• Home
  • Features
  • Yamagata Cycling Tour: Fruit Farms, Hot Springs, and Fabulous Views!

Yamagata Cycling Tour: Fruit Farms, Hot Springs, and Fabulous Views!

We introduce a cycling course through Yamagata's inland area featuring Mt. Zao and hot springs, the fruit growing areas of Tendo and Sagae, and the Mogami River cruise. Michael Rice, a professional cyclist, will also comment on some of these fantastic destinations!

Yamagata Cycling Tour -
Day One: Depart from Kaminoyama Onsen

Yamagata Prefecture's inland area is a region filled with countless exciting destinations. There's the Zao mountain range, known for its sparkling frost-covered trees, Tendo City, a thriving fruit production area, and hot springs in every region of the prefecture, to name just a few of the attractions. If you're cycling, you can enjoy the magnificent scenery along the way!

We introduce a two-day tour that takes you around all the cycling spots in Yamagata's inland area. Michael Rice, an American professional cyclist residing in Japan, will add his comments as we talk about the attractive features of these destinations.

The starting point for our adventure is Kaminoyama Onsen Station. Kaminoyama Onsen has a history of more than 560 years, and is an important transportation hub that connects the Tohoku region with Tokyo.

Useful Information


Power-assisted bicycles can be rented at the tourist information center, located right next to the station.

The bike rental season runs from April until November (rentals are not available during the winter). 

Visitors to Japan will need to present their passports. Please return your bike during business hours (9:30-16:30) on the same day.

For details on bike rentals, please see the Kaminoyama Sightseeing homepage.

<Join a Cycling Tour in Yamagata>

A company called The Hidden Japan holds bike tours from April until October. During the tour, a local guide will take you to places such as Kaminoyama Castle, a samurai residence, a tourist fruit farm, and a winery.

For more details please see the The Hidden Japan official homepage.

Yamagata Cycling Tour

Picture courtesy of pixta

See Magnificent Mt. Zao from Kaminoyama Castle

Our first destination is Kaminoyama Castle, located in the center of the local hot spring town. At one time, the Kaminoyama Onsen area flourished as a castle town.

The interior of the castle currently serves as a local history and culture museum. The various exhibits highlight local history, historical figures, festivals, and the area's natural ecosystem. Visitors can learn a great deal about the region's culture and history.

In addition to the panorama of the nearby onsen town, the castle tower's observation area offers commanding views of Mt. Zao, Mt. Sankichi, and even the mountain range in the far distance.

Picture courtesy of pixta

Take a short break at the footbath on the castle grounds before continuing the trip. The hot spring water will soothe your tired body and leave you feeling refreshed.

Run Through the Scenic Splendor of Mt. Zao

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

The Zao mountain range has a crater lake filled with emerald green water. When you visit this area on bicycle, you can't help but feel the grandeur of the nearby mountains with your entire body!

The view looking down from our perch on Mt. Zao is breathtaking scenery at its best. Yamagata's streetscapes spreading out under an open sky and the mountains that surround them, are a wonderful sight every time you visit here.

Reaching the top of a long, steep hill is one of the real joys of cycling—moving from place to place by the power of your own effort. When you finally get here, the view from this vantage point will feel all the more magnificent.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

Along the descending road on the return trip back, trees transform into brilliant hues of red and yellow, spreading out their branches to form a tunnel of autumn leaves. As you ride along this road you can feel nature up close, and the refreshing air is something that you can only experience while cycling.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

In the fall, all of Mt. Zao is covered in a blanket of red. In the winter, the snow monster (frost-covered trees) are an impressive view, and the hot spring town's outdoor baths are especially pleasant.

Boasting numerous highlights, Mt. Zao is a sightseeing area that's been receiving worldwide attention.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

Looking down from Mt. Zao at the stunning view of the mountainside bathed in fall colors, Michael commented, "It doesn't get any better than this!" The spectacular scenery combined with the satisfaction of finally reaching one's destination by bicycle proves to be a moving experience.

Enjoy Fruit Picking and Hot Springs in Tendo

Pictures courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture (top and bottom left), Osho Fruit Farm (bottom right)

Tendo, in Zao's northwest area, is a city famous for fruit production. The city is dotted with tourist fruit farms where cherries, grapes, peaches, and western pears are grown.

The roads running alongside the farms are ideal for cycling because there is very little traffic. The harvest period runs from May until November. If you visit during this time, you can enjoy picking your own fruit.

Picture courtesy of pixta

Every year in the middle of April, the cherry blossoms are at their peak. The weeping cherry trees lining the Kuratsu River are in full bloom, blanketing the river banks in pink.

If you cross over the little red bridge (photo above) on your bike, you can take a picture of idyllic Japanese cherry blossoms with a quaint view of the river.

Tendo—Japan's number one producer of Japanese chess (shogi) pieces—is also famous for its hot springs. Tendo Onsen has three foot baths and a total of nine accommodation facilities, ranging from old-fashioned ryokan all the way to large, modern hotels.

So let's stay the night, soothe our muscles in the hot spring baths, then enjoy some delicious cuisine.

Koma no Yu at Tendo Onsen Roadside Station. Out of Tendo City's three foot baths, only this one is shaped like a shogi piece.

Day Two: A Visit to Historic Risshakuji Temple

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

On the second day of our trip, we headed to a famous spot in Yamagata. Risshakuj Temple, also known as Yamadera, was built in 860 and is a major spiritual destination in the prefecture.

About 330 years ago, the famous poet Matsuo Basho visited here and composed a haiku. The breathtaking scenery that moved him so deeply still remains here today.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

Yamadera is known as an "enkiriji," or a refuge that helps people extricate themselves from worldly desires. Leading up to the temple, which is located at the rear of the mountain's summit, is a stairway with 1015 steps. It is said that the climbing of each step will help eradicate one's worldly desires. It's believed that once you climb to the very top of the stairs, you'll be blessed with good luck.

"As you gradually climb up the moss-covered steps, you'll be under the illusion that you've gone back in time. It's even more impressive when you see the beautiful scenery in the autumn," Michael said as he made his way up to Yamadera.

Though it takes about one hour to reach the mountain's summit, visitors arrive year-round!

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

If you're worried about making it all the way to the top of the rock stairway, try eating some "chikara konjac" beforehand to keep your strength up. It's said that eating some will give your body more power. The konjac dish offered by the shop at the mountain's base was given this name after it became popular with visitors.

Yamadera receives many visitors from both inside and outside Japan. Michael also recommends it for its long history, and for the tasty local cuisine that can be enjoyed nearby.

Sakuranbo Kaikan - Enjoy Homemade Ice Cream!

Picture courtesy of Sakuranbo Kaikan JA

Sagae City is a famous cherry-producing area in the northwest part of Yamagata. At the Sakuranbo Kaikan, managed by JA Sagae Nishimurayama, a panel exhibition shows how cherries are cultivated here. The homemade ice cream, a local specialty, is a must-eat!

Picture courtesy of Sakuranbo Kaikan JA

The ice cream is a collaborative effort between JA staff and local food artisans. During their joint discussions, one idea after another came to them. To date, no less than 184 different kinds of ice cream have been sold! They all have just the right amount of sweetness, and the natural flavors of the ingredients always comes first.

Picture courtesy of Sakuranbo Kaikan JA

Currently, 14 different flavors of ice cream are available. One of the most popular among these is Rice Ice Cream, which uses Yamagata brand-name rice such as tsuyahime and haenuki. The ice cream even contains soft rice kernels, allowing you to enjoy a unique texture.

Both the cherry and La France pear ice creams are also popular. They offer a taste sensation unique to Yamagata, and their refreshing sweetness brings out the natural flavors of the fruit.

Hear a Boatman's Song During a Mogami River Cruise

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

Next, we'll flow through Yamagata on the Mogami River—one of the three most rapid rivers in Japan. To bring our adventure to a close, how about experiencing a boat cruise down this river?

The boat ride covers a 12-kilometer route, departing from the port of Furukuchi and arriving at the port of Kusanagi. This enjoyable cruise takes about an hour.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

The boatman's songs and amusing anecdotes are sure to make this an unforgettable experience. We've been told that there are all kinds of boatmen, including those with fun stories and some who do expert impressions!

During the middle of the 18th century, when merchant ship culture flourished, sailors who had been out at sea for a long time would often think of their families and sing songs. I'm sure everyone listening would be touched by these songs.

Picture courtesy of Yamagata Prefecture

"In the spring you can see the fresh green foliage and the colorful cherry blossoms, in the summer you get surrounded by the lush greenery, and in the fall the approaching autumn colors are simply beautiful. In the winter, the boats are equipped with kotatsu (low tables with heaters), so there are different ways to enjoy this experience regardless of the season," explained the boatman.

At boarding time, the staff will secure your bike on the boat, so cyclists can also join the cruise.

Please refer to the Mogami River Boat Cruise homepage for details on departure times and prices.

While enjoying his chat with the boatman, Michael said, "When you take a Mogami River boat cruise, you can see the beauty of Japan's scenery and get a feel for the Japanese heart. So as you take in the impressive surrounding nature, be sure to listen closely when the boatman says about the Mogami River's history."

Yamagata's Inland Region - Stunning Scenery, Delicious Fruit, and Relaxing Hot Springs!

We introduced the highlights of Kaminoyama Onsen and Mt. Zao, Tendo, Sagae, and the Mogami River. Yamagata's inland area is dotted with numerous hot spring towns!

A characteristic feature of this basin is the marked difference in morning and evening temperatures. This condition makes it ideal for growing fruit, which is why it's such a flourishing production area for cherries, peaches, and pears. In many places there are also tourist fruit farms, so you can try your hand at picking some fruit.

Yamagata's inland region is ideal for those who want to sample fruit and relax in a hot spring. When you get here, be sure to take your time and tour these great spots on your bicycle!

Also, be sure not to miss Yamagata's coastal area. Here you'll find Dewa Sanzan, where you can learn about the Japanese tradition of mountain worship, and delicious, fresh seafood.

AuthorChen Jou YuanEditor - Traditional Chinese

to top