In a prefecture renowned for the quality of its produce, it is easy to become complacent about food. After all, Yamagata is Japan’s largest producer of cherries and pears, home to the 'Oishii Yamagata' brand, and famous for its exclusive Tsuyahime rice. But every now and then, I’ll stumble upon a restaurant that reminds me just how special eating out in Yamagata can be.
Ippuku-ya is one of those places. Tucked away in the scenic town of Kaneyama, it opened in 2007 and is run single-handedly by Eiko Yaguchi. Eiko-san describes it as an oyasumi dokoro (resting place) for visitors who come to Kaneyama to observe the traditional houses and picturesque osegi waterways that run through the town.
Ippuku-ya is located in a typical Kaneyama-style building constructed from cedar wood, with a black timber frame and white walls. Inside, guests can relax on cushions on the tatami mat floor, and enjoy the décor that changes from season to season.
When I ate at Ippuku-ya at the end of March, there were fresh spring flowers on the tables and colourful fabric decorations adorned the walls and alcoves.
Dining at Ippuku-ya is a cosy and intimate experience. It feels more like entering a welcoming Japanese home than a restaurant, and the food is simple yet beautifully prepared.
Eiko-san sources all of the ingredients herself, and knows many of the farmers in the area. A lot of the ingredients she uses are sansai, or Japanese mountain vegetables. Like the décor, the menu changes depending upon the time of year.
For example, Eiko-san makes a delicious pasta from fresh tomatoes she buys in a neighbouring town, but this particular dish is only available in the summer, when the tomatoes are at their best.
There is a reasonably-priced lunch menu with options such as dry curry, handmade onigiri, udon and soba. However, if you reserve in advance you can order a special menu, which is ideal for those who want to sample home-style Japanese cooking at its finest. For 1500 yen, I was served a wonderful spread of ten individual small dishes, presented so attractively that I almost didn’t want to ruin the display by eating it!
My lunch included a chilled tomato soup delicately flavoured with fukinotou (the buds of the butterbur plant), udo nigiri, and a colourful makizushi roll representing a stylised flower.
As a vegetarian, I was very impressed by Eiko-san’s willingness to accommodate special dietary requirements. She is more than happy to make alterations to the menu if contacted in advance, and her substitutions are tasty and in no way inferior to the non-vegetarian dishes.
The main sense I got from eating at Ippuku-ya is that Eiko-san is passionate about good food. She knows the origins of all her ingredients, has a close relationship with local farmers, and everything is seasonal and fresh. In fact, she shuts the restaurant between January and mid-March because the produce she requires is not available in the winter.
For anyone looking for a unique dining experience in a tranquil, traditional setting, Ippuku-ya is the place to go.
- Ippuku-ya is open for lunch from 10.00-15.30 every day except Tuesdays.
- Dinner is available by reservation.
- Bentos are available.
- Groups of up to 20 can be accommodated for small enkais.