Kajo Park sakura with train

Sakura in Yamagata City

Ever since I missed the chance to take a lot sakura (cherry blossoms) pictures during spring last year, I have always been wanting to take revenge this year by actually going to more places and take more pictures. How is the result this year then? Spring is coming to an end soon before Golden Week in Tohoku region, but I feel as if I might have not made the best of my times in spring; I traveled less than what I vowed.

Fortunately even though the trips were sparse, I have to admit this year I am quite fruitful in my search of sakura. Such as the trip I just experienced in Yamagata city, the capital of Yamagata prefecture. At the time I traveled to Yamagata, Sendai has lost most of its sakura beauty. On the other hand the peak had just started for Yamagata’s sakura.

Arriving in Yamagata station together with my significant other, we straightaway walked 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. In fact, when you travel by train you can actually see the park by the railway just when the train is about to make it for Yamagata.

The park is much, much better than I thought. Advertised with having more than 1,500 sakura trees — most of them of somei-yoshino variety among others, the park offers you plenty of viewing areas as well as photo-opportunity spots. I mean literally, you could spend you whole day here without getting bored at all, just enjoying the view.

Kajo Park is actually built on the grounds of Yamagata castle ruins, known as ‘Kajo’ (霞城), literally means castle of mist or haze. The castle was the center of ruling in Yamagata domain when it was known in as Dewa province back in Muromachi period and was built by Shiba Kaneyori of Mogami clan. In Meiji era the castle complex was sold to the government and was used as 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 contents there.

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The gate into castle inner ground.

Back to sakura in Kajo Park, you could basically see sakura almost in every part of the park. You could walk around the outer wall next to the castle moat through a dirt path with sakura in your left and right. You could go down to the clearing and see sakura at the other end. You get what I mean.

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 balls – no I’m not talking about actual balls you perv), 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.

We also visited Mamigasaki River (馬見ヶ崎川 Mamigasaki-gawa), a place similar to Ogawara in Miyagi or Kitakami in Iwate for its sakura-lined riverside. Though less popular compared to those two I mentioned, Mamigasaki is still visited by a great number of people. I saw less foreign travelers there and probably it is a good sign for now as you could take your time just lazing around without having to compete with a large crowds.

Lies by Mamigasaki River, there is an indoor pool and large swathes of grass for picnic. Going further there is a path uphill leading 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 less people go this way, though I could not confirm since I did not follow the path until the end.

To end our trip to Yamagata, just as the sun started to go down, we stopped by Bunshokan, the former Yamagata prefectural office now turned into a museum. Nicknamed ‘bunkakan‘, the building was built based on British Renaissance style. The style makes the building stands out from all of its surroundings. I was pleasantly excited to find this discovery.

Bathed by the sunset light, Bunshokan gives you the atmosphere of being in Europe. For me it is similar to the feeling I had when I visited Hakodate or Sapporo in Hokkaido during my summer trip last year. I would really love to wait here until it goes dark to see the light-up, but the strong chilly wind rendered me unable to keep my composure and decided to head back to the station to return to Sendai.

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The majestic bunshokan in black and white sunset.
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View of Bunshokan from the main entrance.

All in all, Yamagata city has some unexpected spots to see sakura that are less-known than for instance, the famous Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. Nonetheless I enjoyed my time in Yamagata, and I hope this writing gives you an insight of how interesting spring could be in Tohoku region.

I’ll see you again in the next post!


Google maps

Access information From Tokyo:

The fastest way is to take Shinkansen Tsubasa 159 from Tokyo Station direct to Yamagata Station. Other shinkansen will direct you to Sendai first for transit.

Kajo Park is only 10 minutes walk from the station. Mamigasaki River is 10 minutes by bus from bus stop at the back of station (¥240 one way).

From Sendai:

From Sendai Station take JR Senzan line to Yamagata Station. Kajo Park is only 10 minutes walk from the station. Mamigasaki River is 10 minutes by bus from bus stop at the back of station (¥240 one way).

Useful websites Yamagata Travel Website (English)

Click here

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