This Week in Yonezawa – 21 December 2021
While Japan’s borders remain closed, I’ve been travelling the country consulting with local authorities on improving their tourism offerings, ready for the day that tourists will be allowed back into Japan. This week, I was in Yonezawa.
Yonezawa (米沢) is a city in the southeast of Yamagata Prefecture, famous for being a castle town that was once home to the Uesugi clan.
The area of present-day Yonezawa was part of ancient Dewa Province and was controlled in the Sengoku period by the Date clan. In fact, the famed and feared warlord Date Masamune was born in Yonezawa. During the Edo period, the area became the Yonezawa Domain under the Tokugawa shogunate, ruled by the Uesugi clan.
In 1601, having faced defeat in the battle of Sekigahara, the Uesugi clan was relocated from the wealthy Aizu province to the considerably poorer city of Yonezawa. This statue, on the grounds of the former castle, depicts the first lord of the Yonzawa domain, Uesugi Kagekatsu, and his retainer, Naoe Kanetsugu, famous for his helmet adorned with the Japanese character ‘ai’, meaning love. The two set the foundations for what was to be a 270-year long history for the Uesugi domain.
The Uesugi Gobyosho is the mausoleum for the lords of the Uesugi Clan. Clan ancestor Uesugi Kenshin’s resting place is in the centre (on the very left of the photo), and on either side are the shrines of the clan lords up to the 12th generation, surrounded by cryptomeria trees. The site was designated as a National Important Cultural Asset in January 1984.
The city’s samurai traditions are continued by the town mascots, which you can check out in the featured image. From left to right they are Kanetan, Kagecchi-sama and Oser-chan. I am auditioning to become the 4th mascot and am waiting to hear back from city officials.
Yonezawa’s most famous culinary export is Yonezawa Beef. Fittingly, JR Yonezawa Station has a massive cow in its lobby, and, given the times we live in, it’s appropriately dressed.
All that beef needs to be washed down somehow, and the city’s sake brewery, Toko, steps up admirably to the task. You can learn all about the town’s sake making heritage at the Toko Sake Museum, Tohoku’s largest sake brewing museum. All that knowledge assimilation will undoubtedly build up a thirst, and the museum’s shop, carrying the full range of Toko products, will help you slake it.