Pour your own drinks at Kigaru ni Taishu Sakaba. Photo: Derek Yamashita/The Hidden Japan

How to experience Yamagata City like a local

By Randiah Camille Green

An endless blur of rice paddies whizzed by the bullet train window as I rode up to countryside Yamagata Prefecture in northeastern Japan. The absence of noise pollution and endless crowds made me feel like Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" as I thought, “Toto, we’re not in Tokyo anymore.”

Visiting Japan’s more rural cities does feel a bit like being transported to an alternate dimension of the country. People are friendlier and ooze a sense of authenticity that can only come with living the simple life amongst mountains and rice fields. The best part? Everything is so much cheaper.

Yamagata Prefecture’s capital city of the same name is one such countryside locale that is the embodiment of humble. Yet, it’s got everything you need for that “I’m in Japan” feeling—mountainside hot springs, tiny basement bars, and iconic temples await.

The view from Yamadera’s Godaido Hall Photo: Randiah Camille Green

For ex-pats and repeat travelers to Japan, the glitzy lights of Tokyo or Osaka can sometimes feel like a neon assault on your senses. Whether you’re seeking spiritual enlightenment, or just want to escape the tourist traps, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Yamagata. Here’s how to experience this laid back city like a local.

Hike to the top of Yamadera

Yamadera, which literally means mountain temple, is a collection of breathtaking Buddhist temples on—you guessed it—a mountain. See for yourself:

Yamagata Prefecture’s Yamadera temple.

Click here to read more.

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Yamadera just cemented itself a place on the itinerary for our upcoming northern Honshu & Hokkaido trip next May/June.

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The name of this temple is Risshaku, or 立石寺, not "Yamadera", which simply refers to a mountain temple. Risshaku is located on Mt. Hoju (宝珠山) in Yamagata City.

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