Yamagata, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of the Yamagata Adventures! Our first day in Yamagata was spent in the city of Yonezawa. However, on day two, we decided to take the train to Kaminoyama Onsen, a town known for its onsen, or hot springs. We discovered after we arrived that the town was having a festival that day, so unbeknownst to us, we had picked just the right day to visit!

After getting off the train in Kaminoyama Onsen, we visited Kaminoyama Castle, a reconstruction of a historic castle.

Next, we walked to a nearby shrine. To our delight, we discovered that there were people in costume, getting ready for a parade later in the day.

We were hanging around, watching the costumed people and trying to figure out what was going on, when a man spoke to us. He began talking – mostly in Japanese – about “armor,” and invited us into a building in which there was a display of samurai armor! The room was filled with men, mostly younger men, who were getting ready to dress up as samurai. The gentleman that invited us in, and another one that spoke good English, were very accommodating and took the time to explain some of the outfits to us, let us take pictures, and even let us try on one of the helmets!

Boy, was that helmet heavy! We were also shown the soldiers’ footwear – rather flimsy-looking straw sandals. I found it a little strange that they would wear such a heavy helmet but have very light footwear. However, I guess since the head is more important, it makes sense that it’s more protected. I think they also had stockings and/or leg coverings too, so that probably helped.

Next, we walked down some of the town’s streets and visited some historic houses that were marked with signs. For the house below, we could actually go inside and look around. There was also a sign out front stating that complimentary beverages were being served in the yard. Sure enough, behind the house was a small pavilion, and several kind ladies offered us tea and a variety of snacks, including handmade items and local specialties. We got to try cherry preserves, pickles, candied gourd, and other interesting things!

I saw this on one of the streets – an old-fashioned Japanese mailbox. I see them once in awhile, and I think they’re so interesting:

We also visited another shrine that had a picturesque row of red gates:

And yes, we did get to see part of the town festival! There were a couple of carts filled with girls and women dressed in traditional costumes, and they were “pulled” by a group of men (I couldn’t see for sure, but it sounded like there were motors on the carts as well). They stopped the carts every few meters and some of the women would get up and perform a dance. We got to see the procession heading out, and then, since we were walking all over town, we continued to hear them and even ended up seeing them again a couple of times.

We had a great time visiting this charming town and enjoying their historic sites and festival. And yes, we did have a few more adventures in Yamagata – stay tuned for the third and final segment of the Yamagata tales, which may or may not involve a sketchy bath house and a meal at a fancy beef restaurant. See you next week!

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