Yuza: North Country’s Cherry Blossom “Corridor of Dreams”
Cherry blossom, or sakura season is here again, and everyone is sharing their favorite viewing spots. I’m gearing up for my annual pilgrimage to Yuza, a small town on the Sea of Japan at the base of Mount Chokai, in northern Yamagata.
As you walk from the tiny parking lot of Nakayama Kasen Park and up a slight berm to Yuza’s sakura corridor, the first thing you notice is the soft gurgling of the Arasawa River. More like a stream, its snowmelt waters are crystal clear and a few trees bend down and toward the water’s song. The crisp, clean air is sharp, but the painful snap of winter is gone—now it is simply invigorating.
Rice paddies unfolding across the lower fields to your left, the pink passage ahead beckons. The gentle curve of the river, the hanging koi fish decorations blowing in the wind, the blue sky, all of it makes for an idyllic scene.
The stone retaining wall and rustic houses opposite the cherry trees add to the atmosphere’s authenticity.
Forging ahead toward more pink in a surge of giddy, you can be forgiven for forgetting to turn back to look at the view behind you. That is when the real reward comes: as if a master painter has just completed her final touches, Mount Chokai, covered in snow, is a breath away. In a twist of logic, the mountain’s closeness almost turns the scene two-dimensional and you, into a visitor on the canvas.
The numerous hiking trails on Chokai, or “seabird mountain,” entice even the novice to catch vistas of the sea and the rice-producing Shonai plain, stops at several beautiful waterfalls, and a volcanic lake.
Yuza also enjoys impressive sunset views and visitors frolic in summer fun at Nishihama beach. In 1864, local masons were commissioned to carve 16 statues into Nishihama’s rock face in order to protect fishermen at sea. A trail winds down to the sea’s edge so you can view the protectors up close. A festival is held here for maritime safety every year in late July.
Yuza’s main accommodation is Yurira (website in Japanese), a multi-storied building that offers views of both the sea and Mount Chokai. Adjacent to the town’s main onsen, it offers elaborate meals with overnight stay. The building has Japanese and Western style rooms; guests have access to the main onsen baths and smaller baths that are open 24 hours a day. Just next to Yurira is the Nishihama Campground and Cottage Village, where you can pitch a tent or rent rustic cottages for bigger groups. Some of the onsen lodges closer to Chokai’s foothills also boast views of the sea.
Twenty kilometers east of Yuza is Yamagata’s highest waterfall, Tamasudare. It is surrounded by towering cedar trees and known in Japan as a “power spot,” or a place where you can absorb natural energy from the negative ions in the air. So go ahead and power up before heading home.