Yamagata City and Yamagata Prefecture share the same name: "mountain shape". Yamagata City is surrounded by mountains indeed and its main attractions are actually to be found in these mountains rather than in the city center.
The main sightseeing spot of interest is Yamadera (“Mountain Temple”) which is a short train ride away from Yamagata Station. The city is also the gateway to Zao Onsen and it provides access by train or bus to many other towns and areas in the whole of Yamagata Prefecture, including the Dewa Sanzan area and Tendo Town, the main producer of shogi pieces in Japan and in the world.
Yamagata City’s downtown area is called Nonoka-machi and it is located a 20 minutes walk from Yamagata Station, which is serviced by the Yamagata Shinkansen, a fast connection to Yamagata coming from Tokyo. Nonoka-machi and the area around Yamagata Station are the city’s main shopping and restaurant areas.
Kajo Park, which is the ground where once Yamagata Castle stood, the Yamagata Old Prefecture Office “Bunshokan” and a couple of museums are the main attractions in the city center.
There is not much left from the former castle of war lord Mogami Yoshiaki (1546-1614) except for some walls and the surrounding moat. The former Great Eastern Gate was reconstructed and a statute of Mogami Yoshiaki mounted war horse stands nearby. The Mogami Yoshiaki Historical Museum and the Yamagata Museum of Art are also within walking distance but they are not necessarily a must on the sightseeing itinerary of visitors.
Yamagata prides itself in having a large number of soba restaurants, which shows that the soba business has tradition in Yamagata. This part of Japan was relatively poor as it is surrounded by mountains and hence there was not much rice planting going on. Growing buckwheat and making soba noodles was the solution for the poor people who lived here.
It seems that over the centuries soba noodles have become a stable food in Yamagata which ensures a flourishing soba restaurant business. There are a great number of soba restaurants in Yamagata City but the two famous ones are Shojiya and Mizuya, each family-owned and run. These are the must-go restaurants for lunch or dinner when you are in town.
The city hosts a number of interesting events throughout the year. Noteworthy events are:
Hanagasa-matsuri (Flower Hat Festival), which is said to be one of the four greatest festivals held in the Tohoku region. It takes place over three days in the beginning of August. This is a "night festival" when about 10,000 dancers perform on the streets from 18:00 to 21:30.
Nihon-ichi-no-Imoni-kai, Japan's No.1 taro and beef stew party. Look at the size of the pot! They feed 30,000 people at this event.
Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, held bi-annually in October (2009, 2011, 2013 etc.) in Yamagata City.
Cherries, cherries and more cherries – this is what Yamagata City and the surrounding area is also famous for. What apples are to Aomori, ume (Japanese apricot) to Wakayama, mikan (citrus fruit) to Mie and kaki (persimmon) to Nara, sakuranbo (cherries) are to Yamagata. In fact, Yamagata is Japan's main producer of cherries.
With a population of just over 250,000, there are probably more cherry trees around than people. Come to Yamagata and see for yourself!