Top ChoiceBuddhist Temple in Yamadera

Risshaku-ji

The 'Temple of Standing Stones', more commonly known as Yamadera, rests atop a rock-hewn staircase weathered over the centuries by unrelenting elements. At the foot of the mountain, guarded by a small lantern, is...

Top ChoiceMountain in Dewa Sanzan

Haguro-san

Haguro-san

The 2446 stone steps through ancient cedars to Haguro-san's summit (419m) have been smoothed by centuries of pilgrims. The climb, taking up to two hours, passes Gojū-no-tō (五重塔), a beautiful wooden five-storey...

Top ChoiceMountain in Dewa Sanzan

Gas-san

Gas-san

Accessible from July to September, Gas-san (1984m) is the highest of Dewa Sanzan's sacred mountains. From Hachigōme (八合目; eighth station) the route passes through an alpine plateau to Kyūgōme (九合目; ninth station)...

Top ChoiceMountain in Dewa Sanzan

Yudono-san

Yudono-san

Accessible from May to October, Yudono-san (1504m) is the spiritual culmination of the Dewa Sanzan trek. Coming from Gas-san it's a short walk from the stream bed at the end of the descent to Yudono-san-jinja.

Shinto Shrine in Dewa Sanzan

Gas-san-jinja

At the peak of Gas-san is the deeply spiritual Shintō shrine of Gassan-jinja. Before entering you must be 'purifed': bow to receive the priest's benediction, then brush yourself head to toe with the slip of...

Barbecue in Zaō Onsen

Robata

The best Mongolian barbecue or jingisukan restaurant in Zaō (there are many) is a sharp operation where diners do the grunt work on plates of raw lamb and veggies. It's good smoky fun, well supported by a drinks...

Cafe in Ginzan Onsen

Coté de la Poste

Tucked away on a corner near the bend in the river (next to the orange post box, hence the name), this petite coffee shop is the perfect spot for a post-soak tipple. Drinks are pricey, but the ambience is...

Cultural in Dewa Sanzan

Shōrei-sai

On New Year's Eve, yamabushi novices perform similar rituals to those of the mountain priests at the Hassaku Matsuri, competing with each other after completing a 100-day-long period of cleansing and...

Cocktail Bar in Sakata

Kerun

In business for decades, Kerun is run by an octogenarian Japanese man who whisks up frothy whisky sours from a well-stocked bar that's surrounded by mirrors and booth seating. You can also get lovely filter...

Soba in Yamagata

Sobadokoro Shōjiya

Delicious chewy udon and signature soba bowls (hot or cold) are served with simple elegance at this friendly spot. The accompanying tempura and miso are respectively light and tangy. It's a worthwhile 10-minute...

Cafe in Yonezawa

Fabric&Coffee

On the road to Onegawa Onsen, this hip cafe offers excellent filter coffee, as well as iced drinks and waffles (from ¥250). It also has a side trade in beautiful textiles – worth a peek if you're passing by.

Seafood in Sakata

Sakata Kaisen Ichiba

A must-visit for seafood lovers. You can eat at a variety of places at this indoor seafood market or grab some mouth-watering sushi and picnic goodies.

Cultural in Dewa Sanzan

Hassaku Matsuri

Yamabushi (mountain priests) perform ancient fire rites at the top of Haguro-san throughout the night to pray for a bountiful harvest.

Aquarium in Tsuruoka

Kamo Aquarium

The world's largest jellyfish tank – containing 30 to 40 species at any one time – was given a spark by a Nobel Prize–winning scientist who discovered a fluorescent protein in belt jellyfish and taught the...

Shinto Shrine in Dewa Sanzan

Yudono-san-jinja

Beyond the giant red torii of this shrine, ancient tradition (and stern-faced priests) forbids disclosure of what you witness. It's forbidden to photograph and taboo to discuss this sacred natural shrine, so...

Buddhist Temple in Tsuruoka

Zenpō-ji

Seven kilometres west of Tsuruoka is this Zen Buddhist temple, complete with five-tier pagoda and large gateway. It dates from the 10th century, when it was dedicated to the Dragon King, guardian of the seas....

Historic Site in Yamagata

Hirashimizu Pottery District

In the 19th century there were dozens of fiery kilns lining the Hazukashi-gawa, turning out beautiful bluish-grey mottled pottery pieces known as nashi-seiji (pear skin), but now only a few remain. You can...

Japanese in Sakata

Kachofugetsu

To the east of the centre, in a residential neighbourhood, this popular ramen joint does a roaring trade in steaming bowls of homemade noodles in a rich, umami broth. Place your order via the machine in the...

Bar in Zaō Onsen

Oto-chaya

Your one-stop shop for convivial pre- and post-ski rendezvous, Oto-chaya begins with coffee in the mornings and powers right through to sake and beer, with occasional live tunes, in the evenings. Hearty meals...

Izakaya in Yamagata

Kitanosuisan

Come here to sample sake and local Yamagata specialities such as imo nabe (potato stew) and dongara (cod), as well as a variety of chargrilled seafood. The menu is on a wooden board and includes pictures. Take...