The Shonai Region of Yamagata
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself home”.
– Matsuo Basho on his journey to write The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
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If you’re looking to experience a side of Japan with the same rich culture and history as Kyoto, if you’re looking to taste some of the finest food in Japan, the best rice and sake, the freshest seafood, mountain vegetables foraged the same day, if you’re looking for a side of Japan that is still unexplored and away from all the crowds, let The Hidden Japan show you.
The Shonai region of Yamagata Prefecture in Tohoku on the north-west coast of Honshu is home to some of the best parts of Japan, and yet it’s a barely touched by overseas travellers; less than 1% of overseas tourists to Japan visited there in 2016 simply because they didn’t know it existed!
It’s a place with vast nature, home to the prefecture with the most waterfalls in Japan. Home to Mt. Haguro on the Dewa Sanzan, where Shugendo practicioners, such as Yamabushi, have trained since Prince Hachiko dedicated his life to the people there over 1400 years ago.
It’s a place with the only UNESCO-Certified food in Japan; the Shojin Ryori Ascetic Cuisine of Tsuruoka, made exclusively of ingredients sourced from the mountains that is still prepared the same way it has been for centuries thanks to Haguro Shugendo on the Dewa Sanzan.
It’s a place that silenced even the most famous of Japanese poets who travelled there on foot during the Edo period in the 17th century. Matsuo Basho wrote one of the major texts of classical Japanese literature, the infinitely famous Oku no Hosomichi or The Narrow Road to the Deep North, along the way coining the phrase “every day is a journey, and the journey itself home”.
It’s a place the Tokugawa Shogunate commissioned to produce rice for an ever-expanding Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the 1600s. Some of the rice plantations and sake breweries from that time continue to produce the finest rice in the world to this day, such as Tsuyahime, and sake.
It’s a place with a history of trade of rice and Safflower all throughout Honshu on the Japan Heritage Kitamaebune ships, including Hakata (Fukuoka), Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
It’s a place that was home to the richest family in Japan; the Honma family, the largest land-owner in Japan until after the second world war, and the family that led a region with unwavering support for the Tokugawa Shogunate against the Japanese government in the 1860s.
It’s the last place to hold out against the forces of the Japanese government back in the 1860s thanks to the true Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, who convinced the Japanese government not to destroy it with zero bloodshed.
It’s a place where Samurai, saddened by their defeat at the hands of the Japanese government, turned their swords into hoes and cultivated a vast landscape to create one of the largest producers of rice in Japan.
It’s a place that is part of the prefecture with the highest consumption of Ramen Noodles of any prefecture in Japan.
It’s a place where you never know what you might learn, about the world, about other people, but more importantly, about yourself. It’s a place full of boundless discovery, where an unforgettable journey of self-discovery and enlightenment.
It’s Shonai, and it’s waiting here for you!