With an estimated population of over 100,000 inhabitants, Sakata (酒 田 市) is a city that I had the chance to discover recently. The Tohoku region, despite its unexplored aspects, is none the less attractive. If you travel around Yamagata Prefecture why not take a day to visit this beautiful city?
ACCESS: Sakata is certainly off the beaten path. It is 2-3 hour drive or 3-4 hour trip by train (longer if only local trains) from Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region. The highway bus system may also be an option. Instead, more likely Sakata can and should be a day or two stop throughout a Tohoku journey. From that perspective, consider stopping here from or on the way to Yamagata City, hot spring town Naruko in northern Miyagi, or Akita City—they are all roughly a 2 hour train trip away from Sakata. In addition to its unique history as a port town, below are some personal recommendations around the city.
WHERE TO STAY: Shonai Base (ショウナイベース) should be your base camp whenever staying in Sakata. Shonai Base is a newly completed guest house just 20 minutes away by foot and 6 minutes by car from Sakata Station. A website is still being made, but contact info and location is linked to this article. The central location gives it easy access to restaurants and attractions. The house is composed of 3 charming rooms (two of Japanese style and one Western style), a huge lounge in a typical Japanese style, a kitchen available for your use and a large bathroom.
Thanks to the very friendly atmosphere you will feel right at home. The first goal of owner Yuki Ikeda is to encourage more foreigners to visit Sakata. He transformed this humble aging home to give you the opportunity to enjoy the Japanese countryside. He speaks very good English, and excellent Japanese!
WHAT TO EAT:
Breakfast, brunch, or lunch: In Sakata where the economy is based on agriculture and marketing of fisheries, I urge you to take a trip to its famous fish market. Built in 2003 next to the port, the fish market offers a wide choice of the freshest and most delicious fish from the sea to your stomach. On the first floor of the market is Tobishima, a restaurant where you can enjoy seafood in the same manner as the Japanese fishermen before. Do not miss the lovely wooden terrace that offers a magnificent view overlooking the harbor and enjoy the invigorating air of the Japanese sea.
Dinner at izakaya restaurant "Wadachi": This Japanese style pub specializes in local meat. It serves delicious cuisine, such as succulent Miyagi beef, that easily rivals the famous Kobe and Yonezawa beef. Its relaxing atmosphere encourages a long enjoyable time eating, drinking, and chatting. The landlord and his wife will be happy to tease your culinary curiosity. You will be given the opportunity to try unconventional meats such as Yamagata bear! If you do not speak Japanese, the chef will choose his best specialties for you, and of course, you will be pleasantly surprised.
WHAT TO SEE:
Jûroku Rakan Iwa (十六羅漢岩): On the coast, 22 busts of monks were carved into the volcanic rock. Why not discover the history of this amazing place? The Jûroku Rakan Iwa (十六 羅漢 岩) is one of the wonders to visit in Sakata. The best time to discover this place is at the end of July, when the sculptures are lit at night. If you plan to walk on this beach another time of the year, you can also enjoy the beautiful sunset that will reward you for coming. To maximize the experience, you can visit the island of Tobishima by boat which is located near the coast. The cost of a round trip is ¥4,200 for adults and ¥2,100 per child. Nonetheless, it is best to make a reservation on the website before you attempt any journey.
The Tamasudare no Taki waterfall (玉簾の滝): Located on Mt. Chokai, Tamasudare no Taki is known as the biggest waterfall in Yamagata Prefecture with its height of 63 meters and a width of 5 meters. From August 12th to 19th the waterfalls are illuminated to offer a unique and magical moment during the late summer evenings. This place is a national treasure loved by hikers and families enjoying the outdoors. The practical point is that the falls are just a 5 minute walk from the car park. The area has diverse wildlife; I met with a lovely snake there.
Sakata is waiting. The smaller city contains many surprises for those with a sense of adventure. What will you discover?