Yamagata prefecture in Tohoku region holds plenty of sightseeing treasures famous to the locals such as Zao, Yamadera and Ginzan Onsen. But for foreign travelers, you might be hard pressed to choose what to see in Yamagata. Allow me to introduce another spot in Yamagata that might be interesting for you to check then: Kaminoyama.
The first time I stumbled across the name Kaminoyama (上山市) was when I randomly searched for information about Japanese castles around Sendai. A lot of results came out, but the image of a castle in Kaminoyama stood out the most. Yes, I am a castle freak and I do enjoy going to see Japanese castles. Coming from a country with only few remaining castles from the yesteryear, for me Japanese castles are one of the highlights of traveling there.
Reaching Kaminoyama is pretty easy. From Sendai it takes only around one and a half hours, perfect for a day trip. From Tokyo it would be a 3 hour train ride so, in my opinion, it might be best to spend a few days traveling in Yamagata as you would definitely need more than just a mere overnight trip to see all the sights on offer in the area.
So on one fine summer day, I went there. Although I went because I was primarily attracted to the castle, perhaps the town’s main attractions are its onsen (hot springs). Among Japanese, they are quite well-known but for visitors from abroad perhaps the charm of other big-name onsens is more attractive. I felt like I was the only non-Japanese tourist during my travel there, but that is exactly why this town is a hidden gem!
The moment I walked out from Kaminoyama-Onsen station, I set out to find the number one destination: the castle. Kaminoyama Castle is perched on a small hill about 10-15 minutes walk from the station. And there it was, standing proudly on top of the hill. Though small, the castle compensates with its beautiful location, overlooking the town. If you go to the observation deck at the top, you can pretty much see the entire surrounding area including Mt. Zao in the distance.
Behind the castle is a park and shrine called Tsukioka Park and Tsukioka-jinja, respectively. They feel small in size but add to the charm of the castle grounds. Also, somewhere in the castle ground lies a small foot onsen where you can dip your feet and just relax while enjoying the view of the castle.
Kaminoyama also boasts a small samurai district, where there are 4 preserved middle-class samurai family houses dating back 200 years ago. They are still used as either private residence or community place so you can only entire one house: the Miwa family house. You have to pay a small fee of ¥210 for adults, but trust me – it is worth the price.
Entering the samurai residence makes you wonder about the kind of life they led so many years ago. It was like entering a time machine and ending up in a period where things were very different. I did enjoy just sitting from room to room, nodding my head in astonishment when I saw the signs in each room explaining their functions — study room, bedroom, guest room etc. Because of the interior of the house I came to think it would be very cool to own a house in Japanese style.
Another place to visit in Kaminoyama is Shimo-oyu, a sentou (a type of unique communal bath). This public bath is located not so far away from the castle, and it costs only ¥250 for an adult entry. However if you are not comfortable with being naked in front of other people, I advise you not to come at all. This is literally one of the places where you can see naked men even before entering the bath house! The door to the men’s bath is always open and visible from the front entrance! But if you are cool with all that, be my guest and try the bath. It is small yet comfortable. A warning though, the hot water was very, very hot, so be careful.
In addition to all the things mentioned above, Kaminoyama has an interesting festival held in late summertime around September, the Scarecrow Festival! Held in the previously mentioned ground of the castle, this festival celebrates various displays of scarecrows from participants all around the country. The design goes from the usual scarecrows you’d find in paddy fields to bizarre unorthodox scarecrows featuring cute mascot characters or even grotesque creatures from your nightmares.
Text and photos: Jerfareza Daviano
|Access information||From Tokyo:
Take Shinkansen from Tokyo station and change to JR Ou Line for Yamagata in Yonezawa station, then get off in Kaminoyma-Onsen station (approx 3 hours including transit wait time).
(By JR via Yamagata)
Take Shinkansen from Sendai station to Kaminoyama-Onsen station, transit in Yamagata station (approx 90 minutes including transit wait time).
Kaminoyama Spa official site: