South Tohoku Roadtrip: Day Two (Tsuruoka → Nanyo → Yonezawa → Koriyama)

After a satisfying breakfast, we took a scenic drive to the Yamairagawa area of Tsuruoka.

TSURUOKA: Become a Kabuki Star!

Time to experience Yamagata Prefecture’s designated intangible cultural asset, Yamairagawa Kabuki! Following instructions of a professional Kabuki artist, paint your own face ‘Kumadori’ style!

This was even more hilariously fun than it looks.

After our faces were done, they showed us some typical Kabuki poses…we are ready for our stage debut…! Once you’ve had enough, press your face into a cloth to make ‘oshikuma’, an imprint of your art work to take home as a memento of your trip!

Yamairagawa Kabuki Experience

A rare experience instructed by members of the Yamairagawa Traditional Performing Arts Preservation Society. Recommended to wear collar-less clothing to avoid stains from the make-up.

Price: 2500 yen

Hours: Sat, Sun and holidays from either 10am or 2pm (consultation required for reservation outside these times)

Closed: Monday ~ Friday

Phone: 0235-64-1197

Homepage (Japanese)

Yamairagawa Kabuki Experience

Tohoku-Chuo Expressway

A new expressway (Yamagata Kaminoyama ~ Nanyo-Takahata) is scheduled to be opened this year (2018).

Construction is continuing on the Tohoku-Chuo Expressway between Yamagata- Kaminoyama ~ Nanyo-Takahata and, by creating a loop that connects the administrative hubs of Tohoku’s southern three prefectures with Yonezawa City, it is hoped to ease the distribution of goods and flow of non-residential population throughout the area.

Nanyo: Finding Hidden Rabbits at the Shrine of Love

Next we headed back inland to the South-eastern part of the prefecture known as Nanyo. Here you can find Tohoku’s oldest (over 1200 years) and largest shrine, Kumano Taisha.

Within the intricate wooden engravings, three rabbits are hidden in the design! If you manage to find them all, your wish will be answered. The shrine staff will assist you in finding two of them (if you are having trouble) but the location of the third rabbit must remain secret lest your luck be taken away – so it’s up to you to find it on your own.

The air was chilly so we took shelter in a cute, atmospheric café at the bottom of the shrine stairs. It sits under a giant ginko (‘Icho’ in Japanese) tree, hence the name Icho Café.

Tired and cold after searching for rabbits, the four of us ordered a nice warm drink! Checking over the rest of the day’s plan it was on to our next destination – further south to the castle town of Yonezawa.

Kumano Taisha Shrine

Rebuilt in 806 by direction of the Emperor, this shrine is said to be home to two husband and wife gods of Japanese legend. If you make a prayer at this shrine it is said to bring you luck in love.

Entry: Free

Hours: Free

Holidays: none

Phone: 0238-47-7777

Homepage (Japanese):

Kumano Taisha Shrine

Icho cafe

Run by a local owner with the concept of serving local ingredients. Also serving light meals like pasta or desserts.

Price: Hot coffee 450 yen, hot cocoa 400 yen

Hours: 11:00~18:00

Holidays: Tuesdays

Phone: 080-5734-0909

Homepage (Japanese):

Icho Cafe

Yonezawa: Hot-Spring day-visit 

When traveling Tohoku, one way to add an extra level of satisfaction to your itinerary is to include a visit to the hot springs! Top it off with a lunch-inclusive plan and there’s nothing more you need!

We headed to the hot spring town of Onogawa onsen with over 1200 years of history. Associated with of one of the most beautiful women in the world, Heian Period poet Ono no Komachi, the waters of Onogawa onsen are also known as ‘waters of beauty’. After taking a soak in waters straight from the spring, the feeling of luxurious indulgence continued into lunchtime…

A traditional Japanese course-meal using all the best seasonal ingredients! Of course, including the local specialty, top-grade Yonezawa Wagyu beef sukiyaki! Yummmm…!

We enjoyed the hospitality of the owner of Kajikaso Inn, Mr. Sato, as he chatted to us about the food and the history of the onsen. A satisfying meal in every sense!

Owner of ‘Kajikaso’ inn, Onogawa Onsen, Mr. Yuji Sato

Onogawa Onsen, Kajikaso inn

The ‘Ono’ of ‘Onogawa’ Onsen is derived from Ono no Komachi, a famous poet of the Heian Era and iconic symbol of Japanese beauty.  There remains legend that some 1200 years ago, Komachi left Kyoto to visit her father and fell ill on the way. After bathing in the waters of this hot spring, she was instantly healed and reborn as a beautiful woman. The hot spring was also loved by the lords of Yonezawa castle, as well as Date Masamune and Uesugi Yozan.

 Waiting for your visit to the nostalgic & picturesque area of Okitama!


On November 4 last year, the Fukushima-Ozaso ~ Yonezawa-Kita portion of the Tohoku-Chuo Expressway was opened. The prefectural border area is known for its heavy snowfall, but thanks to the new Kuriko Tunnel, it is safe to drive even in winter. Previously, expressway access to Onogawa onsen was not so convenient, but it is hoped that this improvement will encourage to flow of both people and goods to the area.

Every year, Onogawa onsen holds a ‘Kamakura’ or igloo/ice-house festival. Inside the kamakura is decorated with Keiou-zakura, the earliest blooming cherry blossom in Japan, and patrons enjoy admiring the flowers over a bowl of hot ramen. In summer, you can enjoy the fantastical sight of fire-flies nearby. Together with the cherry blossoms of spring and beautiful autumn leaves, you can enjoy Japan’s natural scenery throughout the seasons. Be sure to visit Onogawa onsen in Okitama, Yamagata Prefecture on your next visit!

To celebrate the opening of the Tohoku-Chuo Expressway, until May 31, 2018 the ‘One night, two prefectures! Yonezawa, Fukushima, Souma’ Instagram campaign is being held. If you included pictures or videos from these three areas in your Instagram or Twitter post, you have the chance to win some amazing prizes, including onsen travel vouchers, delicious Yonezawa Wagyu beef and local sake! More here →

YONEZAWA: Take a stroll back in time

Next we took a step back in time at the Uesugi Shrine, which deifies Sengoku period military commander and Lord of Yonezawa, Uesugi Kenshin. The shrine is located in Matsu-ga-Misaki Park, created in the former grounds of Yonezawa castle. Inside the treasure repository of the park you will also find around 300 historical artefacts including swords and armory, paintings and other precious items. A must-see for history buffs!

Uesugi Shrine

Built inside the ruins of Yonezawa castle, the shrine has been well-loved by locals for centuries. Many visit for ‘Hatsumode’, the first prayer of the New Year.

Entry: Free

Hours: Free

Holidays: none

Phone: 0238-22-3189



Uesugi Shrine

YONEZAWA: Making adorable cocoon craft

A quick 5 min drive from Uesugi Shrine is ‘Oriento-kan’, a workshop for passing down Yonezawa’s traditions of silk-craft and weaving. Here you can try your hand at various crafts, including making craft from cocoons and safflower dying. A popular choice is to make an adorable ‘kimono rabbit’ wrapped in fabric dyed with safflower.


After unleashing our creative genius, we hit the road heading to Yonezawa-Chuo Interchange on the new Tohoku-Chuo Expressway via the Tohoku-Jido Expressway. Our accommodation for the evening was waiting for us in Koriyama. (We also passed through the Kuriko tunnel, the longest tunnel in Tohoku – 8972m! – on the way)


Yonezawa Weaving Workshop ‘Oriento-kan’

A workshop demonstrating traditional Yonezawa silk craft and weaving. Take a look around the workshop and enjoy a spot of shopping!

Price: Kimono-rabbit making experience (40 mins) 1100 yen, safflower-dyed handkerchief making (30 mins) 1100 yen

Hours: 9:30~17:30(experience workshops between 10:00~16:30、reservation required)

Holidays: Sundays, Bon festival period, New Year period

Phone: 0238-24-5945

Yonezawa Weaving Workshop ‘Oriento-kan’

Read more about our roadtrip! 

Day Three: Koriyama → Tamura → Iwaki → Sendai

All good things must come to an end…the last day! After exploring Fukushima’s mysterious limestone caves of Abukuma-do we head towards the Pacific to sunny Iwaki City. Enjoying a drive through the picturesque scenery of the seaside town, it’s time to check out some museums, local food and grab those last minute souvenirs…

Day One: Sendai → Tsuruoka 

Leaving Sendai, we set out on our way to Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture! Who is crazy enough to climb Mt. Haguro in the snow? We are! From a detoxifying healthy lunch packed with rare Japanese wild veggies, to one of the world’s most unique aquariums packed with jellyfish! All that’s left to do is relax our weary travel legs in the only way we know how…in an onsen!



Read more about NEXCO East’s Tohoku Expressway Pass here!






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