Road Trip on Ōu Main Line (Part 2)
A statue of feudal lord Mogami Yoshiaki, a village headman's house with a Japanese-style garden and shops selling traditional Yamagata treats such as itasoba and kujiramochi are featured this week.
Hop on board as we continue our two-day journey of enquiry and discovery on the JR Ou Main Line from Fukushima Prefecture to Yamagata Prefecture. Our goal is to find 10 recommended places or delicacies by 5.30pm by the end of Day Two. On the first day, we advanced to Kaminoyama Onsen Station and checked into Hotel Koyo. We ended the day with a delicious meal comprising Yamagata specialities such as abalone steak and Yonezawa beef. We managed to find five entries on Day One.
The next morning, the hotel offers a breakfast buffet of 54 dishes such as fried rice with Yonezawa beef, curry, sweetened boiled herring and salted grilled salmon. The hotel’s shuttle takes us back to Kaminoyama Onsen Station. We catch the train leaving at 10.15am and head to Yamagata Station, which is about 15 minutes away. We decide to take the 11.30am train from here later.
A local we ask suggests we go to Kajo Park, built on the land where Yamagata Castle used to be. Within the park, there is a statue of the castle’s lord, Mogami Yoshiaki, riding his horse. When the army of Kanetsugu Naoe attempted to launch an attack, Mogami Yoshiaki took the lead to drive them away, which made him a local hero.
We return to Yamagata Station and take the train to Takatama. We arrive in 15 minutes and have until 1.50pm to visit recommended places. We drop by a farm near the station to get tips and are told about a large house with long and black wooden fences, Shoya Yashiki. It was built between the late Edo period and early Meiji period. It belonged to the Sato family who owned a lot of land and became village headmen for generations. The house is not open to the public, but we are shown its beautiful Japanese-style garden which has been preserved for generations. The water in the garden’s pond comes from a private well 2km away.
We walk back to the station and head to Sakuranbo Higashine, five stops away. We arrive at the station at 2.05pm. We have not had lunch yet so ask around about famous restaurants. A local mentions a buckwheat noodle place called Shichibe. It is a branch of the main store in Oishida.
The resident highly recommends we eat Yamagata’s speciality, itasoba, which is served with complimentary side dishes like cloud ear mushrooms and pickled bracken. Daikon juice is mixed with dipping sauce and added to the noodles, which are made with 90 per cent buckwheat flour. We order the large portion of the noodles so it comes with tempura of edible wild plants and huge shrimps. Itasoba is a traditional dish of inland Yamagata Prefecture. In the past, the noodles were put on a long board and the people ate it together at celebrations or after a long day of working at the farm.
We later take the train leaving at 4.20pm and alight at the goal of this trip, Shinjo Station. It is about 40 minutes away. A lady at Shinjo tells us about Torimotsu ramen, which is believed to bring luck in love. It can be found at ramen shops in this area. We visit a shopping strip near the station but both the ramen shops there are closed for the day.
Another person we ask suggests we try kujiramochi, a traditional sweet of Yamagata Prefecture which is usually made during seasonal festivals. Non-glutinous and glutinous rice flour are mixed with water, after which sugar is added and the batter is steamed. Its name, which means “whale rice cake”, came about as each piece of kujiramochi used to weigh 2kg. We go to Takahashi Okashi, a popular confectionery shop in Shinjo. It sells many flavours of kujiramochi and we get the white and miso ones. Both are sweet and savoury and have walnuts inside.
Our time limit of 5.30pm has passed by now. Over the two days, we only managed to find nine recommended spots or delicacies, instead of our goal of 10. Nevertheless, we had a fruitful two-day trip along the JR Main Ou Line.
1) One of Yamagata Prefecture’s specialities is itasoba
2) Kujiramochi is a must-try traditional sweet of Yamagata Prefecture