In light of the recent outbreak of COVID-19, I decided to post sakura stories from previous years to enlighten the mood even just a little.
Note: this post was re-posted from my old website, originally published in April 2017.
I’ve always been wanting to see sakura properly, such as the trip I just experienced in Yamagata City, the capital of Yamagata prefecture. When I traveled to Yamagata, Sendai had lost most of its sakura beauty. On the other hand, the peak had just started for Yamagata’s sakura.
Arriving at Yamagata station together with my significant other, we walked straightaway to Kajo Park (霞城公園 Kajo-kouen), the center of sakura viewing in the city. The park is very close to the station, just around 10 minutes of walk. When you travel by train, you can see the park by the railway just when the train is about to make it to Yamagata.
The park is much, much better than I thought. Advertised with more than 1,500 sakura trees — most of them of somei-yoshino variety, the park offers plenty of viewing areas and photo-opportunity spots. You could spend your whole day here without getting bored, just enjoying the view.
Kajo Park is built on the grounds of Yamagata castle ruins, known as ‘Kajo’ (霞城), which literally means castle of mist or haze. The castle was the center of ruling in the Yamagata domain when it was known as Dewa province back in the Muromachi period and was built by Shiba Kaneyori of the Mogami clan. In the Meiji era, the castle complex was sold to the government and was used as a military base. Only after World War II, the castle complex was turned into what Kajo Park is now. In addition, Yamagata Prefectural Museum was built near the main gate. I did not have the chance to visit the museum, but referring to its website, I see some interesting content there.
Best in all, during sakura season guaranteed, you would always find yatai or food carts in sakura viewing spots. Enjoy the staple Japanese street food such as takoyaki (fried octopus covered in deep-fried flour-based batter), yakisoba (fried noodles), choco-banana (you read this right, chocolate-flavored banana), and karaage (deep-fried chicken) among others. Buy something to eat, get some beer, and find a nice spot to sit down and you are essentially doing what Japanese people do.
I also visited Mamigasaki River (馬見ヶ崎川), a place similar to Ogawara in Miyagi or Kitakami in Iwate for its sakura-lined riverside. Though less popular than the two I mentioned, Mamigasaki is still visited by many people. I saw fewer foreign travelers there, and it is probably a good sign for now as you could take your time just lazing around without having to compete with large crowds.
Next by Mamigasaki River, there is an indoor pool and large swathes of grass for a picnic. Going further, a path uphill leads to a forest that gives you a trekking course vibe. Supposedly the path ends in a large body of water surrounded by sakura trees. I figure fewer people go this way, though I could not confirm since I did not follow the path until the end.
To end the trip to Yamagata, just as the sun started to go down, I stopped by Bunshokan, the former Yamagata prefectural office now turned into a museum. Nicknamed ‘bunkakan’, the building was built based on the British Renaissance style. The style makes the building stands out from all of its surroundings. I was pleasantly excited to discover this place. Bathed by the sunset light, Bunshokan gives you a slice of Europe in Yamagata.
All in all, Yamagata city has some unexpected spots to see sakura that are less-known than the famous Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time in Yamagata, and I hope this writing gives you an insight into how interesting spring could be in the Tohoku region.
I’ll see you again in the next post!
Useful sites: Yamagata Travel Website (English)