Tsuruoka City

Blessed with towering mountains, vast open plains, and long stretches of rich coastline, Tsuruoka City is a rural farming city in the vast open plains of the Shonai Region.  This is region has an absolute treasure trove of hidden gems to explore.  

Located on the coastal side of Yamagata Prefecture, this city spans from the mountains to the ocean and is dotted with dozens of small villages and towns.  Despite its official population of over 100,000 people, the actual confines of this city only has about 34,000 residents while the rest of these other communities that have merged with Tsuruoka make up for the rest.  The result of this is that Tsuruoka is a very large city with incredible diversity and to an extent can even be thought of as a region of its own.  

This city is particularly famous for the legendary Three Holy Mountains of Dewa, Kamo Aquarium, and its unique designation Japan's only UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

 

Far off the beaten path, a trip to Tsuruoka City is a chance to escape the crowds of tourists in the big cities and even places that were once hidden gems only a few years ago.  This region is one of the last beautiful locations in Japan that has yet to be changed by the massive influx of foreign tourism and offers a chance to experience Japan through the many temples, restaurants, and traditional factories that have been run for generations by the same families.  

Quick Facts:

  • Population: 129,000 (2015)

  • A vast city that is made up of many individual towns and villages.

  • Is the only city in Japan designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.

  • Home to the Dewa Sanzan (Three Holy Mountains of Dewa) and the sacred journey of rebirth. 

Sakura in Tsuruoka Park

Explore Tsuruoka

The vast mountain ranges of the Dewa Sanzan 

From mountain hiking, quiet meditation at Zen temples, to exquisite culinary arts, you can easily spend two to three days exploring Tsuruoka.  We recommend waking up early in the morning to explore the nature of Tsuruoka City, and spending the late afternoon and evenings to enjoy the culinary excellence of the world famous cuisine that this region has to offer.

 

See below for our roundup of some of our favorite things to do and see in this wonderful city.  

Click on the "learn more" button to see each location in detail.  

Also check back more as we continue to update this article with new activities and places to explore.

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Mt. Haguro

Known as the mountain of the present, Mt. Haguro has a stone trail that winds through its ancient cedar forest.  It is one of the Dewa Sanzan and can be accessed year-round.

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Mt. Gassan

The highest of the Dewa Sanzan and the mountain of the afterlife.  This mountain has snow on it year round and makes for a full day ascent over wetlands, open fields, and up to the shrine at its peak.

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The Kamo Aquarium

This aquarium located right on the ocean hosts the most diverse display of jellyfish in the world in its sleek and beautifully designed facility.  It also has one of the most famous Yamagata restaurants located inside of it!

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Gyokusenji Temple 

A serene zen temple at the base of Mt. Haguro with a stunning Japanese garden that has been designated as a national treasure of Japan.  You can enjoy traditional wagashi tea here and even practice Zen buddhism here. 

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Mt. Yudono

The most holy site of the Dewa Sanzan and a mountain shrouded in secrecy.  This is known as the site of rebirth for the Yamabushi monks of Yamagata.  

Experiences and Tours

Explore deeper with special experiences that have been made in collaboration with the locals of Tsuruoka City.  This includes culinary courses made with local farmers and chefs and spiritual experiences with the Yamabushi mountain monks on the mountains here in Tsuruoka. 

 

You may also see our full list of experiences here in Yamagata Prefecture here.  

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Sake Tasting next to Tsuruoka Station

Enjoy a wide selection of some of the finest sake brewed in the Shonai Region.  This experience starts at just 500 yen!

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Yamabushi Training on Mt. Haguro

Venture deep into the heart of Mt. Haguro with the Yamabushi of the Miyatabo lodge in this special two day adventure.  

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Sushi Workshop with Chef Suda 

Work with freshly caught fish from the coast of Tsuruoka and make a delicious sushi course alongside one of Yamagata's finest chefs. 

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Mountain Harvesting on Mt. Haguro

Harvest wild vegetables with the Yamabushi of the Miyatabo Lodge and prepare them into Shojin Ryori, the traditional cuisine of the mountain monks.

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Explore the World of the Yamabushi

Venture deep into the vast nature of Yamagata with Yamabushi monks and take part in authentic rituals in traditional shirosozoku robes.

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