Zao Snow Monsters

Murayama Region

Map of Murayama
Yamagata Prefecture

Murayama Region

The Murayama Region is often referred to as “inland Yamagata” as it is landlocked in the center of southern Tohoku. Murayama is situated peacefully at the base of the Zao Mountain Range, which separates Yamagata Prefecture from Miyagi, and is known for its craftsmanship and agriculture.

Historically, Murayama has held a seat of regional power as a hub of trade, politics, and commerce were spurred by the construction of Kajo Castle during the Momoyama Period. As a result, today, the prefectural capital is located in the heart of the Murayama Region in Yamagata City.

Historically, the Murayama Region has prided itself on its craftsmanship, rich nature, and agricultural produce. Sato Nishiki Cherries, Yamagata Sake, Ita-soba, and beef soy sauce-base Imoni are the must-try dishes of the region!

Cities in the Murayama Region

Yamagata City

The capital and center of Yamagata Prefecture, not only is this retro city home to Yamadera, Kajo Park, and the Bunshokan, but it also makes an excellent base for day trips all over the prefecture.

Bordered by mountains, farms, and rice fields, Yamagata City is characterized by a funky fusion of pop city life while still taking on local flavor as it sits on the precipice of the quiet rural Japanese countryside. Yamagata City is also renowned as a UNESCO City of Film on account of its International Documentary Festival, the first of its kind in Asia.


Kaminoyama is a historical hot spring town with Yamagata’s only fully standing remaining castle. During the Edo period, samurai and travelers from all over Japan would stop in this castle town to rest their weary muscles in this Kaminoyama’s healing onsen hot springs.

Kaminoyama is also famous for its sweet fruit and unspoiled nature. Resting just at the foot of the Zao Mountains, Kaminoyama is the perfect gateway for those looking to enjoy walking, hiking, and horseback riding.

Ginzan Onsen


Known for being one of the three cities in Japan with the highest annual snowfall, Obanazawa is always bursting with light and warmth despite the harshness of the cold winter season.

The pride of Obanazawa is Ginzan Onsen, which is said to share a striking likeness to the hot spring town featured in one of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic films. While you may not find any spirits or ghosts in this secluded mountain town, you may just find yourself spirited away by the beauty and charm of Obanazawa itself.

Jion-ji Temple, Sagae


For many, cherries are nearly synonymous with Yamagata Prefecture. However, in Sagae, cherries are a way of life!

Other than cherries, Sagae flaunts the impressive Jionji Temple and is one of the last places in Japan that still manufactures traditional zori rice-straw sandals by hand.

Here in Sagae, tradition and treats go hand-in hand especially in the summer months when you can pamper yourself to all-you-can-eat cherry picking straight from the farm!

Yamagata Safflower


Some of the oldest artifacts from the Jomon Period have been unearthed in Takahata, proving that people have been inhabiting this region for nearly 10,000 years.

Today, however, people are particularly proud of their bountiful fruit production and rich local folklore.  In honor of one of Japan’s most famous children’s book authors, Hamada Hirosuke, being born here, there are commemorative statues and public art displays across the town, giving Takahata a reputation as the “Fairytale Town.”

Tendo Shogi Festival


Shogi is a traditional form of Japanese chess, and in the town of Tendo, Shogi is such a big deal that every year, the Human Shogi Festival takes place, where the fierce battles of the shogi board are enacted by real-life people on a larger-than-life board!

Tendo is also known to have excellent onsen hot springs and produce world-class pieces of contemporary wooden furniture. With such a proud legacy of craftsmanship, it is no wonder that 90% of all shogi tiles in the world are made here in Tendo.


Murayama City

Higashizawa Rose Park is the crown jewel of Murayama City and a must-visit during the summer months. 

Nestled deep in the mountains, Murayama City is known as the birthplace of Iaido, a traditional Japanese martial art similar to Kendo that utilizes a sword to train the mind and body. Murayama’s dreamlike rose gardens have connected it to Bulgaria, where the national flower is also the rose, and hence the two share a very close relationship. Many signs in Murayama City are also written in Cyrillic. 

Oishida, Yamagata


“A town of Water, Greenery, and Culture” is the official catchphrase of Oishida, and that it very much is!

Oshida is a quaint town of only 7,000 people, just north of Yamagata City, that sees more visitors in transit at Oshida Station en route to Ginzan Onsen, than it has actual residents. While Oishida may be tiny, its charm lies in its serenity, nature, and simplicity. While visiting, don’t miss the soba noodles and Dango here as they are rumored to be among the best in all of Yamagata!

Sagae Cherries


Higashine’s Sato Nishiki Cherries are known as the king of all cherries and are the top brand of premium cherry in Japan.

Higashine accounts for over 70% of Japan’s total cherry growth, giving it the nickname “Fruits Kingdom.” In 2017, Higashine Cherries were even recognized with a Geographic Indication Award due to their high quality and unique growing process that cannot be replicated anywhere else. The Yamagata Airport is also located in Higashine, so if you are flying in, why not spend a night in one of the many hot spring ryokans?

Nakayama, Yamagata


Nakayama once flourished during the Edo Period as a Kitamaebune shipping stop as agricultural products made their way from inland Yamagata to the seaports in Sakata City.

Today, the town has quieted down quite a bit and gives off a sleepy calm atmosphere where one can relax and immerse oneself in nature. Imoni, the symbolic dish of Yamagata Prefecture, is said to have originated in Nakayama, and so every year in the autumn, annual Imonikai parties are held. In the spring, the cherry blossoms here are notable as well.

Mount Gassan

Asahi Town

Asahi-Bandai National Park encompasses nearly 1,870 km² of pristine nature and is popular year-round for hiking and winter sports.

Tucked into the majestic mountain range is Asahi Town, where daily life is one with nature. Known for blueberries, Mutai Fuji Apples, and wine, you can admire the beauty of each season here in Asahi as you take in the crisp, clean air. Due to the mountainous terrain, there are many onsen hot spring bathes nearby, including an apple bath that celebrates Asahi as the birthplace of Mutai Fuji Apples.

Nishikawa, Yamagata


Historically, Nishikawa was a significant pilgrimage town for travelers traversing through the Murayama Region along the Ushu Kaido on their way to the Dewa Sanzan.

These days, Nishikawa is quite well known for its agricultural products, and skiing here and in the nearby areas is quite popular. Pairing its culinary and cultural legacies, visitors to Nishikawa can learn first hand about countryside ling in Japan through farming experiences as well as traditional temple stays.

Oe, Yamagata


Warm, calm summers and snowy, exciting winters. Ōe is another Mogami River trade town where time stands still.

In the golden age of the Mogami River transport system, Ōe flourished as a resting point for weary traders. As a place where many people gathered, a number of Traditional Yamagata Folk songs were born here. These days, Ōe is known for its rustic charms and traditional authenticity. In August, the big attraction is the Ōe Summer Festival, where lanterns and fireworks are enjoyed from the riverside.

Yamanobe, Yamagata


Yamanobe is known as the “Town of Forrest, Lakes, and Fashion” as it is one of the leading producers of textiles and knitwear in Yamagata. 

Situated in a fertile mountain basin, Yamanobe is famous for its textile products that include rugs, knitwear, and fabrics made using both modern and traditional techniques. Koi cuisine, pork, and soba are just a few of the local specialties, and the fruit and vegetables here are served farm to the table. Yamanobe offers good access to the Mogami River where activities like river rafting can be enjoyed.