On the 4th of July weekend, we took Friday off and took a trip to Yamagata. I was inspired by my previous trip to Japan, when we spent 3 weeks studying haiku poet Matsuo Basho’s Oku no Hosomichi by following the same route through Tohoku. When we arrived in Yamagata on that trip, I caught a cold so I couldn’t complete the Gas-san to Yudono-san hike (I was deterred by the flying snow-rain at the cable car base) so I’ve been wanting to complete my unfinished trip since then. Plus, I remembered the area, particularly Yamadera, was so beautiful. We certainly weren’t disappointed this time around.
To get there we took the shinkansen to Sendai and then the local line to Yamadera. On my previous trip we were in Yamadera on the 4th of July too, and I remembered that the streets had seemed to be lined with cherry vendors. I was really looking forward to bunches and bunches of delicious Yamagata cherries. Unfortunately, this year’s weather led to a bad stone fruit crop, including cherries, so there were just a few sellers this time.
This carving is at the temple at the base of Yamadera. You can rub the statue where you’re having trouble to feel better. As you can see years and years of rubbing have made him so smooth and shiny. We saw lots of older ladies come and rub his feet before starting up the 1000 stone steps to the mountaintop temple of Ryushakuji.
A stone statue
The big main gate is about halfway up.
You can tie your omikuji here.
Looking up, you can see where water has worn rounded caves into the stone.
A small building on the cliff
The view of the town below (also called Yamadera) from the viewing platform.
Intricately carved dragons
At the top there is not just one temple, but many buildings, including this one, which appears to be the priest’s house, and a vegetable garden.
A string of omikuji.
A huge lantern.
After spending the day in Yamadera we had a quick soba lunch before catching the train to Yamagata city. We met up with my friend Alex from Boulder, who is working as an ALT in Yamagata.
First we went to a nearby yatai center where we enjoyed some beers and local specialties. Just find a stall with open seats, pull up a chair, and order away. One interesting dish we tried was dashi tofu. Yamagata dashi isn’t dashi as in the kombu and bonito broth that’s used in Japanese cooking, it’s a finely chopped mix of okra, eggplant, shiso, and other vegetables and seasonings that you can plop onto your tofu. It’s neba-neba (sticky-slimy), but was surprisingly good; definitely better than that other neba-neba food, natto, in my opinion.
After that we headed to a tachinomiya (standing bar) called Maneki Buta. You might guess from the name that their specialty is pork. Alex recommended the grilled pork with daikon, raw on the inside and seared on the outside pork liver, and the gyu-suji nikomi. It was all tasty.
My culinary revelation with organ meats continues. Not only is chicken liver good, this raw on the inside and seared on the outside pork liver is pretty good too. It’s tender and creamy textured and cooked just enough.
See more from our trip at Alex’s photoblog.