• TOKYO
  • YAMAGATA

HEART & WORSHIP

This route introduces a wondrous pilgrimage journey that transports visitors to Tokyo’s shitamachi (traditional downtown) culture as found in Sugamo, which is overflowing with character, as well as Shonai traditional culture, together with faith and food

Official Tokyo Travel Guide
http://www.gotokyo.org/en/

Local government official website
http://yamagatakanko.com.e.db.hp. transer.com/

TRAVELER

  • Traveled : July, 2017 Rachel Chen
    Blogger
    Reside in USA
  • Traveled : July, 2017 Kit Nagamura
    Poet, photojournalist, and TV personality
    Reside in Japan
    Home country: Grew up in both the U.S. and Canada

John F. Kennedy International Airport

ANA109 Examine the directions from your country

  • Rachel Chen

    When flying with a Japanese airline, I can be certain that I will be treated exceptionally. All airline employees- from gate agent to flight attendants-are very welcoming. The seats in economy class exceeded my expecations. Rather than having the back recline and invade the space of the person behind you, the seats slide downwards. Each meal has two options, one Western and one Japanese. There is a photo pamphlet to visually display what each choice entails. ANA Airlines is definitely one of my best flight experiences!

Haneda Airportmore

The airport serves as an air gateway for Tokyo. The passenger terminal is filled with various commercial facilities, and visitors can command a panoramic view of Tokyo Bay from the rooftop observation deck, so that every one, even those who are not flying, can enjoy the terminal.

Tokyo Metropolitan Area

Day1

TOKYO

Hatonomori Hachiman Shrinemore

Hatonomori Hachiman Shrine's fujizuka, a mound created to imitate Mt. Fuji, is famous as the oldest such mound within Tokyo. It was constructed in 1789, and is designated a Tangible Folk Cultural Property of Tokyo.
Although the mound is around 6 meters tall, it is said that climbing a fujizuka means the climber is blessed in the same way as if they had climbed Mt. Fuji, and there is a lovely view from the peak. Irises bloom around the same time as the yearly temple founding ceremony takes place (3 June), in the space in front of the fujizuka representing a pond, and are a very pretty sight to see.

  • Rachel Chen

    One of the words that form "Hatonomori" means "pigeon". The significance of the pigeon is reflected in the shrine's fortunes. All of the fortunes at Hatonomori are crafted in pigeons.Another detail of culture significance is the "fuji-zuka", a miniature imitation of Mount Fuji.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Inside the gates of Hatonomori Hachiman, massive dark green trees indicate this neighborhood shrine’s antiquity. The grounds feature a noh stage, one of the city’s oldest fujizuka.

JR Chuo-Sobu Line Sendagaya Station → Ochanomizu Station
Approximately 30 minutes / 160 yen

  • Rachel Chen

    Without a doubt, Akihabara’s “otaku” culture garners much interest worldwide.There are many places to indulge in Japan’s culture. Chabara is not your average market when you shop for daily groceries. Rather, it is a one-stop shop containing various specialty items from all regions of Japan.

  • Kit Nagamura

    At Chabara, an awesome emporium of specialty foods from all across Japan, I happen upon a kakigori stand before perusing the cool artisan shops that make up 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN, perhaps Tokyo’s most innovative arcade of handmade items.

Approximately 6 minutes from Ochanomizu Station

Kanda Myojin Shrinemore

RECOMMENDED DESTINATIONS

Kanda Myojin Shrine was founded in 730, and has held a special presence in Edo-Tokyo for almost 1,300 years. During the Edo Period (1603-1868), this shrine was said to guard and protect the whole of Edo (the former name for Tokyo), from the Shogun to the common people, as the local deity of the city. Even today, this deity is familiar as the guardian of prosperity within the family, marriage, and business, and protection against evil. The 108 towns of Tokyo that make up the shrine's parishioners are those steeped in the lifestyles and culture of Edo and Tokyo. "Myojin-sama" is said to continue to watch over these towns, which blend tradition and creation, and the shrine grounds are always bustling with visitors who revere and admire Myojin-sama.

  • Rachel Chen

    An integral part of experiencing Japan is visiting a shrine. The shrine’s close proximity to Akihabara makes it a great stop for tourists; the shrine’s deities are appealing to locals to often come to pray for wealth and prosperity. The shrine is also said to bring luck in finding a spouse. Another distinguished guest of honor is the pet pony, who is believed to be the pet of one of the deities. You can find the pony resting on the shrine’s premises.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Kanda Myojin’s famous zuishin-mon, a complex cypress construction painted in glossy vermillion and gold, is a real showstopper. Our affable priest explains that Kanda has always had a forward-looking attitude, reflecting public needs and current values. I’m surprised to discover, in fact, that some of Kanda’s talismans for purchase bear images of anime figures, or are meant to protect electronic goods.

Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line Ochanomizu Station → Awajicho Station
→ walk → Toei Shinjuku Line Ogawamachi Station → Jimbocho Station
Approximately 15 minutes / 280 yen

Jimbocho Used Book Townmore

Many schools were established here from the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and even today there are approximately 180 used bookstores in the Kanda area boasting a grand total of over 10 million volumes in their inventories. A fantastic and varied array is available, including Japanese and Western literature, and specialized books.

  • Rachel Chen

    With the advancement of technology, people have traded their heavy novels for lightweight iBooks. As the steady decline of tangible books becomes prominent throughout society, it is refreshing to come across Jinbocho Used Book Town.The organized yet cluttered bookstore is reminiscent of my childhood.

  • Kit Nagamura

    In Jinbocho’s book town, you can find REALLY old tomes, printed on washi, hand-bound, or even signed by famous authors. Most booksellers strictly forbid photography, but gallery/bookstore Komiyama Shoten specializes in photo art books, so shutterbugs are welcome there.

Toei Shinjuku Line Jimbocho → Shinjuku
Approximately 10 minutes / 220 yen

  • Rachel Chen

    Golden Gai is comprised of small alleyways, each with small eateries and shanty-style bars. Each establishment has very limited seating, which allows for intimacy when dining and drinking.

    Cha Cha Hana is a contemporary restaurant nested in the backstreets of Shinjuku. The set menu of Cha Cha Hana allows customers to experience traditional Japanese cuisine. The flavors are simple, but delicious.



  • Kit Nagamura

    In Shinjuku, neon lights blink on at dusk and the streets fill with party crowds.

    The restaurant’s interior is subtly modern, yet traditional, with seductive lighting and cuisine.

Approximately 10 minutes from Shinjuku Station

Washington Hotel Shinjuku

  • Rachel Chen

    Shinjuku Washington Hotel is located in one of the prime spots of Shinjuku. The lobby is bright and inviting with two separate front desks to cater to both local and foreign guests.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Enjoyed my “staycation” at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel, a centrally located and economical hotel, with firm beds, five choices of breakfast spots, fast Wi-Fi and generous amenities.

Day2

TOHOKU(YAMAGATA)

Haneda Airport

ANA395 (ANA Expericence JAPAN Fare) Show details

  • Rachel Chen

    Tokyo Haneda Airport is easily on my top-ten list for its advanced technology, customer service, and punctual departures. The check-in process is completely automated with employees on standby for assistance. Rather than having to pick up a heavy luggage to put it on the scale, customers simply roll their bags into a machine that proceeds to measure dimensions and check in the bag.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Compact and hyper-organized, Haneda is a sweet airport experience. ANA’s automatic bag-checking machines, helpful information centers and punctuality make domestic trips a breeze.

Shonai Airportmore

The design of the terminal building is based on the gentle curves of Shonai rice stalks. This facility serves as the gateway for air travelers to the Shonai region and is part of a growing high-speed network connected with other parts of Japan. The passenger building has souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, ATMs, and a corner for information about local tourism and products, and also functions as a community plaza to promote local industry, economy, and culture.In 2014, the airport was given the nickname, "Delicious Shonai Airport", which embodies the idea that people, food, nature, and culture, are all "delicious."

Airport to Sakata Nakamachi
35 minutes
800 yen

  • Rachel Chen

    While quaint, Suzumasa is very busy. The cozy atmosphere offers a feeling of home. Yamagata Prefecture is well-known for its abundance of seafood. With over a dozen different type of marine creature, it was hard to distinguish the very delicious from the extraordinarily drool-inducing.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Landing in Shonai, we head for a sushi lunch at Suzumasa.The master’s meltingly soft fatty tuna, plump and tasty oysters, perfectly seasoned sea eel and home-cured ginger were backed by the boisterous company of local volunteer bilingual guides, part of Yamagata’s effort to welcome guests.

10 minutes

Somaromore

Somaya, a Japanese-style restaurant that has been representative of the Sakata region since the Edo era, was refurbished and reopened in March 2000. The current wooden main building was rebuilt around surviving earthen storehouses just after the building was burned down during the Shonai Earthquake of 1894. At the hall on the second floor, diners can enjoy culinary delights as well as dance performances presented by Sakata dancers called Sakata Maiko.

  • Rachel Chen

    At Somaro, visitors can experience a well-preserved form of Japanese entertainment that is often forgotten. The beauty and elegance of each maiko is further exemplified in their routine. Their enticing voices resonate throughout Somaro. One does not need to understand Japanese to be hypnotized into a trace-like state.

  • Kit Nagamura

    A short walk from the restaurant, we find what was once Sakata’s most famous Edo Period Ryotei, Soma-ya. I find myself sitting cross-legged on tatami tinted red with safflowers, to watch breathtaking dances by two maiko. It’s an otherworldly experience, but so is the rest of Somaro. The teahouse’s multitude rooms hold an eclectic museum of treasures such as works by famous Taisho Period painter Takehisa Yumeji and collections of antique Japanese dolls.

Kotobukicho to Yunohama Onsen
54 minutes
1,020 yen

Yunohama Onsen Hot Springs

  • Rachel Chen

    Kameya is ryokan established over 200 years ago. Each room has unparalleled views of the Sea of Japan. If the Japanese-style room is not your style, upgraded Western views are also available. The Western rooms have two comfortable beds along with your own personal onsen in the bathroom.

  • Kit Nagamura

    Arriving in the Yunohama Onsen area, we check into Kameya hotel. Newly designed Western-style rooms — chic and sporting ocean-front views — feature comfy beds, an en-suite onsen bath and tiny handmade soaps. Delicious food, followed by an outdoor spa dip in salt breezes, made this a delightful stop.

Day3

Yunohama Onsen Hot Springs

Transport to and from farms is mainly accomplished by taxi

Fruit Pickingmore

Yamagata Prefecture is known as the "fruit kingdom," growing large amounts of delicious fruits. In Shonai, the "food capital ," abundant with foodstuffs, you can pick and eat all the seasonal fruit you wish. Depending on the season, you can enjoy cherries and melon, blueberries, grapes, and pears.

  • Rachel Chen

    For this particular experience of cherry picking, we visited the Suzuki cherry farm. The site was home to over half a dozen variety of cherries that vary by size, color, and tartness. The organization and fine details that are utilized in this cherry picking and cherry packing process created a memorable experience.

    Kamo Aquarium is the home to a cornucopia of jellyfish and marine life. The part that separates Kamo Aquarium from other aquariums is its jellyfish ice cream. Not only can visitors ooh and ahh at the free nature of the jellyfish, but they can also taste it.

    One does not necessarily think of gastronomic dining when talking about Yamagata prefecture, but Kurayashiki LUNA is exactly that. Our meal began with a large tray of various appetizers embellished with trinkets and adorned with flowers. The one of a kind dining experience is unforgettable and also affordable.

    Chido Museum is a public interest incorporated foundation museum boasting various artifacts significant to the region’s history and culture. There are two Western style buildings at the museum’s premise. Chido Museum houses folk items related to fishing, woodcraft, calligraphy, and swords making.

    I enjoyed painting candles more than I expected. Picture candles, also known as erosoku, are a traditional craft of the area.

  • Kit Nagamura

    We went to Fruits House Suzuki, an orchard growing eight varieties of cherries, including the popular “Sato Nishiki” and “Beni-Shuhou” cherries. The trick to plucking these pricey gems is to lift each stem gently upward, avoiding damage to next year’s flower buds. The freshest of fresh cherries fall off the pit, and the flavor explodes in a delectable sweet-and-sour combination.

    I spent peaceful meditative time in the Jellyfish Dream Theater, an enormous five-meter wide circular tank of pale jellies. Before leaving the aquarium, I sampled — nervously — a cone of espresso-flavored jellyfish ice cream - It was fantastic!

    Kurayashiki Luna, situated in a 160-year-old kura, offered us an impressive lunch of veggies, silken tofu, and sizzling Yamagata beef cooked on black stones quarried from Mt. Fuji.

    At the Chido Museum, I was moved by a marvelous Shoin-style garden and the extensive folklore exhibitions, including iwai-bandori, engagement gifts once handwoven by Yamagata men for carrying their betrothed’s trousseau.

    Togashi Candle Shop taught me that painting on wax can be a bit challenging.I provided everyone with lots of laughs, though, and look forward to lighting up the night with my result!

Transport to Tsuruoka Ekimae is mainly accomplished by taxi

Tsuruoka Station to Atsumi Onsen Station
20 minutes, 1,010 yen (limited express)
35 minutes, 500 yen (local train)

Atsumi Onsen Hot Springsmore

The soft waters and sound of the clear streams create the soothing charm of Atsumi Onsen, and there are hotels here that boast warm hospitality, good quality hot springs, and cuisine using seasonal ingredients. We recommend strolling along the Atsumi River, which flows through this hot-spring town, and seeing the different faces of the town through the four seasons: cherry blossoms in the spring, sweetfish fishing in the summer, and salmon traveling upstream in the fall. In the winter you can marvel at the beautiful snow-covered.
Rest at the riverside footbaths or on the wooden deck, and take a moment to relax and revitalize your spirit and body.
Enjoy meeting the local people in the morning market or public baths in this hot-spring town.

  • Rachel Chen

    Tachibanaya is one of the remarkable ryokans in Yamagata. The hotel has an awe-inducing landscape garden and pond. The pond is filled with larger-than-life koi carp. The size of the fish often reflects the prestige and success of an establishment. After a second round of hot tea and a quick snack, I took a bath in the Astumi Onsen. The public baths are divided and rotated every day so guests can experience both.

  • Kit Nagamura

    In pouring rain, onsen hotel Tachibana’s dreamlike entrance and lobby, backed by a misty mountain scenery, is right out of a samurai movie. The Japanese-style rooms feature super-thick comfy futons and nice views over the Atsumi River . Dinner, in a private dining room featured delicious black-throated perch and local beef. I loved this ryokan’s rotemburo, which was perfect for letting the day’s experiences soak in.

Day4

Atsumi Onsen Hot Springs

  • Kit Nagamura

    Inclement weather prevented us from joining a sea kayak expedition, but our guides brought us on a hike up many steps to the “Tama Sugi” a massive sacred cedar tree believed to be over 1,500 years old. Literally breathtaking.

    Following the cedar encounter, it seemed a natural segue to sit down to a lunch of shojin ryori at Dewa Sanzan, the center of mountain aestheticism in Japan. To consume mountain bracken, butterbur and other local plants, we learned, is to bring the life force of the mountains into your system.

Atsumi Onsen Station to Tsuruoka Station
20 minutes 1,010 yen (limited express)
35 minutes 500 yen (local train)

Tsuruoka Ekimae to Haguro Zuishinmon
40 minutes
820 yen

Hagurosan Goju-no-to (five storied pagoda)more

RECOMMENDED DESTINATIONS

Said to be the oldest pagoda in the Tohoku region and built by Taira-no-Masakado. The current 29m-high, three-section, five-layer, shingled wooden pagoda was rebuilt about 600 years ago and was designated as a national treasure in 1966. The 2,466 stone steps and avenue of cedar trees create a sacred atmosphere. Hagurosan Five-storied Pagoda is registered as a three-star spot in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.

  • Rachel Chen

    Mount Haguro is amongst the Three Mountains of Dewa. The three sacred mountains represent the past, the present, and the future. In addition to being a tourist location, Mount Haguro is a holy place for both Shinto and Buddhism. There are over 2,000 stone steps embedded into the mountain’s summit. Each step you take transports you further into the spiritual realm amongst towering 600-year-old trees. The most momentous memory is arriving at the famous Goju-to, a five-story pagoda held together by nothing but architectural genius. It is astounding to think that no nails are used in the magnificent structure.

  • Kit Nagamura

    With the mountain’s bounty inside, we donned the white garb of yamabushi, and entered the Zuishin Gate at Mt. Haguro. In a mini pilgrimage, we descended stone steps lined with centuries-old cedars, listening for the waterfall at the Harai River, where pilgrims usually stop to purify themselves. Continuing on, we reached five-storied pagoda, and here a yamabushi blew on his horagai. The sound coursed through the mountains, a calling to the spirits and to other pilgrims, and the memory of that sound lingers.

Haguro Zuishinmon to Tsuruoka Ekimae
40 minutes
820 yen

Tsuruoka Ekimae to Shonai Airport
25 minutes
780 yen

Shonai Airport

ANA400 (ANA Expericence JAPAN Fare) Show details

Haneda Airport

  • Rachel Chen

    Visiting Japan over a dozen times throughout my life, I was firm in my belief that I have already seen the most notable parts of Tokyo. The trip really opened my eyes to other lesser known towns and activities that provide just as many unique experiences as busy cities. Items on the itinerary that most stood out to me are the activities that are specific to the area.

  • Kit Nagamura

    This itinerary includes some great Tokyo sights: important shrines, inexpensive meals and fabulous shopping venues. The additional trip to Yamagata, made easy by air flights, offers much of what visitors expect of traditional Japan: rice fields, old architecture, nature and spiritual depth. Can’t recommend this duo of destinations enough.

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM TRAVELERS

The Tokyo and Yamagata trip allows guests to explore further than the popular Japanese culture such as anime. Although Yamagata is a stark contrast to Tokyo, the prefecture proudly displays its heart with its abundance of region-specific activities rooted in culture and history.

Rachel Chen
Blogger
Reside in USA
  • Hobby

    Traveling, Shopping, Experiencing New Cultures

  • Number of visits to Japan

    4-5 times a year

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM TRAVELERS

A refreshing contrast between the uber-urban sights of Tokyo and the mystical, lush mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, this tour highlights the superb cuisine, intriguing historical sites and great accommodations of both, while also exploring the complexity of thought that makes up modern Japan.

Kit Nagamura
Poet, photojournalist, and TV personality
Reside in Japan
Home country: Grew up in both the U.S. and Canada
  • Hobby

    Passionate about art photography, travel, haiku, gardening and interviewing people

  • Length of stay in Tokyo

    A resident of Japan for over 20 years

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