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Steeped deep in tradition and held stoic as a proud castle town, the healing waters of Kaminoyama have brought solace and relaxation to travelers since before even the days of the samurai.

Kaminoyama Onsen

The legend of Kaminoyama begins with a wandering monk from Hizen Province (modern day Saga Prefecture) limping across the frozen tundra of Tohoku, searching for a final resting place. Having perhaps been mistaken for an enemy soldier, the monk had been fatally struck by a stray arrow and as he dragged a red trail across the snowy fields, the monk had all but accepted his fate and was prepared to die.


A flourish of wings and another splash of crimson, the monk was not the only one to be caught in the chaos of the night as a noble crane has been hurt as well. The monk watched with awe as the wounded crane tended to the wounds of its legs in the steamy waters of a nearby hot spring before letting out a cry and miraculously flying off as if it carried not a feathers-worth of weariness throughout its entire body.


Intrigued and exhausted, the monk made his way to the spot where he saw the crane and upon submerging his body in the natural hot spring, he found his injuries completely healed and his spirits refreshed. Thus the legend of Kaminoyama Onsen was born.

History of Kaminoyama

Having made a name for itself as a hotspring resort during the Muromachi Period,Like many northern hamlets during this time, Kaminoyama eventually developed into a thriving castle town with the erection of Kaminoyama Castle (then called Tsukioka Castle ) in 1535 by the Tendo Clan. The Kaminoyama Domain however was not held by the Tendo for long as it was hotly contested by both the Mogami and the Date clans for its extremely advantageous position along the Ushu Kaido Highway.


The Ushu Kaido was a subdivision of the Oshu Kaido route that connected Edo up through what is today Aomori, and then proceeded to the tip of Hokkaido. The Ushu Kaido on the other hand splintered off in Miyagi and connected up to Aomori, stopping through such major cities as Yonezawa, Yamagata, Shinjo, Akita, and Hirosaki along the way.


Shoehorned in between the powerful Yamagata and Yonezawa Domains, Kaminoyama was the ideal stopping ground for powerful Daimyo, weary after their long journeys and in need of relaxation. The flourishing onsen town of Kaminoyama became a favorite for all sorts of samurai, bureaucrats, and even members of the imperial household.


Unfortunately however, all good things came to an end and with the abolition of the han (domain) system in 1871, both the samurai and daimyos were made no more. As a result, Kaminoyama castle was demolished and turned into a public park in 1892 and worries about securing the future of Kaminoyama ran rampant as it is indeed quite difficult to have a castle town with no castle.


Similar to Matsugaoka in Tsuruoka, Kaminoyama decided to try their hand at making a shift to agriculture and due to the fertile volcanic soils that blessed the region, they were incredibly successful. Still today, Kaminoyama is most famous for their fruit, specifically their cherries, plums, grapes, and apples. 


With the revitalization of Kaminoyama, the castle was rebuilt in 1982 and is now a historic museum with a stellar view of Mount. Zao, as well as an incredible spot for cherry blossom viewing in the spring.

Things to do in Kaminoyama

Kamoinoyama Castle

Yamagata’s only fully standing castle. Here, view the cherry blossoms in the spring, enjoy the Kasedori Festival in the winter,  and catch a stunning view of Mt. Zao any time in between!

Horseback Riding

Kaminoyama is blessed by scenic mountains and bountiful nature. Why not experience it like a samurai from the back of a horse? Here, you can also learn the art of Yabusame horseback archery!

Kaminoyama Onsen

The healing waters of Kaminoyama have been chereished by travelers and locals alike for centuries. The oldest bath house in Kaminoyama has been in operation for over 550 years! 

Konnyaku Bansho

While there is never a tasteless meal in Kaminoyama, konnyaku is the local delicacy and adored by all. Made from the root of a Devil’s Tongue Yam, konnyaku can be cooked into a number of dishes, both sweet and savory.