• 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/index.html

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

TRAVELER

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL
    Journalist
    Reside in Singapore
  • Foo Choo Wei
    Journalist
    Reside in Tokyo
    Home country: Singapore

Singapore Changi Airport

ANA844 Examine the directions from your country

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Great to be flying ANA. Their red-eye flight from Singapore gets you into Haneda first thing in the morning so you can have breakfast in Tokyo. I was planning to get some sleep until I realised there is 'live' football on one of their Sky Live TV channels. Amazing! This is the first time I'm watching a 'live' game in mid-air!

    Royal Park Hotel at Haneda International Terminal has a Refresh Room where you can shower or catch 40 winks on the massage chair after getting out of the plane and before starting your day.

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

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Our first stop in Tokyo was Nihonbashi. The subway ride there was a breeze and once you get off at Tokyo Station, take the Yaesu Exit (near Daimaru) to hop onto the free shuttle that does a loop to Nihonbashi and back. Nihonbashi used to be known as the centre of Japan because of its geographical location and a lot of merchants have been doing business there for centuries. Some have gone contemporary like those at Coredo Muromachi, a modern shopping centre. You can easily spend hours there shopping for traditional Japanese gifts and tasting the local cuisine.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    We gathered at Tokyo Station’s Yaesu Exit and after using a delivery service to send our luggage to the hotel where we would stay that night, we started the first day of the Tokyo Free Plan Trip with our hands free. There is a bus stop for a fare-free loop bus that will take you as far as Nihonbashi.

    There is a place that was known as Kinza in the past, which is a major Japanese commercial district that developed from the Edo Period.

    I visited Ninben, a store specializing in ‘katsuobushi’ (dried Bonito flakes) inside Coredo Muromachi in Nihonbashi, and learned the trick to shaving ‘katsuobushi.’

Sugamo Jizo-dori Streetmore

RECOMMENDED DESTINATIONS

Sugamo Jizo-dori street has prospered as a commercial district and place of worship since the middle period of the Edo era. Lined with temples and tiny shops, it not only preserves the good old landscapes and culture of Japan, but also treasures the old-fashioned hospitality of merchants.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Next stop is Sugamo, which the locals affectionately nickname Harajuku for senior citzens because of the age of the people who shop there. The street food is amazing and you'll smell it while walking down the bustling street. Need another reason to visit Sugamo? Tsuta, the world's first Michelin-star ramen shop is also there but be warned, it's incredibly popular so you need to go queue up early in the morning to take a number before coming back later in the day to slurp your delicious bowl of noodles.

    Time for lunch and we stopped by a very crowded local eatery on the main Sugamo shopping strip called Tokiwa Shokudo. There was so much local fare to try including tonkatsu and sashimi which I ordered for myself. Oishii!

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The Sugamo Jizou-dori street Shopping Center is also referred to as “Harajuku for Old People,” and is renowned as a district popular with senior citizens.Japan's elderly are cheerful and unhindered by old age. Sugamo, with its thriving elderly population, could be said to be a microcosm of Japan's long-lived society.

    At Sugamo’s Tokiwa Shokudo I ate a set meal of fresh seafood, which is the flavor of the Japanese masses. The set meal of a large plate piled with food and a large serving of rice got full marks for being low-priced and substantial.

JR Yamanote Line
Sugamo→Ueno
12 minutes・160 yen

Ueno Parkmore

Ueno Park is one of Japan’s first designated parks. It was established by Cabinet decree in 1873 along with Shiba, Asakusa, Fukagawa, and Asukayama Parks.This area was once the grounds of Toeizan Kaneiji Temple during the Edo period. After the Meiji Restoration, the land became government property. It was eventually given to Tokyo City in 1924 by the Imperial Household Ministry.At first the park consisted of the Kaneiji Temple main building and mausoleum, Toshogu Shrine, and the cherry trees within the temple ground. The museums, zoo, and art galleries built later transformed it into a park with a more cultural feel.

Walk
5 minutes

Ameyoko (Shopping Street)more

A shopping street full of life now and in the old days, in addition to fresh food and candy, it also has shops offering clothes, shoes, bags, and even cosmetics. The good-humored vendors of each shop are firm supporters of face-to-face interaction. The area is always lively with vendors calling out to potential customers. While it is famous for fish and crabs, apart from grocers, there are countless shops that carry shoes, clothing, and even international knick-knacks.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    From Sugamo, it was another smooth and short train ride to Ueno. It was nice to walk through the leafy park and we stopped to watch a busker perform a very entertaining balancing trick with chairs. There are many museums around the park if you want to soak in some culture as well.

    At the end of the park, we reached Ameyoko, a very popular shopping street selling everything from clothes to snacks and even fruits. There is plenty to see, taste and buy so it's a real treat for the senses. Make sure you give yourself enough time to visit Ameyoko which is conveniently located at the main exit of Ueno JR station.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    Ueno is an area where it is possible to experience Tokyo’s sightseeing delights and unpredictability. The main streets and narrow alleyways seem endless and it is not possible to explore them all.

Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line
Ueno→Roppongi
25 minutes・200 yen

Shabu Shabu & Sushi Specialty Restaurant 'Hassan'more

Roppongi is home to many embassies, so there is a concentration of stores and restaurants aimed at non-Japanese patrons. Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown are giant complexes that offer refined shopping and eating during the day, in addition to their nightlife. The Shabu Shabu & Sushi Specialty Restaurant 'Hassan' offers shabu-shabu of beef from black-haired Japanese cows, sushi, tempura, and crab shabu-shabu. Here, throughout all four seasons, diners can enjoy luxurious ingredients representative of Japan to their heart's content.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Final stop of of the day was at Roppongi Hills City View. From the observatory, you get a 360-degrees bird's eye view of Tokyo. A picture is worth a thousand words and you can see how pretty Tokyo looks at sunset as the neon lights slowly take over to light up the city.

    Don't forget to check out the world famous Mori Art Museum as well at Roppongi Hills City View. While we were there, they were showing Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami's mind-bending The 500 Arhats. You can even take home a Murakami souvenir from the gift shop.

    Roppongi is known for its nightlife and there are plenty of restaurants and bars there for you to eat and drink to your heart's content. But if you prefer a quiet evening, try Hassan, a nice shabu shabu restaurant tucked away underground that has an impressive and very delicious menu.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The setting sun illuminated Tokyo Tower and I was mesmerized by the Tokyo landscape I saw. Art pieces and works of art by famous artists are always on display at the Mori Art Museum.

    I ate dinner at Roppongi’s Shabu Shabu Sushi Hassan, a restaurant with a quiet atmosphere.

Haneda Excel Hotel Tokyu

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Hotel Tokyu, located at the domestic terminal of Haneda airport. The quiet room has a view too as I discovered the next morning when I opened the window.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The biggest advantage of having a hotel close to the airport is that you can take it easy until your flight time.

Day2

TOHOKU(YAMAGATA)

11:10 Haneda Airport

ANA395(ANA Experience JAPAN Fare)

12:10 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."

Limousine Bus
Shonai Airport→Sakata Nakamachi
About 30 minutes・800 yen

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Rise and shine. Time to catch a domestic flight to Yamagata's Shonai Airport this morning. There is no rush as the departure gate is only about two minutes' walk from the hotel. I even had time for nice breakfast before checking out and taking a short stroll to catch my flight.

    The ride from Tokyo to Yamagata takes only one hour and from Shonai Airport, we boarded a shuttle bus that took us to the heart of Sakata city. It was snowing so the cold temperature kept many people indoors and some shops were closed. However, we stumbled upon this confectionery that was open and run by a friendly local whose smile and hospitality gave us a warm welcome to Yamagata.

    Quick stop for lunch at Daruma-Sushi in Sakata City. The friendly chef told us his uncle used to work in Singapore. I hope he comes to Singapore one day to open a sushi restaurant too because the sushi platter he served us was absolutely delicious and filling.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    Yamagata Prefecture has access to both the mountains and the sea and is blessed with a bounty of food ingredients.The fresh fish at the sushi restaurant was really delicious. The piping hot miso soup they serve warms the traveler’s heart.

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.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Our first tourist stop in Sakata was at Somaro where you can have a bento and watch Maikos (apprentice geishas) dancing. Formerly known as Somaya, it used to be a famous with Sakata merchants and their business partners going there after a hard day's work to wind down.

    These days, Somaro also doubles as a museum and a Maiko training school. Here are some of the young girls practicing their dance routines.

    A short walk away is the famous Kaikou-ji Temple which has two flesh icons enshrined inside. Essentially, it's the corpses of two priests who starved themselves to death while meditating and became naturally mummified because of a special diet they consumed.

    Next to the temple is an obata (old-fashioned restaurant) which has also become a popular tourist attraction after it was used for filming the Oscar-winning Japanese comedy-drama Departures.

    Our last stop of the day in Yamagata was the Ken Domon Museum of Photography. As the first honorary citizen of Sakata, the renowned Japanese photojournalist donated his entire collection of works to the town and the museum holds about 70,000 prints. On display are some of the more spiritual works of this avid photographer of Buddhist temples and religious statues.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    Originally it was a Japanese restaurant that stood there since the Edo Period (1603-1867). It has now been refurbished as a theatre. The Sakata Maiko are appealing and the hearts of the audience are captured by the sight of them innocently dancing.The interior of the building is decorated with bright colors and antique folding screens, creating an atmosphere brimming with glamour.

Shonai Kotsu's Sakata / Yunohama Line towards Yunohama Onsen
Kotobukicho→Yunohama Onsen
50 minutes

Yunohama Onsen Hot Springsmore

This hot spring resort located along the coast has been opened for 1,000 years. From the open-air baths, visitors can admire views of the Shirahama Coast stretching for about 1km, and the sun setting over the Sea of Japan, which has been selected as one of the top 100 sunset views of Japan. It exudes the unique charm of a hot spring village by the coast. This area is one of the prefecture's foremost resort spots and many marine sports can be enjoyed in the clear blue sea that can be seen from the ocean view rooms of hotels and ryokan.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    We call it a night at Kameya Ryokan in next door Tsuruoka city. The sea-front hot-spring inn looked even more tranquil in the snow.

    The traditional Japanese room at Kameya was spacious.

    The omakase dinner had a bit of everything and was a great way to experience a taste of Yamagata and its fresh produce.

    The food was almost too pretty to eat. And it tasted as yummy as it looked. What a perfect way to wind down our first day in Yamagata.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    I spent one night at Kameya, a ryokan near the sea. The food was served up in novel wooden bowls and it was really magnificent.

Day3

Yunohama Onsen Hot Springs(Kameya)

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Woke up to a great unobstructed view of the sea from the top floor room at Kameya.

Shonai Kotsu's Tsuruoka/ Yunohama Line towards S-MALL
Yunohama Onsen→Kamo Aquarium
10 minutes

Kamo Aquarium “Jellyfish Dream House”more

The most attractive point about the Kamo Aquarium is its large jellyfish tank with a diameter of 5m, making it the largest in the world. The world's greatest number of species of jellyfish are exhibited here, and the aquarium has been certified in the Guinness World Records for having the largest number of jellyfish on display. Furthermore, there is a restaurant serving healthy food made with jellyfish. The jellyfish ramen and ice cream are especially popular.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    We hop onto the local bus and a short ride away is Kamo Aquarium, often called the world's best jelly fish aquarium. It's easy to see why – you will never find more varieties of jellyfish anywhere in the world.

    During the summer, the queue to enter the aquarium can be as long as three hours. It's really that popular!

    Watching the jellyfish float around the tank is both mesmerising and relaxing.

    From Kamo, we take another short bus ride to the centre of Tsuruoka City. It looks like a winter wonderland with the frozen river and snow covered streets.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    Colorful jellyfish are on display, and are soothing to the hearts of travelers who show up unexpectedly.

Shonai Kotsu's Tsuruoka/ Yunohama Line towards S-MALL
Kamo Aquarium →Chido Museum
19 minutes

Chido Museummore

Formerly the “third circle” (sannomaru) of Tsurugaokajo Castle, used as the public residence of the Sakai family, a Shonai feudal clan, it is now open to the public as a museum. Inside are the former Nishitagawa-gun government office, a National Important Cultural Property, as well as multilayered private residences, the former Tsuruoka police station, and other historically important buildings. There is also a rare garden built with shoin-zukuri Japanese architecture. In addition, everyday objects telling the story of life in Shonai and 5,350 artifacts (eight types) of National Important Folklore Cultural Assets are stored and exhibited here.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    We stop by Chido Museum, which was once part of the Tsurugaoka Castle and home to the Sakai family, a Shonai feudal clan.

    There are several restored residences there with each transformed into a mini museum showcasing a different period of Tsuruoka culture and history.

    Lunch was next door at Shirukecchano, which served food sourced from local farmers. You can't beat that for freshness!

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The director is a descendent of the former head of the Shonai Clan and a large number of Japanese historical cultural assets and folk materials are stored there.

Shonai Kotsu's Haguro / Gassan Line towards Hagurosan
Minami Ginza→Zuishinmon
32 minutes

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

RECOMMENDED DESTINATIONS

Said to be the oldest pagoda in the Tohoku region and built by Tairo-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.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    Tsuruoka's Dewa Sanzan area is made of three sacred mountains: Mount Gassan, Mount Haguro and Mount Yudono. A popular trail is the one-mile cedar-tree-lined trek from Zuishin Gate to the top of Mount Haguro which has been awarded three stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japan in 2009. Along the way, you'll pass by the imposing 30-metre-tall, 600-year-old Hagurosan Goju-no-to(five storied pagoda).

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The highlight of this trip was the mountain walk on Mount Haguro. It takes around 30 minutes to climb the mountain, and the destination is a historical site on the grounds, Hagurosan Goju-no-to(five storied pagoda) that is a Japanese national treasure. As the name Yamagata (mountain district) suggests, the prefecture is an area of scenic beauty. There are a large number of historic sites and alpine plants on Mount Haguro, and so in addition to being designated a special protection area, it is also a place visited by mountaineering ascetics in all seasons.
    There is saying that says that Mt. Haguro is the present, Mt. Gassan is the past, and Mt. Yudono is the future. If I have the opportunity to visit Yamagata Prefecture once again, I would like to take the time to visit Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono to gain an even deeper understanding about the "past and future" as described by Japanese mountain worship.

Shonai Kotsu's Haguro / Gassan Line towards S-MALL
Zuishinmon→Sannomachi
40 minutes

Togashi Candle Shop (experience of painting on decorative candles)more

Formerly a prestigious product that was used as a tribute gift presented to the feudal government, these candles are popular for their delicate and colorful designs that are painted on by hand. Togashi Candle Shop provides instruction on how to paint the traditional patterns, and visitors can create their own unique decorative candles in about one hour.

  • TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL

    We say goodbye to Tsuruoka by popping into the family-run Togashi Candle Shop, which sells a popular souvenir for tourists to take home.

    Painted candles used to be prestigious gifts for feudal governments but now, it replaces flowers during the winter time. You can buy a ready-made candle or hand-paint one like we did as a reminder of the wonderful time we spent in Yamagata.

  • Foo Choo Wei

    The candle had various patterns relating to Yamagata drawn on it, so I decided to take it home as a momento.

Taxi
Tsuruoka Station
About 10 minutes・About 700 yen

Limousine Bus
Tsuroka Ekimae→Shonai Airport
About 20 minutes・About 760 yen

Shonai Airport

ANA(ANA Experience JAPAN Fare) Show details

Haneda Airport

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM TRAVELERS

Recommendation of trip: Yamagata is a great place to experience the next time you find yourself in Tokyo and plan to go out of town for a few days. It's not very far away and you can either travel by train or plane which are both very convenient. Tokyo and Yamagata are very different in terms of what you will see, eat and experience so you will definitely have a good time in both places. If you ever get lost, just ask the friendly locals and rest assured they will try their best to help you.

TAN SHEN YAN DYLAN PAUL
Journalist
Reside in Singapore
  • Hobby

    Music, travel, food

  • Number of visits to Japan

    Over 10 times

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM TRAVELERS

Tokyo had a completely different face when visited as a tourist, as opposed to as a place to live.
Yamagata Prefecture is a place of scenic beauty, and the snowy landscape of Mount Haguro was etched into my memory.

Foo Choo Wei
Journalist
Reside in Tokyo
Home country: Singapore
  • Hobby

    Experience the scenery of the four seasons
    A walk around historic spots

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