The Excursion to Yamagata



One summer weekend, I suddenly decided to take a trip to Yamagata Prefecture. A talk about Matsushima with my colleagues was the motivation for my trip. When I said to them, “Matsushima had such a marvelous view that even Basho, one of the best haiku masters, could not describe it”, I happened to realize that I had never seen the marvelous view about which Basho composed a haiku. It is a temple famous for his haiku:
“Shizukesa-yaiwa-ni shimiiru semi-no-koe” (“Such stillness The sound of cicadas Seeps into the rocks”)
(Haiku is a very short form of Japanese poetry in 3 lines of 5-7-5, only 17 syllables, with Kigo, a reference to the season word and Kireji, an evocative cut off phrase.)


Actually, I had been to hardly any places in Yamagata Prefecture except Zao. I had the image of Yamagata as follows: in spring they enjoy cherry blossoms, in summer they bear the intense heat, in autumn they enjoy imo-ni (a local specialty of Yamagata Prefecture: a type of soup made of taro, some other vegetables and thin slices of beef or pork) and in winter they survive the severe cold in onsens (hot-spring bathing). I thought it was not good to be lost in fantasies about the prefecture I had never been to as I lived in a neighboring prefecture. Moreover, I could take off from work on the Sunday of that weekend for the first time in 2 months. I could not miss the opportunity to take the trip; therefore, I hurriedly went back home to get ready for the trip and left for Yamagata.


As I had expected, Yamagata Prefecture was very close, and it took only one and half hours from Koriyama City to Yamagata City. First, I ate hiyashi-ramen (Chinese noodles in cold soup). It was delicious and refreshing, and the ice in the soup did not lessen the flavor.


After lunch, I went to the old Yamagata Prefectural Office. I was interested in this building because a certain movie was shot there. It was built in the Taisho era (1912-1926); however, it is still in a good state of preservation. It must be very difficult to maintain such a massive and modern building in the present day.


While all of this was going on, it became dark in the evening on the first day of the trip. After I had imo-ni and locally brewed sake, I went to bed.


On the next day, I got up early and first went to Yama-dera Temple to pray. The temple is known by many people by the name of Yama-dera, however, its official name is Hoshu-zan Risshaku-ji Temple. As its common name indicates, I had to climb up 1015 steps towards the top of the mountain.


Basho composed the haiku of summer there; therefore, I thought that summer was the best season to visit the temple. And this was the perfect choice. Cicadas were singing above the worshippers eagerly climbing stairs. It was far from silent because of many worshipers, and still I felt the atmosphere which had inspired Basho.


After I worshiped in the temple, I ate hiyashi-niku-soba (cold buckwheat noodles with beef) and drove to Zao.


I had been to Zao before, but it was perfect weather to visit it again and drive up the mountain to Okama which is often invisible because of the weather. Fortunately, I enjoyed the beautiful scenery just as I did the previous time I went there.

And then, I took a bath at the great open-air spa of Zao Onsen (Zao Hot Spring). I had a good soak in the 100% fresh-flowing hot-spring with the smell of sulfur surrounded by nature.


On the way to Yonezawa City, I dropped in at Inu-no-miya Shrine and Neko-no-miya Shrine (Dog & Cat Shrine) in Takahata Town to pray for my three beloved dogs. The dog and the cat which guarded the village were enshrined. Many people visit this shrine for their dogs and cats to have memorial services or pray for their health. I saw many photos of their pet dogs and cats.


In Yonezawa Ctiy, I went and prayed at Uesugi Shrine where Uesugi Kenshin, the God of War was enshrined. This shrine is also related to his retainer and general, Naoe Kanetsugu, who became popular by a Taiga Drama (A Taiga Drama is the annual, year-long serial TV drama of Japanese historical fiction broadcast by NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster).


Moreover, when speaking of Yonezawa, many people must think of Yonezawa Beef; therefore, I enjoyed a gorgeous dish of Yonezawa Beef for an early dinner at a restaurant called “Yonezawa-gyu-tei Good”. I was extremely satisfied with my 2-day and 1-night trip.


I bought some sweets as gifts at Sato-ya which is a long-established shop with a 190-year history and famous for noshi-ume. This shop developed new products such as sweets made from chocolate and yokan made of leaves of kuro-moji.


[1] 梅の果肉をすりつぶしたものに、砂糖と葛粉か寒天を混ぜる。
[2] とろ火で[1]を煮た後に乾かす。
[3] 竹の皮で挟む。

Noshi-ume is a jelly-like sweet made from the mashed flesh of Japanese apricots.
(Noshi-ume is a famous confection representing the Murayama region in Yamagata Prefecture and Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture.)

How to Make Noshi-ume
[1] Mash the flesh of Japanese apricots and add sugar and kudzu flour or agar powder.
[2] Simmer [1] and dry it.
[3] Put [2] between bamboo leaves.


I did not have enough time to travel to the Shonai or Mogami Regions. I am sure that there are a lot of places and delicious foods that I do not know yet. I will definitely take a trip to Yamagata again.




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