Ask a Japanese person about Yamagata, and they are almost certain to talk about fruit. Cherries and La France pears in particular are well-known, and what better way to enjoy them than as sweets?
Satoya is a Yamagata-based sweet shop that sells both Japanese- and Western-style, handmade sweets. They have generations of history, which includes sales as far away as the Korean peninsula! There are several stores in Yamagata City. The most convenient one is located in the S-Pal shopping mall adjoining Yamagata Station, but I visited a location a little further away. It's around 25 minutes' walk from the east exit of Yamagata Station. Follow the road straight, and it's on the left.
Inside and outside, it's a harmonious mixture of old and new, Japanese and Western. A modern building, it has traditional flags advertising outside, but the door is automatic. Inside, there are low tables and higher display cases, the latter full of sweets whose recipes might have been passed on for years alongside combinations of Japanese flavors and foreign techniques. As a full store, there's a wider selection than the department store location. Personally, I also find that are staff more friendly, perhaps because department stores are generally busier and noisier.
The store is a treasure trove of sweets. As well as the aforementioned local flavors (in some lovely-looking jellies), there are local specialties (like noshiume) and seasonal sweets. When I went it was sakura (cherry blossom) season, so there were sakura mochi, sakura mont blanc and sakura youkan. Satoya is proud of its youkan, a sort of jelly paste, that otherwise comes in chestnut, walnut, plum and adzuki bean flavors. This is something that would make a great souvenir, as it travels well, but some of the sweets need to be eaten on the day of purchase.
I bought a sakura mont blanc and one of their signature creations – a cream-filled sweet potato “hoku hoku”. Both of them were beautifully presented and delicious. The mont blanc had a biscuit base under green tea cake, topped with cream. All of this had a generous, thick, sakura flavor covering which was decorated with a sakura-flower shape. As for the hoku hoku, I was only disappointed that I ate it so quickly! It was soft and full of flavor.
Satoya is a lovely chain of shops that make wonderful sweets by hand. Techniques passed down the generations of the Sato family provide great quality with a family touch. There's something for everyone here, so it's perfect for souvenirs.