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Takahata

Takahata

Mahoroba is an ancient Japanese word used to describe a far-off utopia of peace, tranquility, and bliss. A paradise where people live in harmony with nature, green drapes the hills, and the branches of the trees are sagging without sweet fruit. 

While the oldest known usage of this word, Mahoroba, is found in the poetic pages of the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest written history, today if such a place on earth were deserving of such a title, it would be none other than the serene town of Takahata, Yamagata which is where it gets its nickname “Mahoroba no Sato” (まほろばの里) or the “Village of Mahoroba.”

Old Takahata Station

History of Takahata

By modern standards, Takahata is a fairly small town with a population of only 23,000 and is blessed by a pleasant sea of rice terraces and blue skies rather than the usurp of nature that towering skyscrapered cities command. This peace and harmony seems to have transcended to the present from Takahata’s roots in the Jomon period (around 12,000 BC) as copious amounts of Jomon artifacts and archaeological ruins still remain to this day. Many of these artifacts and ruins are on display in Takahata at the Ukitamu Fudoki no Oka Archaeological Museum.

During the Middle Ages, Takahata served as a political and cultural center and was even home to the famed  “One-Eyed Dragon” Date Masamune during his childhood for seven years between 1591 and 1598. At one point, a castle stood as a monument to the role that Takahata had to play as a regional crossroads for transportation and exchange, however in 1800 as surrounding powers rose in military capability, Takahata Castle was vanquished and in 1831 the territory became incorporated into the Tendo Domain.

Takahata Stone has heavily been prized for its deep yellow hues and layered patterns long since before the days of castles and samurai. During the Kofun Period (300-710 AD), the brilliant Takahata stones captivated the eyes of some of Tohoku’s earliest residents and they were used in the construction of ceremonial tombs known as Kofun. During the Edo Period (1600-1868), the mining process was further refined and large blocks of Takahata Stone were used in the construction of opulent buildings such as Takahata Castle. Gravestones were another popular usage of the stone as well.

It wasn’t until the Taisho Period (1912-1926) that these stones began being mined on a commercial scale and large queries such as Uriwari Sekitei Park began popping up all around Takahata. However lucrative, in recent years, in order to preserve Takahata’s natural treasure, only a select few quarries are still in operation and the only building made entirely out of this unique stone is the Old Takahata Station Building which serves as a historic tribute to Takahata’s mining past.

Things to do in Takahata

Takahata Station

Takahata Station

Arriving in Takahata is like stepping into the pages of a whimsical storybook. You are first greeted by the playful western-style castle that is Takahata Station. Inspired largely by the works of Hirosuke Hamada, this unique gateway to Takahata has an onsen right in the station that can be enjoyed for just ¥300. The Station is accessible directly from the Yamagata Shinkansen directly from Tokyo and on the Yamagata Line from Yamagata Station. Due to its coinvent location, many people who are heading directly to Yamagata City from Tokyo will first make a stop in Takahata either just to use the onsen, or to do some sightseeing as well.

Hirosuke Hamada Memorial Hall

Hirosuke Hamada was born here in Takahata and is considered by many to be the “Hans Christian Andersen” of Japan. Born on a rural farm house in 1893, Hirosuke authored dozens of children’s books during his lifetime, most of which are a literary childhood  staple of kids in Japan even today. At the Hirosuke Hamada Memorial Hall, his legacy and memory is honored by a collection of his original works, drawings, and other related items that are testament to his career. Additionally, the farmhouse where he grew up and wrote his many stories is still intact and can be explored, providing further insight into his incredible life.

Hirosuke Hamada Memorial Hall

Old Takahata Station Building

Before the days of the Shinkansen and the JR Line, Takahata used to have its very own “Takahata Line” that ran from one end of the city to the other. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912) there was a large push to embrace Western technology and to drive forward the wheels of industrialization which encouraged the construction of train lines in many local towns such as Takahata in order to aid the flow of production. The Takahata Line was in operation between 1922 and 1974 and at its peak in 1953 it carried around 1,700 passengers a day. Today however, it remains as the last building completely made of Takahata Stone and is a popular place for people to come and take pictures.

Ukitamu Fudoki no Oka Archaeological Museum

The word “Ukitamu” is said to have come from an old Ainu word in tribute to the indegnous peoples who historically called this land home. The Ukitamu Fudoki no Oka Archaeological Museum houses many of the artifacts that have been excavated in and near Takahata during Japan’s very own Paleolithic Age nearly 40,000 years ago. In addition to artifacts, the museum has many interactive exhibits such as recreations of what the shelters of these early peoples looked like and the area outside the museum is a dedicated history park as well.

Akutsu Hachiman Shrine

One of the most well known images of Takahata, Akutsu Hachiman Shrine sticks out of a sea of sunflowers during the summer months. Built in 860 by the legendary monk Ennin, the shrine is a patronage of Hachiman, the Japanese god of warriors and war itself. The beautiful three-tiered pagoda is a designated cultural prosperity of Yamagata Prefecture and every year on May 3rd, a festive ceremony is performed in celebration of the happiness that spring brings.

Uriwari Sekitei Park

 

The unique name of this historic quarry, Uriwari, comes from an old urban legend that the water dripping from the volcanic rocks here is so cold that when a melon is placed directly underneath, the melon will split cleanly in two! Throughout much of history, the famous Takahata Stones have been a major lucrative venture for the people of Takahata as the deep yellows in the stone are highly prized as building materials. Today, while Uriwari Sekitei Park is still technically an active quarry, it is no longer mined as it has really become a great source of beauty to be admired by all who visit. With plenty of shady tunnels and stunning spaces to explore, Uriwari Sekitei Park is also very popular for picnics and occasionally concerts are held here making use of the excellent acoustics of the caves.

Uriwari Seikitei Park
Winery

Takahata Winery

For those who have not yet been to Takahata in person, the name Takahata still is well known to many for its bountiful sweet fruits that produce some of the finest wine in the region.Takahata Winery is a vibrant riverside winery that is surrounded by vineyards abundant with ripe fruit. Takahata Winery has an onsite cafe and gift shop, and offers tours and tastings as well.