A depiction of Sakata City during the Edo Era (image provided by The Honma Museum)
and Around Yamagata City
If you are taking a bus or train to get to Yamagata, then you well inevitably enter the city via either Yamagata Station or the bus terminal at the Yamako Building (山交ビル) just a few blocks directly in front of the station. The station is a great landing spot for your adventures, as you’ll find lots of amenities, including inexpensive hotel accommodations and car rental companies on both the east and west side of the station, as well as English language information and coin lockers inside the station. The east entrance area of the station (the side which Yamako Building is on), also known as “Eki Mae,” is the happening place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.
Inside Yamagata Station and Kajo Central
Yamagata Station is connected by an enclosed pedestrian bridge to a large commercial building, and the only high-rise in the city, Kajo Central.
Upon exiting the JR gate inside the station, you will find yourself in the main station hall, spanning left and right, and directly ahead of you, a convenient English language information center just inside the waiting room. From the main hall, heading left (west) will take you to Kajo Central; right (east) will take you to the front entrance of the station. Directly to the right of the waiting room/information center is an SPAL mall, with shops throughout the 2nd-5th floors. The second floor is an excellent place to pick up some local sweets to take to friends back home, and the first floor of the building includes a variety of food shops, including a grocery, butcher, and international foods chain, Jupiter.
Heading left from the JR gate takes you to the Kajo Central building, a 24-floor commercial building containing myriad more shops and offices, a movie theater, and on the first floor, Yamagata Prefecture Tourism Information Center. At the center, you can find additional assistance in English and the center has quite a few guides and brochures available relating to sightseeing in the area.
English-language assistance available at the 1st floor tourist center
Starting on the second floor, the Yamagata Museum of Science and Industry highlights many of the technological and industrial achievements of the area, but may be of limited interest to foreign visitors.
The real reason to head over to Kajo Central, however is for its observation floor. Take the elevator to the 24th floor and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of all sides of the city, and the mountains beyond. See if you can’t find tiny Zao Onsen Village and ski resort off in the distance. Short of climbing Chitose Mountain on the east side of the city, this is the best bird’s-eye view you will find anywhere. And it’s free!
Yamagata Eki Mae (East Front of the Station)
The front side of the station is also the location of both bus and taxi terminals, both of which make for easy departure to further off places in the city. If you want to drop off your bags right away, just outside the first floor, you can find coin lockers available. Just across the road, several blocks criss-crossed by narrow back streets are home the Eki Mae nightlife district. In a relatively small zone, the area packs whiskey bars, Western-style bars (including an all-Beatles themed one), pachinko, karaoke, restaurants, izakaya, and of course the ubiquitous “snack” bars.
Any night of the week, this area can get packed with local folks out for a night on the town, or black-suited salary men and women team-building via drinking parties. As the night waxes on, many a tipsy customer can be found stumbling along the streets, bidding friends farewell, or slurping down some hangover-preventing ramen.
If you follow the main road from Yamagata Station to the first traffic light and take a left, you’ll find tons more restaurants to select from. Thursdays-Saturdays though are typically busy nights, so for dinner, general advice is to try to make a reservation in advance.
Around Yamako Building is another great area to explore hole-in-the-wall izakaya and kissaten (Japanese-style cafes).
Great restaurants and bars abound in the district in front of Yamagata Station.