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.
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:
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