Option B:Yamagata History and Culture
3.5 hours (bus 100 yen per ride; 300 yen for all-day pass)
A vibrant city that preserves its samurai-era history
Yamagata is an old castle town that flourished through trade during samurai times, of which many traces remain in the fabric of the city. A loop bus running around the central part of Yamagata will take you to many sites of historic, cultural and culinary interest; a day pass with unlimited rides is available.
Beni-no-kura means "safflower warehouse". In the Edo Period, safflower was a cash crop for Yamagata traded to Kyoto and Osaka via the Mogami River and the Sea of Japan. The flowers were highly sought-after as the key ingredient in things such as textile dyes and lipstick. Yamagata Marugoto-kan is one of many historic buildings and docks, remnants of the thriving Mogami River trade, that have been transformed into sightseeing spots in central Yamagata City. It was once a safflower merchant's compound, and now houses a soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant, a gourmet restaurant featuring fresh local ingredients, a shop selling local delicacies and crafts, and more. It's an ideal spot to eat lunch and buy souvenirs.
The city of Yamagata is well-watered by streams flowing down from Mt. Zao and fanning out across the lowlands. 400 years ago, a series of sluices were built to channel this water for the use of Yamagata's people. Along this charmingly preserved stone-lined stretch of the Goten Sluice in Nanokamachi are several interesting shops occupying historic buildings.
The Bunshokan was built in 1916 as Yamagata's Prefectural Government Office, in English Renaissance Revival style using granite from Yamagata. Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs has classified this architectural treasure as an Important Cultural Property, and it now houses exhibits about the history and culture of Yamagata.
The Bunshokan is available as a unique event venue. It can accommodate around 250 people, for scientific association meetings, symposiums, and more. For example, in 2011, the Bunshokan successfully hosted an outdoor reception for the 72nd Japan Society of Applied Physics (JSAP) Autumn Meeting on its grounds.
The former site of Yamagata Castle, which sits within the Ninomaru Moat, is now a public park. Sitting within concentric stone-walled moats, this castle was one of the largest in Japan, although it never had the tall donjon of a Japanese castle of the imagination. The East Gate has been rebuilt using wooden construction techniques authentic to the era.
Yamagata Castle is also known as "the castle in the mist", from an incident in which a general who tried to attack it while its lord was off fighting elsewhere failed to even find the castle, as it was concealed by thick fog.
English website (unofficial):
The golden age of Yamagata occurred under samurai warlord Mogami Yoshiaki who reconstructed an earlier castle into a much larger fortress in 1592. He later went to the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 with Tokugawa Ieyasu, unifier of Japan and founder of the long and prosperous Tokugawa shogunate. This museum contains exhibits and materials about the legacy of Mogami and his feudal clan.
English website (limited information):
100 Yen Loop Bus
Runs from JR Yamagata Station and Kasumicho through Nanokamachi and central Yamagata City. Fare is 100 yen (children up to elementary school age ride free). One-day pass (300 yen) is convenient for sightseeing.