ODYSSEY JAPAN

DESTINATION

DESTINATION

SHONAI

Discover the hidden treasures of Shonai,
an ancient world that’s full of spirit.

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60 MINUTES

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Tokyo

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Osaka

Shonai

ABOUT

CULINARY

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CULINARY

Tsuruoka City was designated as the first Japanese UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in December 2014. This designation was made in recognition of Tsuruoka’s preservation and continued innovation of its indigenous culinary culture, sustainable relationship with its rich natural environment, and incredible diversity of ingredients across its topography and seasons.

The expansive borders of this city include vast mountains, wide open plains, rich forests, and bountiful stretches of coastline that provide this region with a constantly rotating availability of ingredients throughout the year. This includes wild mountain vegetables and mushrooms, a plethora of crops including the over 60 of unique heirloom variants, and some of the highest grades of fish in Japan including tiger pufferfish.

The people of the Shonai Region have developed a close relationship with the local food available to them and centuries of culinary knowledge have been passed down and preserved by the people and local businesses here. One prominent example of this is the sake produced in the local breweries of this region by master brewers. These factories are family owned and utilize the abundance of pure water from the mountains and high quality rice to produce some of the most famous sake in Japan. The sake of the Shonai region has also taken top honors at the 2019 International Wine Challenge and gained international acclaim as well!

Visitors can experience this knowledge first hand by touring the traditional factories of this region, taking part in culinary lessons with local chefs and farmers, and of course by visiting the many world-class restaurants that showcase the traditional culinary excellence spread across this region.

Much of Japan’s food traditions have been lost with the passage of the time but Tsuruoka, the only Japanese UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, has retained its links with the past and continues carefully preserving, keeping alive and sharing the origins of its Japanese food culture.

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SPIRITUAL

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SPIRITUAL

Tracing back to the 8th century, the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa of Shonai are the oldest site of mountain worship in Japan. Haguro Shugendo, a distinctive form of mountain asceticism was born here, and for over a thousand years practitioners known as Yamabushi have made pilgrimages from across Japan to these holy mountains to train their bodies, minds, and souls deep in the pristine nature of these mountains.

Donning the same white robes that the dead are wrapped in, the Yamabushi monks begin their journey through the world of the present in the towering cedar forests of Mt. Haguro, death and the afterlife on the high peaks of Mt. Gassan, and rebirth at Mt. Yudono, the most holy site of the Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa. A journey to all three of these mountains is known as the Journey of Rebirth and has continued ever since these mountains were first opened over 1,400 years ago.

The rituals of the Yamabushi have traditionally been shrouded in secrecy with chances to take part in their training only available during specific times of the year. These programs were also only open to Japanese people and only for men. Women were in fact forbidden from even entering many parts of these mountains as they were considered sacred and too dangerous prior to the Meiji Period. However, change eventually came to the Dewa Sanzan and now their rituals and programs have become available to both women and international visitors alike.

In addition to the Yamabushi, there are many ancient Buddhist temples across the Shonai Region where monk practice zen meditation and various other buddhist rituals. These temples also have opened their doors to visitors interested in learning about and experiencing zen meditation alongside the monks of their temples.

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EXPERIENCES AND ACTIVITIES

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EXPERIENCES AND ACTIVITIES

The Shonai Region is also rich in experiences and adventures and offers visitors the chance to see its culture and history at a far deeper level than simple sightseeing provides.

Some of these experiences including crafting experiences with local artisans culinary lessons with farmers and chefs historical and cultural experiences live performances by Japanese maiko and much more.

During the winter season there are also special variants of these experiences available. The large amounts of snowfall make for stunning snow hikes through the forests of Mt. Haguro where you can trek along a path surrounded by deep snow in the deep silence of winter.

The Mogami River Cruise also has a special variation in the snow season where its boats have heated kotatsu that allow guests to enjoy the winter scenery in comfort. The winter season is also when the sake factories are most active and touring these facilities during this time of the year can allow guests to see sake being actively prepared in these factories.

Please see our website for a full list of opportunities that are open to visitors to this wonderful region.

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THINGS TO DO

  • 1.SUSHI WORKSHOP WITH CHEF SUDA

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    Work alongside Chef Suda, one of Yamagata Prefecture's most famous chefs at his restaurant right inside the Kamo Aquarium. In this 2 hour workshop you will learn how to work with top quality fish caught fresh from the ocean the day before and make a wide variety of nigiri and rolled sushi. This workshop includes a delicious meal built around your sushi!

    「Watch the Video」

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  • 2.FUGU WORKSHOP WITH CHEF SUDA

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    See first hand the incredibly intricate art of one of the culinary world's most daring and delicious delicacies. Fugu is an incredibly poisonous fish with dazzling white and delicious meat that can only be prepared by the top washoku (Japanese cuisine) chefs.
    This experience is led by Chef Suda, a veteran fugu chef with over 18 years of experience preparing and cooking with this fish.

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  • 3.YAMABUSHI EXPERIENCE ON MT. HAGURO

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    Walk the ancient path of Mt. Haguro with the Yamabushi monks who have trained here for over a thousand years. Trek deep into the cedar forests of this sacred mountain and learn more about this rich history of the Yamabushi and their religion of Shugendo. At the top of the mountain you will dine on shojin ryori and also take part in rituals at the Dewasanzan Shrine.

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  • 4.SHOJIN RYORI DINING ON MT. YUDONO

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    Harvest various wild mountain vegetables in the forests and fields of Mt. Haguro alongside yamabushi mountain monks and learn how to make their legendary Shojin Ryori cuisine in the Miyatabo shukubo lodge. This experience is led by Yamabushi from Mt. Haguro and a local English guide who is experienced in leading programs on the Dewasanzan.

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  • 5.ZEN MEDITATION AT ZENPOJI TEMPLE

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    Take part in zen mediation training with the monks of Zenpoji Temple in Tsuruoka City. This sacred temple dates back to 938 is believed to be where Naga and Nagi, two divine servants reside. The monks of this temple will walk participants through the entire process of the meditation process, no prior experience is necessary.

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  • 6.KASAFUKU DOLL CRAFTING AT THE SANNO CLUB

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    See thousands of kasafuku dolls hanging from ornate umbrellas in the Sanno Club in downtown Sakata City and make your own dolls with local artisans. There is a huge variance to the types of these dolls and each one is made to wish for a different fortune. These colorful dolls are also made from kimono fabric and make for delightful regional gifts to take home.

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  • 7.RICE CRACKER MAKINGAT SAKATA BEIKA

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    Visit the Sakata Beika rice cracker factory in Sakata City and see the production process of one of this region's most popular treats! This factory has a special viewing space for visitors and even has a rice cracker making experience inside its gift shop where you can grill and flavor your own crackers!

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  • 8.CANDLE PAINTING IN TSURUOKA CITY

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    Work alongside local craftsmen to paint decorative candles in Tsuruoka City in a traditional candle shop. This city was once home to over 20 shops but only a few remain today. The candles that you will paint in this workshop will be decorated with bright colors and traditional Japanese patterns.

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  • 9.YAMAIRAGAWA KABUKI EXPERIENCE

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    Experience one of Yamagata Prefecture designated intangible cultural assets with a professional kabuki artist in Tsuruoka City. During this experience you will learn how to paint youwn own face in the traditional kumadori style and pose in a series of typical kabuki poses. You can also press your face into a cloth to preserve your art and take it home!

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  • 10.TOKOROTEN NOODLE COOKING EXPERIENCE

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    Work with tengusa seaweed in the oceanside port town of Nezugaseki to make a traditional type of noodle eaten by the local people of this region. This experience will teach participants about the local varieties of seaweed in this region and how to cook them in a kitchen space near the ocean. You will also get to eat your noodles together with your guide!

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  • 11.SOBA MAKING EXPERIENCE

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    Make fresh soba noodles starting from grounded buckwheat powder and ending with a delicious meal to eat together. This program is led by local soba chefs who will walk participants through the entire process. This include kneading the powder into a dough, rolling the dough, cutting techniques, and cooking the soba.

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  • 12.GOTENMARI MAKING EXPERIENCE

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    Gotenmari are traditional toys that were once a luxury item for the children of the Shonai Clan during the Edo Period. These crafts are made with dozens of colorful threads and stitched together into a beautiful design. In this workshop you can try making your own gotenmari under the direction of local artisans and take them home with you.

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  • 13.MAIKO PERFORMANCES AT SOMARO

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    See the elegant dancing of the maiko of Somaro Maiko Teahouse in downtown Sakata City. They have live performances each day and the course of their dances changes with the season. Note that this includes a bento lunch performance at 12 noon that requires advanced reservations.

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  • 14.THE KAMO AQUARIUM

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    This sleek and modern aquarium right on the coast of Tsuruoka City boasts two Guinness world records! This includes having the largest variety of Jellyfish on display and also the largest jellyfish tank in the world. The Kamo Aquarium is open year-round and also has a variety of other exhibits to enjoy.

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  • 15.SAKE BREWERY TOURS(DEWANOYUKI,TAKENOTSUYU,HATSUMAGO)

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    Explore some of Shonai region's most famous sake breweries through a special backstage factory tour. Through your visit you will also learn how sake is brewed from start to finish and even get to sample a variety of the sake that these breweries produce. This is a rare opportunity that few regions in Japan offer!

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  • 16.GYOKUSENJI TEMPLE TEA CEREMONY

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    Witness the intricate and practiced elegance of Japanese tea ceremonies at Gyokusenji Temple in Tsuruoka City. This temple features an expansive Japanese garden with a special tea room that looks out into the garden. Here you can take part in a traditional tea ceremony with the silence and serenity of the nature that surrounds this beautiful mountainside temple.

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  • 17.THE SANKYO SOKO WAREHOUSES AND SHONAI RICE MUSEUM

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    These historic warehouses were originally constructed in 1893 and served a vital role in the booming rice trade that the Shonai Region enjoyed. These warehouses are still in use today and have been partially converted into a gift shop, restaurant, and even a rice museum. A beautiful line of zelkova trees also line the outside of these warehouses and makes for a beautiful iconic view of Sakata City.

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  • 18.MOGAMI RIVER CRUISE

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    Follow the path of the legendary haiku poet Matsuo Basho through a cruise along the calm waters of the Mogami River in Tozawa Village. This river runs through a valley that cuts through the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture and even has a beautiful waterfall that you can see during the cruise.

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  • 19.MT. CHOKAI

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    Climb up one of the Tohoku Region's highest peaks and take in the expansive views of the plains of the Shonai Region along the way up. This majestic mountain stands at 2,236 meters and straddles the border of Yamagata and Akita Prefecture. This mountain also has many stunning waterfalls and forests around its base to explore.

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OTHER DESTINATIONS

  • SHONAI YAMAGATA

  • TOTTORI

  • SAGA

  • MIYAZAKI

  • YAMAGUCHI