Yamagata

Shrine cat takes a nap in a Zen garden【Photos】

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: cats rule the world. Maybe that even includes the spiritual world?

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“Poison Apple” from sacred mountain in Japan is said to grant your wishes this Valentine’s Day

Snow White and the Wicked Queen cosplay is now complete with this specially grown black “poison apple”.

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Rice, rice baby! Strains of Japanese rice get turned into cute anime girls on new packaging

Japan likes to think of the food it produces as being the highest-quality in the world, and that goes double for rice. As such, many bags of domestically grown rice are decorated with iconic Japanese imagery, such as a crane, the rising sun, or Mt. Fuji.

But in today’s modern age, there’s no surer visual shorthand for Japan than cute anime girls, which is exactly what you’ll find on these bags of rice from Yamagata Prefecture.

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Local tourism center in northern Japan makes visitors feel like they’ve crossed over into Korea

“Roadside stations,” or michi no eki, are centers in Japan where you can find local agricultural products and restaurants serving up regional fare. For Japanese drivers, these areas serve as both a local tourism spot and a place to relax.

You can find michi no eki all across the country that provide a peek into local Japanese culture, but one center located in Yamagata Prefecture is rumored to make visitors feel right at home in Korea.

Not knowing if the rumor was true or why, one of our Japanese reporters felt compelled to see the center for himself and embarked on a trip up north that led him to Tozawa Village.

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Boy entering all-girls high school creates real-life harem anime

Any guy who’s watched a harem anime before – one where a single male is surrounded by many women – has probably giggled to himself about what it would be like to be in a similar situation himself. Would it be nonstop abuse like in Love Hina? Would there be crazy love-triangles like in Tenchi Muyo?

Well one boy gets to find out for real! A former women’s high school in Yamagata Prefecture recently opened its doors to non-female students, and this month at the start of the new school year welcomed its first male student for the first time in its 118 year existence.

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Edible H20: we try quivering water jelly sourced from holy mountains

We thought we’d found Japan’s purest dessert last year, following our discovery of an amazing water cake from Yamanashi. Now it turns out there’s something even purer – jelly made with water from Dewa Sanzan, three holy mountains in Yamagata.

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Yamagata blood donor out for blood, headbutts Red Cross staff after “waiting forever” in line

They say there is no greater joy than to give to those in need, especially when it’s the gift of life through a simple blood donation. It’s also been said that there’s a certain satisfaction to be had when smashing your forehead into the face of a rival. If these two maxims are true then one man in Yamagata Prefecture must have been over the moon recently.

Temperatures rose and blood began to boil as violence broke out at a bloodmobile on March 5 after a would-be donor assaulted one of the blood drive’s staff. The 52-year-old unemployed suspect Hisashi Sudo allegedly grabbed the also 52-year-old Japan Red Cross worker by his collar and head butted him in the face.

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Imoni-kai: A hidden, delicious cultural gem of northern Japan

Hop on a train to off-the-beaten-path Yamagata Prefecture any weekend from September through November, and you’re bound to see crowds of people congregating and cooking pots of something delicious by the local river. Yup, imoni-kai season is in full swing!

Imoni (芋煮) is the name given to a taro root stew native to the Tohoku region of northern Japan. Apart from its delicious taste, imoni is also famous for the social aspects of its creation. Families traditionally congregate on a riverbank (the practice of which is known as imoni-kai, literally, “imoni gathering”) and cook the stew from scratch over a fire pit. In that sense, you can think of it a bit like an autumn version of o-hanami, the popular Japanese tradition of viewing cherry blossoms in the spring.

Join us after the jump for a glimpse at a unique cultural tradition of northern Japan which many Japanese people in other parts of the country have never even heard of!

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Yamagata high school baseball team becomes Twitter sensation with their impeccable manners

The 96th National High School Baseball Championship, better known as Summer Koshien, is now underway in Hyogo Prefecture. In other words, Japan is once again swept up by baseball fever.

The championship takes the form of a single elimination tournament between the regional champions from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures (Hokkaido and Tokyo are both allowed two teams each). One of the teams this year, which hails from northern Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, has become an especially hot topic online, even though they were recently knocked out in the third round. The reason for their popularity is not only because of their skill, but also for their unbelievably well-mannered conduct off of the field. Introducing the team that has now become known as the most polite high school baseball team in all of Japan.

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Yamagata politicians say thank you to… air

When life is going even reasonably well, we often forget to show our appreciation for that which we have. It’s easy to become complacent and fixated on more and better, and it’s only when we suddenly lose the things that have become commonplace – running water; free Wi-Fi; a Starbucks on every other corner – that we miss them.

One thing we’d probably all notice is missing even faster than 24-hour Facebook access, though, is the air we breathe.

With that in mind, assemblymen in Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture recently took a moment out of their day to pay tribute to the very air around them, throwing their arms up and taking in a tasty lungful.

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Tohoku Rokkonsai to showcase northern Japan’s six biggest summer festivals all in one place

Kyoto, Osaka, Nara…southern Japan seems to get all the love from both international and Japanese tourists alike. But what about the rest of the country, like the six northern prefectures? Northern Japan, known as Tohoku in Japanese (東北, “the northeast”), is a hidden gem full of unique cultural traditions, unspoiled natural scenery, and some of the warmest people you’ll ever meet, despite the chilling winters.

This weekend is a better time than ever to hop on the bullet train up north to take part in the Tohoku Rokkonsai “mega-festival”. The festival began in 2011 to lift the spirits of the people of Tohoku after the deadly earthquake and tsunami just months earlier. The highlight of the festivities is a massive parade composed of segments from all six of Tohoku’s major summer festivals. Where else can you experience the excitement of SIX major festivals all at once FOR FREE??

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Town offers “Mayor for a Day” with tax payment of over one million yen, benefits include sake, pickles

Starting this year, the town of Mamurogawa in Yamagata Prefecture is offering up their mayor’s office for those generous enough to hand over one million yen (US$9,600) in furusato tax (hometown tax). It’s the latest move in an increasing trend of offering premiums for tax revenue in rural areas struggling with decreasing populations.

Offering something in exchange for taxes seems like an odd concept without knowing what furusato tax is, so let start with that. Don’t worry it’s simple.

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Homeless man mistakes phone straps for food, is arrested for theft

Japan has an unspoken problem with homelessness in its cities. It’s not uncommon to see tent cities along the edges of recreational parks or to see leather-skinned men sleeping on newspapers around the train stations. These people are largely ignored by the public and will keep to themselves unless provoked by some means. The vast majority do not even beg.

Unfortunately, the problem of poverty is not the only issue that these people face. Mental illness is not uncommon amongst the homeless, and the combination of hungry people and unstable mental states can lead to some especially unfortunate circumstances.

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