consisted of the shogunate, daimyōs, and the samurai, and restoring central power to the emperor and the oligarchy that surrounded him.

     

    With the new wave of changes that the restoration embraced, came the need to outwardly express the Western modernization that the Meiji era represented, and henceforth a new prefectural capital was constructed in 1877 to lead the way into what would become the future of Japan.

    A New Bunshokan

    Bunshokan
    The bricks used for the construction of the Bunshokan were sourced all from Yamagata Prefecture

    While a great fire swept through Yamagata City in 1911, devastating the town and many of the cultural landmarks, reconstruction of the new Bunshokan was completed in 1913 and the new building was built in the English Neo-Renaissance style. 

     

    The newly erected Bunshokan was designed by Tokyo architect Shinnosuke Tahara with the help of Yonezawa architect Eiichiro Nakajo and the building was heavily inspired by modern period reconstruction style buildings around England. Local stone was used in the construction of the building for both aesthetic purposes, and to prevent another fire incident from happening.

     

    After the construction of the building in June 1913, the newly constructed Bunshokan served as the Prefectural Government Building as well as the Prefectural Assembly Hall until 1975. From there, it was abandoned when the office moved to its current building in the Matsunami district and the building fell into despair as it was left virtually to rot and be ransacked.

    Restoration of the Bunshokan

    Bunshokan
    Much of the furniture and crown molding had to be refurbished by hand based only on old pictures and records
    Bunshokan
    The assembly hall is still used today for town events and is the practice venue for the Yamagata Orchestra

    In 1984, the citizens’ love for their local landmark brought the decaying state of the Bunshokan to the attention of the country which eventually led to it becoming designated as an official Important Cultural Property of Japan. This spurred a ten-year-long restoration project and in 1995, the Bunshokan finally reopened to the public as a free museum to preserve and protect an invaluable chapter in Yamagata’s history.

    Bunshokan
    The Bunshokan lit up with a special art display during the 2021 Kizuna Festival

    Yamagata City
    Walking Tour

    Want to learn more in-depth about the Bunshokan and other historic spots around Yamagata City? Try our guided walking tour!

    From

    ¥3,500

    Wamagata City Walking Tour
  • Yamadera

    Yamadera

    Yamadera

    Yamagata City, Yamagata

    yamadera

    Yamadera is the collective name given to the thirty temples creviced into the ancient slopes of Mt. Hoju. Properly known as Risshaku-ji,  Yamadera is located just a one-hour train ride out of Yamagata City. This esoteric complex has been the source of inspiration since its founding over 1,000 years ago, commanding the ink wells of some of Japan’s greatest writers, artists, and poets as the infamous Matsuo Basho.

    History of Yamadera

    Konpochudo Hall
    Konpochudo Hall is the oldest beechwood structure in Japan and houses a 1,300 year old eternal flame

    Yamadera was founded by legendary Buddhist priest Ennin (also known as Jikaku Daishi) in the year 860 as he traversed Tohoku, bringing a new wave of Tendai Buddhism from abroad. Ennin studied Buddhism in China for nine years between 838 and 847; however, when Emperor Wuzong took the throne in 840, it triggered the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 842-846, resulting in Enin’s deportation back to Japan in 847.

    Upon returning to Japan, his resolve to spread and galvanize the Tendai sect of Buddhism had never been stronger, and so upon being named “Great Monk” by Emperor Seiwa in 847, he set out across the Tohoku region to erect temples and spread the message of the Buddha. Along his journey, today, he’s accredited with having established 331 temples in the Tohoku region, such as Akutsu Hachiman Shrine in Takahata.

    Yamadera was founded in 860 as a branch of Enryau-Ji temple, the central temple of the Tendai sect, located on Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. Upon its completion, an eternal flame was brought from Enraku-Ji in Kyoto and housed in Konponchudo hall, the oldest structure made of beechwood in Japan.

    The flame has been continuously burning now for over one thousand years, and in an odd twist of fate, when the original flame in Kyoto was extinguished in 1571 during the raids of Oda Nobunaga, it was restored using the embers of the eternal flame at Yamadera.

    Matsuo Basho

    Matsuo Basho
    This statue of Matsuo Basho sits at the mounatin base of Yamadera

    Perhaps the other great historical figure to leave their mark on the great mountain temple of Yamadera is non-other than larger-than-life Edo poet Matsuo Basho. Poet, writer, traveler, and wordsmith-extraordinaire, Basho traveled up and down the Tohoku region during the late 1600s, culminating his experiences into the book titled “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

    Matsuo Basho was actually never supposed to visit Yamadera and had intended to continue towards Tsuruoka after staying in Obanazawa for several days. However, when urged to visit by their former host, Matsu Basho retraced his steps, adding seventeen miles to his journey just so he could see what splendors the mountain temples held.

    Matsu Basho arrived in Yamadera on a sunny summer afternoon and stayed at a lodge at the foot of the mountain. The following day, he scrambled to the top of the sacred mountain and was met with an unexpected reward, tranquil silence. So moved by the serenity of the mountains, he sat down and wrote one of his most famous haiku poems:

    Ah, the silence

    sinking into the rocks

    the voice of the cicada

    閑かさや

    岩にしみ入る

    蝉の声

    When you visit Yamadera today, make sure to make an additional stop at the Matsu Basho Museum at the base of the mountain to learn more about the life, works, and legacy of perhaps Japan’s greatest poet. Admission is ¥300 each for the Basho Memorial Museum, Basho Birth House, and the Minomushi-an, or ¥750 for entry to all three.

    Climbing Yamadera

    There are many ways and paths to traverse the mountain temples, each twist infused with history and tradition

    The climb from the base to the peak of Yamadera will make you work for the reward at the end of the trail, but will it be worth it by all means. To get to the top, you first must climb the 1,000 stone stairs through the ancient cedar forest. The path is fringed with stone lanterns, trickling streams, small shrines, and Buddhist statues, and there is a ¥300 entrance fee made payable at the foot of the mountain.

     

    Depending on your pace, the journey to the top should take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour and there is plenty of places to stop and rest along your journey. 

    Midahora Rock
    If the coin you leave stays, its good luck! Falls however, you better count your blessings!

    As you climb, such distinct features of the mountain as the Midahora Rock, which is shaped like the Amida Buddha’s head, will come into view. Under the stone steelies inscribed with ancient wisdom, visitors will balance coins on the porous cliff face as an offering and hope of currying some good luck and fortune.

     

    Just past the Midahora Rock, visitors will pass through the Niomon Gate, which is what is said to keep demons out of the holy monastery. The gate was constructed out of Zelkovia in 1848, and large statues of the god Nio stand at either side to fight off any unwanted guests.

    nio Gate
    The nio deity enshrined inside protects the temples from evil spirits and demons

    From here, the path splits off into various directions leading to different temples. Proceeding forwards, Okunoin is the highest of the temples and houses a massive golden statue of the Amida Budda. 

    The iconic Nokyodo delicately perched upon the mountain crown next to Kaisando Hall is perhaps a scene nearly synonymous with the mountain temple itself and tells a different story each time you visit it. However, what makes Yamadera really worth the visit is the viewing platform Godaido. From the platform, the views sprawl all the way over the Tachiya River, across the valley, and all the way to the surrounding mountains. 

     

    The view has been known to bring even the most hardened souls to tears with its unparalleled beauty and inspired hearts for generations.

    Yamadera
  • Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

    Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

    Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

    Takahata, Yamagata

    Akutsu Hachiman Shrine
    Akutsu Hachiman Shrine is a popular spot to view cherry blossoms in the spring

    In Shinto lore, Hachiman is the god of archery, warriors, and battles and shrines devoted to him are said to rally the aid of the god to bring success and victory during times of war. Akutsu Hachiman Shrine was built in 860 under the leadership of the legendary Buddhist priest Ennin and through the support of the local lords of the area. Ennin’s goal at the time was to erect 3,000 Buddhas in the eastern part of the country, and so at the time of its founding, the temple was no more than one of humble local standings.

    During the Gasannen War (1083-1087), forces of the Kiyohara clan and the Minamoto clan clashed, and chaos broke out in southern Tohoku where the City of Takahata lies today. While a peaceful agreement between the two parties was attempted, when negations went south, and the conflict dragged on. It was then that the governor of Mutsu Province, Minamoto no Yoshiie, called upon the power of the Hachiman Shrine, which is said to have delivered him a swift, decisive victory on a silver platter that ended the conflict once and for all. Since then, the shrine has become highly revered and has been a prominent place of worship for warriors and warlords throughout Tohoku.

    Blessed by a sea of sunflowers in the summertime, shaded by crimson groves of maple in the autumn, carpeted by a blanket of snow during winter, and festooned with cherry blossoms in the spring, today the crown jewel and pride of Takahata is the three-tiered pagoda standing proud on the center island of Akutsu Hachiman Shrine. Originally constructed in 1625, this designated prefectural historic treasure features a two-storied roof as well as detailed wooden beam endpoints carved into the heads of lions and elephants.

    In 1790, the original pagoda collapsed due to typhoon winds; however, seven years later, a new shrine tower was constructed, which is the one that still stands today. True to the original style of the shrine, the new pagoda was built using the Kanawatsugi (金輪継) technique, which is a traditional style of Japanese carpentry where the various wooden pieces all perfectly interlock and not a single nail is used. Although the building has been well restored and receives frequent maintenance for preservation, it still retains much of its ancient charm and is a standing remnant of the time in which it was built.

    Akutsu Hachiman Shrine
    Even in the winter, Akutsu Hachiman Shrine still holds a stoic presence

    Every year on May 3rd, Akutsu Hachiman Shrine holds its annual spring festival, where shrine maidens draped in red will perform the ancient Yamatomai dance and the Taumai dance on the shrine stage. The shrine maidens will also sing, play the koto, and perform a fan dance, so it is well worth a visit. Each year, in addition to the shrine maidens, several elementary-aged girls will perform alongside them as well. The purpose of this spring ritual is to pray for a successful rice planting season which will lead to a plentiful harvest come fall.

    Once autumn arrives, however, the annual autumn festival is held on September 15th, and the Ennen no Mai dance is performed by elementary school boys in prayer for a good harvest. Other things that are prayed for during the festival are national security, safety, and longevity. Yabusame Horse Archery is also on display during this festival. Both festivals are considered intangible folk cultural property designated by the prefecture and are an experience like no other.

  • Getting to Yamagata

    Getting to Yamagata
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