A Story about Kaminoyama, A Little Town in Yamagata

Yamagata prefecture in Tohoku region holds plenty of sightseeing famous to the locals such as Zao, Yamadera and Ginzan onsen. But to foreign travelers, you might as well be pressed hard to find what to see in Yamagata. Allow me to introduce another spot in Yamagata that might be interesting for you to check then: Kaminoyama.

The first time for me to stumble across the name Kaminoyama (上山市) was when I randomly searched for information about Japanese castles around Sendai. A lot of results came out, but the image of a castle in Kaminoyama stood out the most. Yes, I am a castle freak and I do enjoy going to see Japanese castles. Coming from a country with only few remaining castles from the yesteryear, for me Japanese castles are one of the highlights of traveling there.

Reaching Kaminoyama is pretty easy. From Sendai it takes only around one and a half hours, perfect for a day trip. From Tokyo it would be 3 hours train ride, so in my opinion it is best to spend a few days traveling in Yamagata as you would definitely need more than just a mere overnight trip to see all the sights in the area.

So in one fine summer day I went there. Although I went because I was primarily attracted to the castle, perhaps the town’s main attractions are its onsen (hot springs). Among Japanese, they are quite well-known but for visitors from abroad perhaps the charm of other big-name onsen is more attractive. I felt like I was the only non-Japanese during my travel there, but that is exactly why this town is a hidden gem.

The moment I walked out from Kaminoyama-Onsen station, I set on going for the number one destination: the castle. Kaminoyama Castle perches on a small hill about 10-15 minutes walk from the station. And there it was, standing proudly on top of the hill. Though small, the castle makes up with its beautiful location, overlooking the town. If you go to the observation deck at the top, you can pretty much see the surrounding areas including Mt. Zao over the distance.

Shrine at the back of the castle.
One of the foot-spa found around the town.

 

Behind the castle are a park and shrine called Tsukioka Park and Tsukioka-jinja, respectively. They feel small by size but they add to the charm the castle has. Also, somewhere in the castle ground lies a small foot onsen where you can dip your feet and just relax while enjoying the view of the castle.

Kaminoyama also boasts its small portion of samurai district, where there are 4 preserved middle-class samurai family houses dating back from 200 years ago. They are still used as either a residence or community place so you could not enter them aside from one house: the Miwa family house. You have to pay a small fee of ¥210 for adults, but trust me it is worth the price.

Entering the samurai house makes you wonder about the life they had so many years ago. It was like entering a time machine and ended up in a period where things were very different. I did enjoy just sitting from room to room, nodding my head in astonishment when I saw the signs in each room explaining their functions — study room, bedroom, guest room etc. Because of the interior of the house I came to think it would be very cool to own a house in Japanese style.

Another place to visit in Kaminoyama is Shimo-oyu, a sentou (a type of unique communal bath). This public bath is located not so far away from the castle, and it costs only ¥250 for an adult entry. However if you are not comfortable with being naked in front of other people, I advise you not to come at all. This is literally one of the places where you can see naked men even before entering the bath, because the door to men’s bath is always open and visible from the front entrance! But if you are cool with all that, be my guest and try the bath. It is small yet comfortable. A warning though, the hot water was very, very hot, so be careful.

Communal bath Shimo-oyu.

In addition to all the things mentioned above, Kaminoyama has an interesting festival held in late summertime around September, the Scarecrow Festival. Held in the previously mentioned ground of the castle, this festival celebrates various display of scarecrows from participants all around the country. The design goes from the usual scarecrow thing you’d find in paddy fields to the bizarre unorthodox scarecrow featuring cute mascot characters or even grotesque creatures from your nightmare.

Well, I guess the festival explains why the manhole covers in the town look like this..
Gentle sloping hill from the direction of the castle.

Text and photos: Jerfareza Daviano

Access information From Tokyo:

Take Shinkansen from Tokyo station and change to JR Ou Line for Yamagata in Yonezawa station, then get off in Kaminoyma-Onsen station (approx 3 hours including transit wait time).

From Sendai:

(By JR via Yamagata)

Take Shinkansen from Sendai station to Kaminoyama-Onsen station, transit in Yamagata station (approx 90 minutes including transit wait time).

Useful websites Japan-Guide:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7980.html

Kaminoyama Spa official site:

http://kaminoyama-spa.com/english/

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